Friday, May 6, 2011

傻瓜机 - Camera For The Dummies?

Many moons ago, when the first auto focus compact camera hit the market; Chinese consumers coined this "auto everything" point-and-shoot camera, 傻瓜机 (shǎ guā ji)!

傻瓜机 literally meant "Camera For The Dummy" ;)
Just like the very successful "For Dummies"
series of instructional / reference books, the P&S compact cameras enjoyed immerse popularity!

But unlike "For Dummies" books where you actually learn to do or operate something, the shǎ guā ji taught you nothing; after all; it is just a point and shoot where you just point it at your subject and click the shutter to get a technically perfect picture!

Mind you, not all point and shoots are
shǎ guā ji; there are advanced version of the shǎ guā ji, the like of Power Shot G series which are popular even among the pros.

Unlike the "everything auto" of the
shǎ guā ji, the "advance" family of P&S came with various adjustment and setting, just like their larger brethren; the DSLR.


Last week, Paul; my colleague, was very excited to show me his new toy, a Nikon Coolpix L120 P&S.

"It ONLY cost $400, the auto focus is SO FAST! And the 21x zoom is INCREDIBLE!" Paul gasped.

It is wonderful to see a grown man so excited by a new camera, I wish I had that kind of enthusiasm!

I remember the day that I finally saved enough money to buy my top of the range Coolpix 8400.

Launched in 2004, the 8400 was the last time Nikon produced a compact camera aimed at enthusiasts. I bought mine in 2005 and had lots of fun with it!

The Coolpix 8400 came with 8.0 effective mega pixel and a very sharp and low distortion ultra-wide 24-85mm (35mm equivalent) zoom with Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass.

During that time, no P&S came with that kind of wide zoom! That was what made me choose this advanced shǎ guā ji ;)Brisbane Rainbow... shot with the 8400 on a small tripod, who say dummy cam cannot take good pictures? ;)The delightful interior of the Mai Thai Restaurant in Auckland was taken with the 8400 at ISO 100. At 1/4 second exposure and without a tripod, the camera was resting on our table for support. Notice there were no visible wide angle distortion! What a great lens!

A few months later I bought the optional WC-E75 wide-angle converter lens which takes the build in zoom lens of the 8400 even wider to an unmatched 14 mm (equiv) of ultra-wide coverage!

This shot of the front entrance and staircase of our friend's house was taken with the 8400 + the WC-E75 combo. The ultra-wide WC E75 attachment lens did a good job but exhibit quite a bit of barrel distortion. Notice the curving of the door on the right hand door? This, however; can be corrected with software.

As luck have it, I had my Coolpix 8400 that day when Paul was showing me his L120!

The old and the new... Coolpix 8400; right and the new L120.

Compare to the tiny 8400's, the LCD preview screen of the new L120 is HUGE!

So here I am, looking at the old and new Coolpixes; how much improvement has Nikon put into their Coolpix P&S? I can't wait to find out!

Paul told me I can have the L120 till 4.30 pm and since I am on duty, working; I cannot just run off with the two cameras and go testing them, can I?

My days of "Press Freedom" were long gone, I lament those days with the Malaysian papers where I can do just that ;)

And this was my test target! What were on my opposite desk! Don't under estimate the power of the Easter creme eggs! ;)

I shot this scientific target with my 8400, L120 and my trusty Canon G12 as a reference.

Exposures were made at ISO 200, 400; 800; 1,600 and 3,200. The 8400, however; can only go up to 400! The best ccd Sony can mastered in early 2,000.

Up to ISO 200, the 8400 quality is on par with the L120. But at 400, it was a different story!

At ISO 400 notice how very noisy (grainy) the 8400 sensor is? It is terrible! The L120 is holding up to the G12, which is excellent!

At ISO 3,200, quality of the L120 is on the verge of "just usable", the G12; however, remained excellent! I hate to say, "I told you so!"

The test AGAIN confirmed, with modern ccd; MORE is NOT better.

The L120 sensor have a whopping 14 mega pixels against the G12's ten, TEN won by leaps and bound!

After shooting the target, I finalised my very scientific testing by walking to the front car park and shoot a couple of outdoor shots.

This is from the L120, good contrast and accurate colour; what amazed me is how smooth and FAST the 21x zoom is!! No wonder Paul was stunned!!

Chromatic aberration of the 21x zoom lens look well controlled, as seen on this 200x crop from the top picture.

Compare to the L120, the colour from the 8400 looked over saturated, some like it that way though ;)
The 8400 came with a GREAT zoom lens! See how clean and sharp the 200% crop is? A hard lens to beat, even by today's standard!

Famous Last Words...

So what do I think of the Coolpix L120 shǎ guā ji?

It is a GREAT little camera for those just wanna have fun and to capture a slice of their memories, those that care not of learning about aperture value; shutter speeds and technicalities of photography!

I love how smooth and fast the zoom is, the useful zoom control on the lens barrel; the extremely fast auto focus speed.

There is an excellent review here, if you want to know more about the NZ $400 Coolpix L120.

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heather said...

Thats a good idea to use test targets like that. I didn`t realize what you were doing with those bags of easter eggs on the table. I`m going to try that myself and try different settings to see how they function.
P.S. Have you eaten all the eggs yet?

cy.leow said...

Those eggs were for Nigel, they were waiting for him to come back from his fatherhood leave ;)
He must have eaten them by now!