Point 'N' Shoot founder Colin Glover reviews the GE Power Pro X5, a 14 Megapixel bridge camera with manual controls and a large 15X optical zoom lens. It's an Asia Optical Design, to GE specificationd, developed by GE's Research and Development team in Tokyo. This model is also sold on the Argos website as the HZ15. It's also rebranded and sold as the Agfaphoto Selecta 14 in Curry's/PC World. It's big brother is the almost identical 16 Mp X500 with the only other difference being a whopping 20 scene modes.. At A high Street/internet price of £110, can it rival the more expensive bridge models from Fuji, Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus and Canon?. Read on to find out in Col's detailed review.


GE OR NOT GE - THAT IS THE QUESTION.

All the major  camera manufacturers  have at least one bridge camera in their range.  Until the advent of Compact System cameras last year, bridge cameras sat between compact cameras and Dslr models. Whilst the compacts were aimed at the point and shoot market, the DSLR models were aimed solely at the enthusiast. DSLR ‘s however are expensive, and the lenses alone can cost almost as much as the body itself.  Whilst they have all the features a dedicated amateur might need, the cost is often prohibitive. The bridge camera is by it’s nature a bridge between compact and DSLR models, with the majority of features a good amateur might need. Usually, it’s styled like a DSLR but with a smaller body and a fixed optical zoom lens. They’re often classed as ‘Superzooms’ having large lenses with high magnifications. It can be easy to spend upwards of £200 on a bridge camera.  It’s not surprising that the unbranded manufacturers making cheaper cameras don’t have any bridge models, that is, with the Exception of two, Agfa Photo, and America’s General Imaging Corporation. who’s current range includes two bridge cameras, the 14.1 megapixel X5 (also known as the HZ15) and the 16 megapixel X500.  It’s the X5 we’re reviewing here.

Many cheaper manufacturers often use clone cameras. Some cheap models share the same design between several different brands, whilst some are clones of major manufacturers cameras with a few of the cameras features removed. From the outside the GE bridge models appear to share a similar Body as Fuji’s Finepix S 1500/1600/and the S2950 models, but according to Gary Sutton from GE's UK office, they are not clones of the Fuji's. From the outside, the obvious differences are the lens, the buttons being in different places and the slightly smaller 2.7 inch LCD screen.  At an average online price of £99.00, as opposed to £129 for Fuji’s cheapest bridge model, is the X5 a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or just a cheap, copy? Read on to find out more.

 

On Paper, the X5 has a lot to shout about, 14. Megapixels, a large 15X optical zoom, 2.7 inch LCD,  optical image stabilisation, electronic viewfinder, 14 scene modes, easy to use panorama stitching, unlimited continuous shot burst mode, programme auto mode , shutter priority and aperture modes, auto scene modes, pop up flash with 6 flash modes, iso 3200, manual white balance and more in an affordable package. But if you rub away the veneer, will you have a decent camera? Unusually, for an unestablished camera company there’s plenty of reviews from both professional sites and user reviews such as Ciao!, Argos, Amazon and Reevoo. Just type in GE X5 reviews into Google and you’ll find them. In the main, the professional reviews don’t rate the camera, whereas the public generally give the camera 4 or 5 stars.  One Amazon reviewer who was bought an X5 to replace a Fuji S1500 stated how similar they were, but didn’t say it was worse than the Fuji.

Rather than dive into every feature and menu item, I’ll give an overview of the main features of the camera and it’s usability. Users have complained about low light performance, and as this is an important criteria on which to make a buying decision, I’ll give you the full picture.  Right, that’s the introduction over with, on we go,

 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS.  

From the moment you take it out of the box, it’s extremely obvious the X5 is extremely well built. It feels solid and robust in your hands, unlike the majority of digicams on the market today. It looks virtually similar to its rivals from Fuji. The main difference is the lens. It doesn’t look quite right, there’s something almost flowery about it, the end of the lens looking like flower petals. It’s comprised of 14 elements in 11 groups.At the wide end it’s equivalent to 27mm, and goes up to 405mm at the telephoto end. It’s not a branded lense, and doesn’t give the performance of the best bridge camera lenses, and at this price point you wouldn’t expect it to be one. It’s a DSLR style compact, which means it looks like an Slr that’s shrunk in the wash. The large 2.7 inch LCD screen, whilst not being as big as the ones found the best bridge cameras is more than adequate. You can manually set the brightness level between 0 and 100%, which is a great bonus. An electronic viewfinder (EVF) compliments this for sunny days when the LCD isn’t bright enough. Short sighted people need to be aware that you’ll need to keep your specs on using the viewfinder, otherwise things will look blurred when the image is clear. There’s over a dozen icons on the Lcd screen, and if you’re using the EVF then the small viewfinder looks overcrowded with icons.

It’s easy to hold, and the zoom lever surrounding the shutter release button works well, though it can be a little jerky. The camera feels nice and comfortable to grip. Weighing in at 350g without batteries means that the weight helps reduce camera shake.  Six menu buttons and the customary Dpad occupy the rear of the camera, whilst an optical stabilisation button and a face detection button sit alongside the zoom ring and power switch on the top of the unit. Shutter lag is slow, in fact it’s quicker to start up than it is to focus.  When it focuses shots are usually of a decent quality, well exposed and reasonably sharp. The camera is great to hold, you really feel you’re holding a substantial piece of kit.  Pressing the shutter evokes a delay, up to a second lag. This could be better.

USER MANUAL

A 92 page user manual is on the software disc. This is easy to uread and is understandable. Chinese or Japenese models are pictured in the photographs, coincidentally the same models used in the Fuji manuals. .

IN THE BOX

There’s the camera,  4 AA alkaline batteries, a Lense cap with lens strap and a full sized strap for the camera that you put over your head like you do with an SLR camera. The material on the strap is already badly fraying. The software disc contains the user manual and Arcsoft pho software.

MODES.

There are 10 shooting modes on the mode dial. As well as the obvious, Auto, Programme, Movie and scene modes, there’s Aperature and Shutter priority, Manual (without manual focus),  Sweep Panorama (which automatically takes your shots for you) Auto Scene and a dedicated position for Portraits. All you do to select a mode is turn the dial to the required position. The camera automatically starts up in the mode the dial is set to. You can change modes even when the camera is off.  Here’s a quick overview of some of the modes.

Auto: This is a basic point and shoot mode. It’s icon is the picture of a camera as the A most manufacturers use is Aperture priority mode on the X5.  In this mode, only a few settings can be changed Autofocus is set to a single point. This mode works well for geberal picture taking. Many users complained of poor performance on low lit indoor shots without a flash, but in auto mode I didn’t experience this, the only downside being white balance being out on some shots. Image size, and quality can be accessed from the function menu, but none of the other settings. The EV button is unavailable in this mode. Overall, auto mode gives good pictures.

Program Auto Exposure: This mode lets you change the exposure compensation, whilst letting the camera select Shutter and Aerature speeds. Several other settings, can all be configured as well, such as Auto Focus and metering. Iso, image size, quality, colour and white balance can all be configured from the function menu which is in the centre of the D pad. This is a feature taken directly from Fuji cameras, whereby most used features are accessed via their own dedicated button. EV and aperture can be set in this mode, and the full range of function menu options are available.

Scene: 12 pre-set scenes are included. As you scroll through them a small description helps you decide if the scene is appropriate. For example, many modes have the flash disabled.The ones most people will use are probably the indoor, Kids and pets, flower, sport, museum and glass settings. Camera settings are optimised to provide the best pictures, but this is dependant on shooting conditions. The scene modes tend to work well. if you choose the right one for the task.

Movie: The X5 takes very good movies. Exposure is excellent if set to AiAE in the menu, and despite the manual saying only digital zoom is available, it’s optical zoom can be used.  The camera records sound well, but it can be a little harsh and distorted in situations where noise can be loud, such as a loud disco at a party. The zoom motor isn’t picked up by the microphone, but hiss is, and it can be annoying.

Pan Capture Panorama: Another good mode has been made simple. On the many cameras Panorama was achieved by lining up the edge of the previous image and pressing the shutter. The X5 gones a step further. Zoom position and exposure are set on the first image. You then get a line across the centre of the screen and a crosshair in a circle which you Pan (move) along the line until you hit another crosshair in a square. The camera automatically takes the second shot for you. You can press the function button to stitch the two images together, or repeat the process again. 2 or 3 images can be stiched together, and great fun can be had if people change places between shots as you can create fake ‘Identical Twins’ to amuse your friends. The stich result is not always accurate, but when it is, the results are impressive.  

Shutter and Aperture: Experienced photographers will love these two modes. To use the modes you simply press the EV button and use the trackpad to select the EV, and either shutter speed or aperature, dependent upon the mode you’re using.  The camera will automatically adjust the remaining shutter or aperture setting according to what the user selects. The shutter priority guide has images of suitable subjects for each setting, including fireworks, candlelight, pets, cars and flying birds. Experienced photographers can obtain impressive results with these modes. Shutter speeds can be set between a long 30 seconds and a fast 1/2000th of a second, but bear in mind that fast shutter speeds in low or artificial light require the Flash. Using a fast shutter will give an incredibly sharp image.

Manual: For even greater control, Aperature and shutter speed can be set independently. The EV is set automatically by the camera.  Effective use of this mode can produce fantastic shots.

LENS.

Arguably, the main feature of the camera is it’s 15X optical zoom lens. In 35mm equivalent, it ranges from an impressive 27mm at the wide end, to 405mm telephoto. Whilst it’s not a big as some of the more expensive bridge cameras with 24-30X zooms, it’s very useable for most users. At full 15X zoom, image stabilisation is needed. The optical stabilisation does a great job. Just as on it’s more expensive cousins, there’s dual image stabilisation, There’s a dedicated stabilisation button and a choice of single or continuous modes. This uses the CCD shift method to give sharp pictures. At full optical and even full digital zoom images can appear reasonably sharp on the LCD, and when viewed on a P.C. There is noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle and some pincushion at the telephoto. Whilst not negligible, neither offers any cause for concern. Compared to a normal 3x optical zoom, it’s as noticeable as a typical average camera.  There’s also a 5.7 x digital zoom, giving a combined 85.5 x zoom.

LCD.

Compared to most compact digicams, this is a generous 2.7 inch screen, but compared to current bridge cameras from the major brands slightly smaller than the 3 inch screens on offer, For example, Fuji’s Finepix 2950 in a similar body sports a 3 inch screen. At only 237,000 pixels, it’s not as sharp as as the 450,000 screen on the Fuji. It gives an initial blurred preview before the image sharpens itself. The display button switches between a live image view with all the icons, and a grid with a live histogram. In low light it can look grainy, but the photo’s don’t look grainy in playback. In playback mode, if you press the display button, then you get screen with a smaller version of the image, a histogram, a box with nothing in it which is to show it's a photograph (movies have a film strip) and the image information such as Iso, aperture and shutter settings, f stop etc.  In the setup you can set the brightness from 10% to 100%, as well as an auto mode, whereby the LCD brightens in bright sunlight. Unlike many of my previous cameras, I find it viewable in sunlight, even at a 20% setting.

EVF

If you find conditions too sunny, then there’s a small Electronic ViewFinder. It’s full colour, and is very bright. I need my spectacles on to view it sharply as I’m short sighted. My friend who is long sighted can see perfectly through it without his glasses. All the icons can be seen clearly on screen. What you might think is the front of the EVF is actually the Focus Assist Lamp, which is useful in low light situations.

PLAYBACK MODE:

The dedicated playback button can be used for both playing back images and performing basic editing tasks such as red eye removal, Trimming (cropping), resizing an image to either 1 or 0.3 megapixels, rotating images for review on a computer screen and HDR for bringing out the highlights in a photograph. Cropping is not as easy as on some cameras as you have to zoom in first and then pan for the correct area. There’s no whole image preview with a box that shrinks or grows like many cameras have, making cropping harder. HDR (High Dynamic Range) seems to work well in bringing out hidden detail.

IMAGE QUALITY.

Image quality makes or breaks a camera. Often cameras fall down on exposure and focus. The camera has 13 focus points and three exposure modes Spot, Centre and Artificial Intelligence Auto Exposure (AiAE). Images aren’t as good as some other bridge cameras, but aren’t bad at all. Generally, when viewed in Windows Live Photo Gallery exposure is never far out, but they’re a little soft, yet with a little tweaking in that programme, Images can be vastly improved. Colour saturation is not as vivid as I’d hoped for when images are viewed in Windows Live Photo Gallery, (especially when taken in auto mode) but again the programme can tweak it. Over all, once ‘Photoshopped’ the end result is excellent. Sometimes when focusing on a dark area, the exposure can set itself to those areas, leaving some parts underexposed. Noise at Iso levels up to 400 is well controlled, and at 800 is just acceptable, though at 1600 and 3200 suffer very badly.  I found Iso 3200 to have less noise than Iso 1600 on my indoor shots. There’s a Facebook user group for the X5 and X500, to which users have posted images. Many of these are fantastic, especially the low light ones. Just type in GE X5 users into the Facebook search box.

WEAKNESSES

Surprisingly, there aren’t many. Whilst giving the camera full manual control, a manual focus method would have been nice as the autofocus can be slow to work, and often you have to refocus several times to get a green focus square. Face detection isn’t brilliant at wide angle, but zoom in a bit and it does work. Smile detection only works if a face is detected, which is a shame because the face detection isn’t perfect. Blink detection does work, but as it only tells you if the subject blinked after the capture it’s a bit pointless. Also, I’d expect Auto image bracketing (where 3 images, one at the set EV value, and one a step either side are captured for comparison) as it’s on most bridge cameras. The only other thing to mention is to be careful opening the battery cover as the plastic hinges are not metal reinforced.

CONCLUSION

The X5 is a solidly built camera. You’ll go a long way to find a better built camera at the price. As well as looking good, it feels extremely comfortable in your hands and is easy to use. Not many cameras at this price point offer full manual controls, but the X5 does. Images are reasonably good and can be tweaked to produce good images. The professional reviews of this camera on the web say it’s a poor bridge camera, but that isn’t true. It’s possibly because Fuji (on whose design this is based) don’t want consumersto buy this over their own models. Point and Shoot users can use it’s features with acceptable results, but if you spend time getting to know the manual, aperture and shutter modes of the camera, and it won’t disappoint. It’s only rival at this price point is itself, or rather the Agfaphoto Selecta 14, which is the identical camera with an Agfa logo on it, and is £40-£50 more expensive at PC World. At an average online price of £90 - £99 it’s a great buy.

STOP PRESS

As you know I’ve a knack of finding great bargains. several weeks ago a new Cash Converters opened in my town. It didn’t have a box or software disc or leads, and was priced at £49.99. A haggle reduced this to £45.00, and a spare lead was found in the back that fitted it.  My Pentax S70 lead also fitted, and the Pentax AV lead  connects it to my TV. The manual was obtained from the website, so all that's missing is the box.

 

 

 

To view user photo's from the X5 on Flicker clik on this link: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=ge%20x5 and to view another review from my facebook friend Alan Lopez click here.

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