Low contrast detail & NR options

What the crops and graph on the previous page 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'. The crops below show the effect of the three levels of noise reduction on such texture (fur) as you move up the ISO range.

ISO 100 Low NR ISO 100 Standard NR ISO 100 High NR
ISO 200 Low NR ISO 200 Standard NR ISO 200 High NR
ISO 400 Low NR ISO 400 Standard NR ISO 400 High NR
ISO 800 Low NR ISO 800 Standard NR ISO 800 High NR

At base ISO (100) there's little difference between the low and standard noise reduction settings, though the High setting is producing the classic smearing that robs shots of the fine low contrast detail needed to preserve the 'texture' of a scene. At ISO 200, however, the difference is stark, with the standard NR setting having a serious destructive effect on the low contrast fur detail. We saw the same problem with grass and other fine foliage, even in prints at 8x10 inches or less - Panasonic is blurring the chroma noise away, and this is the result

The low NR setting is a little better, preserving a touch more texture, though you can see noise in areas of flat color and in shadows using this setting. At the end of the day it's easier to remove noise (selectively if necessary) than to put back lost detail (which is, by definition, impossible) - so you may want to permanently turn the NR down to low, particularly if you are using anything over ISO 200.

At ISO 400 things are less clear-cut; the Low NR setting looks slightly sharper, but there's not a lot more information there (the high setting is almost noise - and detail - free), so it's going to be a matter of taste more than anything. At ISO 800 and above there's little point worrying about the NR setting.

Other Image Parameters

Although the inclusion of raw mode offers a considerably more comprehensive way to customize the output of the FZ8, there are, of course, many users who want or need to shoot JPEGs. Fortunately there are plenty of opportunities for experimentation, with NR (see above), sharpness, saturation and contrast all controllable in-camera. The examples below give some idea of the variations you can obtain (we're not talking about big changes from one setting to another here). I wouldn't recommend using any of the setting on 'high' (though on a dull day a saturation boost can be useful) - contrast 'high' is particularly unpredictable - but it's nice to know you can set everything to 'Low' and get an image that is clean enough for fairly extensive post-processing.

All settings default 100% crop
Contrast Low (all others default) 100% crop
Contrast High (all others default) 100% crop
Sharpness Low (all others default) 100% crop
Sharpness High (all others default) 100% crop
Saturation Low (all others default) 100% crop
Saturation High (all others default) 100% crop
Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness Low 100% crop