How we test digital cameras and lenses

We use the dual method of testing digital cameras and lenses at PCMag. Standard lab tests are performed in a controlled environment and are divided into tasks spent creating photos outside the real world. It allows us to evaluate image quality in a predictable way and challenge modern autofocus systems with a variety of subjects. See here what we do in each test.

Lab tests

In the lab, we’ve been able to evaluate image quality across the entire ISO range, which shows how photos will look in different levels of light and whether lenses are capable of delivering crispy images in modern, high-resolution images. Sensors With an interchangeable lens camera, we always use the highest quality lenses available to us for the best F-stop sound and detailed evaluation.

SFRpLus test chart

We use an SFRplus test chart to test the resolution and distortion of the lens and shoot a flat gray image to see how much a lens will vignette. We quantitatively include resolution scores at different points across the focal length and aperture range of a lens or camera, but also qualify those results; It is not possible to make direct comparisons between different sensor sizes and resolutions. We use Imatest software to analyze images.

All tests are performed on a tripod, enabling a self-timer, affecting the results to reduce the likelihood of vibration. We also run multiple trials on each test, and run additional tests if any results are out of line. Our chief analyst has conducted thousands of lab tests, and can detect a double result due to Miss Focus, Shutter Shock or Involuntary Vibration.

We can make sure that the maximum shooting rate and buffer capacity given in the manufacturer’s literature is correct, and check the autofocus speed with a digital stopwatch.

Field test

Image quality is not a distinguishing factor in digital cameras as it has been in previous years. If you shop for a 24MP full-frame model, for example, many of the options on the market use some variants of the same image sensor, which is manufactured and sold by Sony’s sensor division.

For this reason, we have placed more emphasis on field camera testing in recent years. Autofocus performance has become quite important. We see how well a camera can track moving objects, and whether features like face and eye detection work just like advertising. We often use an Atomos Ninja V recorder to record field viewfinder, which helps to compare autofocus between different camera systems when not actively used side by side.

Taking out the camera for taking pictures also informs us about its ergonomics. Handling, viewfinder and build quality, weather protection and battery life are all important factors to consider when choosing a camera and what we consider when recommending it.

If a camera is billed as rough or waterproof, we try our best to keep it through the ringer. We throw hard cameras on the ground, and carry water-protected systems in the rain. We are not able to tear down, but we will consider them if they are available

Field testing lets us see how a camera handles different types of scenes. We can take shots that challenge the dynamic range that can capture a raw image. This allows us to see what photographers can expect when casting shadows, blocking highlights, and other standard raw processing tasks. We use Adobe Lightroom Classic as our standard processor.

Video test quality. We record the highest quality, and use different color profiles if available. When a flat profile is available, we see how well it grades and, if possible, use a standard LUT in the Apple Final Cut Pro. And we see in the video how well autofocus works, as well as special features like slow-motion capture.

We look at the support system for a camera. If this is an interchangeable lens model, then we consider which lenses are available, as well as their cost and quality. We also see third-party support levels, and collaborative apps for smartphone photo transfer or tetherd shooting for studio work.

For our latest coverage, visit our Camera Landing page, or for more guided buying advice, grab a list of the best cameras we’ve tested.

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