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ISO Sensitivity / Noise levels

ISO equivalence on a digital camera is the ability to increase the sensitivity of the sensor. This works by turning up the "volume" (gain) on the sensor's signal amplifiers (remember the sensor is an analogue device). By amplifying the signal you also amplify the noise which becomes more visible at higher ISO's. Many modern cameras also employ noise reduction and / or sharpness reduction at higher sensitivities.

To measure noise levels we take a sequence of images of a GretagMacBeth ColorChecker chart (controlled artificial daylight lighting). The exposure is matched to the ISO (ie. ISO 200, 1/200 sec for consistency of exposure between cameras). The image sequence is run through our own proprietary noise measurement tool (version 1.5 in this review). Click here for more information. Room temperature is approximately 22°C (~72°F), simulated daylight lighting.

Canon EOS 1000D vs. Nikon D60 vs. Sony DSLR-A200 vs. Olympus E420

  • Canon EOS 1000D: Canon 50 mm F1.4 lens, Manual exposure, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Standard), High ISO NR Off (default), JPEG Large / Fine

  • Nikon D60: Nikkor 50 mm F1.8 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Normal), JPEG Large / Fine
     
  • Sony DSLR-A200: Minolta 50 mm F1.4 lens, Manual exposure, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Standard), High ISO NR Off (default), JPEG Large / Fine
     
  • Olympus E-420: Olympus 50 mm F2.0 Macro lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Normal), High ISO NR (Normal), JPEG Large / Fine
Canon EOS 1000D
ISO 100
Nikon D60
ISO 100
Sony DSLR A200
ISO 100
Olympus E420
ISO 100

Canon EOS 1000D
ISO 200
Nikon D60
ISO 200
Sony DSLR A200
ISO 200
Olympus E420
ISO 200

Canon EOS 1000D
ISO 400
Nikon D60
ISO 400
Sony DSLR A200
ISO 400
Olympus E420
ISO 400

Canon EOS 1000D
ISO 800
Nikon D60
ISO 800
Sony DSLR A200
ISO 800
Olympus E420
ISO 800

Canon EOS 1000D
ISO 1600
Nikon D60
ISO 1600
Sony DSLR A200
ISO 1600
Olympus E420
ISO 1600

From a noise and noise reduction point of view, all four cameras do pretty well up to ISO 400 with the Sony and Canon rendering the fine detail slightly better. From ISO 800 upwards the Canon pulls ahead, though. There is a little more chroma noise in the gray panel but the level of detail being retained, particularly at ISO 1600 makes it a class leader and, as we see on the next page, chroma noise can be turned down without any great detriment to image quality.

All the cameras are shown with their default noise reduction settings. Click here to read the relevant sections of the E420, A200 or D60 reviews.

Luminance noise graph (gray)

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of luminosity on the vertical axis.

Luminance noise graph (black)

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of luminosity on the vertical axis.

Chroma (color) noise graph

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of color on the vertical axis.

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