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Budget camera group: Studio comparison (high ISO)

For our studio comparison we chose to use, where possible, ISO 1600 - beyond this few compacts produce output that is usable, and most will only shoot higher ISO's at a reduced pixel size. For cameras without an ISO 1600 option we've used the highest setting available at full 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 roughly half way through the zoom range
  • Manual white balance where available (nearest preset used where not - indicated with a *1)
  • Aperture Priority or Manual mode where available
  • ISO 1600 (if ISO 1600 not available, highest full res ISO setting used)
  • Luminance matched (middle grey ~L50)
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI

Note that the Nikon L18 has no manual ISO control, so - try as we might - we couldn't get it to shoot at ISO 1600 in the studio, meaning we have no sample for it.

ISO 1600 studio comparison:

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

Since (with current technology) 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 makes), 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 the smallest print.

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 1600
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 1000
Fujifilm Z20fd *1
ISO 64
Olympus FE-360*1
ISO 1000
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 1600

Samsung L210
ISO 1600

Sony Cybershot W120 *1
ISO 1600
 
 

100% crops: centre

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 1600
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 1600

Fujifilm Z20fd *1
ISO 1600
Olympus FE-360*1
ISO 1000
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 1600
Samsung L210
ISO 1600
Sony Cybershot W120 *1
ISO 1600
 
 

All 8 cameras show heavy noise reduction, with most looking like slightly softer versions of the ISO 400 crops on the previous page and all exhibiting either loss of detail or noise - or both - to some extent. There's no clear winners here, though Kodak, Samsung and Olympus are the worst, with strong noise reduction blurring away all fine detail (in the case of the Olympus without actually removing all the noise).

The remaining cameras are much of a muchness, with Panasonic retaining the most detail (just). All these cameras produce results at ISO 1600 which, though fine for social snaps intended to be printed small (postcard size) are of little use to the more demanding photographer.

100% crops: Edge

The first thing to suffer when noise reduction kicks in is fine, low contrast detail (as shown in the crops above), but with very high NR even bold details (such as on the martini bottle shown here) can start to suffer.

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 1600
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 1600

Fujifilm Z20fd *1
ISO 1600
Olympus FE-360*1
ISO 1000
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 1600
Samsung L210
ISO 1600
Sony Cybershot W120 *1
ISO 1600
 
 

Again none of the cameras is that impressive, though those that use heavy luminance noise reduction (Kodak, Fuji, Olympus and Samsung) lose a lot more detail than those that concentrate more on chroma (color) noise. Again the Kodak, Olympus and Samsung models do the most 'smearing', whereas Canon, Panasonic and Sony at least make an effort to retain some semblance of detail (Fuji sits about half way btween).

That all said, even with the optimal lighting used here none of the cameras produce output at ISO 1600 (ISO 1000 in the case of the Kodak) that looks very pretty this close, and none would be useful for anything but a small (6x4 inch) print, no matter how many megapixels they offer.

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