Olympus XZ-2 Ken McMahon, June 2013

Olympus XZ-2 vs Nikon COOLPIX A Noise RAW

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  Olympus Stylus XZ-2 results
1 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality JPEG
2 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Quality RAW
3 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise JPEG
4 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Noise RAW
5 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Sample images

To compare RAW noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 and the Nikon COOLPIX A, within a few moments of each other at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

The XZ-2 was set to its maximum 28mm wide angle focal length, matching the 28mm fixed focal length lens of the COOLPIX A.

Image stabilisation on the Stylus XZ-2 was disabled for this tripod-mounted test. All other camera settings were left on the defaults


The image above was taken with the Olympus Stylus XZ-2. I'd pre-tested both cameras to determine the aperture that delivered the best quality results, for the Stylus XZ-2 it was f4 with the COOLPIX A producing the best quality images at f5.6. At its base sensitivity setting of 100 ISO the COOLPIX A metered an exposure of 1/4. In order to produce an equivalent exposure on the XZ-2 I applied +0.3EV exposure compensation resulting in a shutter speed of 1/8 also at 100 ISO. As usual both cameras were otherwise left on their default settings.

I processed both sets of files in Adobe Camera RAW using identical settings: Sharpening at 70 / 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.

These RAW processed crops confirm what we saw with the in-camera JPEGs. The Stylus XZ-2 sensor produces a small amount of noise at its base 100 ISO setting. This isn't a problem in itself but for each stop increase in the sensitivity, the margin of increase in the noise is quite large with the result that, even at the relatively low 800 ISO sensitivity, the noise is already becoming a problem. With noise at these levels, even with the best noise reduction tools at your disposal, it's going to be a difficult task to produce clean, noise free, highly detailed results from XZ-2 RAW files above 800 ISO.

The larger sensor of the COOLPIX A is generating less noise all the way up the ISO sensitivity range, though, meaning there's less work for noise processing algorithms to do and better quality results. This is particularly true at the lower end of the sensitivity range where from 100 to 800 ISO the sensor produces very low levels of noise with linear increments at each 1EV increase in sensitivity. As high as 6400 ISO, while there's plenty of noise around it's quite fine and isn't clumping, with the result that edges aren't breaking up and you can still just about read the text.

What this shows is that, in terms of noise performance, a compact with a big sensor, can significantly out perform one with a smaller one. That's no big surprise, but the COOLPIX A also manages to provide an additional 4 Megapixels of resolution over the Olympus XZ-2 as well managing to cram it all in to a smaller, lighter body.

It is however important to remember the XZ-2 has a brighter aperture than the COOLPIX A, and when both are set to 28mm equivalent coverage, the XZ-2 enjoys a stop and a third greater light gathering power. So if both cameras were using their maximum apertures and the same shutter speed, then the Nikon COOLPIX A would be forced to select a sensitivity just over double that of the XZ-2. So in the spirit of fairness, you should shift the XZ-2 results down a notch in the table below so that the 100 ISO sample is next to the Nikon at 200 ISO and so on. That said though, the larger sensor of the COOLPIX A quickly eliminates the benefits of a brighter lens on its rival.

Now head over to my Olympus Stylus XZ-2 sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions, or head straight for my Verdict.

Olympus XZ-2 RAW
f4 100 ISO
f5.6 100 ISO
f4 200 ISO
f5.6 200 ISO
f4 400 ISO
f5.6 400 ISO
f4 800 ISO
f5.6 800 ISO
f4 1600 ISO
f5.6 1600 ISO
f4 3200 ISO
f5.6 3200 ISO
f4 6400 ISO
f5.6 6400 ISO
f4 12800 ISO
f5.6 12800 ISO
25600 ISO Not available
f5.6 25600 ISO

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

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