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Digital cameras 2012 test

We compare DSLRs, Micro Four Thirds, Four Thirds and some bridge cameras, including models from Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and Leica.
 
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  • Updated:26 Mar 2013
 

01 .Introduction

SLR-lead---edit

We've tested a number of high-end digital cameras, priced from $380 to $3500.

priced from $380 to $3500
priced from $380 to $
priced from $380 to $350CHOI
priced from $380 to $3500

On this page, you'll find:

Digital SLR cameras are put through a more extensive test procedure than compact cameras using the lenses that are normally bundled with them. Even though the testing is done with the camera in Auto mode whenever possible, you cannot compare scores between the two tests. 

Most manufacturers supply relatively cheap lenses in their kits. If you're in the market for a digital SLR and already have some good-quality lenses, you can probably expect better image quality results than achieved in our test.

For more information on Digital cameras, see Cameras and camcorders.

Note: scores in this test cannot be directly compared with the 2013 test. We've changed a significant number of scoring parameters and introduced new procedures for the 2013 tests. However, a camera that performs well in this test should also perform well in the new test.

What else you'll get in this report

As well as test results for 103 camera/lens combinations, you'll also get:

  • Specs, prices, features and functions for all models.
  • Invaluable buying information: practical advice and tips. Read this before you buy!
  • Sortable table including all cameras tested: you choose what's important. Select by brand, price, overall score, image quality, viewfinder, monitor, ease of use or versatility.
  • CHOICE Shopper: Buy a membership and get this exclusive members' service. Save time and money on your next purchase.

Why choose a DSLR?

DSLRs may be much larger than their compact counterparts but once you've enjoyed their benefitsit's hard to settle for anything less. Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds set a new standard for a camera design that's compact and has interchangeable lenses. All types have had a steady increase in sales, together with a dramatic drop in price in recent times.

There are several makes to choose from, with camera and lens kits for well under $1000. You might also want to read our article on digital SLR zoom lenses. Also see our brand reliability survey to discover how our members rate the reliability of the key brands over time.

We've decided to include other digital cameras marketed to high-end users, even though they may not have an exchangeable lens. The criteria for inclusion are:

• Manual override for focus and exposure controls.
• RAW format recording (to allow you more control over the image once it’s taken). 
• Manual white balance control
• Hot shoe for an external flash.

Brands and models tested

• Canon EOS 550D - EF-S 18-135mm IS
• Canon EOS 550D Kit - EF-S 18-55mm IS
• Canon EOS 7D - EF-S 18-135mm IS
• Canon EOS 1100D Kit + EF-S 18-55mm IS II
• Canon EOS 600D Kit + EF-S 18-55mm IS II
• Canon EOS 60D + Canon EF-S 18-200mm IS
• Canon EOS 60D Kit + EF-S 18-135mm IS
• Canon EOS 60D Kit + EF-S 18-55mm IS
• Canon EOS 6D Kit + EF 24-105mm IS USM
• Canon G1 X
• Canon PowerShot G12
• Canon PowerShot S100
• Canon PowerShot S110
• Canon PowerShot S95
• Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
• Fujifilm FinePix HS10
• Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR
• Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR
• Fujifilm FinePix X10
• Fujifilm FinePix X100
• Fujifilm FinePix X-S1
• Fujifilm X-E1 + XF 18-55mm R LM OIS
• Fujifilm XF1
• Fujifilm X-Pro1 + XF 35mm
• Kodak Easyshare Max Z990
• Leica D-Lux 6
• Leica D-Lux-5
• Leica V-Lux 4 
• Leica V-Lux-2
• Nikon 1 J1 Kit + 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30
• Nikon 1 V1 Kit + 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30
• Nikon 1 V2 Kit + 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30 mm
• Nikon Coolpix P7000
• Nikon Coolpix P7100
• Nikon D3100 Kit + AF-S G 18-55 VR
• Nikon D5100 Kit + AF-S G 18-55 VR
• Nikon D7000 + AF-S G 16-85 VR
• Nikon D7000 Kit + AF-S G 18-105 VR
• Olympus Pen E-P2 Kit - 14-42 mm ED
• Olympus E-5 + Zuiko 14-54 mm II 
• Olympus E-M5 Kit + 12-50mm ED EZ
• Olympus Pen E-P3 Kit + 14-42 mm II R MSC
• Olympus Pen E-PL1 Kit + 14-150 mm ED
• Olympus Pen E-PL1 Kit + 14-42 mm ED
• Olympus Pen E-PL2 Kit + 14-42 mm II MSC
• Olympus Pen Lite E-PL3 Kit + 14-42 mm II R MSC
• Olympus Pen mini E-PM1 Kit + 14-42 mm II R MSC
• Olympus Pen mini E-PM2 Kit + 14-42 mm II R MSC
• Olympus XZ-1
• Olympus XZ-2
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ45 (FZ40)
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60 (FZ62 overseas)
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3K Kit + G Vario 14-42 mm
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2W Kit + G Vario 14-42mm
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3K Kit + G Vario 14-42 mm 
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3X Kit + G X Vario PZ 14-42 mm
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 + G Vario 14-140mm HD
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2K Kit + G Vario 14-42mm
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Kit + G X Vario 12-35 mm 
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1X Kit + G X Vario PZ 14-42 mm
• Pentax K-x Kit - smc DAL 18-55mm AL
• Pentax K-01 Kit + smc DAL 18-55mm AL
• Pentax K-30 Kit + smc DA 18-55mm AL WR
• Pentax K-5 Kit + smc DA 18-55mm AL WR
• Pentax K-r Kit + smc DAL 18-55mm AL
• Pentax Q + O2 Standard Zoom 5-15 mm
• Pentax Q Kit + O1 Standard Prime 8.5 mm
• Pentax Q10 Kit + O2 Standard Zoom 5-15 mm 
• Ricoh GXR - GR A12 50Macro
• Ricoh GXR - S10 24-72 VC
• Ricoh GR Digital IV
• Samsung NX10 - 30mm
• Samsung NX10 - 50-200mm OIS
• Samsung NX10 Kit - 18-55mm OIS
• Samsung EX1
• Samsung EX2F
• Samsung NX100 Kit + 20-50mm
• Samsung NX1000 Kit + 20-50mm II ED
• Samsung NX11 Kit - 18-55mm OIS
• Samsung NX200 Kit + 18-55mm II OIS
• Samsung NX5 Kit + 18-55mm OIS
• Samsung WB2000
• Sigma DP2 Merrill
• Sigma SD15 + 18-50mm DC OS HSM
• Sony alpha 33 Kit + 18-55mm DT SAM SAL1855
• Sony alpha 35 Kit + 18-55mm DT SAM SAL1855
• Sony alpha 390 Kit + 18-55mm DT SAM SAL1855
• Sony alpha 390 Kit + 55-200mm DT SAM SAL55200-2
• Sony alpha 55V Kit + 18-55mm DT SAM SAL1855
• Sony alpha 57K Kit + 18-55mm DT SAM SAL1855
• Sony alpha 65V Kit + 18-55mm DT SAM SAL1855
• Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
• Sony NEX-3 Kit + 18-55mm SEL1855
• Sony NEX-5 + 16mm SEL16F28
• Sony NEX-5 + 18-200mm SEL 18-200
• Sony NEX-5 Kit - 18-55mm SEL1855
• Sony NEX-5NK Kit + 18-55mm SEL1855
• Sony NEX-6L Kit + 16-50mm SELP 1650 OSS
• Sony NEX-7K Kit + 18-55mm SEL1855
• Sony NEX-C3K Kit + 18-55mm SEL1855

How we test

This overall score is a combination of the following scores: 

Image quality score

This score is an evaluation of:

  • Pictures taken in normal situations (indoor and outdoor with and without flash in automatic mode).
  • Colour reproduction (technical test using IT8 colour chart).
  • Focusing and sharpness in low light, with and without flash.
  • Resolution (sharpness and aberrations in both wide and tele modes).
  • Lens characteristics (colour saturation, veiling glare and reflections from strong side lighting).
  • Low light performance in JPEG and RAW (noise and ability to capture and resolve detail at ISO 1600 and above). We also appraise the noise in images at ISO 200.
  • Vignetting (loss of brightness at the photo’s edges in both wide and tele modes).
  • Distortion (curving straight lines in both wide and tele modes).
  • Macro performance.
  • Face detection (subjects at different distances from the lens).
  • Image stabilisation. 

Ease of use

This involves five people evaluating each camera’s manual, shutter release button, times for data transfer, shutter delay, start up, taking pictures in single shot and continuous modes. They check for ease and smoothness of zooming, manual focusing and speed of operation by going through a cycle of taking and deleting an image a number of times. Ease of inserting and removing a camera's memory card and changing its settings, controls and batteries is also tested. Movie ease of use is appraised in a similar way, with emphasis on recording and playback controls. These cameras are also appraised for their manual and autofocus performance in both normal and Liveview modes in both bright and low light conditions. We also check how difficult it is to change lenses.

Monitor score

The difference between the height and width displayed in the monitor and what is recorded on the final image, an appraisal of the image quality in bright and low light conditions and measure of its overall size and resolution.

Movie quality

Cameras that are able to record video were used to make four "highest quality" movies and then scored on resolution of detail, colour accuracy, fluency of playback, picture noise and pixelation caused by compression. This is done in both bright and low light conditions, and our testers check the cameras' autofocus and macro performance in video mode. The sound quality is appraised by recording in a quiet room with both classical music and voice played back through high-quality speakers. Testers also check for noises caused by zooming or focusing the camera when taking video.

Viewfinder score

Its overall size as well as the difference between the height and width displayed in the viewfinder and what is recorded on the final image, an appraisal of the image quality in bright and low light conditions, and the quality of its resolution and refresh rate when panning across scenes.

Flash

Tested at one, three and five metres to check the exposure is even across the image.

 
 

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