ZS3 Low Light video tests

Started Jul 19, 2009 | Discussions thread
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scrambler2 Contributing Member • Posts: 683
ZS3 Low Light video tests

In the search for the best mode for low light videos on the ZS3, and in case someone else is interested, here is what I tried and found out (Link to extracted video frames at the bottom).

I did two series of indoor tests. One at dusk, with low natural light (medium low light), and one at night (low light) with a single 100Watt bulb in the room.

I then tested the following (night) modes focusing mostly on luminosity and image quality.

Normal (N), Candle light (CL), Fireworks (FW), Intelligent Auto Candle Light (IA-CL) which appears to be different than the Candle Light Mode (actually has a different icon), Night Portrait (NP), High Sensitivity (HS), Starry Sky (SS), Night Scenery (NS).

First things I noticed:

• Unfortunately, manual ISO is not operational in Video Normal mode (makes no difference)
• Some modes (like IA-CL and SS) do not offer exposure compensation.

• Even if exposure compensation is available, depending on the light it does not always work.

They first formed two main categories:

1) N, CL, FW underexposed but with a good level of detail. They seem to use similar ISO and low Noise Reduction.

2) IACL, NP, HS, SS, NS well exposed (actually higher than reality) with a significant and similar loss of details (very high Noise Reduction). Fortunately NP, HS and NS allow you to lower the exposure to get closer to reality and limit the loss of details. Using -1 exposure compensation, these 3 modes provide footage the closest to real life scene exposure.

So they ended up forming 3 groups

1) Normal, Candle Light, Fireworks: Underexposed, low noise reduction, no way to boost with exposure compensation

2) Night Portrait, High Sensitivity, Night Scenery with -1 Exp Comp: Realistically exposed (with EC-1), shows relative darkness of the scene, more noise reduction

3) IA Candle Light, Starry Sky: Well exposed/overexposed (more than in real life), Heavy Noise reduction and blotching, no way to reduce exposure

So if you are not going to do any Post Processing, group 2 seems like a good choice.

Now if you can do post processing (I found out Photoshop CS4 can process video and even apply Noise reduction like Noise Ninja as smart filter)

In the dusk series (Medium low light):

• The first group (N, CL, FW) has little low light clipping, so correcting the footage with Levels curves leads to the best results due to the higher level of details (lower noise reduction)

In the night footage (Low light):

• The low light clipping in the first group is more severe, and Noise reduction must be applied before the more aggressive brightening. As a result level of details are only marginally better than group 2 (depending how much you use), but low light clipping is slightly worse.

In conclusion
No PP
I would try High sensitivity so I can fine tune exposure with EC
PP
Medium Low light: I would use Normal, then correct with Level Curves

Low Light: I would go for High Sensitivity, as the amount of work in PP does not quite seem to justify the quality difference.

If I appreciate that the ZS3 provides you with a way to get well exposed footage in very low light, allowing the use of manual ISO in Normal mode with less noise reduction would give us more flexibility. One could choose the most appropriate settings, based on scene condition and PP capacities.

As Photoshop CS4 now can process video with smart filters, you can actually use high quality noise reduction like Noise Ninja on the video footage. This is mostly useful if deciding to use group1 to shoot in very low light.

I posted frame extracts of the various tests here so you can compare and decide for yourself.

http://cid-49c20bd53e0e63c1.skydrive.live.com/browse.aspx/ZS3%20test/Low%20Light%20Video%20frames?uc=38&isFromRichUpload=1&lc=1033

Filenames contain:

prefix PP if Post Processed - Test phase (dusk or night) - Scene Mode - Value of EC if any like -1)

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