Canon PowerShot S120 Gordon Laing, October 2013

Canon S120 vs Sony RX100 II Quality RAW

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To compare real-life RAW performance 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.

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.

  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

The image above was taken with the Canon PowerShot S120. The camera was set to Aperture priority mode and f4 was selected as this produced the best result from the lens. With the sensitivity set to 80 ISO the S120 metered an exposure of 1/800. The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II also produced its best results at f4, where it metered 1/1600 with the sensitivity set to 160 ISO. The S120 RAW file measured 13.95MB and, as usual, the crops are taken from the areas marked by the red rectangles.

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.

Sometimes RAW comparisons with a high degree of sharpening and absence of noise reduction reveal more detail, but at other times they simply reveal more noise. Judging from the crops below, both cameras exhibit more noise using the processing described above and to my eyes actually look inferior to their in-camera JPEG results. Certainly the fine detail isn't as crisply defined, there's a hint of moire in some of the patterns and in the case of the final crop from the S120 there's evidence of some optical corrections going on in the JPEG file which are sorely lacking in my processed RAW version.

The bottom line is each company understands the strengths and weaknesses of their cameras and in the case of the S120 and RX100 II, have tweaked their in-camera settings to make the most of the image data and hide any issues. While the RAW files may contain more headroom for highlight recovery and of course present the chance to adjust the white balance and set your own sharpening and noise reduction on uncompressed data, I'd say you'll need to spend some time refining your workflow to enjoy superior results from either camera. If you approach them using the techniques that work with larger sensor cameras you may, as I have done here, end up with a result that's inferior to the in-camera JPEGs.

But I see this as a positive result, as both the S120 and RX100 II are set up to deliver great-looking JPEG images with the minimum of effort. Now check out how they compare at higher sensitivities in my Canon S120 noise results or head over to my Canon S120 sample images page or my final verdict.

Canon PowerShot S120 RAW
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II RAW
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 160 ISO
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 160 ISO
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 160 ISO
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 160 ISO
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 160 ISO
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 160 ISO

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

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