Cluttering the pages of Wish, AliExpress and even the like of eBay and Amazon – Protax cameras pop up offering killer 33MP resolutions and a 3 lens kit all for somewhere between £140 -300 GBP. Most of us look and go scamera, but is it fair to label the camera itself as this ? Or are they as awful as we think ? As ever the truth is not so clear…
Scam cams thank you mam ?
If you’re a digital only shooter, the term scamera might be new to you . It was first used for a bunch of cheap 35mm viewfinders camera that were sold to the unwary as being much better class camera. Sometimes this was just catching the unwary in the back pages of magazine. Others were sold by street hustlers, fooling the unwary tourists into thinking they got something high end for not much.
But turns out the art of scamming people never ended with film.
And I’ve been here before.
Back in 2020 I review possibly the worst camera I’ve ever held the no name allegedly 16MP (it isn’t ) camera from Wish. This perfidious piece of junk was actually just 1.32MP on still and frankly and awful experience but sells with the promise of being ‘professional’. Still you’ll only be fleeced paying £25 quid for that horror.
Our Protax costs 5 times as much but doesn’t add up either.
Hang on – Did you pay over a Hundred for this ?
Nope. In truth I’d never intended to get one of these. I’d picked up a three lens Olympia scamera (post coming soon). And this popped in on a page I was watching. On auction for just £4.99 dear reader I couldn’t resist.
Funnily enough no one else was bidding.
I’ve seen these but why the different model numbers ?
You’ll find these cameras sold with Protax branding or under Polo sharpshooter branding. This model listed as FHD seem identical to the models you can find listed as either D7100, D7200 and D7300. The manual actually describes the D7300 . The difference seems to be in kit.
All are sold with 3 lenses, battery, charger and case. Sadly for me, the case was missing. These actually seem okay for day time carry and would have been worth my Fiver. The charger I got was in 2 parts just a standard USB charging block and a USB charger and again useable for other things. In the box there’s an okay strap and a 32MB SD card (the latter doesn’t always seem included)
The different models are sold with more gear. My gut feeling is the FHD and D7100 are just the same . But the D7300 is listed in the manual coming with a remote control and tripod. Most listing have it with an accessory light as well. The D7200 just has that light in most adds
Looks like a Bridge camera or Older CSC – But that can’t be right ?
It is styled heavily along those lines and is even described in some unscrupulous ads as a ‘professional SLR’. It isn’t and in fairness to Protax the box and manual do not make that claim.
The tl:dr is what you get is an aging smartphone camera module wrapped up in big camera clothes
Is it really a 33 Megapixels Sensor ?
Although you see ££MP as the headline figure, you rapidly realise this isn’t quite the case. The manual claims it to be a 13MP Sony CMOS sensor. You’ll notice that’s not the 33MP headline figure.
So are Protax lying ? Not quite but maybe over egging.
If look across the faux pentaprism hump it says it is 33MP interpolated. Interpolation allows you to take a smaller image and edited it make it look much larger usually by increasing the pixel count as explained in the this Cambridge in Colour Post. Now it’s a very useful feature when you wanna blow up a modern image say for billboard level adverts. But it does add noise and a loss of detail and the additional pixels are just estimates.
It was not uncommon on camera in the days of sub 1MP sensors but rarely seen outside toy digitals today.
The 33MP image sit weirdly at 8160×4080 resolution giving a 2:1 ratio (more panoramic than the 16:9 aspect ratio !). Dropping it to 13MP gives a more normal 4:3 ratio (4130×3120)
So What’s this Sony Sensor
No model name or number is given for the sensor. Sony make loads of these for 3rd parties and not all are easy to get spec for. Of known sensors 2 are possibilities. The IMX091PQ & IMX135 are Exmor 1/3″ CMOS 13MP smartphone sensors. The latter was used in some versions of the 2013 Galaxy S4, the best selling android phone of all time.
And ya’all know the image quality to some extent is what I’d have expected from 8-10 year old smart phone. More budge than the S4 however and that’s down to the firmware.
You’ve mentioned Protax before ?
Right you are.
The protax name has been around for some time and I’ve reviewed the 35mm film Z 855 with a weird fixed focus zoom lens. An outdated Chinese distributor site still lists this. Along with a range of so called Lomo film cameras (simple fixed focus 35mm numbers) as well as some Protax Color Optical lens cameras that look way like the Olympia trash cameras,
But Protax is better known for cameras like the FHD. Sometimes sold under Protax or sometimes sold under Polo Sharpshooter branding and all come with changeable lenses & resemble through the bottom of a beer glass a dSLR or dSLR styled CSC/mirrorless.
2 model lines exist the older 5MP D3000 series and the D7000 series which is our subject,
So Give an Overview of the Protax FHD.
The camera with the ‘standard lens’ actually looks like bridge camera at first glance. It may be cheap plastic but it’s well enough made and not too creaky. The body has a weird droplet effect – other reviewers have noted this too.
Batteries go in the base of the handgrip and on the rear is a cover for the SD and ports. Reasonably well made for what it is. But even the lens mount is plastic.
What else does the Protax FHD have under the hood ?
As mentioned we have a 13MP Sony CMOS sensor most likely 1/3″ in standard. You’ll still find mobile phone sensors that small today on more budget models. But for stand alone digitals that’s pretty titchy with many higher end compacts having a 1″ or even APS-C sized sensor. My 2001 Canon Powershot G1 had a 1/1.8″ sensor !!
This seems to be couple to a internal lens unit for AF. The manual lists the normal lens length as 3.79mm (that’s about equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera assuming 1/3″ sensor or 28mm with a 1/2.5″ sensor). That feels ball park for the images. Weirdly the lens says it’s 7.45mm 1:3.4 which doesn’t fit but that might be adding in the flat protective lens and therefore isn’t an effective focal length
Does it at least take SD cards ?
Yes it uses SD cards up to the SDHC class and I happily used it with a SanDisk 32Gb card. The camera has built 128MB storage (109MB useable) which makes the provided 32MB SD card seem pointless.
To access internal storage, you need to plug the camera into your PC directly via USB out. Irritatingly you can’t move files from internal to the SD card and vice versa.
You can use it as a webcam when connected. It actually works well enough although sound isn’t great due to a background noise.
And the Exposure spec ?
Yeah, that’s where things get sketchy
There are no exposure details on screen or in the manual. And the EXIF output is just awful. Take this shot.
The Protax EXIF data is wonky. Supposedly this was 100ISO with a ~ 8 second shutter speed and f/3.5 aperture. Now some of you will have clocked that’s impossible as it’s daylight. The calculated EV 100 value is less than 1. On paper I’ve taken this shot inside in near dark, when in reality it’s a sunny day.
Okay but how does that compare to proper gear ?
I shot the same shot on my 2018 Huawei P20 smartphone (50ISO 1/1250 f/1.8) . This is a mid range model with dual 12MP 1/2.3″ CMOS colour and a Sony Monochrome 20MP rear sensors. Well regarded in the day as this dxomark camera review details. It is the colour sensor we’re going up against which can support up to 4K video although that has cross support with the monochrome to improve sharpness. That’s all combined with Leica lenses. On test shot with AI turned on but HDR usually off. My phone is available for £100-130 second hand,
I also shot with a 2011 Panasonic Lumix DMC- FZ48 bridge camera That’s a 2011 midrange camera that gathered decidedly midrange reviews. With a 1/2.3″ 12MP CCD and a Leica X24 optical zoom (equivalent to a 25mm-600mm 35mm zoom. It was pretty midrange and slightly flawed. However it did offer proper optics with 14 elements in 10 groups. It was used at wide on test to keep things simple. I used the the Intelligent auto (iA) mode. I paid around £35 for mines but they usually sell for £45-70GBP on the ‘bay.
it shot with an expsoure combo of 160ISO 1/250 @ f/4.
Both these shoot at more reasonable figures with EV100 values of 12.
The Auto focus
So lets start with the focus. It does use AF with the ‘normal’ and ‘wide angle’ lenses. Depress the shutter and a rectangle focus area appears in the shutter going form Yellow to green with a beep if it focuses (red if not). It’s primitive.
It works okay in good light and simple subjects. But drop the light or mix up fore ground background shots you’re struggling as you can’t select a focal point. So a single AF point on a camera in 2021 ? In fact the hardware is able of more
And the problem is the firmware. When I hooked the camera up to use as a webcam I could use the AF to lock on a smaller area with just the windows camera app. That’s just like you’d get on a smartphone and the old Samsung S4 would let you touch screen focus.
And the 3 lenses ?
Well the camera doesn’t need the to work. the normal lens is actually just a protective flat clear element with no optical qualities other than a coating. The camera will shoot without it.
But it’s not alone in the box. the other 2 lenses contain some actual optics !!
I use the word optics with a small o however…
Wide angle lens
I’ve honestly no idea how wide this is. Images are softer and have more aberrations. If used in the normal mode you get a faux fisheye effect as below. So if you liked the Lomography fisheye cameras but wanted a digital version weirdly this might suit you. It looks a single element and it isn’t the best quality.
If you switch on the tele mode which the manual doesn’t tell you to do you get a cropped image which loose the vignette.
The Telephoto lens
The telephoto vignettes just as badly and distorts in normal mode. However in its dedicated mode, the image is more normalised. Although crops the frame to 2080x 1552 (aka 3MP) in 13MP mode.
That’s actually just 7.35MP although camera shows 13MP. Interestingly it’s focused manually. Although the sensor will still try and auto focus even in tele mode. This actually makes it a little bit of pain as in lower light that tend to knock it out of focus. You can’t disable the AF.
The manual suggest shooting on a tripod and without any Image stabilisation I’d agree. Shake is too evident. it is multi element but how many I have no idea beyond the front and rear element.
Let’s be frank the wide is forgettable and the telephoto whilst interesting isn’t practical . Best left in the box IMHO and maybe why they don’t have lens caps. Lets be honest you can buy these sort of things for your mobile phone as clip-ons for not much money. For example this 4 lens kit on amazon comes with a mini tripod & other accessories for just £15 at time of typing.
The camera has it’s own bayonet mount system. It has a line up marker on the bottom of the camera and lenses. To release lenses there is a slider on the side.
The camera and box pride themselves in telling you there is X24 digital zoom. Yeah no one uses digital zoom as essentially you’re just cropping. So If you use the zoom to X2 your image falls from 13MP to 7.5. It’s fine for X2-3 but I’d personally crop in post
Actually they do okay here. It is pretty similar to the average bridge and some dSLR. On top you’ve the shutter button with a digital zoom toggle to the front and the on off button behind along with the mode dial, Down the side of the 3″ screen you have the rest of the controls. At the top the video recording on/off button then below the usual 4 way joy pad and a coupel more buttons for the menus
The screen is bright enough with an anti-glare matt finish. It’s lowish res at 960×240 (230K px) and non touchscreen but actually better than many a mid 2000’s digital camera,
But the viewfinder ? What’s the EVF like ?
There is viewfinder – but there’s no EVF
In fact the viewfinder doesn’t show you anything until you pop up the flash. that’s because it’s just a very simple optical viewfinder !!
The flash and Power ?
Sorry you mean flash light ?
This has a LED light (non flash). It’s bright enough for a selfie but underlies this camera’s smartphone underpinnings.
The camera at least gives you a choice of battery options. It comes with a 900mAh rechargeable BLB-2 battery which you can find in some older Nokia phones. I actually bought a generic replacement BLB-2 for a couple of quid and it works fine. When hooked up to your PC the camera battery charges as well.
Alternatively you can plug in 3 AA batteries. I’d recommend carrying some or a spare BLB-2 as the camera battery indicator starter blinking low levels after around 40 shots and a couple of 10 Second video clips. Image playback was normal and only a few shots used the flash light.
The camera will use rechargeable AA batteries
So what modes ? PSAM and all that ?
Did you think you were buying a serious camera ? The mode dial has just 5 setting – Auto (aka shooting), playback, setting and telephoto mode we’ve all discussed or you’d suspect. The fifth mode is voice record ‘cos you never know when you need a memo I suppose ?
But there are no user control modes (so forget your PSAM) nor even any scenic modes
But the menu must make up for that ?
The menu is actually good looking but choices you’ll use are limited
Using the menu button in auto you can move the camera out of auto White balance to one of 4 (yes just 4) WB settings (sunny, cloudy, Fluorescent and Tungsten). there is a the option to turn on and off HDR (again pointing to mobile origins) and you have 3 filters normal, B&W and classic (sepia).
You can also change the still & video resolutions although all I’d do is drop still to 13MP. You get no image quality option and there is no RAW file option (not surprising on a budget camera)
There is also a night mode which improves sensitivity at the expense of quality (I suspect it ups the ISO).. An HDR option exists. As we’ll discuss later this may help at night. But in normal light it might brighten but boy do you loose detail
You can also cycle flash light modes (auto, off and force on) and set timer and move between single shot, timer & continuous shooting. There is also an option change between 50 & 60 Hz to adjust for light sources (most cameras auto that and it’s a video thang). And if you must, you can turn on a date stamp
If you move the camera into setting you can set the camera time, format card, auto off time, NTSC/PAL, Toggle bleep but not much more
And Ports ‘n Stuff
On the rear of the thumb grip you can access the SD slot (rated to take SDHC 32Gb cards and I can confirm it does work with that size). 3 ports sit there – USB micro (for PC connection) HDMI out and weirdly AV out. In 2021 why they provide a AV not the HDMI cable I just can’t understand. The HDMI out looks like a HDMI mini.
The accessory shoe on top is just a cold shoe so you can’t use flash (the D7200 has a clip on light to go here). There is a standard tripod
The bag seems okay from a few often dubious promotional type YouTube reviews of this camera. That’s probably why I didn’t get it. But the USB charger is worth a few quid and if ever buy a 20 year old Nokia the battery charger might prove useful too.
And How does it handle ?
Broadly this works as you’d expect. The boot time from off is slow taking around 8-10 seconds before you can shoot. Likewise the AF is a tad slow worse in low light. In normal mode it takes about 3 seconds to write a file to both storages even with a class 10 card.
The camera works reasonably enough if you rely on auto everything. The AF is slow to lock and offers no point sensitivity. It not infrequenty misses the point. Meanwhile the FZ48 in comparison offers 23 focal points and give options to switch to single point. The P20 lets you select your focus point on the screen.
The Protax has pretty much have no user control. Other than hitting the shutter button, digital (meh !) zoom and EV control.. You’ve no way of controlling the shutter or aperture. EV control is via the rear joypad. But whilst this works as a multway pad in the settings menu, with EV control it functions as a giant single button so you need to keep pressing it to cycle up through the +EV setting then into the negatives.
Everything else is accessed via the menu button. Oddly the joypad works as it should here.
For video you press the button on the rear to start recording and to stop.
PROTAX FHD RESULTS
With the standard lens, the camera actually produced useable images in daylight. Not without faults but these are images useable for web or standard album prints. But when you look closer things unravel a bit.
To make the point here are 3 images. They were all taken of the same morning view of Dumfries Town centre. But which was shot on the Protax, Lumix or P20 ?
The Eagle eyed amongst you will have clocked that image one is the Lumix as it has a slightly wider equivalent view. They all look useable and the Protax was the Third image. And in fact if viewed at 6×4″ or even 7X5″ the Protax images look okay.
But the Protax shot doesn’t match the other 2 even when shown in this sub-VGA size. So highlights are overblown. Look at the slightly eerie glow over the town when compared to the other cameras. Oh and there’s the Vignetting. It’s notable you don’t see that on the 33MP interpolated,
But actually for this use it does okay for web work and smaller 6×4 prints. But if you blow things up…
The Devil’s in the detail
As you look more closely, things slide away a little. And when I view the images up at full screen size you really start to notice the weaknesses. Whilst both the Lumix and P20 delinate the chimney pots on the Georgean Townhouse in the centre, it’s a blurry artefactual mess on the Protax.
Although the Protax has the largest files by pixel size, its images show more processing blur and artefacts. That red car you can see at the bottom looks positively impressionist when you zoom in. There’s also halo effects and fringing as well.
All 3 suffer a bit to the edges but the Protax is notably more blurry. It almost has a CCD like blooming effect with the low cloud reflecting behind the buildings. Ironically that’s much worse than the FZ48 which actually has a CCD sensor.
It’s not like the Lumix or P20 are clean here but with all shots you can see a stepwise improvements. The P20 despite it having the smallest MP rating produces by far the more detailed less artefactual images such as much more detail on the stone wall. It also has the best dynamic range. But no surprise given the newest & biggest physical size sensor on test combined with Leica glass.
In falling light the Protax still can shoot but much of the issues evident. It can take some pleasant shots though. It just lags behind the other two.
Take this shot (it follows the setting sun shot from above with the sun now down and behind me)
Its softer and there is more processing artefacts. You can even tell at this sizeut it’s obvious when blown up compared to this shot taken on the P20 (the FZ48 sat squarely between these 2 on test)
And if you zoom in the level of detail detail is markedly worse on the Protax. It’s like a Google earth Camera went by and blurred out the details because they though something was confidential.
Granted the P20 ain’t perfect but the level of detail is astounding in comparison. you can easily read the posters in the window.
Again a blooming like over sensitivity is evident on the Protax. Odd for a CMOS camera.
Turning on 33MP interpolated does not help
As you get darker all 3 degrade more in lower light but the gap narrows between the Protax and the fancier Lumix (likely due to it’s older & CCD sensor). The P20 leads by some margin.
Switching on HDR and night mode can bright up shots but do tend to add more signal noise with the Protax as shown below
The camera does not awfully close in and has some macro shooting swagger. but as we’ve seen softens off at longer distances. It was slow and sometime in inaccurate in use. Again I suspect the firmware and interface are to blame more here. The sensor would normally be found in a smartphone with tap point focusing. not some primitive area focus
Broadly the camera does okay at times but can be wobbly. Daylight shots are prone to a blue cast. This become more consistent as the light falls. The AWB does okay indoors. It coped broadly okay wit modern indoor LED lighting but with a subtle red cast.
Okay so this will take HD. But it’s blurry and artefact loaded and it is noticeably worse than the P20 and FZ48.
Again the firmware hampers it. You have little control of focus and there is no tracking making it worse than it should be. When I bypassed it using the camera as a webcam, software on my PC was instantly able to exploit focus tracking. Shearing isn’t too bad at least
Audio was not as good as the other 2 but not awful. Again what you’d expect from an older budget smartphone.
Final Thoughts on the Protax FHD
Look let’s be up front and for what this sells as, it’s a complete rip off. You get a sensor that would have graced at best a mid range smartphones a few years back but crippled by a limited firmware. Forget the additional lenses – more gimmick than useful. It’s slow to use and the AF sucks for a camera sold new in 2021.
But unlike that no name wish camera, Protax tells no Porkies. And the camera can do everything it says it can do. But that’s a bit like me saying I can run the 100m (not very well and pretty slowly).
The sad thing is this camera is being sold to folk often by unscrupulous 3rd party sellers. They slip in word like “professional ” or “dSLR”. They also kinda omit the fact that the zoom capabilities are actually digital not optical. And these cameras get sold to the unwary, often elderly. Folk looking for cheap but good looking camera. They don’t twig as the camera takes an okay image in daylight for sending on the web or small prints. But it’s an image no better than a early 2010’s budget smartphone.
And in fact a modern budget smartphone will do so much more.
There is no logical reason to buy this. But is it a scam or just opportunistic? I’ll let you decide.
But my Gran is wedded to her Nokia Brick.
What could I get her ?
You might wanna suggests she upgrades that Nokia 3310 (although it has lasted well hasn’t it). I’ve mentioned my P20 can be got from the likes of CEX second hand for just over a £100 and other few years old mid to flagship phones like the iPhone 8 can sourced for similar money. Better new budgets smartphone can also give oomph. You can chose a plenty here but expert reviews for example rated the Samsung A21s with it’s quad camera set up with a main camera with a whooping 48Mp as the best under £200 quid. She can even get a Nokia 5.4 with a 48MP camera if she’s brand loyal
But she loves her Nokia brick !!
Can’t blame her, they’re easier for calls anyway and the battery lasts forever (unlike the protax).
So you can get a digital compact. The market has collapsed a bit so most major makes sell slightly older models. So you can get cameras like the well regarded Canon IXUS 185 for around £120. It offers a 20MP image on a 1/2.3″ sensor plus a x8 zoom but limited to 720p Video. Likewise the Fujifilm XP140 is well regarded but a bit more. It offers 16.4MP with a x5 zoom and up to 4K video (15fps) but is toughened and waterproofed.
But my dad wants a bridge or more serious camera.
I was gonna say a bridge in 2021 for less than 200 quid is a tough ask. But there are a few. JK Imaging make the Kodak AZ252 under licence. This sells on Amazon at the time of typing for just £119 placing itself cheaper than many sellers of the Protax. It uses older Tech with a 16MP 1/2.3MP CCD sensor with a whooping x25 optical zoom. But I can’t find any dependable reviews (it’s predecessor the AZ251 was rated 3.5/5 by ephotozine back in 2013 so mediocre but in a day when budget bridges were common).
Both are much better than the protax though.
And you can still buy new although it was launched in 2014 the Sony DSC-H300 on the likes of Amazon for just under £200. It’s another 1/2.3″ CCD but with 20MP and X35 zoom. It was felt to be a mediocre camera at launch and this comparison with a Kodak AZ651 makes an interesting read. that Code has been superseded and the new model is outwith our £100-200 range.
And Second hand ?
I’d honestly seek a good older bridge secondhand. The DPReview gave the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 a gold award back in 2013. It’s a much improved camera over my FZ48 and available for £140 on CEX. With 12MP CMOS sensor, it was a flagship model offering HD video at up to 120fps. If you are willing to shift to high end compacts, CEX will sell you the Canon Powershot G15 and Nikon P770 for around the same money. Both featuring 12.1Mp effective CMOS sensors & HD video support and duelled out to win DPreviews Gold and silver awards back in 2013 .
SLR are bit harder but the Nikon D3100 from 2010 was the first Nikon to offer HD video and can picked up for sub £200 with lens.