Sometimes people like to say that in the hands of a professional photographer, even a cell phone camera can compete with a DSLR. That’s simply not true, because cell phones don’t yet offer RAW format storage options, and lack many of the manual adjustment features that a DSLR do – but the Nikon P7800 Pocket Camera is the smallest and cheapest thing you can buy which will rival a DSLR that costs MANY times more.
As a comparison, we’ll analyze two photos: the first taken by Scott Kublin on a Canon 5D Mark III at 32mm with the 28-70 f2.8 L series lens – a combination that costs well over $5,000; and the second taken by myself with the $500 Nikon P7800.
The shot is a very challenging one, taken in the pitch black of late evening over the banks of the Mississippi river in Tennessee, pointing at a bright bridge. First lets examine Scott’s image.
The Hernando de Soto Bridge as Photographed with a Canon 5D Mark III
Scott’s original was posted on his Google+ stream here. It’s a great shot, and it required him to set the camera up on a tripod and take a long exposure shot using the Bulb setting on his camera.
A quick examination of the EXIF data reveals that it was a 52 second shot at ISO200 and f9. He then did a little manipulation in Photoshop, but not too terribly much.
The Hernando de Soto Bridge as Photographed with a Nikon P7800
As soon as Scott finished shooting on the Canon I set up the Nikon on a tripod inches from the Canon. I put the camera in full Manual mode with it set to the 28mm equivalent zoom.
I put the P7800 into Auto Exposure Bracketing mode, set to take 5 shots with the intention of converting them into an HDR in order to compete with the output from the Canon. I also set the timer to 2 seconds so that I could trigger the shutter and then allow it to settle down before opening up, followed by the series of 5 shots, taken at f2.0.
The resulting image is extremely close to the one Scott shot after processing in PhotoMatix and Bridge. In fact, it’s so close that it’s hard to justify the fact that the Canon 5D costs TEN TIMES as much as the Nikon P7800. But there are definitely differences, and to some the marginal utility of those differences is definitely worth it. To some, not so much…
Differences Between the Images
There is no doubt that the hardware affects the output. For example:
- A close examination of the lights on the bridge and you’ll see that the Canon with the 28-70 L series glass produces a very pleasing starburst shape for each light, while the Nikon’s built in lens just offers little glowing orbs of light.
- The water on the river is very smooth on the Nikon photo, where more texture is visible in the Canon image. This is primarily due to two things. First, the Canon shot is a single photo, while the Nikon is a composite of several photos taken over an aggregate much longer period of time. Secondly, the Canon lens was set to F9, rendering much greater depth of field than the Nikon’s f2, especially on the much, much smaller lens.
- There is significantly more noise present in the Nikon image, which can be seen as colored “stars” in the sky as compared to the Canon.
- The Canon also took the photo in under a minute, but the Nikon took about 8-9 minutes to do its thing, because it had to take several long exposure shots, plus it took an extraordinary amount of time to save the images once it had taken them.
A Little Extra Processing
If you want to take things a little farther, it’s possible to actually improve the image further by employing even more Photoshop manipulation. This image was processed using Alien Skin Exposure 6, followed by Topaz Labs DeNoise 5.
Personally, I actually prefer the colors in this image, and it’s kind of how I would have processed it if I wasn’t trying to mirror Scott’s image. But the point of the entire exercise is to demonstrate that the P7800 is actually a far more capable camera than most people might ever give it credit for.
When you combine this with the fact that the camera shoots excellent video, along with having an external microphone input, it makes for a value that is incredibly hard to beat. You save about 90% of the cost, plus have a much smaller camera to carry around, but you will have to trade in a lot of extra time to maximize the quality of the shots you get with this P7800, whereas the 5D is pretty much idiot proof.
So, which route do you prefer?