Resolution, lens range and screen size may all be key specifications, but for
many people, a compact camera will be sold or rejected on its size and looks alone.
While all four cameras on test share roughly the same proportions as a pack of
playing cards, they're all quite different to look at. They're pictured below
next to each other: from left to right, the Canon PowerShot A620, Fujifilm FinePix
F11, Pentax Optio S6 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1.
In terms of size and appearance, Canon's PowerShot A620 is by far the largest
and most traditional-looking of the group. Measuring 105x66x49mm, it's more
the kind of camera you'd carry in a small bag or coat pocket than slip discretely
into a shirt. It's the only one here with a grip of any description, and this
certainly makes it easier to hold steady and avoid camera shake.
Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-N1 may be the second largest camera here, but looks and
feels a world apart from the Canon A620. Clever proportions allow it to look
slimmer than its 97x61x23mm dimensions imply, which combined with rounded corners
impart a classiness lacking from the others. While far from the smallest on
test here, it'll slip neatly into most pockets.
At 92x58x27mm Fujifilm's FinePix F11 is slightly shorter and less wide than
the Sony N1, but 4mm thicker. The proportions and styling give it a somewhat
boxy appearance, although like the Sony N1, it'll still fit into most pockets
Finally the Pentax Optio S6 is easily the smallest camera out of the four,
measuring just 86x54x19mm. This may not sound like a great difference written
down, but place the S6 next to almost any other mid-range compact and it'll
be dwarfed. If you're after a camera which could spend much of its time in a
shirt pocket, this is already the model for you. That said, compromises must
be made in a camera this size, and in terms of design the S6 is the hardest
of the four to hold comfortably and steady.
Camera lens comparison
The lens is of course a crucial part of every camera, and the most important
figure when choosing a compact is the optical zoom range. The Fujifilm, Pentax
and Sony cameras all featured a standard 3x optical zoom range, equivalent to
36-108mm, 37-112mm and 38-114mm on a 35mm camera respectively - see note later
about equivalent ranges.
Only the Canon A620 differed in this respect, offering a 4x optical range equivalent
to 35-140mm on a 35mm camera. While getting fractionally wider than the other
cameras at the short end, the big difference is when you zoom-in, with the Canon
allowing you to enlarge your subject that bit more. It's not going to make much
difference when photographing sports, wildlife or celebrities, but it's certainly
appreciated for general use. The difference between the cameras when fully zoomed-in
is shown below. All four photos were taken moments apart, from exactly the same
point using a tripod.
Canon PowerShot A620
Fujifilm FinePix F11
Pentax Optio S6
Sony Cybershot DSC-N1
All four cameras employed motors to operate their zooms, but like other compacts,
they force you to jump from one focal length to the next in discrete steps.
The Pentax Optio S6 had just six steps in its zoom range compared to eight each
for the Canon and Sony, and nine for the Fujifilm. The Canon A620's zoom lurched
the most as it went from step to step.
If you're into taking extreme close-ups of flowers, insects or other small
subjects, the macro capabilities of the lens are very important. The key specification
for a compact is how close to the subject the lens can physically focus. While
distortion along with shadows cast by the camera become an issue as you move
closer to your subject, the simple fact is, the shorter the focusing distance,
the nearer you'll be able to get to it and the bigger it will subsequently appear
on your photo.
In terms of closest focusing distance, the four cameras varied greatly. Focusing
least close was the Pentax Optio S6 at a mere 15cm. Next were the Sony N1 and
Fujifilm F11 at 6 and 5cm respectively. Thrashing them all in this respect though
was the Canon A620 which can focus as close as 1cm, allowing extreme close-ups.
Check the Macro section of our Results page to compare how they actually perform
Note: the focal lengths quoted earlier are described as being 'equivalent'
to those on 35mm film cameras. The actual focal lengths of each camera are smaller
because their imaging sensors are smaller than a frame of film, but equivalent
ranges are quoted because most people have a better idea of what a '35-105mm'
lens will deliver in real-life. If you're interested in the actual focal lengths
though, please check out the full specifications under the 'cameras' menu. There
you'll additionally find details of the lens focal ratios - we've not mentioned
them here as they were all roughly the same.
Also note many digital cameras quote a digital zoom figure. These are best
ignored though as they simply crop and enlarge the central portion of the image,
thereby leaving fewer pixels and a lower quality result. Remember you can also
do exactly the same thing with a computer later if desired, or select a cropped
area with most printing services.
Camera screen comparison
Used for both composition and playback, not to mention navigating menus, the
screen on a compact camera is one of the most important things to consider.
Over the years screens have gradually been getting bigger and bigger, and even
half an inch extra makes a large difference in practice. Bigger screens may
be no more than a luxury, but they're great when you're viewing photos, especially
with other people.
Canon A620 has the smallest screen of the four at 2in, although this is still
noticeably bigger than the 1.8in screens found on cheaper cameras. Crucially
though, the A620's screen is the only one here which can be flipped out and
twisted round to almost any angle. This makes it easy to photograph from angles
which would normally have you on tip-toes or scrabbling around the floor - you
can even turn it round so you can see yourself on self-timer shots.
Next up are the Fujifilm F11 and Pentax S6 which both sport 2.5in screens.
As described earlier, this is a big step-up from 2in, with both screens dominating
the rear of each camera, especially the tiny Pentax S6.
Biggest of all though is the Sony DSC-N1 which boasts nothing less than a huge
3in screen. Uniquely it's also the only one here which is touch-sensitive. Indeed
almost all the N1's controls are operated by tapping on the screen, and while
a different approach to other cameras, it's both a fun and intuitive way to
For example in spot autofocus mode, you can actually point at the area you'd
like the camera to focus on. The system occasionally becomes slightly sluggish
though and if you're the kind of person who can't stand fingerprints on screens,
it could end up annoying you.
Screens aren't just about size though. Their number of pixels greatly affects
the quality of images viewed on-screen, and the bigger the screen, the more
pixels it'll need to avoid looking coarse. It should be noted screen pixels
won't affect the actual image quality of the photo itself; more screen pixels
are just a nice thing to have when viewing or composing with the camera.
The Canon A620 has the least number of pixels with 115,000 - this is just about
acceptable on a 2in screen, although more would ultimately be preferred. While
the Fujifilm F11 and Pentax Optio S6 both share 2.5in screens though, they sport
153,000 and 232,000 pixels respectively. While the F11 doesn't look bad, the
S6 is visibly sharper and more detailed. Sony's N1 sports 230,000 pixels which
is just about sufficient for a large 3in screen.
Interestingly, the trend for larger screens and smaller camera bodies has seen
the old fashioned optical viewfinder become increasingly rare. Indeed the only
camera you'll find it on here is the Canon A620. Optical viewfinders were always
a useful alternative when screens became washed-out under bright sunlight, but
during our tests, the main screens of all four cameras performed fine under
a bright conditions.
Finally we should mention the Canon A620, Fujifilm F11 and Pentax S6 all offered
the option to overlay a three by three grid over the screen - like a noughts
and crosses or tic-tac-toe board - which can really help when lining up subjects
or horizons. The Pentax S6 and Sony N1 also offered an optional live histogram
facility, which can provide useful feedback on exposure adjustments as you're
Camera flash comparison
All four cameras featured built-in, non-popup flashes. All offered red-eye reduction
modes, along with the ability to force the flash on or off. The Canon A620,
Fujifilm F11 and Sony N1 also offered slow synchro options for taking portraits
against a night skyline; a similar effect could also be achieved with the Pentax
by selecting the Night mode preset in conjunction with the flash.
The Canon A620, Pentax S6 and Sony N1 all allowed you to change the brightness
of the flash (although on the S6 only to a soft setting), while the A620 additionally
offered a rear curtain option which fires the flash at the end of a long exposure
- ideal for photos of people twirling sparklers on bonfire night.
Camera memory comparison
Each of the cameras has a memory card slot, and in an increasing trend for compacts,
two of them also feature a small amount of built-in memory. The two models without
internal memory were supplied with modest-sized cards, although the particular
bundle may vary in your region.
Canon's A620 has no internal memory. It takes SD memory cards and ours was
supplied with a 32MB card which could store nine pictures in the best quality
mode. Fujifilm's F11 also didn't have internal memory. It takes xD memory cards
and ours was supplied with a generous 64MB, good for 21 photos in the best quality
The Pentax Optio S6 features 23MB of internal memory into which you can squeeze
nine pictures using the best quality mode. It also has a slot for SD memory,
although ours wasn't supplied with a card.
Finally, the Sony N1 features 26MB of internal memory onto which you'll squeeze
six photos using the best quality settings, or an album of up to 500 pictures
- see later. The N1 is also equipped with a slot for Sony's own Memory Stick
Duo (or Memory Stick Duo Pro) cards, although ours wasn't supplied with one;
note the Duo cards are shorter than the older chewing gum sized Memory Sticks.
So while all four cameras allow you to start taking photos out the box, you'll
run out of memory real quick. You could of course reduce the quality to squeeze
on more pictures, but we strongly recommend using the best quality settings
- after all, there's no point hobbling your new camera. The important thing
is to budget for a larger card straightaway. We'll compare actual file sizes
on the next page, but a 256MB card should store around 100 photos. It's also
worth mentioning SD cards typically cost less than xD or Memory Stick Duo cards.
Camera battery comparison
The Fujifilm F11, Pentax Optio S6 and Sony N1 all come with rechargeable lithium
ion battery packs and mains rechargers.
In contrast the Canon A620 requires four AA batteries and while it's supplied
with a set of alkalines, these won't last long before they need replacing. The
answer is of course to buy a set of rechargeable AA batteries and a recharger,
and while Canon could be criticised for not including them in the package, many
homes already have a charger they can use. It's wise to invest in a fresh set
of actual rechargeable batteries though, and for the maximum lifespan go for
ones rated at 2000mAh or above; if using an existing charger, check your new
batteries will work in it.
As for AAs versus lithium packs, four of the former may be physically larger
and heavier, but they are at least available all over the world. Ultimately
though we prefer lithium ion packs, but always remember to take your charger
away with you and preferably also a fully-charged spare in case you run-out
Before moving on we'd finally like to note the battery packs for the Fujifilm
F11 and Pentax S6 can both be mistakenly inserted the wrong way round. There's
thankfully no damage should you do so and of course you'll notice the instant
you try and (fail to) power-up, but owners of the F11 should beware: This model
charges its battery inside the camera and nothing will happen if it's inserted
the wrong way round - a potentially disastrous proposition if you think your
camera's being charged for an important event. Luckily the Pentax S6 charges
its battery in an external adapter, but it's still no excuse: proprietary battery
packs like these should only fit one way round.
Camera connectivity comparison
All four cameras can connect to a computer using a USB cable to transfer images,
or to the video and audio inputs of a TV to make slideshows. The Canon A620
and Pentax S6 both have separate plugs for each, while the Fujifilm F11 and
Sony N1 employ a single plug and a supplied cable which delivers USB and AV
connectors; the F11's also connects to its mains charger.