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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.

Unlike its predecessor (and most other cameras we test) the L10 has almost 100% accurate ISO indications.

Indicated
sensitivity
Panasonic L10
(actual sensitivity)
Olympus E-510
(actual sensitivity)
Canon EOS 400D
(actual sensitivity)
Sony Alpha 100
(actual sensitivity)
ISO 100 ISO 100 ISO 125 ISO 100 ISO 125
ISO 200 ISO 200 ISO 200 ISO 200 ISO 250
ISO 400 ISO 400 ISO 400 ISO 400 ISO 500
ISO 800 ISO 800 ISO 800 ISO 800 ISO 1000
ISO 1600 ISO 1600 ISO 1600 ISO 1600 ISO 2000

Panasonic DMC-L10 vs. Sony DSLR-A100 vs. Canon EOS 400D vs. Olympus E-510

  • Panasonic DMC-L10: Olympus 50 mm F2.0 Macro lens, Manual exposure, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Standard), NR (0 - default), JPEG Large / Fine
     
  • Sony DSLR-A100: Minolta 50 mm F1.4 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Standard DEC), JPEG Large / Fine
     
  • Canon EOS 400D: Canon 50 mm F1.4 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Standard PS), JPEG Large / Fine
     
  • Olympus E-510: Olympus 50 mm F2.0 Macro lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Normal), High ISO NR (Normal), JPEG Large / Fine
Panasonic DMC-L10
ISO 100
Canon EOS 400D
ISO 100
Sony Alpha 100
ISO 100
Olympus E-510
ISO 100
Panasonic DMC-L10
ISO 200

Canon EOS 400D
ISO 200

Sony Alpha 100
ISO 200
Olympus E-510
ISO 200
Panasonic DMC-L10
ISO 400
Canon EOS 400D
ISO 400
Sony Alpha A100
ISO 400
Olympus E-510
ISO 400
Panasonic DMC-L10
ISO 800
Canon EOS 400D
ISO 800
Sony Alpha 100
ISO 800
Olympus E-510
ISO 800
Panasonic DMC-L10
ISO 1600
Canon EOS 400D
ISO 1600
Sony Alpha 100
ISO 1600
Olympus E-510
ISO 1600

Although the L10 has measurably higher noise at low ISO settings (and viewed at 100%, as here visibly, more noise at anything over ISO 200) it's not something you're going to see at normal magnifications. At higher ISO settings the effects of noise and noise reduction are much more obvious in both Four-Thirds cameras' results, though Panasonic and Olympus have very different approaches to NR; Panasonic is doing a lot less luminance NR (so the image looks slightly grainier) and a lot more chroma NR (giving slightly washed out colors), whereas Olympus appears to be doing quite strong NR on both, resulting in images that just look soft. In this respect Panasonic is doing a better job, though the L10's new sensor is obviously no less noisy than the E-510's, and the amount of NR needed - and subsequent loss of detail at higher ISOs - is still on the high side.

It's also worth noting that outside the studio, when shooting in low light - there's actually a lot of visible (both chroma and luminance) in the shadows - check out the ISO 400 samples in the gallery at the end of the review.

The L10's biggest problem is that it simply can't compete with the best of its competitors at the highest ISO settings; the EOS 400D manages to retain more detail with less noise, and is able to produce perfectly usable output even at ISO 1600.

Luminance noise graph

As the crops above show the L10's luminance noise is pretty high at ISO 100-400 (higher than the Olympus E-510 at ISO 200 and 400, thanks to Olympus' high default NR), dropping dramatically at ISO 800 when the noise reduction really kicks in, then leaping back up at ISO 1600 (there doesn't appear to be any more luminance NR at ISO 1600 than ISO 800, so the level of detail is identical).

It's safe to say that the L10 - like every other Four-Thirds camera - suffers by comparison to its larger-sensored competitors at anything over ISO 400, though with careful manipulation of raw files you can get plenty of detail out of the files (and the JPEGs are perfectly usable as long as you're not looking at huge magnifications).

Chroma noise graph

As shown in the crops and discussed above the L10's noise reduction system hits chroma noise pretty hard at ISO 800 and 1600 (though nowhere near as hard as the Olympus E-510's default setting). Overall chroma noise is on the high side at anything over ISO 100.

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