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ISO / Sensitivity accuracy

In a new addition to our reviews we are now measuring the actual sensitivity of each indicated ISO sensitivity. This is achieved using the same shots as are used to measure ISO noise levels, we simply compare the exposure for each shot to the metered light level (using Sekonic L-358), middle gray matched. We estimate the accuracy of these results to be +/- 1/6 EV.

The S5 Pro is marginally more sensitive than the D200 at all ISO settings (the D200's ISO setting are pretty much spot on, the S5 Pro's are a little conservative).

Indicated
sensitivity
Fujifilm S5 Pro
(actual sensitivity)
Nikon D200 / D2X
(actual sensitivity)
ISO 100 ISO 125 ISO 100
ISO 200 ISO 225 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 440 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 900 ISO 800
ISO 1600 ISO 1950 ISO 1600
ISO 3200 ISO 3500 ISO 3200

ISO Sensitivity / Noise levels

ISO equivalence on a digital camera is the ability to increase the sensitivity of the sensor. The 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 (i.e.. ISO 200, 1/200 sec for consistency of exposure between cameras). The image sequence is run through our own proprietary noise measurement tool (version 1.4 in this review). Click here for more information. (Note that noise values indicated on the graphs here can not be compared to those in other reviews). Room temperature is approximately 22°C (~72°F), simulated daylight lighting.

Boosted sensitivities

For the EOS 30D the ISO 3200 setting is only accessible once the 'ISO expansion' custom function has been enabled and is indicated by the camera as 'H', hence outside the recommended sensitivity range. The same is true for the Nikon D200, its ISO 3200 accessed as HI+1.0. We have indicated boosted sensitivities with a double asterisk '**' suffix.

Fujifilm S5 Pro (@ 6MP) vs Canon EOS 30D vs Nikon D200.

  • Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro: Nikkor 50 mm F1.8 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters, Noise reduction 'STD', JPEG Medium (6MP) / Fine
  • Canon EOS 30D: Canon 50 mm F1.4 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Standard PS), JPEG Large / Fine
  • Nikon D200: Nikkor 50 mm F1.4 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters, High ISO NR 'Normal', JPEG Large / Fine
Fujifilm S5 Pro (6MP)
ISO 100
(125 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 100
(125 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 100
Fujifilm S5 Pro (6MP)
ISO 200
(225 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 200
(250 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 200
Fujifilm S5 Pro (6MP)
ISO 400
(440 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 400
(500 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 400
Fujifilm S5 Pro (6MP)
ISO 800
(900 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 800
(1000 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 800
Fujifilm S5 Pro (6MP)
ISO 1600
(1950 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 1600
(2000 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 1600
Fujifilm S5 Pro (6MP)
ISO 3200
(3500 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 3200 (4000 equiv.) **
Nikon D200
ISO 3200
**

At lower ISO values the amount of noise is very similar, though the S5 Pro's overall sharpness is very poor compared to the other two cameras here - though they do improve once you apply some extra sharpening. Once you get beyond ISO 400 the S5 Pro starts to edge back towards the D200, offering lower noise with less loss of detail due to noise reduction. There's no doubt that the Canon EOS 30D is the winner here.

Fujifilm S5 Pro (@ 12MP) vs Canon EOS 30D vs Nikon D200.

  • Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro: Nikkor 50 mm F1.8 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters, Noise reduction 'STD', JPEG Large (12MP) / Fine
  • Canon EOS 30D: Canon 50 mm F1.4 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Standard PS), JPEG Large / Fine
  • Nikon D200: Nikkor 50 mm F1.4 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters, High ISO NR 'Normal', JPEG Large / Fine
Fujifilm S5 Pro (12MP)
ISO 100
(125 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 100
(125 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 100
Fujifilm S5 Pro (12MP)
ISO 200
(225 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 200
(250 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 200
Fujifilm S5 Pro (12MP)
ISO 400
(440 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 400
(500 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 400
Fujifilm S5 Pro (12MP)
ISO 800
(900 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 800
(1000 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 800
Fujifilm S5 Pro (12MP)
ISO 1600
(1950 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 1600
(2000 equiv.)
Nikon D200
ISO 1600
Fujifilm S5 Pro (12MP)
ISO 3200
(3500 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 3200 (4000 equiv.) **
Nikon D200
ISO 3200
**

When the output is blown up (in camera) to 12 megapixels the difference between the amount of detail captured by the S5 Pro and the D200 (and the 8MP D30 for that matter) is even more obvious - especially at higher ISO values, though it would appear that the main problem is the blurring of fine tonal detail in noise reduction (there's a LOT more in the raw files). The only saving grave is that noise is very low, with pretty much no visible chroma (color) noise at all. If you add fairly heavy unsharp masking to the S5 Pro output you do get results that get much closer detail-wise to the D200, though of course you also sharpen the noise and interpolation artefacts.

Fujifilm S5 Pro (12MP, NR ORG) vs. Canon EOS 30D vs. Nikon D200 (NR Off)

Here we're only comparing the 'high sensitivities' (above ISO 400) with the S5 Pro's noise reduction lowered (set to 'ORG') and Nikon's High ISO noise reduction turned off. Note though that even in the 'Off' position both Fuji and Nikon still apply some (minimal) noise reduction above ISO 400.

Fuji S5 Pro (12MP, NR ORG)
ISO 800
(900 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 800
(1000 equiv.)
Nikon D200 (NR Off)
ISO 800
Fuji S5 Pro (12MP, NR ORG)
ISO 1600
(1650 equiv.)
Canon EOS 305D
ISO 1600
(2000 equiv.)
Nikon D200 (NR Off)
ISO 1600
Fuji S5 Pro (12MP, NR ORG)
ISO 3200
(3500 equiv.)
Canon EOS 30D
ISO 3200 (4000 equiv.)
Nikon D200 (NR Off)
ISO 3200
**

Although turning the noise reduction down does introduce marginally more luminance noise into the S5 Pro's output there doesn't seem to be much payback in terms of sharper or more detailed results. It would appear that even the 'ORG' setting is fairly strong, and if you're seeing this kind of softness / detail loss in your shots you need to switch to raw.

Luminance noise graph

As the crops above show the S5 Pro's noise levels broadly the same as the D200's at lower ISO values. At higher ISO values they are very low.

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

Chroma (color) noise graph

In addition to measuring luminance noise we now also measure chroma (color) noise. Once again the noise levels are fairly low - particularly at higher ISO values.

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of each of the red, green and blue channels (normalized image) are on the vertical axis.

Noise reduction compared

As the graphs below show the difference between the default (STD) and low (ORG) noise reduction settings is fairly small at lower ISO values - as you would expect. Over ISO 1000 the difference is considerably more marked - this will also have an effect on the amount of low contrast high frequency detail captured as the 'STD' NR gets heavier and heavier as the ISO setting increases (see below).

Low contrast detail

An inevitable side effect of noise removal is that low contrast fine detail such as hair, fur or foliage is also blurred or smeared, resulting in a loss of 'texture'. In this test the crops below show the effect of the noise reduction on such texture (hair) as you move up the ISO range.

100% Crops, F9
ISO 400 - NR 'STD' ISO 400 - NR 'ORG' (low)
ISO 800 - NR 'STD' ISO 800 - NR 'ORG' (low)
ISO 1600 - NR 'STD' ISO 1600 - NR 'ORG' (low)
ISO 2000 - NR 'STD' ISO 2000 - NR 'ORG' (low)
ISO 3200 - NR 'STD' 3200 - NR 'ORG' (low)

One thing we noticed when shooting with the S5 Pro was that its noise reduction at higher ISO values seems to be a bit on the strong side (with both chroma and luminance being softened), and as these crops show you are losing detail to NR as you move up the scale. Up to ISO 400 the difference between the two noise reduction options is so small as to be considered negligible. At ISO 800-2000 you will preserve a little more low contrast detail by using the 'ORG' setting (though obviously noise is also more visible). Over ISO 2000 it's less clear-cut; the amount of detail 'saved' by using the ORG setting is minimal but noise is much more obvious.

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