Welcome to the Studio Test Scene

We've worked hard over the last few months to develop a new test scene and a protocol for shooting it and processing the results. The underlying idea is to give a clearer idea of how a camera will perform in the real world - not just an idealized setting.

To achieve this, we've developed a scene that includes a variety of samples of fine detail, low-contrast textures and colored tones that should help you assess what a camera's output will look like. The new scene is shot in both good light and low light modes (explained below), which are designed to be visually distinct. As before, all images in the test scene are downloadable and shooting information (including the lens used) is available by clicking the [i] button under each sample.

In addition to a new lighting mode we have also included the option to 'normalize' the scene to a standard print size and social media size. 

On the top right of the new scene widget you can select from 'Daylight' and 'Low-light' modes as well as normalize the images to standard print and social media sizes.

The scene is shot so that the brightness of the scene is consistent, between JPEGs (since we believe most people aim for a particular brightness when shooting). Any difference in shutter speeds used is displayed in the settings information. Note that at the very highest ISOs, it is sometimes necessary to reduce the light level to prevent over-exposure.

What’s the deal with this low-light mode?

In addition to replacing our studio test scene we've also added a few new features that give a more complete view of what a camera is capable of in different lighting situations. Of course we still present our daylight scene that uses daylight-balance lighting (CRI 95) to represent a lighting condition that you might encounter outside on a typical day. In addition, we've also added a new ‘low light’ mode that replicates a lighting situation you are likely to encounter in a home or dimly lit bar. This ‘stress test’ is designed to push the camera to its limits and show off noise that would otherwise be masked by the abundant light in our ‘daylight’ scene.

The light source used in this low-light mode is a single standard household tungsten bulb placed just to the right of the scene providing 3EV of light at the center.

The extreme angle of the light source to the scene creates a distinct fall off of brightness that creates 2 separate areas of light, a highlight area and a shadowed area. As you may have noticed the scene is roughly diagonally symmetrical, providing similar objects in different light levels in a single image.

How are the low-light images shot?

In our comparison widget we present the low-light setting in JPEG as well as Raw where available. In JPEG mode, the images are presented straight from the camera. Unlike the daylight scene, the low-light scene is shot in AWB (Auto White Balance) and any option to preserve scene 'warmth' is left at its default setting, to give a realistic impression of the camera's output in the real world.

The Raw files are adjusted with a standardized processing method to reveal characteristics which would otherwise be hidden. The brightness of the Raw file is matched to that of the JPEG but here white balance is neutralized and noise reduction is minimized, to show blue-channel noise or banding. For the same reason, the black level is increased to 100 and the white level increased to 20, to brighten detail in the shadow regions while retaining a similar amount of tonal detail in the highlights. As with the daylight scene, sharpening is minimized and a standard amount applied in Photoshop.

What was wrong with the old scene?

The existing test scene, which dates back to October 2009 (and has only allowed user-selectable comparisons since June 2010), has served us well but has presented an increasing number of problems in recent years - most of which stem from it being too small.

The old test scene dates back to 2009 and has only been directly comparable since mid 2010. This scene had evolved bit-by-bit since 2000.

The small size of the scene meant that some cameras, particularly those with fixed normal and wide-angle lenses, needed to be shot very close to the scene (often requiring a mini tripod to be set up inside the box it's housed in). Additionally, some modern compacts with large sensors and complex lenses looked terrible when shot at these close-quarters - meaning the scene didn't reflect their real-world behavior.

The three-dimensional nature of the old scene also meant that the scene had to be shot at very small (diffraction-limited) apertures to ensure all the key targets were acceptably sharp, yet still didn't have any corner detail within depth-of-field. These drawbacks, plus the need to revise the lighting of the scene, prompted us to move to a new scene around 7 times larger than the existing one.