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Noise comparison


Test Scene

The first question I'm always asked when reviewing higher end digital SLR's is "what's the high ISO noise like". Noise is something that varies from one camera to another and can only be 'measured' in relative terms, how does camera X perform compared to camera Y. In the tests below we've used our review production EOS-1D a Nikon D1x and a Canon EOS-D30.

To compare the EOS-1D to the Nikon D1x and EOS-D30 (in a quantifiable way) I shot our standard colour patches at relatively low light (5 EV) at a variety of ISO sensitivities. Each of the comparison crops below are made up of a crop from patches 1, 7 (M) and 17 of the greyscale of our colour patches (as shown on the right). This helps to give a better impression of noise at different light levels within an image.

Turning what we see in the crops into numbers is fairly easy, use the Photoshop histogram tool to retrieve the 'standard deviation' of that patch. The standard deviation for each of the three patches was measured and averaged to produce an 'average noise level' for each camera at each sensitivity (this is the number below the three patch crops).

 Camera Canon EOS-1D Nikon D1x Canon EOS-D30
 Sensitivity ISO 100 ISO 125 ISO 100
 Exposure 1/2 s, F9.0 1/3 s, F9.0 1/2 s, F9.0
 Patch crops
 Std dev. 0.98 1.31 1.01
       
 Camera Canon EOS-1D Nikon D1x Canon EOS-D30
 Sensitivity ISO 200 ISO 200 ISO 200
 Exposure 1/5 s, F9.0
 Patch crops
 Std dev. 1.25 1.47 1.32
       
 Camera Canon EOS-1D Nikon D1x Canon EOS-D30
 Sensitivity ISO 400 ISO 400 ISO 400
 Exposure 1/10 s, F9.0
 Patch crops
 Std dev. 1.50 1.94 1.87
       
 Camera Canon EOS-1D Nikon D1x Canon EOS-D30
 Sensitivity ISO 800 ISO 800 ISO 800
 Exposure 1/20 s, F9.0
 Patch crops
 Std dev. 1.96 2.44 2.89
       
 Camera Canon EOS-1D Nikon D1x Canon EOS-D30
 Sensitivity ISO 1600 ISO 1600 ISO 1600
 Exposure 1/40 s, F9.0
 Patch crops
 Std dev. 2.97 3.96 4.87
       
 Camera Canon EOS-1D Nikon D1x Canon EOS-D30
 Sensitivity ISO 3200 ISO 3200 n/a
 Exposure 1/80 s, F9.0
 Patch crops
 Std dev. 5.34 5.68 -

Note also that the EOS-1D's "standard sensitivity" range is ISO 200 - 1600, you must enable the "expanded sensitivity" range through custom function 03. ISO 100 is represented as 'L' on the top LCD, ISO 3200 is represented as 'H'. Note that the D1x nearest ISO 100 sensitivity is ISO 125.

What you can see visually is backed up by our measurements, that the EOS-1D at ISO 200, 400 and 800 has the equivelant noise levels as the Nikon D1x one stop slower. At ISO 1600 some noise is visible but it's perfectly acceptable. This is an excellent performance and is truly what matters for shooting high sensitivity for big prints.

Note that the D1x nearest ISO 100 sensitivity is ISO 125.

(For those of you who are mathematically inclined you'll be satisfied to hear that the increase in noise is almost logarithmic).

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