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Waterproof camera group: Noise reduction

Low contrast detail

Noise tends to build up in digital images, particularly during long exposures or at higher ISO settings, and noise reduction algorithms are used to identify spurious data and attempt to correct it. However, these algorithms can also tend to blur away fine detail, particularly in areas of low-contrast detail where it is difficult to distinguish between slight differences in brightness and aberrant luminance noise.

This test, shot under low light (approximately 8 EV), shows an example of fine, irregular low-contrast detail to mimic the effects of each camera's noise reduction on subjects such as hair, grass or chain link fences some distance yonder.

Canon D10
ISO 80
Canon D10
ISO 400
Canon D10
ISO 1600
FujiFilm Z33 WP
ISO 64
FujiFilm Z33 WP
ISO 400
FujiFilm Z33 WP
ISO 1600
Olympus Tough 6000
ISO 50
Olympus Tough 6000
ISO 400
Olympus Tough 6000
ISO 1600
Olympus Tough 8000
ISO 64
Olympus Tough 8000
ISO 400
Olympus Tough 8000
ISO 1600
Pentax W60
ISO 50
Pentax W60
ISO 400
Pentax W60
ISO 1600
Pentax W80
ISO 50
Pentax W80
ISO 400
Pentax W80
ISO 1600
Panasonic TS1
ISO 50
Panasonic TS1
ISO 400
Panasonic TS1
ISO 1600

Compacts with small sensors struggle with fine detail in low contrast situations even at base ISO, and these cameras are no different. What is obvious from first glance is that up to ISO 400 the D10, TS1 and W60 are head and shoulders better at retaining low contrast detail than the other cameras in this group - and that they're the only ones not using overly destructive noise reduction at the lowest setting. Picking a winner out of these three is harder, but with higher sharpening in camera, the Canon D10 possibly noses ahead while the W60 and TS1 are about even. Of the other cameras, the Olympus Tough 6000 is perhaps the next best, with big brother the Tough 8000 clearly the worst of the bunch thanks to excessive noise reduction at base ISO (and ineffective NR at the highest settings). The Fuji Z33 and Pentax W80 are about even half way between the Olympuses.

The situation at ISO 1600 is not as clear; the D10 and W60 advantage is all-but obliterated by noise reduction, and the TS1 pulls ahead of both of them with less aggressive noise reduction at this setting. I think it's fair to say the Olympus Tough 8000 makes most of the others look pretty good by comparison, which is no mean feat given how little of the detail in the original scene has been retained by any of them. Interestingly the Olympus Tough 6000 is one of the best in terms of detail at ISO 1600 (though the comparatively gentle noise reduction means it's still very noisy). The W80's higher resolution sensor and more aggressive noise reduction means that it retains less fine detail than the W60 at all ISO settings performing on par with the Tough 6000.

The Canon, Panasonic and Pentax models both have further higher ISO settings (the D10 has ISO 3200 and the W60 goes all the way to ISO 6400), but these are recorded at reduced resolutions. Comparisons with the lower ISO settings are of little use (due to the difference in resolution), and frankly the results are so noisy there is little point anyway. For these reasons, they have not been included here.

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