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Superzoom camera group: Studio comparison (high ISO)

For our high ISO studio comparison we chose to use ISO 1600 - beyond this few compacts produce output that is usable, and some will only shoot higher ISO's at a reduced output size.

On this page you'll find our standard studio comparison shot taken with each of the cameras in the group. Click on the thumbnail to see the full image.

  • All taken from the same tripod position with the zoom set to approx. 80-95mm (equivalent).
  • Manual white balance
  • Aperture Priority or Manual mode (~ F4.0)
  • ISO 1600
  • Luminance matched (middle gray ~L50)
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI

ISO 1600 studio comparison:

High ISO settings allow you to shoot in low light without using a tripod or the flash and has become one of the key differentiators between digital SLRs (which are usually pretty good at higher sensitivity settings) and compacts (which aren't).

Since, with current technology, the combination of high pixel counts and small sensors inevitably results in high ISO noise (and there's not a huge difference between the various makes in this respect), what we're looking at here is how well each camera's processor deals with it, and how well the result balances the need to reduce/remove noise and the desire to retain fine detail.

Heavy, unsophisticated noise reduction also removes lots of detail from the image, but if the noise reduction is too low you'll get so much noise that it will appear even in the smallest print.

Canon SX20 IS
ISO 1600
Casio EX-FH25
ISO 1600
FujiFilm HS10
ISO 1600
FujiFilm S2500HD
ISO 1600
Kodak Z981
ISO 1600
Nikon P100
ISO 1600
Panasonic FZ35
ISO 1600
Pentax X90
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ25W
ISO 1600

100% crops: center

Canon SX20 IS
ISO 1600
Casio EX-FH25
ISO 1600
FujiFilm HS10
ISO 1600
FujiFilm S2500HD
ISO 1600
Kodak Z981
ISO 1600
Nikon P100
ISO 1600
Panasonic FZ35
ISO 1600
Pentax X90
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ25W
ISO 1600

The only way to fit a 20x or 30x zoom lens in packages as small as the cameras in this group test is by using a tiny sensor. All cameras here use 1/2.3" sensors, which is pretty much the smallest type used on any digital camera these days (apart from specialist equipment or mobile phone cameras). The fact that these miniscule sensors provide the same pixel count as many, much larger, DSLR sensors means that each individual pixel site is significantly smaller than it would be on an APS-C format imager. As a consequence the cameras in this group test are, at least at sensitivities above ISO 400, extremely prone to a combination of image noise and loss of detail caused by noise reduction.

As you can see above, at ISO 1600 the loss of detail, sharpness and color fidelity is extreme, and even in a small print the output looks unimpressive. For snaps of friends and family in low light you'll probably get away with it (the need for fine detail isn't great in a close portrait), but for anything else you're likely to be disappointed with the results.

Nevertheless there are differences between the competitors here. The Canon, Panasonic and Nikon represent the best of the group with the Panasonic just snatching the top spot. It shows the best detail and keeps visible noise to a tolerable level. At the other end of the spectrum the Casio, Kodak, Fujifilm S2500HD, Pentax and Samsung all show equally little detail but in different ways. The Fujifilm for example is hopelessly soft and blurry whereas the Kodak and Samsung images appear sharper at first sight but a closer look reveals that a lot of sharpening has been applied to an image that had previously been blurred. The result of this measure is not an increase in detail but a lot of sharpened noise. The Fujifilm HS10 is located somewhere in between these two groups.

100% crops: edge

Canon SX20 IS
ISO 1600
Casio EX-FH25
ISO 1600
FujiFilm HS10
ISO 1600
FujiFilm S2500HD
ISO 1600
Kodak Z981
ISO 1600
Nikon P100
ISO 1600
Panasonic FZ35
ISO 1600
Pentax X90
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ25W
ISO 1600

The previous crop showed what noise reduction does to areas of fine low contrast detail. In our edge crop the edges are far more clearly defined. Again, some of the cameras handle this type of subject better than others. The Pentax, Casio and Fujifilm S2500HD crops look the worst in this comparison. On this high-contrast crop the Samsung can score some points with its heavy sharpening but cannot reveal any additional detail. The leader of the pack is clearly, again, the Panasonic FZ35 which retains a good amount of detail.

Higher ISO settings

Most mid-range and high end compacts offer at least one higher sensitivity setting. Given what we've just seen above it's probably best not to expect miracles at even higher ISO settings, and to take any marketing claims with a hefty pinch of salt. Below you'll find our standard studio comparison shot taken with each of the cameras in the group at its highest ISO setting. Click on the thumbnail to see the full image.

Please note that both the Panasonic FZ35 and the Kodak Z981 offer a high sensitivity scene mode which could not be triggered with our studio scene. We will include some high ISO samples from these cameras in our gallery.

* These images use pixel binning to combine several pixels into one to increase sensitivity at a considerably reduced resolution

Canon SX20 IS
ISO 3200*
Casio EX-FH25
ISO 3200
FujiFilm HS10
ISO 6400
FujiFilm S2500HD
ISO 6400*
Nikon P100
ISO 3200
Pentax X90
ISO 6400*
Samsung HZ25W
ISO 3200*
   
 
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