Canon PowerShot S100 Gordon Laing, November 2011

Canon PowerShot S100 vs PowerShot S95 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 and its predecessor, the PowerShot S95 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

Both cameras were set to f4 in Aperture Priority and the lenses adjusted to deliver the same field of view. The ISO sensitivity was set manually, apart from in the final row of crops where the S100 was set to Handheld Night Scene and the S95 to Low Light mode. Note in the crops below, the S100 was using its default Standard Noise Reduction setting.

The image above was taken with the Canon PowerShot S100 with the lens set to 9mm (41mm equivalent) and the aperture set to f4 in Aperture Priority mode. At its base sensitivity of 80 ISO, the S100 metered an exposure of 0.8 seconds for this composition. The earlier PowerShot S95 metered an identical exposure moments later, so you're comparing like-with-like for these two models below. Since the S100 has 12 Megapixels to its predecessor's 10 Megapixels, its crops below show a slightly smaller area when cropped to the same size and viewed at 1:1.

Just glancing at the crops, you'll immediately notice a difference in processing style with the newer S100 delivering slightly softer-looking, more laid-back JPEGs using the default settings compared to the earlier S95 which looks quite punchy in comparison. We've seen similar differences before when comparing cameras which have switched from CCD to CMOS sensors, but the good news for anyone who prefers the punchier style of the earlier S95 is it can easily be achieved on the S100 by simply boosting the sharpness and contrast. You can do this via the Custom My Colours menu on the S100, or better still, apply it to a RAW file after the event. But if you stick with the default settings, expect to find JPEGs from the S100 appearing softer than those from the S95.

Taking a closer look at the 80 and 100 ISO images, both cameras are recording roughly the same degree of real-life detail. There's certainly no visible advantage to the S100's extra two Megapixels here, so don't upgrade from the S95 hoping for greater resolving power. But the good news is both cameras are delivering sharp and detailed images at these lowest sensitivities without any noise to speak of - and that's not a foregone conclusion for cameras with small sensors these days. You may also notice the S100 lacking the coloured fringing of the S95 around the right edge of the vase. I suspect this is more down to in-camera reduction rather than superior optics, but either way it's a relief to find Canon doing something about it on in-camera JPEGs at last when Nikon and Panasonic have been auto-correcting fringing for years. The edge of the vase also appears smoother on the S100.

At 200 ISO, there's minor evidence of noise textures on both images, but more so on the S95; it's hardly anything to be concerned about yet though. But at 400 ISO those textures become more apparent on the S95 and by 800 ISO there's a roughness to the edges on the earlier model. Meanwhile the S100's images are definitely become slightly softer and less defined, but overall look cleaner. Some of this is due to noise reduction on the S100, and in my S100 Noise Reduction results page you'll see with the setting turned down to Low, there's certainly more speckles at this point.

At 1600 ISO, both cameras are suffering with edges becoming less defined and fine details gradually disappearing. But while the S100 is still delivering a cleaner image with the default settings, both models are still pretty respectable. This is the benefit of having a slightly larger sensor than most point-and-shoot cameras, not to mention a sensible resolution. The Low noise reduction version of the S100 at 1600 ISO is also very usable.

3200 ISO is a step too far when viewed at 100%, but again the S100 enjoys a visible edge over the S95. Again though, these are still respectable results from a camera with a relatively small sensor.

The S95 bows out at this point, leaving the S100 to bravely offer a 6400 ISO option at the full resolution; this isn't particularly useful though and best left to emergencies and very small reproductions.

The story doesn't quite end there though as the S100, like Canon's other HS models, offers a composite mode which stacks multiple images to reduce noise. The ISO setting in this Handheld Night Scene mode is set automatically, and under the conditions of the day, the camera selected 3200 ISO. Comparing the crop from the Handheld Night Scene mode to the single frame taken at 3200 ISO and it's clear the former is much cleaner. There's no additional detail, but the noise has been smoothed-out without any further loss of detail, which remains a good result. In the meantime, the earlir S95 only has its Low Light mode to offer, at a much reduced resolution. Here it's also selected 3200 ISO, but the S100 image is clearly far superior.

So if you use the S100 at its default settings, expect to enjoy cleaner but slightly softer-looking results than the earlier S95. It certainly enjoys slightly lower noise at higher sensitivities, but to get the best from the S100, I'd shoot in RAW and boost the sharpening and contrast. Either way, the bottom line is the S100 does deliver superior high sensitivity performance to the S95, but it's not the difference between night and day. The old model still turns-in a respectable performance, and you'd have to look to the S100's other benefits to consider whether it's worth upgrading.

As I mentioned earlier though, it's great to see such good performance from a pair of cameras with relatively small sensors. They may be a step-up in surface area over typical point-and-shoot models, but their sensors remain much smaller than those we're finding in mirrorless ILCs / system cameras, and of course the S100 and S95 boast zooms which start at a bright focal ratio of f2.0 and bodies which are truly pocketable. It's nice to see these cameras can still cut-it in a market with increasing numbers of larger-sensor compacts.

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 (JPEG using in-camera defaults)
Canon PowerShot S95 (JPEG using in-camera defaults)
80 ISO
80 ISO
100 ISO
100 ISO
200 ISO
200 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
6400 ISO
6400 ISO not available
Handheld Night Scene mode at 3200 ISO
Low Light mode at 3200 ISO

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

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