Digital cameras: How we test digital cameras
Which? puts digital cameras to the test so we can tell you exactly what you need to know when you're buying a new one. We'll help you avoid poor image quality, terrible ease of use or loads of unnecessary features that you'll never need.
We put every camera through the same tests - a mixture of assessments from image quality experts and technical lab testing - so we can answer the important, no-nonsense questions with confidence and give you a verdict you can trust. Read on to find out:
- What makes a Which? Best Buy digital camera?
- How we test cameras to find the best?
- How we find which cameras are easy to use?
- How we'll show you which camera to buy?
What makes a best buy digital camera?
How we test to find the best
Which? tests 80 digital cameras a year and we ensure that our guides only have the models that are currently available.
To help you choose the best digital camera, we put each model through a series of meticulous tests. Our expert team design the tests to be both rigorous and repeatable, so that we know we’ve really put the products through their paces. For example, to test a digital camera’s image stabilisation feature, we put it on a vibrating platform and run it 900 times. We call this the ‘Shaking Hands test’.
Due to improvements in our digital camera testing procedures to account for new features and developments, please note that digital cameras tested in 2009 are not directly comparable with those tested from 2010 onwards.
We aim to ensure all the major brands are represented and test new models as soon as they are released.
Ease of use
Our expert assessors test our products for their ease of use by running through everyday scenarios that replicate how you use your digital camera.
We initially look at using the camera for the first time, including the intuitiveness of basic controls, inserting memory cards and batteries, and instruction manuals. The layout, size and labels of all buttons and controls are carefully checked by our experts and assessed on their accessibility.
The shutter delay and auto-focussing speeds are carefully measured, along with the delay between taking successive photos and the start up time, to check if sluggish behaviour may lead to you missing that perfect moment.
The menus are thoroughly looked through to check how easy it is to change common settings such as flash options, image quality and scene modes. If these options are difficult to find and change you may be missing out on a wealth of your camera’s best features.
The quality and accuracy of the screen and viewfinder are checked under different light conditions to check for good colour reproduction and so that you can accurately frame your shot. Manual focussing and settings are checked for suitable scales and how they are adjusted, lens zoom is tested for its speed, responsiveness and precision, and batteries are checked for their charging and replacement procedures.
Our products undergo an extensive range of objective laboratory testing to assess performance
Image quality of cameras is assessed by a panel of five experts. When testing image quality on digital cameras, we measure resolution and aberrations using a test chart and the camera at different settings (such as at wide angle setting, at telephoto setting, and so on.)
Colour reproduction, contrast, peak white and white balance are assessed using a range of digital camera settings on a combination of various practical pictures, stretching the cameras’ abilities. These help to distinguish those cameras that will perform accurate images in a range of difficult photographic environments.
Sensitivity to light
We also measure light sensitivity, picture noise, vignetting and distortion. Automatic focusing, including face detection, is measured while pointing the digital camera at a variety of objects, under different light conditions, and at various camera settings to make sure you avoid blurry, out of focus images.
Test images reveal the cameras ability to accurately record skin tones, textures and fine details while our low light performance tests check image noise, sharpness and resolution in darker environments.
Our ‘shaking hands’ test is used to check the image stabilisation features to see whether the camera will capture the moment with detail and sharpness even when you’re struggling to hold it still.
The intelligence of the digital camera's flash is measured – how well it automatically adjusts its brightness according to the scene photographed. Flash quality is also assessed, taking a photograph at different distances from close-up to far-away, along with its strength, variation in distribution and reflections.
We set the digital camera to take movies at a range of quality settings, and record movies of different scenes, including scenes of movement and those where the camera is placed on a tripod and panned across the scene. Our test panel assess quality when played back on both a PC monitor and a television screen.
The audio quality produced by a camera's built-in microphone is also rated and our testers highlight whether using the zoom while recording can be heard on the audio.
Should I buy it?
All data sent back from our laboratories is carefully analysed by Which? staff so that the highs and lows of every product are revealed.
If anything does not add up with a product then we will retest it. If there's a fault we'll purchase a new product to see whether it’s a one-off issue, or symptomatic of a larger problem.
The digital camera score ignores price and is based on:
- Image quality 40%
- Ease of use 30%
- Viewfinder & monitor 10%
- Video/audio 10%
- Flash 10%
To be a Best Buy, a camera must score 70% or higher.
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