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ISO Sensitivity / Noise levels (contd.)

Noise reduction and fine detail

The biggest issue with noise reduction - especially luminance noise reduction - is that in the process of blurring away the noise it can also have a very destructive effect on the detail in an image, particularly the fine, low contrast detail you might find in hair, fur or grass. To better judge the effect on fine detail lost due to noise reduction we have produced crops from the feathers in our new studio comparison setup.

To check the effect of noise and noise reduction on low contrast detail we shoot our new studio setup at various ISO settings, then crop an area that's challenging to any camera. The very fine detail in the feathers will help to judge better the effect of noise reduction on fine detail.

Raw vs in-camera JPEG low contrast detail comparison

Here we're comparing crops from the camera's JPEGs against raw conversions (using Adobe Camera Raw) with all noise reduction turned off. The X1 uses rather high sharpening by default, and this accentuates the visibility of noise - and as we've noted, noise reduction kicks in only at sensitivities over ISO 800. As a result, the ISO 800 JPEG appears visually noisier than either the raw (using ACR's default sharpening) or the ISO 1600 JPEG in this comparison. At ISO 3200, the X1 applies a sensible level of chroma noise reduction, leaving luminance noise relatively untouched, giving overall an extremely well-judged result. So while the camera offers no noise reduction options, there's little reason to want to change its default output anyway.

JPEG
ISO 100
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
Raw
ISO 100
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
 
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