The DC P1410 is BenQ's best digital compact camera yet, but does a 14 megapixel cam with 7x optical zoom and a heap of shooting options warrant your budget buck, or do a few pitfalls let it down?
BenQ's flagship digital compact camera is the first in its class to get 7x optical zoom thrown in, topping BenQ's digicam range so far. Under the classy, black and grey, slightly glossy exterior sits a Panasonic 14 megapixel CCD sensor and a 28mm wide angle lens. The lens rim is crowned with a golden ring that finishes the polished package.
It's an all-round sexy unit from quick inspection that can go up against some of the bigger brands from a distance, though, up close, the picture isn't as pretty. The fairly thin build of roughly 2cm thick is easily pocket-friendly and the unit feels pretty solid, but the buttons give the camera away as a budget unit. Immediately noticeable is the zoom dial and shutter button which sits on loosely as though it could pop off at any moment.
Straight to business though, and onto the image quality.
The wide angle lens will take clear, focused shots of anything within a fairly far distance of over 10 metres, though the focal depth of up-close shots (within a metre or two) isn't always very deep, slightly blurring background subjects. Good if you want to take macro shots with one thing emphasised in the middle, but not the best if it's a group shot you're after. Though most of the time the shots are clear across the board, with this only coming up on the odd shot.
Colours are vibrant in outdoor shots, with primary colours popping from photos without shining out the deeper detail. Though the contrast can be lacking when the surrounding light is too dim. The shots are realistically articulated, but similar colours in shadier spots will be toned down because of this, without much tonal distinction between them.
It's not much of a low-light performer, so the in-built flash will be the saviour of night shots here. Add zoom to the picture and the photos shot at night are even less appealing. There's a slightly noticeable softening of edges in these darker shots, but the pictures are fortunately not drowned in grainy noise.
Picture quality is still quite impressive for a camera sitting at $179, but nothing to poke a stick at. Video quality is capped at 720p and doesn't hold dual mics for stereo audio, but again gets a tick on this budget offering. Photos are vibrant, if not vivid before you start zooming in on the smaller details. Photos will look great at standard resolution on your computer screen (or printed), but start zooming in from double zoom and beyond and the pixels pick up and colours bleed into each other a little. The bright 3-inch LCD screen houses a 460k dot resolution that's easy to view, though it won't let you peak at the finer details in your shots.
The dual anti-shake system that uses a piece of software plus some in-built tech in the lens is as effective as it gets, and we never came up with a blurry shot, even in darker spots without a flash.
There's no HDMI-out for playing your photos and videos on a TV in full HD, but there is an AV-out that serves the same function. The max video resolution you'll be pushing out of the camera though is 1280x720 pixels.
The lens is very loud for such a small camera. Zooming will result in a loud buzz both ways, and the shutter also comes with a fairly loud click for each shot. The woes don't end here, with a slow reaction time for auto shots, with slow automatic focusing and even slower times between shots, having to wait several seconds between each shot you take (not to mention time to readjust the focus for a new shot). To compensate, there are continuous and burst shot modes.
Onto the shooting modes, and BenQ has thrown a bunch into its new digicams with its new cameras tailored to creative young shooters looking to have some fun with their point-and-clickers. This includes a colour-select mode that lets you pick out individual colours in a scene to snap against an otherwise black-and-white backdrop. There's also a 'toy mode' for tilt-shift style shots, an artificial fish-eye lens mode and touch-up on-the-go style modes like blemish reduction for up-close portraits, minus the zits, pores and freckles.
The shooting modes are easy to use, and there are enough creative add-ons to make these a big selling point for this camera. Features are otherwise pretty scarce on this mostly automatic camera, so this 32-mode catalogue is the prime add-on feature for this compact. And at the price, it's a fair offering. Though even if you don't use these options, the camera will still sap battery life fairly quickly, dying after less than 100 shots.
You get what you pay for is a saying that applies more often than not, especially in the realm of budget goods. Where budget devices stand out is where they offer that little bit extra above the rest of the made-in-China bunch. The P1410 offers some crisp picture quality for a camera well under $200, and it's very simple to use. It isn't overwhelmed with features and customisable options, but the extensive shooting modes make for a definite value add. The cheaper S1430 model at $150 might suit the budget buyer a little more, but the range topper is definitely worth considering if you want to take casual shots with only a slight compromise, and definitely sits higher in the food chain than many of the point-and-clickers that have tried to take on smartphones in recently at a similar price point.