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?120 digital compact cameras Digital Camera Review

120 digital compact cameras Digital Camera Review - Matt Grayson gives the lowdown on a selection of budget compacts in the price range of 120 that are suitable for the happy snapper, first time buyer or as a gift.

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Samsung L210 in Compact Cameras

All compacts are designed to rival each other these days and you'll generally find that they have the same features as each other. The good thing about this is that they then need to offer you something special to make sure you choose them over everyone else.

Skip to Verdict

Digital compact group test: Specifications

Pentax Optio M50:Pentax Optio M50
  • Zoom: 5x optical (36-180mm in 35mm terms)
  • Resolution: 8Mp
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Sensor size: 1/2.35in
  • Image size: 3264x2448
  • Format: JPEG
  • Focusing: Auto, spot, pan, manual
  • Macro: 10cm
  • Metering: Multi, centre-weighted, spot
  • Aperture: f/3.5-5.6
  • Sensitivity: ISO64-6400
  • Screen size: 2.5in
  • Storage: 51Mb internal, SD, SDHC
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Weight: 115g
  • Size: 95x55x23.5mm
Casio Exilim EX-Z80:Casio Exilim EX-Z80
  • Zoom: 3x optical
  • Resolution: 8Mp
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Sensor size:1/2.5in
  • Image size: 3264x2448
  • Format: JPEG
  • Focusing: Multi, tracking, spot
  • Macro: 10cm
  • Metering: Multi, centre-weighted, spot
  • Aperture: f/3.1-5.9
  • Sensitivity: ISO64-1600
  • Screen size: 2.6in
  • Storage: 12.4Mb internal, SD, SDHC, MMC
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Weight: 100g
  • Size: 89.7x51.7x19mm
GE E1235: GE E1235
  • Zoom: 3x optical
  • Resolution: 12.2Mp
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Sensor size: 1/1.72in
  • Image size: 4032x3024
  • Format: JPEG
  • Focusing: Single, multi
  • Macro: 6cm
  • Metering: Centre-weighted, spot, AiAE
  • Aperture: f/2.8-4.9
  • Sensitivity: ISO80-3200
  • Screen size: 2.7in
  • Storage: 26Mb internal, SD, SDHC
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Weight: 145g
  • Size: 103x56x24mm
Samsung L210:Samsung L210
  • Zoom: 3x optical
  • Resolution: 10.2Mp
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Sensor size: 1/2.33in
  • Image size: 3648x2736
  • Format: JPEG
  • Focusing: Auto, multi, centre
  • Macro: 5cm
  • Metering: Multi, spot, centre-weighted
  • Aperture: f/2.8-5.2
  • Sensitivity: ISO80-1600
  • Screen size: 2.5in
  • Storage: 10Mb internal, SD, SDHC, MMC
  • Power: Li-Ion
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Weight: 114g
  • Size: 87.7x56.3x20mm

With Christmas just around the corner (I know), it's important to get in there early and have a look at what's around and if you're thinking of buying someone a little compact for a little over £100, then these four may be just the tonic.

ePHOTOzine says:
Despite having the largest resolution, the GE E1235 is also the largest and heaviest camera. Bear in mind that resolution isn't necessarily the be all and end all. The Pentax Optio M50 offers the largest optical zoom, which is always a good thing, and the Casio has some exceptional focusing modes. The Samsung L210 is the smallest camera but not the lightest. It does offer the closest focusing distance at 5cm.


Pentax M50
The Pentax Optio M50 has a 5x optical zoom which is the longest in the test but has the lowest resolution of the four.

Digital compact group test: Modes and features
The compacts we have on test come with variable resolution ranging from 8Mp on the Pentax and Casio to 10Mp on the Samsung and 12Mp on the GE. You'll notice that the underdog offers a higher resolution to entice you but you need to take other things into consideration too. The GE is also the largest model sitting 56mm tall and 103mm long. The Pentax comes next with its curvy exterior and despite looking bigger than the Samsung, the Casio is the smallest of the four.

The Pentax retains the similar minimalist top plate design of many compacts on the market with only the power button and power switch adorned. Casio have decided to save space on the rear by adding the zoom as a wraparound spring loaded switch under the shutter button. GE have concurred with this idea but have a larger rocker design while Samsung have gone to the lengths of adding the mode dial to the top plate.

All screen sizes are similar with the GE boasting the largest 2.7in LCD. That being said, the smallest is 2.5in, so there's very little in it. The GE and Samsung L210 have opted for the traditional mode dial to switch between options while the Casio has its familiar quick access on screen menu and Pentax have opted for a sub menu mode screen.

Pentax Optio M50
All the cameras in the test such as the Pentax Optio M50 have a face detection for finding a face that may be off centre.

Every model has face detection as standard when using the portrait mode with Pentax and GE using a dedicated button on the back of the camera which is more useful if you don't have the time to change it to portrait mode. All models can track with the face if it moves in the image but it's Casio that steals the crown in this area as the focusing modes it has are immense. Not content with face detection, the EX-Z80 also has smile, blur, panning detection and family recognition. The latter is where you can store images of your family and the camera will reference them when taking a shot. If it sees a match it locks on that face before any others. You can even give these images priority ratings. The Casio and Pentax also have the most over-riding focusing modes with AF, macro, pan, infinity and manual focusing modes all hidden in the main menu.

The GE offers single and multi AF on top of the macro while the Samsung is fitted with the same as the GE but with an additional self portrait mode.

Casio have taken pride in their menu systems by making sure they're clean and legible. The M50 still has a cartoon feel about it which I think drags it down slightly but will appeal to a certain market. The GE doesn't do a bad job with bright white lettering on a pleasant pale blue background but any award has to go to the Samsung for a really clean and sharp layout with nice contrasting lettering.

The Casio has the previously mentioned focusing modes to lure you towards them while the Pentax offers a 5x optical zoom and panoramic mode. The GE offers a high resolution and a snazzy red design while the Samsung offers picture effects such as mono, sepia and colour adjustment.

ePHOTOzine says:
The Pentax clinches the prize for the nicest looking with its curvy sides and minimalist design. It gets let down with its cartoon fonts in the menu and the Samsung clinches it for looking clean and contrasty. The Casio is the easiest to use with it's appealing quick access menu that's always visible on screen. It also has vast options and preset features.


Digital compact group test: Build and handling
At this price point, it's unlikely you'll get a metal body unless you go for an older model and some of these on the test have recently been replaced. That doesn't mean that they're any less capable though and it can sometimes be a boon as the price has dropped on a still decent specification camera.

All four cameras feel well made and it's obvious that the GE is going to be the heaviest as it's the largest camera out of them all. Interestingly, the Casio feels heavier than the Pentax and Samsung yet is the lightest at 100g.

GE E1235
The GE has a small flash unit synonymous with digital compacts.

None of the models are difficult to operate with all the buttons feeling firm but responsive. My only gripe is with the zoom on the Samsung. It's a vertical rocker and is a little tough to move. In this classification you won't have any trouble with complicated or advanced features although the Pentax offers an exposure compensation feature while the Casio has dynamic range boost and a portrait refiner which will reduce noise in the image thereby smoothing it out.

The flash is an integral part of these types of compacts as they have no way of adding additional flash, so what they do have needs to be a good performer. Typical flash modes are on, off, red-eye reduction and auto. The Casio and Pentax have a soft flash added to the list while the Samsung and GE offer a slow synch to illuminate dark backgrounds and the Samsung also has two red-eye reduction options. I'm unsure how they differ as both are designed to reduce red-eye but the one with the paintbrush may do the work after the shot has been taken reducing the need for pre shot flash.

It always annoys me when they use a plastic tripod bush on any camera as it's one of the most highly used areas on the camera. All of the compacts on test have plastic tripod bushes, so have an even keel but fixing it to a tripod is a different matter.

The Pentax and Casio bushes are sat right on the edge of the camera which means the right half of the camera is overhanging.

When you take a picture it moves the camera down slightly meaning that the image is composed differently. Also if it moves back while taking the picture, it'll cause shake.

While the Samsung and the GE have the bush in the centre, the GE one isn't sat flush with the camera meaning the camera doesn't sit on the plate of the camera and in time will spin round and come loose.

ePHOTOzine says:
I like the big lens of the GE but it's all show with a maximum 3x optical zoom. The Pentax feels the best built but with this classification of camera, they'll all be roughly the same. It's a sorry state that the days are truly over when underdog companies would give a better build to entice customers.

The Samsung and Casio are the easiest to understand but the Z80 is let down by the off centre tripod bush.

WINNER: Samsung

Digital compact group test: Performance
Shutter lag is the time between when you press the shutter release all the way down to when the camera actually takes the picture. It can be the deciding factor on whether you get that irresistible first smile from your child. The times I usually get from any compact is 0.08 seconds which sounds pretty good, but has now become the standard.

Samsung L210
All the cameras such as the Samsung take a lithium ion battery for extra power.

The test image is prefocused so realistic times that include focusing on a subject could be longer but there are too many variables such as moving subjects for us to test and give an accurate time with no prefocus.

The Pentax and Casio give the standard time of 0.08 seconds while the Samsung comes in with a slightly slower time of 0.20 seconds. Trailing in fourth place is the GE with a sluggish response of 0.40 seconds.

Bear in mind that this is still under half a second response time but is slow by todays standards.

Sometimes you want to photograph something small such as a flower or abrightly coloured insect that's bitten you on holiday and you need a reference for the doctors. All digital compacts have a macro facility for this reason and that's how close the camera can focus to something.

Interestingly the Pentax and Casio, who are the most well known in the test, have the worst close focusing at 10cm while the GE pushes in closer at 6cm leaving the Samsung to cosy up at 5cm.

Pentax Optio M50
Pentax Optio M50 macro image.
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 macro image.
GE E1235
GE E1235 macro image.
Samsung L210
Samsung L210 macro image.

Colour rendition is an important factor when selecting the correct camera for you to use. When a picture is saved to JPEG, the processor is programmed to boost certain colours and you'll find that blue and green are given priority to help with landscapes. Warm colours are also boosted for portraits, but usually not until in portrait mode.

The best results from our colour test chart have come from the GE E1235 which shows bright results in the primary and also the secondary colours. The skin tone is bang on while the Samsung and Casio give it a cast which will possibly benefit in the portrait test. The GE has rendered the earthy tones a lot more saturated than I would have liked and I think the Pentax has given the best results on the browns and greens.

Pentax Optio M50
Pentax Optio M50 colour chart test.
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 colour chart test.
GE E1235
GE E1235 colour chart test.
Samsung L210
Samsung L210 colour chart test.

It's also important to consider what type of photography you'll use the camera for and the most popular ones are family and holidays. With portraits being so important, skin colour rendition is important as well as the cameras ability to meter properly in different situations.

Whether the flash bleaches you out is an important factor if you're going to use the camera on nights out and face recognition needs to be able to work and track with the subject.

The Casio Exilim EX-Z80 has given the warmest result so if you like your subject's skin to have a glow then it's the result that this camera gives that you will prefer. The Pentax has also gone warm but where the Casio has used orange to warm the image, the Pentax has opted to used red.

The coolest result is from the Samsung and on the surface looks nicely balanced in exposure. Closer inspection shows an over use of the sharpen tool which has been preset into the camera, making lines on the image distort slightly which is a shame. The best result comes from the GE with a warmer image than the Samsung but not as much as the Casio or Pentax.

The Casio is also on the verge of overexposing on the side the sun was shining on while the Samsung has overexposed.

Pentax Optio M50
The Pentax Optio M50 portrait test shot.
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
The Casio Exilim EX-Z80 portrait test shot.
GE E1235
The GE E1235 portrait test shot.
Samsung L210
The Samsung L210 portrait test shot.

When using the flash, you don't want red-eye or bleached out extremities such as the cheek bones and nose. It's fair to say that the GE image looks like it's not even used the flash, but EXIF data says yes and a small catchlight can be seen in the eye. It shows that the image is still getting a fair exposure from the flash but still looks natural as though from an ambient source.

Looking at the image from the Pentax Optio M50, it has a similar result to the GE but with a hint of extra power to give the look of using flash.

The Samsung has retained its cooler effect giving it a more clinical feel while the Casio has kept the warmness of the image without flash. This is a nice attempt but hasn't come out right in the finished product. Casio and Samsung could do with looking at the settings used by Pentax and GE so they can enjoy the same balanced results.

Pentax Optio M50
The Pentax Optio M50 portrait with flash.
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
The Casio Exilim EX-Z80 portrait with flash.
GE E1235
The GE E1235 portrait with flash.
Samsung L210
The Samsung L210 portrait with flash.

If you're going to use the camera for portraits then you'll more than likely be taking pictures of landscapes too. This type of photography generally uses an aperture that is really small as this then brings everything into focus. However, in a bid to stop camera shake in low light, manufacturers have changed the rules on this and decided to just use any old aperture when you're in landscape mode.

Compacts do use a smaller sensor which will in turn increase depth of field (the term that determines what's in focus in a photograph) but I've seen some cameras using an aperture of f/3.6 which can't possibly work.

Also look for chromatic aberration or fringing. That's where a high contrast area such as the white bars on the dark background in our landscape test shot will fetch up a purple outline around the bars. The reason for this phenomena is complex so I won't go into detail but the microlenses on each pixel are designed to focus green light while red and blue aren't focused correctly meaning they blur and amplify.

Pentax Optio M50
Pentax Optio M50 landscape test.
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 landscape image.
GE E1235
The GE E1235 landscape image.
Samsung L210
Samsung L210 landscape image.

Definition in the foreground is good with the Casio but it can't cope with the bright sky and has over exposed. In stark contrast the GE has exposed the sky and background making the foreground darker than it should be. It also has a definite blue cast making the foreground look like it was taken at night. The Pentax has given a nicely balanced exposure but the colour is off as it's covered in a green cast.

I'm happiest with the Samsung's exposure the most as there's good light over the entire image although at the expense of detail in the sky. This could be amended by adjusting the exposure compensation by two thirds of a stop (-0.7) as I think the ground has enough light to cope. It's just a shame that the Samsung doesn't have exposure compensation.

Fringing is barely noticeable on the Samsung and Casio images and none existant on the Pentax. The GE is throwing it up like it's out of fashion. To see the effect, look at the white bars and the leaves of the trees that are over the sky, they have a purple/blue tinge to them.

ePHOTOzine says:
In terms of speed, the GE simply doesn't cut the mustard against the other models. However, it does give the most balanced results in portraits and the colour chart which just goes to show that companies not known for their digital camera making prowess can offer you the best camera for the job.

Again the GE lets itself down in the landscape test which the Pentax has sailed through. Casio and Samsung had a good try but couldn't compete with the Japanese manufacturer's experience.

WINNER: Pentax & GE

Digital compact group test: Noise test
A typical noise test here at ePz towers consists of taking a photograph at every ISO setting that the camera has. However, they all have at least five, so to save you trawling through loads of noise images, you can see the ISO100 images and ISO1600.

Noise is made in low light situations because the sensor is amplifying its request for light. By doing this it also picks up and records other electrical signals from outside sources, or even heat generated from the camera, which turn up in the shape of noise.

The Pentax has given the more natural colours but I prefer the slightly boosted version from the Samsung. The GE has given the image with most detail in the petals.

Pentax Optio M50
Pentax Optio M50 ISO100 test.
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 ISO100 test.
GE E1235
GE E1235 ISO100 test.
Samsung L210
Samsung L210 ISO100 test.

The Casio has noise becoming a serious problem at ISO400. By ISO1600, which is the maximum setting for the Z80, detail in the petals isn't visible. Casio have stopped the sensitivity at ISO1600 which suggests to me that they know their limits. GE have the same problem but they've decided to stick in an extra setting of ISO3200 anyway. It's a waste of time simply because the amount of noise renders the image useless.

I mentioned above that heat generated from the camera can create noise and the camera also contributes in a different way. The electrical signal made by the individual pixels collecting light can contaminate the neighbouring pixels and increase noise. A simple solution to this problem is to deactivated a portion of the pixels to put some distance between the ones being used. The Pentax does this and at the highest levels, the camera can only be used at 5Mp. This does have a detrimental effect on detail and it's noticable on the ISO1600 shot from the Pentax Optio M50.

Samsung fall foul of their own over-processing and while I prefer the boosted colours, the sharpening can't be missed and detail is quickly lost from ISO800.

Pentax Optio M50
Pentax Optio M50 ISO1600 test.
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 ISO1600 test.
GE E1235
GE E1235 ISO1600 test.
Samsung L210
Samsung L210 ISO1600 test.

ePHOTOzine says:
Pentax have given the best overall result but at the expense of resolution. They've capped the pixels to save noise and it shows in the quality of detail. GE seem to have stuck high sensitivity in the camera without thinking of the consequences while Casio have shown a grown up attitude of stopping it when it gets too much. While Samsung have the colours I prefer, they've shot themselves in the foot with the in camera processing giving it a false rendition.

WINNER: Pentax

Pentax Optio M50

Digital compact group test: Verdict
All four cameras have excelled in some area but the Pentax won out in the end with a majority of wins in the different categories. The Optio M50 has the nicest design, largest zoom, best noise performance and least fringing.

It's important to know that this doesn't necessarily mean that the Pentax is the camera for you. You may look at the portraits and decide that the Samsung gives results that you personally prefer. You may find the blur and pan auto shutter feature of the Casio more useful for what you want to do.



Pentax Optio M50: Plus points
Good design
Large 5x optical zoom
Good image performance

Pentax Optio M50: Minus points
Ugly menu system
Off set tripod bush

Casio Exilim EX-Z80: Plus points
Excellent focusing options
Easy to use
Small body

Casio Exilim EX-Z80: Minus points
Poor macro
Off set tripod bush

GE E1235: Plus points
High resolution
Good colour rendition
Smooth portraits

GE E1235: Minus points
Blue cast on landscapes
High ISO is a joke

Samsung L210: Plus points
Neat menu layout
Best macro capability
Good landscape result

Samsung L210: Minus points
Over processing the images
Portraits are too cool

Pentax Optio M50:



Casio Exilim EX-Z80:



GE E1235:



Samsung L210:




The Pentax Optio M50 costs around £115. Take a look at the Pentax website for more details.

The Casio Exilim EX-Z80 costs around £122 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Casio Exilim EX-Z80.

The GE E1235 starts at around £115. Take a look at the GE website for more details.

The Samsung L210 costs £119 and is also available from Warehouse Express here:

Samsung L210.

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