Compact superzooms need fast lenses

Started Sep 20, 2008 | Discussions thread
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Lee Jay
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Compact superzooms need fast lenses
Sep 20, 2008

A little family outing to a night baseball game last night afforded an opportunity to compare two very dissimilar systems - my 20D + 70-200/2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x TC versus my wife's S3IS. We were very far from the plate in the upper deck in right field, so this is big challenge for any camera system.

These two images show that the little S3 held up pretty well against the 5 times heavier and 10 times more expensive dSLR system:

However, the 100% crops do show quite a noise and detail gap, as might be expected from these two systems at ISO 800. Still, the S3 shot is decent, and that's partly because its f3.5 lens allowed a fast shutter speed.

On this shot, the noise gap is much smaller, because the 20D was shot at ISO 1600 versus ISO 400 on the S3:

However, there is still a noise gap, and now there's a big gap in motion blur because of the difference in shutter speeds (1/400th versus 1/125th):

This is clearly an unfair fight due to the difference in cost and weight between these two systems. And yet, the S3 held its own pretty well! It could do this because of its relatively fast lens. The new SX10IS and SX1IS will be at least as stop slower (f5) than the S3 and S5 at this focal length if the EXIF data from the sample images is to be believed. That stop will require a stop higher ISO for the same shutter speed, and at these high ISOs which are already pushing these tiny sensors really hard, that stop is going to be pretty painful from a noise point of view. If the same ISOs are chosen instead, then the motion blur problem will get worse.

Fast lenses are a good thing, even on compacts - one could even say especially on compacts where it's harder for sensor performance to make up the difference.

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Lee Jay
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