Camera Comparison

Like all budding amateur photographers, I have a number of different camera systems to use for a wide variety of tasks. The problem is, I have found myself becoming a bit ‘camera-elitist’ at times; by this I mean that I’ll not bother taking a photograph of something if I only have my phone with me as opposed to my DSLR, and conversely if I have my DSLR with me I find myself not taking the more routine photographs because ‘the good camera is only for good shots.’ So, I took a trip to Chatham Historic Dockyard to put some of my systems to the test and establish if my attitude was justified.

The 4 cameras under comparison were:

  1. Nikon D5300 24.2 megapixel DSLR with Tamron 18-270mm F3.5-6.3 lens or AF-S Nikkor 35mm.
  2. Sony DSC-HX20V 18.2 megapixel 20x optical zoom compact camera.
  3. GoPro Hero 4 Black taking 12 megapixels stills.
  4. iPhone 6 Plus 8 megapixel.

These tests weren’t carried out in any rigorous or scientific way, I simply aimed to capture the same subject with all 4 cameras in order to compare the differences. Primarily I am looking to assess which camera/s are best for day-to-day exploring, and if I should always cary my DSLR about with me, even though my iPhone or compact camera are just as suitable.

To aid in reducing the size of files uploaded, all images have been reduced to 1200 pixels along the long edge of each image. In an attempt to increase impartiality, each image was captured using the cameras auto setting, I hoped this would help best assess the cameras capability to adjust tot he conditions, and in reality, the bulk of my exploring images are captured using auto as there often isn’t time to manually achieve the best settings.

Test 1: Danger Sign. 

I chose this subject due to the similarity in colour pallet between the yellow clay bricks and the yellow background of the sign itself. The colours of the original sign were vibrant, and the textures vivid. Below are the results of how each camera performed:

The best by far are the two images from the nikon D5300 (as expected). The colours are vivid and the contrast is crisp. The iPhone came up next in my opinion, with a bright image, if albeit slightly over exposed and a bit faded. The image from the compact Sony DSC-HX20V was more than acceptable in this instance, but the shaded location of the sign slightly let this camera down as the image wasn’t quite as vivid as it could have been. Finally the GoPro with an over exposed and faded looking image.

Test 2: HMS Gannet

Built in 1878, HMS Gannet was a very modern warship of her time. Today, I took 4 photographs of the ship, each with the different camera. This was a difficult shot to take; the sky was bright but overcast, the reflections on the water added a nice challenge for the cameras to capture, there was an awful lot of grey, and the fine rigging on the ship all had to be captured crisply.

Yet again the Nikon came out top in my opinion, using the Tamron 18-270mm lens at its widest focal length. While this lens doesn’t perform terribly well in low light, bright exterior images are always clean and as expected. The Sony is an excellent camera for well lit shots too, the 20x optical zoom enables it to get close to the best detail, and with the 18.2 megapixel sensor images have plenty of detail. Any image taken on an iPhone comes out well, but the fixed focal length lens and small sensor will always be a draw back – still, a good image with good detail captured. The GoPro is disappointing today, I have always known it to perform flawlessly in bright conditions, todays light was a bit challenging.

Test 3: Observation Post

Another grey structure in a grey landscape. This time a subject more suitable to the day-to-day exploring and recording that I do with my cameras. With so many straight lines the near fisheye effect of the GoPro distorts the image to the extent that it has lost any value as an image to record a location; HOWEVER, using the GoPro Studio free software the fisheye is removed and the image is transformed into something very useable.

For this form of para-URBEX photography a few good points are raised with this image. A fixed focal length lens, such as the 35mm I used on the Nikon is not suitable for the wide variety of photographs which are required, having trouble to fit in the whole building for a start. The GoPro (post-fisheye removal)  is a perfect little camera to snap large buildings close up or in confined spaces, it is discreet and compact. Always having an iPhone in my pocket means I can always capture pretty decent photographs should I come across something of interest while out and about, and when least expected. A compact camera, however, one with a decent zoom and full suite of features such as the Sony DSC compact zoom range is invaluable for the budding and casual explorer.

Test 4: Dry Dock

The final comparison shot of the day involved photographing a challenging scene peering down into the basin of a dry dock, approximately 20m down. There were straight lines, dark colours, reflections and writing all to make out.

I really like the colours captured in the iPhone image, there is a real sense of perspective, the colours are bright and vivid, and even with F2.8 it appears that the whole image is in focus. For a scene like this, I will place the GoPro next; the extra wide angle pulls in the severity of the dock, capturing lots of detail and colour. Yet again the Sony has performed really well delivering a well balanced shot, while the Nikon photograph falls to the bottom – although I must admit that this was due to my poor framing and focusing of the shot, so please disregard this one!

Summary

The old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ is true in this instance, but more importantly the nature of camera equipment is that there often isn’t a single solution that captures everything you want to. The easiest way to summarise is by camera:

  • Nikon D5300 – An excellent mid-range DSLR, perfect for the adventurer with inbuilt GPS to geotag photographs and also WiFi to wirelessly transfer your images to your phone or tablet for immediate publishing to your favourite social media. With my two lenses, the 35mm Nikkor prime and the Tamron 18-270mm zoom there is a noticeable difference. Zoom lenses at this price point (sub-£300) are a great price but you do sacrifice optical quality when compared to the prime lenses, but zoom gives far more versatility, and this 18-270mm is a great pairing with the D5300 for exploring and travel photography.
  • Sony DSC-HX20V – Another great little camera, this has now been superseded but I have every faith in its successor. Built in GPS for geotagging, 20x optical zoom for getting close to those out of reach locations and an 18.2 megapixel sensor make this pocket sized companion hard to beat. The images from this little test prove that it holds its ground above the small sensors of the action cameras and phones, and while it does not come level with the DSLR, it wouldn’t be expected to.
  • GoPro Hero 4 Black – the premium GoPro model, images are rather difficult to use at times due to the near fisheye lens, however the supplied software removes this and exports very neat images or hard to get subjects. Remember, this camera is designed for one purpose, to VIDEO fast moving, high risk, outdoor activities. The still images at 12 megapixels are taken with a remarkably small sensor, so they need plenty of light. If you use it right, you will be able to capture locations you would otherwise not be able to with conventional camera.
  • iPhone 6 Plus – Considering the primary role of this device is to make phone calls, it takes remarkably good photographs. The lack of ability to zoom and relatively low pixel count do not hinder the performance of the iPhones camera. As far as versatile device which will geotag, edit and share all your images, and something that is generally on us at all times, the power of the iPhone camera can not be underestimated. Ideally, yes, we would like to have our DSLR with us at all times, but this isn’t possible. With a multitude of lenses and accessories for your phone to increase its worth as a camera, this is one to bring to the front of your explores and definitely keep in the back pocket.

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