Compact zoom camera group: Noise reduction

Low contrast detail

Noise is unavoidable in digital images, even those taken at low ISO settings and in good light, but it only becomes noticeable - and problematic - at higher ISO settings. When you increase the ISO sensitivity of a digital sensor, you are effectively amplifying the signal that it generates, and this signal includes noise. Therefore, the higher up the ISO scale that you go, the more noise you will see in your images.

Noise is combatted in-camera by noise-reduction systems, but these algorithms can also tend to blur away fine detail, particularly in areas of low-contrast where it is difficult to distinguish between slight differences in brightness and aberrant luminance noise.

This test shows an example of fine, irregular low-contrast detail to mimic the effects of each camera's noise reduction on more everyday subjects, like hair, foliage or brickwork.

  Base ISO ISO 400 ISO 1600
Canon SX210IS
Casio FH100
Fuji F80EXR
Fuji JZ500
Kodak Z950
Nikon S8000
Olympus 9010
Panasonic ZS5/ZS7
Ricoh CX3
Samsung HZ35W
Sony H55
Sony HX5

At their respective base ISO sensitivity settings, none of these cameras is capable of the same level of detail reproduction that we'd expect from a DSLR, but all of them do a decent job of rendering the fine texture of these yellow feathers. The best image quality comes from the Casio FH-100 and the Panasonic pair, and the cameras that struggle most are the Olympus and Ricoh, both of which have difficulty rendering the individual fibers accurately. At ISO 400, image quality is still perfectly acceptable from all of these cameras but noise reduction has started to compromise the resolution of fine detail.

By ISO 1600, none of them are at their best, and the separation between the best and worse performers in the group has narrowed considerably. If we had to pick a winner in this selection we'd probably give the prize to the Sony DSC-HX5, but none of these cameras look great at this ISO setting.