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Panasonic DMC-FZ7 High Sensitivity Mode

This year manufacturers have woken up to the fact that all the pixels in the world won't help an image shot in very low light that suffers from camera shake, and have started to include high sensitivity (high ISO) options to their new models. Unfortunately the sensors used in most compact cameras simply aren't very sensitive to light, and there's only so far you can amplify the signal before noise swamps the detail in the image. The FZ7, like many other models featuring a 'high sensitivity' mode, uses a technique called 'pixel binning' - where four or more neighboring pixels are combined to make a single 'super pixel' with higher sensitivity. Obviously this reduces the pixel count of the image proportionately, which is why most such modes are only available at lower resolutions. Panasonic took the unusual step of keeping its high ISO setting at full (6MP) resolution - which means the images must be interpolated back up once the image has been captured. The results can be seen in this comparison.

Below you will find studio shots taken with the FZ7 in high sensitivity mode at ISO 800 and 1600.

Important note: you cannot use manual white balance in high sensitivity mode, so these images have been color-corrected (only) to remove the strong color cast caused by our studio lighting. The full size images (click on the thumbnails below) are untouched 'out of camera'.

Studio scene comparison (@ ISO 800 & 1600)

  • Panasonic DMC-FZ7: Hi Sensitivity mode (full auto), ISO 800, Default Image Parameters, Manual (preset) white balance, +0.7 EV compensation
  • Panasonic DMC-FZ7: Hi Sensitivity mode (full auto), ISO 1600, Default Image Parameters, Manual (preset) white balance, +0.7 EV compensation
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI
Panasonic DMC-FZ7
Panasonic DMC-FZ7
ISO 800, 1/500 sec, F6.3
ISO 1600, 1/640 sec, F8.0
1,892 KB JPEG
1,921 KB JPEG

There's not a lot you can say about these images really; the process of pixel binning, followed by noise reduction and sharpening, then re-sizing back up to 6MP produces results that - though virtually free of noise - are also virtually free of detail. To be fair, Panasonic makes no claims for the quality of the high ISO mode, but it seems particularly pointless to resize them back up to 6MP; a process that simply amplifies the lack of detail and makes the sharpening halos look enormous. On the plus side, this mode will allow you to get a shot you might not be able to take any other way, but the result will look terrible printed anything bigger than a postcard.

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