To compare real-life performance when zoomed-out, I shot this scene with the Panasonic Lumix TS20 / FT20 and the Canon PowerShot D20 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.
The lenses on both cameras were set to an equivalent field of view and both were set to Program auto exposure mode.
The ISO sensitivity was set manually on both cameras to the base sensitivity setting of 100 ISO.
The image above was taken with the Panasonic Lumix TS20 / FT20. The lens was zoomed in slightly to match the field of view of the Canon PowerShot D20. In Normal Picture mode the camera metered an exposure of 1/500 at f4.2. The original JPEG image size was 6.35MB. The crops are taken from the areas marked with red rectangles and presented here at 100%. Image stabilisation was disabled for these tripod-based tests.
The Lumix TS20 / FT20 has done a good job with the exposure and white balance here, on a day when the lighting conditions – cloudy but bright – weren’t particularly demanding. All the same, the shot is correctly exposed and looks reasonably contrasty and the white balance is accurate.
Turning to the crops, the first thing that caught my attention was the amount of noise that’s visible at the base 100 ISO sensitivity. There’s a good level of detail in the first crop, but there’s also an overall grainy texture which is softening the edges and obscuring some of the finer details. This is even more evident in the second crop which has both large areas of flat colour as well as small details. The noise covers everything like a fine grainy mist but, despite it, the lighthouse is a distinct white rectangle. In the middle ground of this crop, though, it’s hard to make out any detail in the tiled roofs and the window frame edges look quite soft too.
The third crop from the frame edge is actually pretty good. It has the same texture, but the detail here is as good as anywhere else in the frame and there’s no fringing or distortion. The fourth crop, like the second one, is characterised mainly by the noise texturing the areas of flat colour in the sea and sky and softening detail elsewhere.
It’s worth pointing out that you’re only likely to notice these issues at 100 percent and at smaller sizes the Lumix TS20 / FT20 images look perfectly clean and sharp. But that doesn’t change the fact that, while the TS20 / FT20’s lens is doing a great job its 16.1 megapixel CCD sensor is prone to noise at the base 100 ISO sensitivity setting that’s having an effect, however marginal, on image quality.
Compared with the Powershot D20, the Panasonic Lumix TS20 / FT20 crops show a smaller area with larger detail because of the difference in sensor resolution. The Lumix TS20 / FT20’s 16.1 Megapixel sensor produces images that are 4608 x 3456 compared with 4000 x 3000 pixel images from the PowerShot D20. Apart from being noisier, the other difference is that the Lumix TS20 / FT20 crops look a little more aggressively processed. The Lumix FT20 crops are more contrasty, but the processing isn’t helping to minimise the noise. If there is more actual image detail in there I’d say it’s fairly marginal. The Lumix TS20 / FT20’s lens is more consistent though, and it doesn’t suffer from chromatic aberration to the same degree as the D20, or if it does, it’s been dealt with in the processing.
To compare noise levels under real-life conditions I shot this scene with the Panasonic Lumix TS20 / FT20 and the Canon PowerShot D20 within a few moments of each other using their highest resolution JPEG mode at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.
The cameras were set to Program Auto exposure mode (Normal Picture mode on the TS20 / FT20), the lenses were set to the same field of view and the ISO sensitivity was set manually.
The above shot was taken with the Panasonic Lumix TS20 / FT20. The lens was zoomed in slightly to give an equivalent field of view to the Canon PowerShot D20. Image stabilisation was disabled for this tripod-mounted test. In Normal Picture mode the Lumix TS20 / FT20 chose an exposure of 0.6s at f4.1 at 100 ISO.
As we saw in the outdoor test, at the base 100 ISO setting the 16.1 Megapixel CCD sensor of the Lumix TS20 / FT20 already has a degree of visible noise, it overlays the first crop like a fine gauze, adding texture to the flat colour of the wall, softening the edges of the memorial and scuffing the text. The step up to 200 ISO brings with it an increase in the noise that isn’t marginal, this crop is more granular and clumpy than the previous one and the text isn’t quite so legible. To put this in context, full size prints at this size won’t look great, but they won’t look terrible either and both of these settings are fine for everyday shooting.
At 400 ISO, though, things take a distinct turn for the worse. On many compacts the 400-800 ISO range produces results that, while obviously not as noise-free as the lower sensitivities, can be relied on to produced relatively clean results, but you couldn’t say that of the Lumix TS20 / FT20. At 1600 ISO you’re well into ’emergency use only’ territory and, arguably, that point is reached and passed at 800 ISO. For extreme low light shooting you might be better off switching to the Lumix TS20 / FT20’s High Sensitivity scene mode which sets the ISO automatically within a sensitivity range of 1600-6400 ISO, but even then a lot of the detail is smoothed out.
Compared with the results from the PowerShot D20, the Panasonic Lumix TS20 / FT20 crops show a smaller area with larger detail because of the different sensor resolutions – 12.1 Megapixels on the D20 compared with 16.1 on the TS20 / FT20. Another difference worth noting is that the D20 has a CMOS sensor whereas the Lumix TS20 / FT20 has a CCD. Both of these factors would lead you to expect superior noise performance from the PowerShot D20. Well, I’d say the D20 does have the edge here, but it’s pretty marginal and it only really makes a difference at the higher ISO sensitivities. Up to 400 ISO there’s actually very little to choose between these two models. At 800 ISO, the TS20 / FT20 crop is a little softer but has cleaner edges than the D20. The PowerShot D20 1600 ISO crop is better than the TS20 / FT20’s, though, and it can produce a full resolution 3200 ISO image compared with the reduced resolution 3.1 Megapixel option on the FT20.
So, a win for the PowerShot D20, but not by as much of a margin as you might have expected.