Canon PowerShot S100 Gordon Laing, November 2011

Canon PowerShot S100 vs Nikon 1 V1 vs Panasonic Lumix G3 Noise

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  Canon S100 results
1 Canon S100 Resolution
2 Canon S100 RAW vs JPEG
3 Canon S100 Noise vs S95
4 Canon S100 Noise vs V1 vs G3
5 Canon S100 Noise Reduction
6 Canon S100 Handheld Night Scene
7 Canon S100 Sample images

To compare noise levels under real-life conditions I shot this scene with the Canon PowerShot S100, Nikon 1 V1 and Panasonic Lumix G3 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

All three cameras were set to an aperture I'd pre-tested to deliver the sharpest results: f4 on the S100 and f5.6 on both the V1 and G3. The lenses on all three were adjusted to deliver the same field of view. The ISO sensitivity was set manually, apart from in the final row where the S100's Handheld Night Scene automatically selects its own value.

The V1 and G3 were fitted with their respective kit lenses: the 10-30mm and 14-42mm. The lenses on all three cameras were adjusted to deliver the same vertical field of view. Since the Nikon 1 V1 records slightly wider 3:2 shaped images, we're effectively only using a 4:3 crop from the middle and ignoring thin strips on either side. As such when matching the vertical field of view with a camera sporting a 4:3 aspect ratio, we're only using approximately 9 of the 10 total Megapixels on the Nikon frame. As such the Nikon 1 V1 has the lowest resolution of the three cameras tested here, which means its crops below show a slightly larger area when cropped to the same size and viewed at 1:1. Next comes the PowerShot S100 with 12 Megapixels and the Panasonic G3 with 16 Megapixels. I've arranged them below by sensor size though, with the Nikon V1 in the middle, flanked by the S100 and the G3.

At first glance, the most obvious difference between the three cameras are their processing styles. The Canon S100 looks a little soft, while the Panasonic G3 has opted for a warmer white balance than the other two. Looking beyond these processing styles to actual noise and detail, the Nikon V1 crop exhibits minor noise textures at 100 ISO, but is crisper and arguably more pleasing than the S100. Meanwhile, the Panasonic G3 enjoys the cleanest, most detailed image of the three.

At 200 ISO, all three cameras exhibit similar characteristics to the previous crops, although pixel-peepers may notice the S100 beginning to deteriorate very slightly. At 400 ISO though, noise textures have become more apparent on the V1 crop, and while they're minimised on the S100 image, there's some evidence of noise reduction at work. Meanwhile the Panasonic G3 again looks fairly unperturbed.

At 800 ISO, the Nikon V1 looks almost the same as it did at 400 ISO, but while the Canon S100 is still showing lower visible noise, it's now visibly doing so at the cost of higher noise reduction with an already soft image becoming softer still. As for the Panasonic G3, it's now also beginning to show some faint noise speckles, but remains impressively clean none-the-less.

With the sensitivity doubled again to 1600 ISO, the noise levels gradually increase on both the V1 and G3, but both are still delivering good-looking images, again with the G3 enjoying a lead. Meanwhile the S100 is struggling with an image becoming marred by high noise reduction and a gradual loss of both fine detail and overall saturation.

At 3200 ISO, edges in the Nikon V1 crop are becoming indistinct with noise levels ever-increasing. The G3 image is also becoming pretty noisy at this point, but still holds onto reasonable detail. Meanwhile the S100 bravely continues, but its image is really falling apart now.

All three cameras max-out at 6400 ISO and none are looking pretty. Unsurprisingly the G3 fairs the best of the three, followed by the Nikon V1 and as you'd expect the S100 is having the worst time of it.

Overall this page confirms what you'd expect from traditional sensor technology: that the bigger the sensor, the better its light-gathering capabilities, which in turn means lower noise, so long as the real-estate isn't squandered on too high a resolution of course. Most of us would expect the G3 to out-perform the V1, which in turn should outperform the S100 and that's exactly what you see here.

Drilling-down, it's revealing to find visible noise on the V1 images from 200 ISO, although to be fair, Nikon has never been one to shy away from noise, preferring to reveal a few fine speckles in favour of smearing them and fine detail away with noise reduction. I prefer this approach, and while the V1 may not deliver clean noise-free images across most of its ISO range, the images are at least crisp and detailed.

So while the Nikon 1 CX-format sensor may be relatively small compared to rival mirrorless ILCs, it really does deliver superior results in low light to point-and-shoot models - even top-of-the-range ones like the Canon S100. But there's equally no denying that cleaner results at high sensitivities can be achieved with a camera sporting a bigger sensor, such as a Micro Four Thirds or Sony NEX model.

That's not the end of the story for the Canon S100's low light performance though. You can now adjust the Noise Reduction settings for in-camera JPEGs and in my S100 Noise Reduction page you can see how the settings compare. Like most recent Canon models the S100 also offers a composite Handheld Night Scene mode which stacks multiple shots in an attempt to reduce noise. Find out how it measures-up in my S100 Handheld Night Scene results, or Alternatively skip to my S100 sample images or straight to the S100 verdict.

Canon PowerShot S100
Nikon 1 V1
Panasonic Lumix G3
f4, 80 ISO
80 ISO not available
80 ISO not available
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f4, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f4, 400 ISO
f5.6, 400 ISO
f5.6, 400 ISO
f4, 800 ISO
f5.6, 800 ISO
f5.6, 800 ISO
f4, 1600 ISO
f5.6, 1600 ISO
f5.6, 1600 ISO
f4, 3200 ISO
f5.6, 3200 ISO
f5.6, 3200 ISO
f4, 6400 ISO
f5.6, 6400 ISO
f5.6, 6400 ISO
Handheld Night Scene at 3200 ISO
Composite or low light modes n/a
Composite or low light modes n/a

Canon S100 results : Quality / RAW vs JPEG / Noise vs S95
/ Noise vs V1 / Noise Reduction / Handheld Night Scene

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