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Enthusiast compact camera group: Studio comparison (high ISO)

For our studio comparison we chose to use ISO 1600 - beyond this few compacts produce output that is usable, and most will only shoot higher ISO's at a reduced pixel size.

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
  • Luminance matched (middle grey ~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 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 G10
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
ISO 1600
Kodak Z8612 IS *1
ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix LX3
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix TZ5
ISO 1600
Ricoh R10
ISO 1600
   
 

100% crops: centre

Canon PowerShot G10
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
ISO 1600
Kodak Z8612 IS
ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix LX3
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix TZ5
ISO 1600
Ricoh R10
ISO 1600
   
 

It doesn't matter how much you pay for a compact digital camera, or how fancy its features are; for the most part the small sensor and high pixel count means that noise is the overriding issue at anything over base ISO. By the time you get to ISO 1600 the cameras in this group have, for the most part, given up any hope of capturing much low contrast detail, instead concentrating on taking drastic action to avoid the entire image being swamped by noise. The loss of resolution, texture, detail and color fidelity is obvious in the crops above, putting all but one of the seven cameras here into the 'emergency use only' camp when shooting at ISO 1600. The notable exception is the Panasonic LX3, which actually does a pretty good job of preserving fine detail, and certainly puts the other cameras here to shame.

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 acquire a characteristic 'watercolor' smeared look.

Canon PowerShot G10
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
ISO 1600
Kodak Z8612 IS
ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix LX3
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix TZ5
ISO 1600
Ricoh R10
ISO 1600
   
 

As you can see clearly from the crops above the effect of noise reduction on bolder detail is less destructive, but the loss of resolution and overall smearing of detail is just as obvious. Again the Panasonic LX3 wins here, though only the Kodak, Nikon and Ricoh models are particularly poor.

Higher ISO settings

It's perhaps a reflection of the fact that the target market for this kind of camera is less likely to be impressed by the claims of marketing departments that few of them offer anything over ISO 1600, and only one (the Panasonic LX3) does so at its full resolution. The Nikon P6000 and Kodak Z8612 offer reduced resolution high ISO modes (using a process known as Pixel Binning) - up to ISO 6400 in the case of the P6000. As you can see the results are far from impressive.

Panasonic Lumix LX3
ISO 3200
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 3200
 
 
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