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ISO Sensitivity / Noise levels


Standard Test
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 ISOs. 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 measurement tool which measures the standard deviation (normalized) of the middle gray patch (indicated by the red rectangle above). Note that noise values indicated on the graphs below should not be compared to those in other reviews.

Kodak P850 vs Panasonic DMC-FZ30

  Kodak P880
ISO 50
Panasonic DMC-FZ30
ISO 80
Crops
  Kodak P880
ISO 100
Panasonic DMC-FZ30
ISO 80
Crops
  Kodak P880
ISO 200
Panasonic DMC-FZ30
ISO 200
Crops
  Kodak P880
ISO 400
Panasonic DMC-FZ30
ISO 400
Crops

The P880 is unsurprisingly pretty noisy at the high end of the ISO range (particularly ISO 400, and particularly in the darker areas). As the patches above show, the Kodak chip marginally noisier at ISO 400 than the Panasonic FZ30, but this is due mainly to the type and strength of the noise reduction in use.

Note: we didn't test the ISO 800 or 1600 settings as they are only available at the lowest 0.8 megapixel image size.

Luminance noise graph

Cameras compared:
Kodak P880, Panasonic DMC-FZ40, Samsung Pro815, Fujifilm FinePix S9500 (aka S9000)

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of luminosity is on the vertical axis. To see the graph up to ISO 400 only click here.

As the noise measurements show, the P880 has exhibits fairly low luminance noise at the low end of the ISO scale, though shadow (black) noise rises fairly steeply as you get up to ISO 400.

RGB noise graph

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of each of the red, green and blue channels is on the vertical axis. To see the graph up to ISO 400 only click here.

Chroma noise is on the low side for a camera in this class, though to keep it down the P880 uses fairly strong noise reduction.

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