Canon PowerShot S120 Gordon Laing, October 2013

Canon S120 vs Sony RX100 II Noise RAW

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  Canon PowerShot S120 results
1 Canon S120 Quality JPEG
2 Canon S120 Quality RAW
3 Canon S120 Noise JPEG
4 Canon S120 Noise RAW
5 Canon S120 Sample images

To compare RAW noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Canon PowerShot S120 and the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II, within a few moments of each other using their RAW modes at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

The Canon S120 was set to 30mm equivalent and the Sony RX100 II adjusted until it matched the vertical field of view; since the Sony captures a slightly wider 3:2 shaped image there are thin vertical strips down the side of its test shot here which are effectively ignored in this comparison.

Both cameras were set to f4 in Aperture priority mode and all camera settings were left on the defaults. Stabilisation was however disabled for this tripod-mounted comparison.

The image above was taken with the Canon PowerShot S120. From my outdoor test I'd discovered that the both the S120 and the RX100 II produced their best results with the aperture set to f4, so both were set to f4 in Aperture priority mode. At its base sensitivity of 80 ISO, the S120 metered an exposure of 0.5 seconds at f4, and at its base sensitivity of 160 ISO the Sony RX100 II metered 1/4 at f4. The S120 RAW file measured 13.09MB and, as usual, the crops are taken from the area marked by the red square.

I processed the files in Adobe Camera RAW using identical settings: Sharpening at 50 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile. These settings were chosen to reveal the differences in sensor quality and isolate them from in-camera processing. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts, while the zero noise reduction unveils what's really going on behind the scenes - as such the visible noise levels at higher ISOs will be much greater than you're used to seeing in many of my comparisons, but again it's an approach that's designed to show the actual detail that's being recorded before you start work on processing and cleaning it up if desired.

The first thing that's obvious on these crops compared to the in-camera JPEGs on the previous page is the S120 has lost much of its clumpy high contrast processing and finer details in the cloth have been revealed. Just compare the tassels for instance, which are much better defined on this RAW version. Impressively much of this fine detail remains in the image up to 800 ISO at which point it was being smudged out by the default JPEG processing on the previous page.

The reason for the smudging though was of course to manage the steadily increasing noise. Using my harsh processing settings, it's not surprising to find a faint sprinkling of noise at the lowest sensitivities, and indeed it begins to be quite obvious by 400 and especially 800 ISO. But I'm impressed how much detail remains in the image up to this point, proving there could be superior results to be had if you capture in RAW and take care with noise reduction.

From 1600 ISO onwards though the noise on the S120 has become a real problem, leaving the higher ISOs hard to work with. Meanwhile in the opposite column, it's clear how the Sony RX100 II suffers from noticeably lower noise at every ISO; indeed I'd say it enjoys at least a stop, maybe even a two stop advantage over the Canon S120 from 400 ISO upwards.

So once again the choice between these two cameras if we're looking at image quality alone boils down to what ISOs you're likely to be working with. If you stay mostly below 400 ISO, then the S120 should serve you well, and it's reassuring to find the additional detail present in the RAW data here as in my outdoor results there wasn't much visible benefit over the in-camera JPEGs. But above 400 ISO the RX100 II simply enjoys a comfortable edge which is maintained throughout the range. If you regularly shoot at mid to high sensitivities, you'll prefer its output.

For more samples across the sensitivity range, check out my Canon S120 sample images, or head straight to my final verdict.

Canon PowerShot S120 RAW
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II RAW
f4 80 ISO
Not available
f4 100 ISO
f4 160 ISO
f4 200 ISO
f4 200 ISO
f4 400 ISO
f4 400 ISO
f4 800 ISO
f4 800 ISO
f4 1600 ISO
f4 1600 ISO
f4 3200 ISO
f4 3200 ISO
f4 6400 ISO
f4 6400 ISO
f4 12800 ISO
12800 ISO

Canon PowerShot S120 results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

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