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|GE X5: Click on the thumbnail for the larger image.|
|The front of the camera is dominated by the lens and the large handgrip that holds four AA batteries.|
There are times when looking at cameras when you wonder how on earth so much technology can fit into one small space or, as is the case with General Electric's first bridge-style camera, how you can put in so many features at such a low price. Yes, price is going to be the key issue here, because for around £130 you get the solid handling of a bridge camera, the long reach of a 15x telephoto lens and the packed detail of a 14Mp sensor. On top of that there’s lots of firmware based features such as smile/blink/face detection, HDR-shadow boosting and scene detection. The X5 represents GE’s first step out of the comfort zone of compact territory so let's see how well it does.
GE X5: Features
There’s a nice list of features here, wrapped up in stylish package. As mentioned, there’s the aspheric ED 27mm (equiv) lens with the big 15x zoom and enough resolution so that if 4:3 aspect ratio images aren’t your thing, you can shoot at 3:2 and still bring home 12Mp resolution. There’s optical image stabilisation – thank god, face and smile detection, a decent ISO range and control modes for the beginner and the enthusiast – Scene modes or Aperture and Shutter Priority, the choice is yours. On the back of the camera the choice aspect is extended, with the availability of an EVF to compliment the 2.7” LCD. There’s just enough room to squeeze in a familiar set of joy-pad controls and some menu buttons with enough space left for your thumb. Don’t worry about handling though, because the hand-grip dominates the camera. This is thanks to the X5 using 4xAAs, all of which fit in underneath and make the camera much heavier than it looks. The SD card goes in the same compartment which has the consequence that when opening the lid to change the card, the batteries come loose, unlike if a Li-ion battery had been used with a plastic clip. There’s a pop-up flash with a GN of 7.5, which is quite powerful for a compact, and the flash modes consist of forced flash and red eye+slow synch. What is missing is any kind of control wheel to alter the shooting parameters when in AP or SP mode as these functions are dealt with using buttons.
GE X5: Handling
The build quality is excellent for this price point and there’s a really solid grip that’s easy to hold. The dial on the top of the camera is big and chunky and the zoom rocker is prominent. There are some issues with the Electronic View Finder because it doesn’t keep up when focusing and firing and it also doesn’t display any shooting information. Consider it an option when it really is very sunny. The main LCD screen is reasonable quality, it isn’t the best, but it’s hardly unusable. The menu text is on the small side so will require reasonable eye sight. In terms of handling the main issue is the fact that on a bridge camera with AP and SP modes there is no selection wheel. Instead, the aperture or shutter speed are set by pressing the exposure compensation button and then selecting it off a small menu. Given that the ISO rating is set on the Function menu and the metering on the Main menu, it does make for a lot of menu use. You won’t notice this when using the camera on automatic, but as you take more control over proceedings it does slow things down.
GE X5: Performance
Let’s start with focusing because this is fairly typical compact territory. It’s modest but gets a lock in reasonable time or quits, there’s no hunting about. This is good because it means you can simply have another go and try focusing on something with more contrast. The face and smile detection are both effective as long as the faces aren’t being cropped off or too far away which is par for the course. When it comes to colour reproduction it’s interesting because the test card shot shows pretty accurate red and green rendering, but with much brighter blues. No surprises there. In actual real world conditions, even with colour balance set to Normal, there’s heavy saturation, even in the flattest lighting. It is possible to use a lower saturation setting though. By contrast, the firmware takes control when faced with people and flesh tones tend to be healthy, but not overdone, in standard shooting modes. The beauty portrait mode doesn’t make a great deal of difference, it’s a very subtle effect, unlike that on the Panasonic FX70 for example.
There are some shortcomings with the dynamic range because even under totally even lighting on an overcast day, shooting a flower bed with white flowers in it causes them to bleach out. You’ll need to be aware of this and use exposure compensation when a scene features light or white subjects. Other subjects are fine under these conditions but on high contrast days, with lots of sun and shade, it is more pronounced and, while all compact cameras suffer from this, it’s more apparent here.
When it comes to metering then it’s the usual rule of thumb for compact cameras: give me the landscape, forget the sky. Doesn’t matter what metering mode it is, even the AI zone system does it. Unless you actually focus on the sky or a piece of building with bright light on it, the sky is lost, and not just bright skies, but nice blue ones too. Exposure compensation, or really, focusing on the edge of the sky is required, obviously resulting in a dark foreground. But now here’s the really interesting feature. Shooting into the sun can guarantee a silhouetted landscape, right? Not here. There’s HDR style processing going on in the shadow areas. GE makes a play about this feature, and you can clearly see it at work, brightening up shadow areas that would otherwise be silhouettes. Unfortunately on really contrasty situations you might end up knocking this back in Photoshop because the quality in the shadows clearly suffers. It’s actually better when there’s modest contrast so, if in doubt, try to get the sky because the firmware will have a go at brightening the shadows for you.
ISO Noise performance
Image quality at ISO80 is reasonable considering there’s a massive 14Mp resolution on a small scale chip. There’s some noise in the shadows at ISO80, though nothing anyone printing the images out would really notice. Obviously it increases through the range and as the noise suppression kicks in, fine details start to be lost at ISO400. It’s not a lot worse at ISO800, but it does depend on what you’re using the increased ISO rating for. In low light at wide angles, it looks worse than in brighter light, using the telephoto and the ISO to keep the shutter speed up. The interesting thing is that when you hit ISO1600, to keep the noise under control the detail starts to get smoothed out, so at the fastest speed of ISO3200, they don’t look overly noisy, but they are very soft thanks to loss of detail. Perhaps the best feature of the noise control is that coloured noise, the stuff that really ruins photos, is kept under control throughout so that images are usable, even if they lose detail on the higher settings.
|GE X5 Outdoor ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
|GE X5 Indoor ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
The Automatic WB performs admirably in normal daylight conditions and even under fluorescent lighting it still gives a nice neutral aspect to the images. The manual fluorescent setting also works well just in case the AWB is slightly off. It’s worth trying both. The incandescent lighting was more of a mixed bag with the AWB setting being okay, but a little too warm while the incandescent setting itself was a little too cold. Remember that the manual settings are fixed temperatures so it’s worth experimenting to see what gives the best results under specific conditions. When it comes to mixed lighting conditions the camera invariably follows the brightest light source and copes with that, so that in general use, you aren’t going to have any problems with the X5.
|GE X5 white-balance test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
|Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting.||Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting.|
|Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting.||Fluorescent preset in fluorescent light.|
The X5 has quite a long lens when it’s extended, and it has a little dinky hood extension, really just to cut down on light coming in sideways. Unusually for such a long zoom range, the widest aperture is f/3.0 and at the telephoto end, it’s f/5.2 rather than f/5.6, so there’s slightly more light to play with. At this point it’s clear that you can’t have top quality optics in a tiny camera for a pocket full of change - there has to be a compromise. The quality at the wide angle end has significant distortion and, with a wide open aperture, there’s a lot of colour fringing apparent. It does get significantly better at the narrowest aperture of f/7.3 at the wide angle, really cutting down on it. When extending the zoom out to the full reach, you might expect serious pain but that’s not the case. The distortion is fairly modest and there’s reasonable detail so for a camera at this price point, that zoom really is usable and effective. Shooting into sunlight produces lots of flare as expected. The other point to note is that the optical image stabilisation is the hardware based CCD-shift type but it’s only mildly effective and won’t help on slow shutter speed shots. It’s more use if the camera isn’t held steadily enough when using the long zoom.
GE X5: Verdict
Well it has a raft of amazing headline features for what is an absolutely bargain price. You might expect the build to be cheap and plastic but it’s the opposite; it’s really solid, well put together and handles very well. The wide angle lens and great reach of the 15x zoom are big, desirable features, worth getting the camera for on its own. There’s clearly got to be some compromise, otherwise everyone would have this style of camera at this price point, not £100 more. Those shortcomings are that the image quality is only average. You won’t really notice when printing out at A4 though. Yes, there’s distortion at the wide angle, and lots of it, and also colour fringing on days with lots of contrast. The biggest issue was the dynamic range and the over-saturation, but both can be tackled with appropriate settings on the camera. A Canon or Fuji super-zoom will give you better performance and image quality, but then you will have to pay more to get them. The GE is a great value option, specifically for those on a tight budget, who could only otherwise look on with longing at better performing models, wrapping up some very desirable features in a nicely built package.
GE X5: Pros
15x optical zoom
Excellent build quality
Wide angle lens
GE X5: Cons
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
GE X5: Specification
|Max image size||4320x3240|
|Aspect ratio||4:3, 3:2 (12Mp)|
|Focus points||Single, nine-points|
|Focus type||Single AF, Multi-AF (9 point), Face Detection + Face AE|
|Focus distance||Macro: 5cm, Normal: 60cm|
|File type||JPEG, QT video|
|ISO sensitivity||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|Metering types||Ai AE, Centre-weighted average, Spot|
|Exposure compensation||+/1 2EV|
|Shutter speed range||4-1/2000secs, 30s manual|
|Frames-per-second||1.39fps stills, 640x480 @ 30fps movie|
|Monitor||2.7in LCD, EVF|
|Media type||SD, SDHC (up to 16Gb)|
|Interface||USB 2.0, AV|
|Power||4xAA batteries or 2500mAh battery pack (not supplied)|
|Weight||350g (body only)|
The GE X5 is priced at £129.99 and is available from Warehouse Express here: