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Canon PowerShot G12 Gordon Laing, November 2010

Canon PowerShot G12 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise

Canon PowerShot G12 vs Olympus E-PL1 High ISO Noise

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To compare noise levels under real-life conditions we shot this scene with the Canon PowerShot G12 and Olympus E-PL1 within a few moments of each other using their best-quality JPEG settings and at each of their ISO settings.

The lenses were adjusted to deliver as close a field-of-view as possible. The G12 was set to Program to see how it performed with default settings; the E-PL1 was set to Aperture Priority at f5.6

The image above was taken with the Canon PowerShot G12 at 80 ISO with an exposure of 1/2 and the lens set to 8mm f3.2; the original file measured 2.03MB. The crops are taken from the areas marked with red squares and reproduced below at 100%.

We chose to compare the PowerShot G12 with the Olympus E-PL1 to see how a traditional high-end compact would perform against one of the new breed of mirror-less 'EVIL' compacts which feature DSLR-sized sensors and removable lenses. The G12 is actually roughly the same size as the E-PL1 body, and while adding a lens to the latter obviously makes it bigger, it's not a huge difference. Revealing, even with a lens fitted, the E-PL1 isn't much heavier than the G12. As explained in our main review, EVIL compacts may cost more than traditional models like the G12, but with similar physical dimensions, enthusiasts will definitely be closely comparing them.

Both the PowerShot G12 and E-PL1 share the same 4:3 aspect ratio, allowing direct comparisons to be made. The Olympus packs 12 Megapixels to the Canon's 10, so the latter's crops below show a slightly larger area. So now let's see how a camera with a small sensor and built-in lens compares against one with a much larger sensor and removable lens.

The PowerShot G12 kicks-off the sequence at 80 ISO with a sharp and detailed image, although pixel-peepers will already notice minor noise textures in the shadows. With the sensitivity nudged-up to 100 ISO, there's a slight increase in visible noise on the G12 crop, but nothing to be too concerned about yet.

At this point the Olympus E-PL1 starts its sequence and it's immediately clear how much cleaner the image is, especially in the shadow areas. When viewed in isolation, or against other traditional compacts, the PowerShot G12 looks fine at this point, but alongside a mirror-less EVIL model with a larger sensor, it's already looking much noisier.

At 200 ISO, the PowerShot G12 exhibits slightly more noise, but heavier processing is also resulting in subtle details being smudged - in particular the flower in the upper right corner is losing definition. Compare this to the Olympus E-PL1 which remains clean and well-defined.

With the sensitivity increased to 400 ISO, the Olympus E-PL1 is beginning to reveal some noise artefacts in the shadow areas, but remains comfortably ahead of the PowerShot G12 which is looking muddier and noisier. It may be a little disappointing to see the visible noise on the E-PL1 at this point, but again it's still delivering a much preferable result to the traditional compact with its much smaller sensor.

At 800 ISO, the PowerShot G12 is beginning to really suffer with a loss of saturation and detail as noise and processing artefacts become problematic. The E-PL1 is also gradually declining, albeit more gracefully, while retaining more detail in shadowy areas.

At 1600 ISO both cameras are suffering with lots of visible noise and processing artefacts, although the E-PL1 still enjoys a noticeable lead in quality as you'd expect. The G12 then bravely offers a 3200 ISO option at its maximum resolution, but the result looks like a painting that's been caught in a shower. Meanwhile the E-PL1 maxes-out at 3200 ISO with a very noisy image, albeit one which still contains finer detail than the Canon.

Finally the PowerShot G12 offers a Low Light mode which automatically selects sensitivities up to 12,800 ISO, albeit at a greatly reduced resolution of 2.5 Megapixels. In our sample, the camera selected 3200 ISO, and while it looks preferable to the full resolution version above it, scaling either to the same size results in a similar image. The bottom line is you really won't be wanting to use the G12 at this kind of sensitivity unless it's an emergency.

So the not particularly shocking news here is the G12 is noisier than a camera with a bigger sensor. But as discussed in detail within the review, the new breed of EVIL compacts (like the E-PL1) pack such a sensor into a body that's not that much bigger or heavier than models like the G12 - and that puts traditional compacts in an uncomfortable position. If you demand cleaner images throughout the sensitivity range and can afford to spend more, you'll simply be better-served by an EVIL compact.

Before moving-on, you may also be interested to check out our Panasonic Lumix LX5 High ISO Noise results, which includes comparisons against the PowerShot S95 (which shares the same sensor and image processing at the G12) and a compact with slightly smaller sensor, the IXUS 300 HS / PowerShot SD4000 IS.

Otherwise, check out our PowerShot G12 Sample Images Gallery for more examples across its sensitivity range, or if you've already seen enough, head on over to our verdict!

Canon PowerShot G12
Olympus E-PL1 (with M.ZD 14-42mm lens)
80 ISO
80 ISO not available
100 ISO
100 ISO
200 ISO
200 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
Low Light mode (3200 ISO automatically selected here)
Sensitivities above 3200 ISO not available

Canon PowerShot G12 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise

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