Two of the best small compacts on the market. Quality differences are on a knife edge, but the Canon wins for superior features and handling.Both Canon and Nikon have launched new high-end, similar-sized, similarly-priced, compact, eight-megapixel digital cameras which offer similar headline features at identical prices. At the last refresh, face recognition was added to both lines. This time image stabilisation has been introduced. So which to buy?
Anyone who’s used an Ixus will be familiar with the 80 IS’ arsenal. This includes the excellent panorama utility which aids stiching together photos to make single panoramic shots. However, Nikon matches this and even surpasses it by allowing you to pan up or down in addition to left and right.
But, Nikon can’t match Canon’s Colour Accent and Colour Swap features which, in both stills and video, allow you to choose one colour to remain vivid while everything else is left black and white (a la Schindler’s List) or to swap two colours over. It might seem gimmicky, but it’s great fun.
Both have a full complement of pre-set exposures for the likes of beach, snow, underwater and night modes. Macro, exposure compensation, timer and flash options (like slow-shutter and red-eye reduction) are also close at hand. Both offer DPOF printing options and audio/video out via composite and RCA connectors.
Both also sport face detection modes to ensure ‘people pics’ are focussed and exposed properly and lens shift-based image stabilisation which keeps images sharp at about a stop lower than normal. However, Canon’s is superior as you can make it active only when shooting and you can optimise it for panning. The latter only adds vertical stabilisation so you can still pan left or right when shooting.
Canon also offers focus checking features like AF-Point Zoom which enlarges the area of focus so you can to check for sharpness before shooting. Also, Focus Check lets you see quickly view this area once the image is captured. Canon also offers a true focus lock, exposure lock and even flash exposure lock. Nikon simply locks focus when the shutter is half depressed, but the Canon does this too.
Both offer extensive playback features for checking and cropping photographs. Nikon’s D-Lighting feature can help fix poorly-exposed photos by copying and enhancing them, but again Canon offers more options to check focus, levels and even edit video.
But Nikon’s time-lapse feature is superior. Canon’s allows photos to be taken 1 or 2 seconds apart for up to 2hrs before stitching them into a movie. But the Nikon can take pictures up to an hour apart hour for 1800 shots. These can form a time-lapse movie or full-sized, time interval-separated stills.
Neither sports full manual control, but there’s no call for it with cameras this size.
Handling and ergonomics
Few will disagree that the Canon is a prettier camera and not just because it’s available in pretty colours. However, the Nikon looks more masculine. The Canon is faster to start and more responsive when mode-changing and scrolling through pictures, though. Conversely, we found the Nikon’s reciprocal little delays slightly frustrating.
From behind, the control panels look similar, but Canon’s mode switch and superior menus make it easier to navigate. Most of Nikon’s advanced menus are accessed via a single ‘star’ button and we frequently got lost and struggled to get back to picture-taking mode.