Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Gordon Laing, June 2011
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 vs Nikon D5100 High ISO Noise (JPEGs using default settings)

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  Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 results
1 G3 resolution vs Canon T3i / 600D
2 G3 resolution vs Nikon D5100
3 G3 resolution, RAW vs JPEG
4 G3 high ISO noise vs Canon T3i / 600D
5 G3 high ISO noise vs Nikon D5100
6 G3 Sample images gallery

To compare noise levels under real-life conditions I shot this scene with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 and Nikon D5100 within a few moments of each other using their best-quality JPEG settings and at each of their ISO settings.

Each camera was fitted with its respective kit lens, the G Vario 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 Mega O.I.S and DX 18-55mm VR, both set to f5.6, adjusted to deliver the same vertical field of view, and focused using Live View at the highest magnification.

Noise Reduction was set to the default options on each camera, although I disabled any automatic contrast-enhancing modes as these can artificially introduce noise. As such, I.Dynamic on the G3 and Active D-Lighting on the Nikon were disabled.

The image above was taken with the Lumix G3 at 160 ISO with an exposure of 0.4 seconds and the lens set to 23mm f5.6; the original Large Fine JPEG measured 6.64MB. The crops below are taken from the area marked with a red square and presented here at 100%.

I shot this scene in the G3's 4:3 aspect ratio which delivers the highest resolution. The Nikon D5100 was set to its native 3:2 aspect ratio and the lenses on both cameras adjusted to deliver the same vertical field of view. As such, I'm only comparing the vertical resolution of each camera here, and by only considering a 4:3 cropped area of the Nikon's wider 3:2 frame, it's effectively being treated as a 14 Megapixel camera. So the Nikon crops show a slightly larger area. But while this has now effectively become 16 vs 14 Megapixels, remember the Nikon is recording a wider image with a Megapixel of information on either side.

The most obvious comment to make is the difference in measured white balance: like the previous comparison against the Canon T3i / 600D, the Lumix G3 has applied a much cooler white balance than its rival. The Nikon D5100 in contrast has opted for a much warmer white balance, which coincidentally was roughly similar to that of the Canon. In reality the actual scene looked somewhere between the two, so neither was more accurate than the other in this respect. What this does illustrate though is how the white balance evaluation on different cameras can really vary, and since this is so easy to correct or adjust in RAW files, I'd strongly recommend shooting in this format if the final colour balance is important to you.

Moving on, both cameras at their base sensitivities are delivering clean, detailed results as you'd expect, although note the Lumix G3's base is actually 160 ISO. At 200 and 400 ISO, both cameras continue to perform well, and even though pixel-peepers may notice a tiny increase in noise, it's nothing to worry about yet.

At 800 ISO, both cameras begin to show the signs of increased noise, with a slight loss of saturation and increased textures. That said, the result from the Nikon looks noticeably noisier at 800 ISO, with edges looking far less defined than the G3.

Likewise at 1600 and 3200 ISO where noise may continue to increase on both cameras, but the G3 remains cleaner and crisper than its rival.

At 6400 ISO, both cameras suffer from electronic-looking artefacts, but the noise reduction on the G3 is delivering a better result here. The Nikon D5100 then goes on to offer 12800 and 25600 ISO options, and while the former isn't too bad for emergency use, the latter suffers from too many artefacts to be useful at anything other than the very smallest sizes.

On the surface then, another great result for the Lumix G3's new sensor, which in this test kept up with - and in some respects even surpassed - the Nikon D5100's output. Considering the earlier 12 Megapixel sensor deployed on most Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras to date fell below rival APS-C models at higher sensitivities, it's certainly an impressive achievement: namely to increase the resolution and reduce the visible noise.

I'm in no doubt there's also some clever processing and noise reduction going on here, which the regular patterns of the test cropped area perhaps respond well to, but to give credit where it's due, the results from the G3 look good regardless of how they're achieved. Careful processing and noise reduction in RAW may see superior results from both cameras on test here, but the bottom line is the in-camera JPEGs from the Lumix G3 are some of the best I've seen from the Micro Four Thirds format.

Want to see more? Of course you do! Check out my Panasonic Lumix G3 sample images, which includes a selection of original images you can download for evaluation on your own computer. Do some pixel-peeping and tell us what you think.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 (JPEG using in-camera defaults)
with G Vario 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 Mega O.I.S
Nikon D5100 (JPEG using in-camera defaults)
with Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR
160 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
12800 ISO not available
H1.0 (12800 ISO)
25600 ISO not available
H2.0 (25600 ISO)

Lumix G3 results : G3 vs T3i / 600D res / G3 vs D5100 res
/ G3 RAW vs JPEG / G3 vs T3i / 600D Noise / G3 vs D5100 Noise

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