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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 most will only shoot higher ISOs at a reduced pixel 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. 60-70mm (equivalent).
  • Manual white balance (except Olympus Stylus 9000 which does not offer this feature)
  • Program Mode P
  • 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), 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 SX200 IS
ISO 1600
Olympus Stylus 9000
ISO 1600
Panasonic ZS1
ISO 1600
Panasonic ZS3
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ10W
ISO 1600
Sony H20
ISO 1600

100% crops: center

Canon SX200 IS
ISO 1600
Olympus Stylus 9000
ISO 1600
Panasonic ZS1
ISO 1600
Panasonic ZS3
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ10W
ISO 1600
Sony H20
ISO 1600

In order to squeeze a 10x or 12x zoom into these cameras' compact bodies engineers have to use very small imaging sensors and we all know that small sensors and double-digit megapixels are not an ideal combination, especially not at high sensitivities. This becomes quite obvious when looking at the crops above. The image processing engines of all cameras have smeared away a large proportion of fine detail and produced blurred images. The Panasonics have opted to produce a noisy image but in turn retain a relatively large amount of detail. All other models' luminance noise reduction is much more heavy-handed. The Canon's output shows little noise but is extremely soft. Samsung and Sony have adopted similar processing strategies producing output that is not quite as blurred as the Canon's but slightly noisier (there is also quite a bit of chroma noise/color blotches in the Samsung image). Olympus comes last in this comparison by a distance, with a very ugly mixture of complete blurriness and pronounced color noise blotches.

100% crops: Edge

Canon SX200 IS
ISO 1600
Olympus Stylus 9000
ISO 1600
Panasonic ZS1
ISO 1600
Panasonic ZS3
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ10W
ISO 1600
Sony H20
ISO 1600

The previous crop showed what noise reduction does to areas of fine low contrast detail. In this crop the edges are far more clearly defined but the pattern is similar to what we've just seen above. The two Panasonics produce the clearest image with comparatively little noise reduction blurring. The Sony and the Samsung occupy the middle ground with the Sony retaining marginally more detail. Canon and Olympus come last. There is so little detail in their images that it will be noticeable even at small print sizes.

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Comments

Matafuko

Just picked up a second hand SX200 for £35!
I bought it because I was surprised at a 12mp, 12x optical, 720p HD and manual function camera would be available so cheaply these days.
I have an SLR but wanted a smallish carry around thing. I am not - in any way - precious about it being top of the line, but the resolution, zoom and manual functions are perfectly adequate for me.
I'm in pretty much total agreement with your review and once you replace the idea that it's the most expensive in the batch test with the fact that I got it second hand for a steal - there's not a bad word I can say about it!
(It's even in the cool blue colour)

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