Compared to Nikon Coolpix 990 and Sony DSC-S70

As usual I chose the Nikon Coolpix 990 as the benchmark 3 megapixel digital camera, but have also had many requests to compare the P1 with its family member the S70. As with all my reviews I try to present a comparison with other digital cameras. In these sets of sample images the cameras were setup in exactly the same manner, had the same subjects, lighting and camera settings (as close as possible) and shots taken within minutes of each other. For comparison with other digital cameras use the resolution charts and colour patches now available through the camera specification database.

Scene Comparison One

Lighting - 2 x 800W studio lights with dichroic daylight filters bounced off a white overhead reflector. Exposure compensation +0.7EV, ISO: 100, White Balance: Auto.

Sony DSC-P1 Good detail, not as sharp as the S70
Nikon Coolpix 990 Clean lines, careful moiré avoidance
Sony DSC-S70 Sharpest here and good colours

As we've come to expect of Sony's the colours from the P1 are very "pleasing" (may not be to everyone's tastes) the tiny lens shows its limitations in this first crop, the S70 shining through with its Zeiss designed lens system. The 990 appears to deal with moiré better than the S70 & P1. The P1's white balance algorithms seem to be much better than the S70 which has a magenta cast under these lights, though still no match for the 990.

Sony DSC-P1
Nikon Coolpix 990
Sony DSC-S70

Our second set of crops (from the same scene above) show that the P1 has a better dynamic range than either the 990 or S70. See the way its handled the bright highlight on the edge of this chrome paperweight. Rather than just blowing it out we have a nice gradual gradient (this reinforces what I saw in the P1 "real life" images).

Colour Chart Comparison

For the following tests we've also added data from the Canon PowerShot S20 as its the P1's nearest competitor from a size and resolution basis. Shot in daylight, Auto White Balance, EV compensation +0.3 (all cameras), measured light ~10 EV.

Sony DSC-P1 Nikon Coolpix 990
Sony DSC-S70 Canon PowerShot S20
Well, it has to be said that all of these "current generation" digital cameras have done very well, the S20 erring towards coolness, the P1 & S70 showing very good strong colours (note the very good rendition of the blue patch) with the 990 producing very neutral colours.

We're only measuring colour here. RGB values below were taken from a VGA reduced image (to average colours and eliminate JPEG artifacts) using the Eyedropper tool in Photoshop with a 5 by 5 Average Sample Size.

  Sony DSC-P1 Coolpix 990 Sony DSC-S70 Canon S20
Patch White 180,187,189 201,201,201 182,182,182 232,224,228
Middle Gray 95,102,106 104,104,104 85,85,87 112,109,109
Patch Red 175,22,33 223,52,58 189,17,27 200,33,49
Patch Green 30,140,64 5,149,63 1,132,35 60,145,82
Patch Blue 45,30,126 60,50,112 33,26,123 50,51,100

Resolution Comparison

Shots here are of the PIMA/ISO 12233 standard resolution test chart (more available for comparison in our comparison database). Studio light, cameras set to auto, Exposure compensation +0.7 EV for all cameras. How to read the charts: All values are 1/100 th lines/picture height/width. So the "10" value equates to 1000.

Sony DSC-P1
Nikon Coolpix 990
Sony DSC-S70
Canon PowerShot S20

Measurable findings (three measurements taken for each camera):

Camera Measurement Absolute Res. Extinction Res.
Sony DSC-P1 Horiz LPH 1000 1350
Vert LPH 1000 1450
5o Diagonal LPH 1000 n/a
Coolpix 990
Horiz LPH 900 1300
Vert LPH 900 1400
5o Diagonal LPH 900 n/a
Sony DSC-S70 Horiz LPH 1050 1400
Vert LPH 1050 1500
5o Diagonal LPH 1000 n/a
PowerShot S20
Horiz LPH 850 1400
Vert LPH 900 1400
5o Diagonal LPH 900 n/a

Definition of terms:

LPH Lines per Picture Height (to allow for different aspect ratios the measurement is the same for horizontal and vertical)
5o Diagonal Lines set at 5o diagonal
Absolute Resolution Still defined detail (below Nyquist frequency*)
Extinction Resolution Detail beyond camera's definition (becomes a solid gray alias)
n/a Not Available (above the capability of the test chart)
n/v Not Visible (not visible on test results)
* Nyquist frequency defined as the highest spatial frequency where the CCD can still faithfully record
image detail. Beyond the Nyquist frequency aliasing occurs.

How far we've come... The P1 despite its tiny size and "non-Zeiss" lens performed almost as well as the S70 in our resolution tests, showing more resolution even than our benchmark 990. Kudos to Sony for not ignoring image quality and resolution in their quest for a small form factor.