With tiny, high pixel count chips noise is always going to be an issue, and to a large degree this is more a test of the effectiveness (both measurable and visible) of a camera's noise reduction system. Designers have to balance the desire to produce smooth, clean results with the need to retain as much detail as possible (if you blur away the noise, you blur away image detail too).
The R8's output shows little noise up to ISO 200 (where a little grain starts to creep in), and even ISO 400 and 800 look (relatively) clean. Of course this is noise reduction, not some magic pixie dust making a tiny 10MP sensor produce noise free output. As the crops at the bottom of this page show this means a smearing of fine low contrast detail even at very low ISO settings (certainly if you look too closely). ISO 800 and 1600 are certainly not recommendable for any kind of 'serious' use, specifically the ISO1600 setting produces output that is much closer to a watercolor painting than a photograph.
In our samples you can clearly see the white balance shift between ISO 200 and 400 that we mentioned earlier in the white balance section of this review.
|ISO 64||ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1600|
Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of luminosity is on the vertical axis.
The graph shows clearly that the R8 is producing results with remarkably low noise in the ISO 64-100 region (at base ISO it's lower than many SLRs), which given the physics involved would seem to imply fairly strong noise reduction. The noise rises in a fairly linear manner until you get to ISO 1600 where the luminance noise reduction is obviously given a push (resulting in the blurry mess we see in the sample images).
Low contrast detail
What the crops and graph don't show is the effect of noise reduction on low contrast fine detail such as hair, fur or foliage. An inevitable side effect of noise removal is that this kind of detail is also blurred or smeared, resulting in a loss of 'texture'. In this test the crops below show the effect of the noise reduction on such texture (hair) as you move up the ISO range.
|ISO 64||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1600|
Ricoh has cramped 10 million pixels onto a tiny sensor and it clearly shows in our test shots. Even at ISO 64 you will find smeared detail when looking closely and it only gets worse from there. At ISO 400 a large proportion of detail has gone and there is visible noise. The white balance shift (see white balance section on the previous page for details) does not help either. The ISO 800 and 1600 settings are not really an option if fine details is an important feature in your images.
To be honest the amount of destructive luminance noise reduction at ISO 64 and 100 is unnacceptable and will seriously limit the usability of the R8 for big enlargements. ISO 400 and higher might be good enough for a souvenir shot of your mates misbehaving on public transport on the way home after a long night out but only for small prints or reduced size viewing on screen.
Optical image stabilization
As you would expect from a long zoom camera in 2008 the R8 features an image stabilization system. Ricoh's system is CCD-shift based and is only activated when you press the shutter button. Unfortunately being sensor-based there is no continuous mode which stabilizes the image while you are framing a shot. Image stabilization is not available during filming, so you don't get the 'steady cam feel' when recording your videos and footage.
The R8 does not offer manual control of shutter speeds which means we cannot run our standardized IS systems test. We have however taken a large number of shots both with and without the system and can confidently say that the R8's stabilization system is fairly disappointing and certainly not up at the same level as competitive systems. The effectiveness of the system will differ from one photographer to another but typically the system will give you less than a stop advantage (many of the compact cameras we have reviewed give you somewhere between 2 and 3 stops).
When shooting at 200mm equivalent focal length I got only around 50 percent sharp images (70 percent usable) at 1 stop under the recommended speed (1/100th sec). if you get slower than that the hit rate decreases even further pretty quickly. Having said that we found the system to work pretty inconsistently and on some occasions it yielded better results than on others, without any apparent reason.
The system is not as effective as some of the others we have seen but it will still increase your chances of getting a usable shot, even at very slow shutter speeds (see out samples below). So don't switch it off, especially when shooting at the tele end and in low light. Just take lots of safety shots.
|1/10th sec, 200mm equiv., IS off, 100% crop||1/10th sec, 200mm equiv., IS on, 100% crop|