Compared to... Panasonic DMC-FZ7

This year manufacturers have woken up to the fact that all the pixels in the world won't help an image shot in very low light that suffers from camera shake, and have started to include high sensitivity (high ISO) options to their new models. The S3 IS adds a single stop of extra sensitivity in the form of an ISO 800 setting (which can be selected manually, or there is an 'Auto High' option that will use it if it's needed).

Below you will find a studio comparison between the Canon S3 IS and the similarly specified Panasonic DMC-FZ7 at ISO 800.

Important note: you cannot use manual white balance in the FZ7's high sensitivity mode, so the FZ7 crops have been color-corrected (only) to remove the strong color cast caused by our studio lighting. The full size images (click on the thumbnails below) are untouched 'out of camera'.

Studio scene comparison (@ ISO 800)

  • Canon PowerShot S3 IS: Aperture Priority mode, ISO 800, Default Image Parameters,
    Manual white balance, +0.67 EV compensation
  • Panasonic DMC-FZ7: Hi Sensitivity mode (full auto), ISO 800, Default Image Parameters, Manual (preset) white balance, +0.66 EV compensation
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI
Canon PowerShot S3 IS
Panasonic DMC-FZ7
ISO 800, 1/500 sec, F5.0
ISO 800, 1/500 sec, F6.3
3,483 KB JPEG
1,892 KB JPEG

Unlike Panasonic, Canon's ISO 800 is at full resolution (the FZ7 uses a process called pixel binning to produce an almost noise free image, but one so void of detail it is unusable), and even in the bright light of our studio it looks pretty noisy. Any thoughts that Canon (or its sensor manufacturer) had made some kind of quantum leap in sensitivity were soon banished when we looked at the ISO 800 output, which in low light looks very noisy indeed (the studio lighting is fairly bright). On the upside the noise reduction is applied with a fairly light touch, so there is actually plenty of detail (and color) in there, and the noise is 'grainy', rather than 'blotchy', which looks a lot less offensive, and the image is perfectly usable. Ultimately though, you're not going to want to use ISO 800 unless you really have to.