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Premium 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
  • 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 SD880 IS
(Ixus 870 IS)
ISO 1600

Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix FX150
ISO 1600
Samsung NV100HD
(TL34HD)
ISO 1600
Sony Cyber-shot W300
ISO 1600

100% crops: center

Canon SD880 IS
(Ixus 870 IS)
ISO 1600
Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix FX150
ISO 1600
Samsung NV100HD
(TL34HD)
ISO 1600
Sony Cyber-shot W300
ISO 1600

It comes as no surprise to see that all the cameras in the group are losing the fight with noise here, though again there are some that put up more of a struggle than others. I think it's safe to say that the only camera that stands out here is the Fujifilm F100fd, though that's mainly because all the others are verging on the completely useless, with the Samsung and Sony results particularly featureless. The little Canon isn't doing as bad a job as some of the cameras here, but it's still only really useful for small prints of subjects where detail isn't important.

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 SD880 IS
(Ixus 870 IS)
ISO 1600
Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix FX150
ISO 1600
Samsung NV100HD
(TL34HD)
ISO 1600
Sony Cyber-shot W300
ISO 1600

Here the Fuji's advantage is considerably clearer, with a surprising amount of detail showing that its luminance noise reduction is a lot less harsh than the other cameras (though the overall loss of color suggests high chroma NR). Since the original FinePix F10 Fujifilm has had the lead in low light performance, and the F100fd shows that - whilst far from perfect - this is still the case. With this bolder, high contrast subject all the cameras apart from the Samsung look better than they did in the previous crops.

Higher ISO settings

With high ISO one of the buzzwords of 2008 most mid-range and high end compacts offer at least one higher sensitivity setting. Given what we've just seen above it's probably best not to expect miracles at even higher IS0 settings, and to take any marketing claims with a hefty pinch of salt. Below you'll find our standard studio comparison shot taken with each of the cameras in the group at its highest ISO setting (where a setting above ISO 1600 is offered). Click on the thumbnail to see the full image.

* These images use pixel binning to combine several pixels into one to increase sensitivity at a considerably reduced resolution

Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 3200
Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 12,800 *
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 3200
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 12,800 *
Samsung NV100HD
ISO 3200 *
Sony Cyber-shot W300
ISO 3200

At ISO 3200 even the Fujifilm F100fd is being stretched, though it is actually better than some of the cameras here were at ISO 400. The Nikon and Sony are slightly worse than they were at ISO 1600, the Samsung uses pixel binning at ISO 3200 to produce a smaller version of the marshmallow scene it captures at lower ISO settings.

Two of the cameras offer even higher ISO settings, with both the Nikon Coolpix S710 and Fujifilm F100fd going all the way to ISO 12,800 (something few digital SLRs even attempt). Again this is achieved using pixel binning, which sacrifices resolution for sensitivity (essentially combining groups of adjacent pixels into 'super pixels'). As you can see, the results are firmly in the 'emergency use only' camp.

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