Canon PowerShot S95 Gordon Laing, November 2010
 

Canon PowerShot S95 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise


Canon PowerShot S95 vs Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 vs Canon IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS High ISO Noise

 
Support me by
shopping below


   
 


 

To compare noise levels under real-life conditions we shot this scene with the Canon PowerShot S95, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 and IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS 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. Each camera was set to Program to see how they performed with default settings; Intelligent Resolution was disabled.

The image above was taken with the Canon PowerShot S95 at 80 ISO with the lens set to 7mm (33mm equivalent). The camera was set to Program mode for the sequence below and at 80 ISO selected an exposure of 1/8 at f2.5. The original file measured 1.97MB and the crops are taken from the area marked by the red square. Note contrast and dynamic range enhancers were disabled for this test.

On this page we've compared three compact cameras which claim to offer better than average low light capabilities. All three have avoided the Megapixel race and opted for sensible 10 Megapixel resolutions. All three have bright lenses with a maximum f2.0 aperture when zoomed-out. Where they differ though are their sensor sizes. The Canon PowerShot S95 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 both employ CCD sensors which are approximately the same size. In contrast the Canon IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS employs a CMOS sensor that's a little smaller.

Now the size difference isn't anywhere near that of a compact versus a DSLR or EVIL camera, but it's a size difference none-the-less. Since all three cameras share the same resolution, conventional wisdom would therefore suggest the slightly larger sensors in the S95 and LX5 should be a little more sensitive, thereby resulting in lower noise levels. But how much difference can you expect and at what ISO value will the benefit kick-in? Let's find out.

The Canon S95 and Panasonic LX5 start the sequence at 80 ISO and what's immediately apparent is a difference in processing styles using the default settings. The S95 has opted for punchier processing with a slightly sharper result, while the LX5 is softer, yet also a little more saturated with some fuzziness on areas of flat colour like the leaves. The LX5 image looks slightly out of focus, but we pre-focused on the target area and repeated the test with the same results.

At 100 ISO, both the S95 and LX5 exhibit fractionally higher noise levels, but they're barely visible so of no concern yet. Meanwhile the IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS joins in at this point with a slightly higher base sensitivity of 125 ISO, and pixel-peepers may notice the slightest hint of greater noise levels on its crop, but again it's nothing to worry about.

At 200 ISO, all three cameras exhibit slightly higher noise levels than before, but without an compromise in detail. Look closely and the S95 enjoys a slight edge over the IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS, but it's hardly significant. Interestingly the LX5's noise levels look similar to the IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS at this point, giving the S95 a fractional lead at 200 ISO.

With the sensitivity increased to 400 ISO, noise levels have again increased on all three, and while there's no clear leader in this respect, the IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS has begun to soften a little with a slight loss in saturation. Again it's perhaps not as much as you'd think considering its smaller sensor, but the downhill process has begun.

At 800 ISO though the smaller sensor of the IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS is beginning to suffer more than the other two cameras with more visible noise artefacts. The S95 and LX5 are showing roughly the same degree of real-life detail at this point and similar noise levels, but to our eyes the LX5's artefacts are more electronic-looking, making the S95 the preferred result at this point.

1600 ISO is where the smaller sensor of the IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS really struggles with a noticeably fuzzier, noisier and less saturated image than the other pair. Meanwhile the LX5 is applying greater noise reduction by default than the S95 with greater smearing as a result. The S95 shows more visible noise, and it's really down to personal choice which you prefer. That said, the processing artefacts of the LX5 still look more electronic and less natural than the S95 to our eyes, so again the Canon has the edge.

All three cameras bravely offer a 3200 ISO option at their maximum resolution, but none are looking good at this point. The LX5 then goes on to offer 6400 and 12800 ISO sensitivities but at a greatly reduced resolution of 3 Megapixels. All three cameras additionally offer scene presets with low light conditions in mind. The LX5's High Sensitivity preset operates at 3 Megapixels and is shown here with an automatic sensitivity of 1600 ISO. The S95 and IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS's Low Light modes both operate at 2.5 Megapixels and here chose sensitivities of 800 and 1000 ISO respectively. Both Canon's deliver a better-looking result here, but equally they were operating at lower sensitivities.

Despite different strategies in image processing which can be balanced by tweaking the in-camera settings or shooting in RAW, the Canon S95 and Panasonic LX5 essentially deliver similar levels of detail and degrees of noise. Which style you prefer is entirely personal, although we felt the S95 looked more natural when noise became more obtrusive and also enjoyed a fractional advantage in cleanliness.

The really interesting result for us though is how well the IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS performed given its slightly smaller sensor. You'd be hard-pushed to notice much difference up to 400 ISO, and the size deficit only really becomes a big issue at 1600 ISO. So the LX5 and S95 only really enjoy a significant advantage – in this test anyway – above 800 ISO. If you want much cleaner results at high sensitivities you'll simply need the much larger sensor of a DSLR or mirror-less EVIL camera. Indeed you may wish to compare these results with those from the Canon EOS 60D and EOS 50D which were taken during the same session, just moments apart - see our Canon EOS 60D High ISO Noise results page.

Check out our PowerShot S95 Sample Images Gallery for more examples across the sensitivity range, or if you've already seen enough, head on over to our verdict!

Canon PowerShot S95
 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
 
Canon IXUS 300 HS / SD4000 IS
80 ISO
80 ISO
80 ISO not available
         
100 ISO
100 ISO
125 ISO
         
200 ISO
200 ISO
200 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
6400 ISO not available
6400 ISO
6400 ISO not available
12800 ISO not available
12800 ISO
12800 ISO not available
Low light preset
(2.5 Mpixels / 800 ISO here)
High Sensitivity preset
(3 Mpixels / 1600 ISO here)
Low light preset
(2.5 Mpixels / 1000 ISO here)

Canon PowerShot S95 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise



If you found this review useful, please support us by shopping below!
All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

/ How we test / Best Cameras / Advertising / Camera reviews / Supporting Camera Labs