Previous page Next page

Superzoom camera group: Studio comparison (high ISO)

For our high ISO studio comparison we chose to use ISO 1600. Although some of the compacts in this group test can go higher, ISO 1600 is the highest setting at which we would expect anything halfway usable. At the bottom of this page you'll see some extra images from the Fujifilm F80 EXR, which features a dedicated High ISO 'SN' mode that is designed to give better image quality at high ISO settings but at a reduced total resolution.

On this page you'll find our standard studio comparison shot taken with each of the cameras in the group. Click on the thumbnail to see the full image.

  • All taken from the same tripod position with the zoom set to approx. 60-70mm (equivalent).
  • Manual white balance (except Olympus Stylus 9010 which does not offer this feature)
  • Program Mode P
  • ISO 1600
  • Luminance matched (middle gray ~L50)
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI

ISO 1600 studio comparison:

High ISO settings allow you to shoot in low light without using a tripod or the flash and in recent years high ISO performance has become one of the few meaningful differentiators between digital SLRs (which are usually pretty good at higher sensitivity settings) and compacts (which aren't).

Since the combination of high pixel counts and small sensors inevitably results in high-ISO noise (and there's not a huge difference between the various brands), what we're looking at here is how well each camera's processor deals with it, and how well the result balances the need to reduce/remove noise and the desire to retain fine detail.

Heavy, unsophisticated noise reduction also removes lots of detail from the image, but if the noise reduction is too low you'll get so much noise that it will appear even in a small print. It is how these cameras manage this balancing act that we're testing here here.

Canon SX210 IS
ISO 1600
Casio EX-FH100
ISO 1600
Fujifilm F80 EXR
ISO 1600 (12Mp)
Fujifilm JZ500
ISO 1600
Kodak Z950
ISO 1600
Nikon S8000
ISO 1600
Olympus mju 9010
ISO 1600
Panasonic DMC-ZS5
ISO 1600
Ricoh CX3
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ35W
ISO 1600
Sony H55
ISO 1600
Sony HX5
ISO 1600

100% crops: center

Canon SX210 IS
ISO 1600
Casio EX-FH100
ISO 1600
Fujifilm F80 EXR
ISO 1600
Fujifilm JZ500
ISO 1600
Kodak Z950
ISO 1600
Nikon S8000
ISO 1600
Olympus mju 9010
ISO 1600
Panasonic DMC-ZS5
ISO 1600
Ricoh CX3
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ35W
ISO 1600
Sony H55
ISO 1600
Sony HX5
ISO 1600

Take a look at these crops alongside those taken at the cameras' respective lowest ISO settings and the perils of double-digit pixel counts and tiny sensors become pretty clear. Colors are bleeding into one another, detail is masked by a haze of noise reduction, and high contrast areas have lost definition. There are ways of dealing with noise of course, and some cameras do better than others. Surprisingly, the Nikon Coolpix S8000 does a pretty good job. The image is smudged, but edge sharpening gives the impression of great er detail capture, and in a small print, this is all that's necessary to make the picture look acceptable.

The Casio takes a similar approach, but the image is much smoother, which masks detail and gives an almost oil-painted effect. The Ricoh and Sony HX5 share the same 10Mp sensor, and the Sony does the best job, whilst the Ricoh's output is simply blurred. The worst images here come from the Kodak and Canon Powershot SX210IS, which simply looks hazy. That said, all of them could easily produce a decent quality 6x4 print at ISO 1600.

100% crops: Edge

Canon SX210 IS
ISO 1600
Casio EX-FH100
ISO 1600
Fujifilm F80 EXR
ISO 1600
Fujifilm JZ500
ISO 1600
Kodak Z950
ISO 1600
Nikon S8000
ISO 1600
Olympus mju 9010
ISO 1600
Panasonic DMC-ZS5
ISO 1600
Ricoh CX3
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ35W
ISO 1600
Sony H55
ISO 1600
Sony HX5
ISO 1600

The previous crop showed what noise reduction does to areas of fine low contrast detail. In this crop the edges are far more clearly defined, but as we saw in the base ISO comparisons, the quality of the cameras' lenses is tested by taking these crops so near to the edge of the frame. As we'd expect from those tests and the images from the center of the frame, the best results are produced by the Panasonics, and the Fuji F80 EXR, which manages high contrast detail very well. The Olympus produces perhaps the worst results, but its lens is partly responsible, and the Casio's aggressive edge sharpening is very clear here. This, coupled with heavy noise reduction, means that images look detailed and noise-free when viewed quite small, but at 100% the effect appears unnatural. The Sony DSC HX5 has the same sensor, but takes a more conservative approach to sharpening, which pays off in a more natural, albeit less crisp, rendition at 100%.

Fujifilm Finepix F80 EXR: 'SN' mode tested.

The Fujifilm Finepix F80 EXR is unusual in featuring a dedicated 'SN' (signal to noise ratio) mode, which is designed to give improved image quality in poor light, at a reduced resolution of 6 million pixels. The first set of crops are duplicates of those further up the page, and are taken at the camera's full 12Mp resolution. Those beneath are taken in SN mode, at the same ISO setting.

Fuji F80 EXR 'HR' mode
ISO 1600 (12Mp)

Fuji F80 EXR 'HR' mode
ISO 1600 (12Mp)
Fuji F80 EXR 'HR' mode
ISO 1600 (12Mp)
Fuji F80 EXR 'SN' mode
ISO 1600 (6Mp)
Fuji F80 EXR 'SN' mode
ISO 1600 (6Mp)
Fuji F80 EXR 'SN' mode
ISO 1600 (6Mp)

Whilst images shot in SN mode certainly look better at a pixel level than those shot in the conventional, full-resolution mode, it is fair to say that the improvement is hardly dramatic in high-contrast areas, and subtle to the point of being almost invisible in small prints. If you take a look at the full-sized files, however, you'll see that the SN mode image does a much better job in relatively low contrast areas, especially in greens, which (thanks to the unconventional non-Bayer design of the sensor) are very low on genuine detail when the camera is set to its full 12Mp resolution.

Previous page Next page

Comments