Saturday, November 7, 2009

F200EXR versus G10 and G11 ... 1600 ISO ... Who has the best high ISO?

I've tried to answer this a few times now ... but people keep posting all sorts of partial comparisons without equalizing size etc etc .... so I thought I'd compare these three cameras using this methodology:

1. Take the images from ... using their standard setup with fabrics etc to get some low contrast details and a few shadows into the mix.
2. Show the F200EXR HR, F200EXR SN, G11 and G10 images at 1600 ISO.
3. Capture sharpen and equalize contrast a bit in ACR5.
4. Transfer to CS4 in 16 bit mode.
5. Normalize sizes to 10mp. G11 stays the same, F200EXR SN doubles in size. F200EXR HR drops a bit. G10 drops by 33%. Use bicubic in CS4.
6. Use Topaz 3 to equalize shadow noise. ** Departure from norm of not touching the output, because I want to compare what the cameras look like when equalized, not straight from the cam, which really doesn't tell an enthusiast anything terribly useful.

Now ... once process, we have about the same level of noise in shadows and about the maximum sharpness we can get from the details. This is where you would be with any one of these cameras with this basic processing of a 1600 ISO image.

I created two sets of crops from these four images and they are quite instructive as to the strengths and weakness of each of the cameras.

Click on the above to see the crops at full size. There is little doubt that the Canon G11 is the best, almost across the board. The G10 is very competitive in thaqt it retains low contrast details second best and retains a pretty decent 3 dimensional rendering. The SN mode of the F200 looks best in a few spots, but suffers from the need to upsize, making details a bit coarser than on the G11 and G10. The F200 in HR mode is horrid ... at this ISO, the NR in cam has demolished the edges and the low contrast details. Some say the F200EXR can be shot in HR mode ... I think that's a bad idea at all ISOs ... but at anything above 200ISO it is an utter disaster ....

My detailed analysis of the crops follows:

Set 1. Small crops of details.

  1. First column contains lettering that has horizontal cross-hatching in it. Few cameras can show the hatching even at low ISO. But at 1600, it should be nigh-on impossible. Yet the G11 shows it, and the G10 shows it clearly.
  2. Second column contains a bit of writing from one of the labels. All four look ok, but the Fujis have an edge to them that the Canons avoid. The SN mode continues to suffer a bit from its dramatic upsizing, yet the writing is almost legible ... a decent performance when you consider that the writing vanishes at normal print sizes. These crops are basically the equivalent of a 3 foot wide print.
  3. Third row shows a clip from the scale on the wheel and the light colored paint brush. The G10 shows the scale perfectly clearly while the G11 is close. SN mode shows the longer lines clearly and hints at the shorter lines. HR mode shows the longer lines and seems to blur out the shorter lines. HR mode destroys the paint brush edges and texture while SN mode shows a bit of the hair texture. The Canons do much better on the brush hairs.
  4. The fourth column shows an edge of the cup with some background shadow area and the yellow brush handle. The G11 is perfectly clear with perfectly smooth background ... no noise to speak of. The other three don;t look very good at all. SN mode would be second on noise with the HR mode next and the G10 last.
So in the first group, the G11 and G10 seem to win without difficulty. The G11 wins overall, having the smoothest shadows, but the G10 gives it a run, retaining better detail in several areas. SN mode is competitive with the G10, but HR mode is awful to my eyes.

Ok ... HR mode was never conceived to be tested at 1600ISO, but I show it because the review sites inexplicably capture HR mode quite often for their ISO ladders. This is an error for obvious reasons. Unfair to Fuji and to their readers.

But lets move on and look at larger crops ... these have a slightly different purpose. Here, I want to show how good the images tend to look from a 3-dimensionality perspective ... i.e. does the camera retain sufficient realism. I also isolate some of the more obvious low contrast details to see how well the camera would render fabrics, foliage, hair, fur, etc .... again at high ISO.

A note on 1600 ISO. Some say that a compact should never be used at such a high ISO. I disagree. There are times when you want to carry only a compact or you cannot get a bigger camera into a venue. High ISO can be very useful, especially when carefully processed. Not all concerts are well lit. Not all rooms are well lit. The woods are often too dark to shoot at low to mid ISO. There are *many* situations in which you need higher ISO. SO these tests are legitimate.

My analysis of the second set of crops, organized in rows this time because of their size:

  1. Row one is a crop of the crayons on the left side of the image. I find this the best area to look at whether a camera manages to retain a 3 dimensional look to the images. The crayons only look real of the edges are smooth and the tones are subtle with proper gradients. The G11 looks magnificent. Perfectly rendered. Quite the feat at 1600ISO. Surprisingly (to some, not to me), the G10 is next best. Clearly almost as good, with just a little bit of edge softness. The tones are good though, nothing flat looking about that crop. The SN crop looks pretty good, but not up to the Canon standards. The edges really suffer from the upsizing and the usual SCCD and EXR artifacts. But the tones are decent and there is a feeling of 3 dimensions. A passing grade in my opinion. The HR crop has been utterly brutalized. Edges destroyed, artifacts everywhere and very flat or posterized tones. Very hard to get the 3D feeling from that crop.
  2. Row 2 is the fabric area, where several colors intersect. The cross hatched fabric next to the black fabric makes for interesting contrast. The black has a very subtle pattern, as does the blue above it. The G11 retains the best overall balance of detail and color, although it has a slight green cast in the blue fabric, which none of the others have. The SN image looks almost as good, as does the G10 image. The details on the cross hatched fabric are best in the G11 image, and almost as good on the other two. The HR image has destroyed the detail on pretty much all the fabrics. They are just plain color with harsh edges.
  3. Row 3 is the famous fiddler label. It shows subtle details like the rows in the field and various bits of detail in the beard. HR mode continues its poor rendering. The G10 seems about as bad here. The SN mode seems the best to me, with the G11 having finer looking detail, but no more detail ... or more accurately, slightly more in some areas (field) and slightly less in others (face and beard.) And its slight color cast is annoying.
  4. The cross hatched labelo with the small lettering preferred selection. There is hatching in the label itself and in the larger letters and the surround at the top. The SN image shows the background cross hatch the best. It shows the hatching in the surround of the big letters, but not in the letters themselves. The G11 shows a slightly muted form of the hatching, as does the G10. And both show all the hatching. HR mode shows nothing there, having smeared away everything.
  5. Row 5 shows a shadow area between two bottle. The G11 walks away from the pack here. Amazing clarity of the edge of the lighter bottle on the right, and amazing smoothness to the background itself. The G11 *did not need any help from Topaz by the way.* The SN mode looks pretty good too. Some large grain left, but basically smooth and edges intact. Slightly better detail around the reflection than the G11, no doubt because of Fuji's higher dynamic range. But overall, second best for sure. HR mode looks pretty poor ... lots of weird artifacts, really poor edges ... some details smoothed over almost completely. A mess. And the G10, while showing better edges than the HR mode, is a disaster for weird blotches of noise in shadows. That's the G10's Achilles heel.
Final comparison of 800px images. You can see a surprising number of differences even at these tiny sizes. Right click on each image and open in a new tab to be able to switch between them. Original file names are intact and should be obvious.

Here are the places where differences are fairly clear even at 800px. This is the F200EXR at HR size so I outlines areas where it loses detail.





So my verdict ... the G11 looks great without even running extra NR. Wow. By extension, the S90 will also look great. The F200 in SN mode looks quite good too. But extra NR may be needed at times. The F200 in HR mode is awful. Don't shoot it at high ISO. And finally the G10 ... better than most people believe, but very weak in shadows. Which means that only someone skilled in post processing should even consider it.

So will I buy the G11? Maybe ... it is tempting to replace my G10 with it. But it is not a big rush since I use the G10 mainly for video at this point. The F70 should carry the load for my concerts. Would I buy the S90? No. No reach. I am not a street shooter, so I need both wide and long. The F70 fills the bill. Would I buy the F200? No. The F70 is close enough in IQ and has the features I need ... mainly reach.

What should you buy? The G11 if you need an advanced camera with excellent high ISO and controls. The S90 if you need excellent high ISO and compactness and don't care about reach. The F70 is you want it all (my presumption is that the F70 is close enough to the F200 in noise that the features override.) The F200 ... hmmm ... basically get one if you are anal about 28mm image quality in the corners at 4:5 ratio.


dagge said...

Thank you very much Kim for all the trouble you are taking. Both for doing the tests, and for explaining the results.


angelo said...

Hi Kim, I seriously need your advice on deciding my next digicam upgrade. I've seen tons of sites and reviewers alike, but none is thoroughly as detailed as how you write your statements. I'm wondering if you could help me decide which camera is best for my buck.

To get straight to the point, I'm deciding between the Fujifilm F70EXR and Sony TX1; something that boasts great low-light quality like my concurrent F31fd. I'm not a fanboy of sorts and I've seen these forums full of them but neither side gives me such valuable insight(s) to help me determine the right camera. The only key differences I understand from the two items are their sensors: EXR and CMOS. What I like about the F70EXR is it's zoom reach, on the other hand I wouldn't mind having an ultra-compact like the TX1 and it's supposed hi-quality video recording feature. Overall, when it comes down to it, it's about low-light - which model gives you better results whilst maintaining great image retention with minimal image noise? I also read somewhere before the F70EXR's image stabilization isn't as effective as it should be. Does that offset it by -1 from the TX1?

Your feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


Kim Letkeman said...

Dagge: thanks.

Angelo: These two cameras are quite different, and I must say that I like the look and feel of the TX1, although I find the user interface inscrutable. That's just practice though. As for image quality, well it's not all that bad, a little soft at 1600 but acceptable in my opinion. I'm going by the shots on imaging-resource of course. You should probably buy based on what features you consider the most important. Now, if you are really picky about IQ then I'm not sure that either one would satisfy ... both have quirks as I've mentioned in various posts along the way.

BigBill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BigBill said...

Kim! THANK YOU for the great analysis, but I disagree on your conclusion about S90 ...
Each and every image (practically, almost at any light) I've seen so far shows blown highlights, PF, softness and, to my eye, lack of details after sharpening. I'm sick and tired with above mentioned with my F30 which is been beaten to death and doomed for this, but, surprisingly, people RAVING about S90 just ignoring THREE YEARS OLD issues ... and reach ... I don't know ... only limo comes to mind ...

Lili said...

Excellent summation, as ever, Kim.
I have to say I find the EXR's to be simply awesomely effective little cams, using your researched settings has spoiled me for the lack of heavy post processing needed.
One thing my F200EXR has that I'd not seen yet on any Fuji since the S5600; you can turn off the image review!
Speeds shooting up immeasurably.

Lili said...

BTW I've a friend that has the G9; the user interface is simply awesome and intuitive

Kim Letkeman said...

BigBill: I tend to doubt that the S90 is responsible for all the blown highlights ... that's photographer error. However, I will be interested to know how its dynamic range measures when DPR finally review it. If it is somehow too narrow, then it would not be recommended for the average photographer.

Lili: Thanks. The EXR cams are pretty great when shot at half rez ... and I really like the G10's interface too. Too bad that the controls require the cam to be so big. The F70 compromised the right way, though, by making the compensation available on a button.

Lili said...

Kin, agreed. Size does very much matter in these 'carry-cameras'.
Fuji are starting to hit a lot of things right although some of their spokespeople seem not to get the whole video thing.
A sign of corporate culture perhaps?
I enjoy video, when i think to use it that is ;)

BigBill said...

I have to disagree again ... Check officially posted by Canon images or DPR samples - same story ... sure, some compensation could be dialed to correct the exposure, but this is sensor's DR problem, not photographer's.

Kim Letkeman said...

Lili, if they got video right, the F70 would be my slam dunk concert camera. As it is, it might be adequate anyway. I'll only know when I get a chance to record at a concert.

BigBill, I've looked at 6 or 7 sites and the samples are excellent overall. In a few instances, I would have added compensation to hold the whites a bit better, but even those images look nice. And there is always RAW, as there is with the G10 and G11. As I said ... losing whites is always photographer error. The Fujis just happen to compensate for a lack of skill a little better than others.

Lili said...

I haven ot been to concert soince I got my F200EXR, but the last one I used my F60FD, which has less reach and poorer hi ISO and DR (but is scary sharp, BTW my buyer backed out still getting the F70 tho) and got some very good results;

Rayaz said...

I found your site when going through a forum, and was amazed at the information in the blog. I badly need some advise, and believe you might be able to assist me, and hope you can.

I am currently trying to get a better P&S (the last was the Sony H20)that can provide decent photos indoors with flash, and maybe a few shots at high ISO without flash. Currently i take a lot of shots of my son (14 months) indoors where the lighting is poor (natural light CFL/flourscent) is common where i live (Sri lanka).

The sony was good with the flash, but it had a very slow flash recycle time, and the shutter lag was horrible that made me sell it. I have the following being considered in order of preferance,

1. Fuji 70EXR
2. Canon G11
3. Canon S90

Since the local market does not carry any of the cameras listed below, i hope to get it from a friend of mine coming from the states early december and need to order it this week. However i am really confused, and noticed that you had experience with the G10/G11/S90 and the Fuji (one of the few who uses the fuji it seems!).

I would prefer to keep my cost low if possible hence why i favor the Fuji (amazon $199!) and save the cash to get budget DSLR to get myself more into photography. The Fuji also has the added advantage that it supports a longer reach than the other two camera's and for those trips it also has zoom in video (though the youtube examples showed that the zoom sound is very intrusive, and the autofocus slow, but i am not sure if the settings were in continuous auto mode for the examples on youtube).

The G11 is preferred next due to the higher zoom and very solid build quality, though the size of the camera is a bit of let down. The Canon S90 being the last as the reviews are critical on how slipper the camera is, and the fact that the aperture at telephoto is worse than the G11. Both the canon's also seems heavily overpriced!

Based on my needs and your experience is the Fuji camera good enough? Is the automode good enough as my wife would also carry the camera for rare (very rare) social occasions and has no clue on photography.

Hope to get some info that will help me close out the purchase decision. Thanks in advance

Kim Letkeman said...

Rayaz, I am always fearful of giving advice regarding shooting children. This because the results are so terribly important to the shooter. However, I will give it a go.

My first instinct is to be clear that shooting active children in low light is dSLR territory. Something like a D5000 with 35mm 1.8AFS would be a stunning kit for that, and give you HD video.

But you've said your budget is low right now and you are saving for a dSLR later. Very good. For now, then, all three cameras would likely work. I know for a fact that the G10 can handle things ok ... but it has enough trouble with shadows that the G11 would be a big step up. The S90 might be ok, but I find the lack of reach disturbing. Still ... for indoor shooting, its fast lens would be excellent, assuming you don't mind being close while shooting.

The F70 is one I have not shot kids with. But I've shot dim concerts with it and it's pretty good at this. Adding flash can make a big difference, and Fuji is good at that.

So ... if budgets are tight, I think you will do fine with the F70EXR. Look through my blog at the extensive info on how to shoot it and try those settings. If you are happy with the results, then this camera should hold you until you can get into a dSLR.

It is an axiom that the photographer makes more difference than the camera to the final results.

Rayaz said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks for your prompt response, much appreciated :)

Well I can definitely agree to you that recommending a camera is not easy, as there is a lot of personal preferance involved, and the type of shooting (and skills!) will also come into play.

Reading your blog, i notice that the f70 tends to use high ISO, as much as 400-800 for outdoor photos of people as well. My experience with the panasonic lumix, sony h20 was not pleasent at high ISO, however i cannot compare it apples to apples since my photos are mostly at 5-10MP, and most of the downloads i got of the f70 are scaled down for web display. How do pictures of moving people come with the f70, as i could not find a prime example going through your blog, and I am uncertain if the f70 has issues taking moving people.

If budget was not to be an issue, which would you suggest that would best serve my needs and also be a support camera that has portability when an DSRS cannot be taken?

If the G11 for instance is definitely going to be more useful and less quirky, i can fork out for the G11 and bat on for a while before investing on a DSLR.

On the DSLR I was looking the new micro-thirds range from panasonic, the GF1 in particular or the GH1 since it also had the video capability. Is that a bad move looking into micro-thirds compared to the APS-C ranges such as the D5000, etc?

once again its very nice to see a blog owner actually take the time to provide response.

nintendo dsi r4 said...

A few days hands-on with a g11 camera have allowed me to form some opinions. Overall I am very impressed, the camera looks to be everything I wanted. Build quality appears to be up to the G-series standard. The wider lens gained with the G10 and carried over to the G11 is distinct improvement. Photo quality meets my high expectations, what else do you want to know?

Kim Letkeman said...

nintendo: The G11 is a fine camera, but I don't want a compact that is not compact and has SD video. The ZS3 has astounding video and decent low light imagery, the F70 has excellent imagery in all light. That's enough for me for now.

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Kim Letkeman said...

Thanks, glad it helped.