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Compared to...

Studio scene comparison (high ISO)

Small sensor cameras have always struggled at high ISO settings and, as seen elsewhere, Sony's attempts to overcome this in the HX1 come not from improvements in the sensitivity of the sensor, but in clever processing and image stacking. In our review of the Canon SX1 IS we found that CMOS technology was not a magic bullet to solve noise problems. In this section we are only looking at normal image recording - the HX1's 'Twilight' shooting mode is explored elsewhere in this review. ISO 1600 was selected in this comparison as it is the highest ISO setting offered by all three cameras. We've set the HX1 to its default noise reduction setting (standard).

What can be seen from these results is that the HX1 does a better job than the Canon SX1 IS of not smearing away all the fine detail from an image at ISO 1600 (the FZ28's detail is the best but there's really not much in it). At high ISO settings the noise reduction in the HX1 works harder on chroma noise than luminance noise, creating a less saturated image, and slightly shifting the white balance, but preserving enough sharp detail for a small print . As ever, ISO 1600 (and also 3200) should still be considered emergency settings only, when it is better to have a soft and blurry picture than none at all.

ISO 1600

Sony DSC HX1 Canon PowerShot SX1 IS
 
Panasonic Lumix FZ28  

Noise Reduction Settings High ISO

Whilst the HX1 does not feature RAW file recoding, it does offer three customizable levels of in-camera noise reduction: NR-, NR standard (the default setting), and NR+. The NR- setting seems to allow you to extract a little more fine detail at higher ISO settings, but there is much more noise visible, and while the noise is fairly uniform, it is quite harsh and will be visible even in smaller print sizes.

That is not to say that the other two settings are much better in terms of balancing noise levels and retained detail. With the NR+ setting all the fine details is smoothed out by the noise reduction, leaving behind a watercolor of blurriness. Whether less noise or more fine detail is better is a matter of personal preference, but overall we think you should probably leave the HX1 in NR standard mode.

Sony DSC-HX1
NR- ISO 800

Sony DSC-HX1
NR Standard ISO 800
Sony DSC-HX1
NR+ ISO 800

Sony DSC-HX1
NR- ISO 1600

Sony DSC-HX1
NR Standard ISO 1600
Sony DSC-HX1
NR+ ISO 1600

Sony DSC-HX1
NR- ISO 3200

Sony DSC-HX1
NR Standard ISO 3200
Sony DSC-HX1
NR+ ISO 3200

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