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Compared to...

Studio scene comparison (higher sensitivities)

We've already looked in detail at the X1's high ISO performance in our the noise section of this review; here we're just taking a quick look at how the X1, D300S and GF1 compare (at their default settings) when shooting our new studio setup at higher ISO settings - particularly in the shadow areas. (Note we're again using the GF1 with the 20mm lens and the latest firmware version 1.1, which Panasonic claims to offer improved high ISO image quality).

ISO 800

Leica X1
Nikon D300S
Panasonic GF1
Canon G11

ISO 1600

Leica X1
Nikon D300S
Panasonic GF1
Canon G11

ISO 3200

Leica X1
Nikon D300S
Panasonic GF1
Canon G11

At ISO 800 visible noise is beginning to creep into the X1 and GF1's images, while the D300S appears to be using slightly stronger noise reduction at the expense of some detail. The G11, while doing impressively well for a compact (especially at retaining color saturation), has lost almost all semblance of texture and fine detail, and has resorted to a rather 'broad brush' interpretation of the scene (our recent reviewed showed the G11 to be far more successful at high ISO settings if you switch to raw capture).

Turn the ISO up to 1600 and the X1's noise reduction kicks in, giving a visually cleaner result than at ISO 800 but with an inevitable loss of low contrast detail. However the X1 still holds its own pretty well against the D300S, and the GF1 really starts to suffer in comparison, showing relatively high noise, little detail and a loss of color saturation. The G11's noise reduction again yields unexpectedly passable results, although viewed alongside the larger sensor cameras its image appears almost to have been taken through a soft focus filter, such is the loss of detail.

At its maximum ISO of 3200, the X1 noticeably loses color saturation, but is keeping noise reasonably under control; the D300S manages to deliver a more likeable result with punchier colors but less detail (of course it will also go right up to ISO 6400 if necessary). Meanwhile the GF1 is really struggling, giving results firmly marked 'emergency use only', and the G11 has resorted to noise reduction so drastic that only the barest hint of detail remains.

Overall, it's impossible not to conclude that the X1 has the best high ISO performance of any 'coat pocketable' camera yet. But it's also worth noting that in practical use, its advantage over the GF1 (or E-P1) is almost completely wiped out by the stop and a half more light the 20mm F1.7 can gather - making it possible to shoot the Micro Four Thirds cameras using a lower ISO at any given light level.

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