Photography News 02

Camera review

23

ISOperformance andnoise reduction

CanonPowerShot G16 FujifilmX-M1

Olympus OM-DE-M1

Samsung GalaxyNX

The Galaxy NX has an ISO sensitivity range of 100-25,600, an impressive spec on paper for a CSC. In practice, images were clean at sensitivities up to ISO 400, and the first impact on image quality was at ISO 800. This wasn’t so much in the form of noise, but in loss of detail and clarity, and this got gradually more noticeable through to ISO 3200. At ISO 6400, there was a clear drop in image quality, with much more visible grain. The two top sensitivities are best avoided – there’s a lot of noise, as well as blocks of false colours, and there’s an overall impact on exposure too, with images becoming underexposed with a purple cast. Noise reduction is available at Low, Normal and High settings. While Low did almost nothing, Normal and High did salvage a lot of quality in JPEGs at ISO 12,800 and 25,600. The overall colour and exposure were improved, although there remained many patches of false colour. If you’re forced to use the very top ISO settings, then noise reduction does have a benefit, but it’s best to avoid these highest sensitivities altogether.

The E-M1’s ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 25,600with expanded settings, and noisewas no problem at all up to ISO 800. Even though it becomes more noticeable at ISO 1600, it’s not a real issue at all even up to ISO 3200. Above this, ISO 6400 is the first expanded setting and there is a distinct increase in graininess that gradually worsens up to ISO 25,600. Even at the top levels though, images are still extremely useable. For JPEGs, you can turn high ISO noise reduction on or off, and if it’s on, you have the choice of Low, Standard or High filters. There’s no benefit of using the noise reduction at sensitivities lower than ISO 6400, but at sensitivities above this, the Low filter does a good job of smoothing out the grain. Increase it to the Standard filter, and detail starts to look a little too smoothed; the High noise filter is even more heavy-handed, although it does a good job of evening out areas of plain colour. If you’re forced to use the very top sensitivities, you might think it’s worth switching the noise reduction on, but overall, the advantage is minimal.

The native ISO sensitivity range of the X-M1 is 200-6400. Extended settings push this down to 100 and up to 25,600, but these are only available with JPEG images. Careful scrutiny shows noise increasing steadily from ISO 800 up to the top native setting, but this has remarkably little impact on detail – I’d certainly feel very little concern even up to ISO 6400. Pushing into the top extended settings impacts image quality more with significant grain, particularly in the shadows, but colours remain accurate. Processing in-camera is very sympathetic so that JPEGs are reasonably clean without being oversmoothed. For JPEGs, noise reduction can be set to five levels between -2 and +2, easily adjusted in the quick menu. Reducing the noise reduction to -2 leaves a lot of grain in the images, but increase it to the maximum, and too much detail is lost through smoothing. At zero, there’s a good balance between grain and detail, and at the highest ISO settings, the benefit is clear – if you need to venture into the extended ISO settings, using noise reduction will help you get useable pictures.

On paper, the G16 offers low-light options comparable to many DSLRs, with a sensitivity range of 100-12,800. But with a sensor so much smaller, you might expect real-world performance to be behind. To some extent, this is the case, but its performance is still impressive. At the lowest ISO settings of 100 and 200, images are completely noise free. At ISO 400, the first signs of noise appear and there’s a slight reduction in clarity. Noise increases slowly but steadily from here until ISO 3200, and colour saturation is affected slightly from ISO 1600, but ISO 3200 is still perfectly useable. The two top settings of 6400 and 12,800 see more significant degradations in quality, with plenty of noise and loss of detail. Noise reduction is available for JPEGs at three different levels – Low, Standard and High. The benefit is minimal – only the High setting has any notable effect, and even at this level it doesn’t improve things greatly. It’s also worth noting that you can’t apply any noise reduction to JPEGs when shooting them alongside Raw files.

ISO 200

ISO 200

ISO 200

ISO 200

ISO 3200

ISO 3200

ISO 3200

ISO 3200

ISO 12,800

ISO 12,800

ISO 12,800

ISO 12,800

ISO 12,800highnoise reduction

ISO 12,800 highnoise reduction

ISO 12,800 highnoise reduction

ISO 12,800 highnoise reduction

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