In an era where the super-brands and mega-manufacturers are seemingly able to dominate the market with so little effort, is there any room for the smaller, budget-brand manufacturer? BenQ is a Taiwanese company that’s probably better known for producing attractively priced but generally well-made projectors such as the Joybee GP2 That said, the company also has a bit of form for producing budget compacts. It’s been quite some time since we last reviewed a BenQ camera – nearly four years in fact – however the GH700 does look, on paper at least, to be quite an attractive proposition.
For a fraction over £200 (less if you pay in Euros) the GH700 comes with a Sony-manufactured 16MP backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, a 21x optical zoom, a 3inch 460k-dot rear monitor and the ability to shoot 1080/60i/30p Full HD movies. The big question then, is whether this makes the GH700 a genuine bargain worthy of serious consideration or merely a cheap plastic pretender? Let’s take a closer look and find out…
The BenQ GH700 is built around a Sony-made 16MP backside-illuminated CMOS sensor – the same kind of chip (if not identical) that has been used to such good effect in models like the Sony HX9V and TX10. Maximum output at 16MP in the default 4:3 aspect is 4608 x 3456 pixels, with options to reduce resolution to 8MP, 5MP and 2MP as you see fit. In addition, it’s also possible to shoot at 3:2 (4608 x 3072 pixels), 16:9 (1920 x 1080 pixels) and VGA quality (640 x 480 pixels).
BenQ doesn’t provide any concrete details on the image processor used by the GH700, other than to claim it’s a “high-speed, high-efficiency digital signal processor” that’s capable of recording 10fps at full resolution, as well as delivering 1080/60i/30p Full HD movie recording abilities. Dig a little deeper though, and you soon start to find some compromises. Standard sensitivity, for example, ranges from a rather limited ISO 160 to 1600 in regular use, with the expanded settings of ISO 3200 and 6400 only available when resolution is set to 3MP or less. Likewise, EV compensation only stretches to /-2EV.
On the main shooting mode dial you’ll find a reasonably generous albeit fairly standard range of predominantly point-and-shoot exposure modes. These include an Intelligent Scene mode that automatically detects the correct scene mode and 17 individual Scene modes. Also offered is a Handheld Night mode and a Night Portrait mode, both of which automatically fire off multiple exposures and then combine the results into a single image to limit the unwanted effects of noise.
Continuing around the mode dial, there’s an automatic HDR that takes two consecutive images – one exposed for highlights and the other for shadows – and then blends them into one image to increase the overall dynamic range. Rounding things off on the point-and-shoot front is a Program mode that allows for a bit more user control over things like ISO and White Balance, and a Continuous shooting mode that’s essentially the same as Program mode, only with the GH700 shooting continuously rather than in Single-shot mode.
There is a Manual mode that allows you to set your own Aperture/Shutter speed combination, although it should be noted that this only offers a choice of two aperture settings – a high or a low setting – with none of the aperture values in-between the two available. Surely it’s no coincidence that we’ve seen similar restrictions on some Sony compacts in the past – the HX9V for example.
The last notch on the shooting mode dial is given over to Movie recording mode, with the GH700 offering a maximum capture quality of 1080/60i/30p Full HD capture. This can be lowered to 720/60i/30p HD or 640 x 480 VGA at 30fps. In addition there are also a couple of Hi-Speed Movie recording settings – 120fps or 240fps, both of which play in slow-motion at 320 x 240 pixels. Sound is recorded in stereo but there’s no way to attach an external microphone.
The design of the GH700 is pretty basic and, as such, errs on the side of functional rather than stylish. Physical buttons are kept to the bare minimum, although what is there is easy enough to reach. If you need to change settings then, chances are, you’ll need to enter the in-camera menu. Here again, things are kept to the bare minimum with barely two pages of options. Novice photographers looking for a simple, straightforward camera will doubtless find the GH700 pretty easy to get on with in this respect.
Build quality feels solid enough with the camera encased in a robust plastic shell complemented by a metal lens ring and top-plate. The gold detailing around the lens rim does, to our eyes, look a bit cheesy though. Overall, while it certainly doesn’t feel cheap and nasty, it doesn’t have much of a premium feel either.
The finger grip is noticeably deep, on account of it having to accommodate the camera’s power source – namely 4x AA batteries – and those with smaller fingers may find this to be a bit of an issue in terms of comfort. There are good arguments both for and against using regular batteries; on the one hand it’s undoubtedly helpful when you’re caught short on power and a shop is close to hand, but on the other using disposable batteries isn’t the most eco-friendly approach. Our advice would be to invest in a good set of rechargeable batteries and a charger at the outset.