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Noise levels and fine detail in the real world compared to Canon SX10 IS and Canon EOS 1000D

In price terms the SX1 IS sits between the SX10 IS and Canon's entry-level digital SLR, the EOS 1000D (twin lens kit, which covers a comparable zoom range), so it seems fair to see how this translates into image quality. The huge price differential between the SX1 and the SX10 is explained by its CMOS sensor (which brings high speed shooting and HD video) - and you get RAW mode too, though on the downside it has a smaller, lower resolution viewfinder. Compared to the 1000D, the SX1 IS has a smaller sensor and is less flexible, but does have a wide range built in zoom lens (and video, of course). one other thing to consider when comparing these cameras is size. Both the SX1 IS and SX10 IS are the same size, but while they can be considered compact cameras, they are actually not that much smaller then the 1000D with its kit lens and none of these cameras will fit inside a coat pocket.

While it is possible to learn a lot from testing cameras in controlled studio conditions, this does not tell the whole story. In everyday situations, where lighting cannot be controlled, image quality produced in the studio can be hard to reproduce. We took all three of these cameras to a location to shoot a subject that many of you will instantly recognize. We shot all three cameras at base ISO on a tripod (to reduce possible camera shake) to find out how well they perform. We have made all three of these files available for download so you can make your own comparisons.

Canon PowerShot SX1 IS (3,379 KB; 10 MP) Canon PowerShot SX10 IS (1,447 KB; 10 MP)
 
Canon EOS 1000D (3,287 KB; 12 MP)  

ISO noise in the real world

Below you'll find crops from the same area of tower bridge, and the same patch of blue sky to compare noise and fine detail. All these comparisons are performed on the highest quality highest resolution JPEG each camera produces.

100% Crops
Canon PowerShot SX1 IS ISO 80
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS ISO 80
Canon EOS 1000D ISO 100 Canon EOS 1000D ISO 100

What is clear from these results is that the SX1's CMOS technology may well give you HD movies and high speed continuous shooting, but it doesn't help stills image quality at all; the SX10 produces visibly better fine detail in the brick work, and slightly less noise in the sky. The crops from the 1000D show how much more clean, noise-free detail a larger sensor can produce in this situation (despite the lower in-camera sharpening). To be fair you'd never see the difference between these three shots at normal viewing magnifications.

Specific image quality issues

Fringing

As with every camera in this range the SX1 IS exhibits some red (and occasionally blue) fringing at the edge of the frame in very bright situations (usually over exposed areas). Thankfully it's not that common, but when it happens it is very noticeable. Overall we would say that the SX1 IS performs better then the S5 IS in terms of fringing.

100% crop ISO 125

Highlight Clipping

All small sensor cameras suffer from highlight clipping in scenes with a very wide dynamic range; it's one of the things you have to learn to live with. The metering on the SX1 IS has a particular fondness for over exposure in contrasty conditions, which exaggerates the problem. On any sunny day, you are going to experience blown highlights in almost every picture. This can be corrected by using a metering mode other then evaluative, or dialing in some negative exposure compensation.

100% crop ISO 200, -0.33EV, Evaluative metering.

I-contrast and noise / NR

I-contrast is a new feature that is intended to boost the dynamic range of an image by using a different tone curve to push shadow detail. While this feature has worked relatively well in DSLRs, the large amount of noise produced by the SX1 IS, combined with its aggressive noise reduction, produces artefacts and reduces fine detail, even in sunny conditions. Below is an example of i-contrast at work on an image with the camera set to auto ISO of 125.

100% crop ISO 125, JPEG

Vignetting caused by lens hood

The lens hood included with the SX1 IS fits very loosely, and if it is rotated even slightly (which is easy to do when you take the camera out of your bag) vignetting will become visible; in the example below, it's in the top right and bottom left corners of the image.

100% crop ISO 80, Evaluative metering.

 

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