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Image Quality

One of the main reasons that the 950 generated so much excitement was because of the promise of the great image quality which it would bring. Coming from the background of the 900s, Nikon had already proved that they could put together a package which delivers excellent image quality, but what of the new camera?

The Good

Well, it's considerably better. There, I said it. And to be honest the 950 has what is probably the best image quality in it's price bracket (US$1,000) and even some MUCH more expensive digital cameras. And here are my reasons:

  • Detail: the levels of detail captured by this camera are stunning, down to the very finest hair (nth of a pixel wide) or slightest colour gradient.
  • Colours: bright, vibrant but ACCURATE. And this is an important point, it's not often that a camera can deliver accurate colours brightly. There's always an "easy way out" of the right colour balance by not saturating colours fully and therefore toning down any slight inaccuracies, we see non of this in the 950.
  • Sharp: details are sharp, focus is accurate and sharp which leads to an image which requires little-to-no post-processing sharpening.
  • Exposure: second to none, the 950 manages to expose almost perfectly every time, probably due to the matrix metering system.
  • Algorithm: every consumer digital camera uses a colour pattern where each pixel of the CCD is painted a unique colour (generally in an RGBG square pattern), the internal software of the camera then combines the values of surrounding pixels to produce a full RGB colour value for that pixel. The 950 does this VERY well.
  • Little to no post-processing: regular visitors to my site will know that I'm a firm believer in the digital darkroom and the importance of "correcting" images before posting / printing them. I found with the 950 that I had to do much less of this than with other cameras, images are "right out of the camera".

As you can see from the above list I'm pretty impressed with the 950, I suggest that you take a look through the samples gallery after you've read this review and formulate your own opinion of the image quality.

Image Problems

With every review I also report any problems with the image quality, and the few problems with the 950 didn't escape my notice. Bear in mind that although I've found these problems doesn't mean you'll suffer from them every day of your shooting, that they would necessarily appear in your images (it depends on your shooting style) or that they don't exist in many other digicams.

Barrel Distortion

As previously spotted on some Japanese sample shots the 950 does indeed suffer from barrel distortion at it's widest angle (38mm). Barrel Distortion is an effect where the image is "punched out" slightly towards the edges giving a spherized look, and is most noticeable when taking shots where a straight edge is close to the edge of the frame (at wide angle). How often you'll notice this in real life photography is up for debate however it's there. Examples of barrel distortion from the 950:

(Click for full-size image)(Click for full-size image)(Click for full-size image)

Colour Fringing

(image portion 200% blowup)
(image portion 200% blowup)

I was surprised to discover that the 950 does occasionally suffer from colour fringing on the edge of extreme contrasts (most noticeably in overexposed images). The jury is unfortunately still out as to the cause of this. I've had a rally of emails backwards and forwards to the author (and digital imaging expert) of Vueprint/Vuescan Ed Hamrick, we're still not sure about the exact cause:

  • Chromatic abberations - no because it can appear anywhere in the frame
  • Binning - the overflow of electrons from one CCD pixel to another - possible.
  • Infrared light - the effects of strong Infrared light entering the CCD (I'm trying to get a "hot filter" to prove this)

One other theory is that has CCD resolutions increase the quality of lenses comes under more and more scrutany (having to sharply focus 2.1 million pixels of detail down onto to a 1/2" CCD is no mean feat).

I must place a disclaimer that it is only apparent in very high contrast areas of a very small percentage of images (normally when the image is overexposed). Examples:

(Click for full-size image) (Click for full-size image)

"Stuck-on" pixels on long exposure images

(image portion 200% blowup)

Long exposure "stuck-on" pixels, this two second exposure shows the effect of pixels which "stick-on" (they're only noticeable on exposures >1s). Normally appearing in exactly the same place in the image each time it would be possible to take a "black levels" image first and use something like Photoshop to subtract the noise from the image. Example image:

(Click for full-size image)

Miss-firing / low-power flash

Believe it or not the flash actually fired in this shot, the red light was steady indicating the flash was fully charged (and the batteries were a freshly charged set). This has happened a couple of times in the time I've had the camera and I can only put it down to the camera being an early production model. Below you can see two images taken one after another with the flash, the first one was a miss-fire (it went off but with little power) and the second is fine (6 seconds later).

(Click for full-size image)(Click for full-size image)

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