1. Take the images from imaging-resource.com ... 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.