Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Olympus XZ-1 versus Canon S95, Canon G12, Panasonic LX5 and Samsung TL500 – Low light supremacy – Mark II

Well … that last article has been pretty popular. But it is flawed in a sense … it is possible to shoot the Olympus 1.33 stops faster than the G11/G12 at all focal lengths. So we need to compare the Olympus at 800 ISO to see what the real scoop is in jpeg land.

In fact, all of the candidates use different apertures at min and max focal lengths. So what I’ll do is calculate the appropriate ISO settings first and create a table:

Camera Wide – Tele (mm) Apertures W – T Delta Wide Delta Tele ISO
Olympus XZ-1 28-112 1.8-2.5 0 0 800 800
Canon S95 28-105 2.0-4.9 +.33 +2 800 3200
Canon G12 28-140 2.8-4.5 (4.0 @ 112mm) +1.33 +1.33 1600 1600
Panasonic LX5 24-90 2.0-3.3 +.33 +.66 800 1600
Samsung TL500 24-72 1.8-2.4 0 0 800 800

Now, my reasoning for the chosen ISOs:

  • 800 will give us decent shutter speeds at f/1.8 indoors, provided a fair amount of ambient light
  • Where .33 is the difference, round down and accept a slight under exposure. With 1.33, the same reasoning applies. Use one stop more ISO.
  • Where .66 is the difference, round up and take the slight shutter speed improvement.

First comment … the S95 is hosed for anyone who shoots at tele. It is much slower than I had thought.

I will do three comparisons per crop. A and B will cover all cameras at wide angle and tele (as close to 112mm as possible) and C and D will substitute the G12 for the S95.

Note that I am switching it up … in the first article, I commented before the crops. here I comment after you have seen the crops.

Crop 1 – The infamous coin

A – All at Wide Angle (S95 included)


The Oly has the most contrast, but smears fine details. A sort of plastic look. The Canon and Panny seem to have the best fine detail. The Sammy is blurred badly. Yuck. So I like the Canon and Panny.

B – All at Tele (S95 included)

The Canon has to shoot at 3200 and the Panny at 1600.


The Canon is hosed as is the Sammy. But the surprise here is that the Panny continues to retain more detail than the Oly, even though the contrast is lower. I would take the Panny in this case.

Note: I have changed my mind. Instead of doing crops C and D, I will do only crop A and restart the test with the G12 replacing the Samsung. The Sammy is obviously is hopelessly blurred at 800 ISO. The S95 is obviously hopelessly outmatched at tele because it is so slow.

Restarting …

Crop 1 – Reprise


Like the LX5, the G12 maintains pretty decent fidelity for low contrast detail at 1600 ISO. The smearing of the Oly makes it a tough choice here. I’m not a fan of the plastic look, so for me it comes in last. YMMV of course.

Crop 2 – The Yarn


As noted in the first article, the Oly has a lot of contrast. But the smearing is not to be denied as it really does not make yarn look like yarn. Most of the little threads are gone. Whereas the Panny is doing a great job here. The two Canons also look fine, even the G12 with its 1 stop penalty. I give the nod to the Panny with the rest in a tie for second.

Crop 3 – Paper Clip


Here, the Oly wins as it did the first time. The paper clips were made high contrast with smoothing.

Crop 4 – Watch Face


Again, the smearing gives a poor result for the Oly. The Panny again walks away with the victory, although the Canons again look pretty good. Here, the Panny wins narrowly with the Canons in a close second. The Oly is tolerable, but just barely … a distant 3rd.

Crop 5 – The Batteries


DPReview say that the Oly is smeared, but that it maintains the best color fidelity. Well, I suspect that this area of the image shows that better than anywhere. Very good saturation.

They all lose some edge integrity, which really shows up here. The Oly looks like aggressive smearing, while the G12 has softening as its issue. The Panny looks decent, but for the first time shows a fair bit of softening. I give the nod to the Oly for color but to the S95 overall. Best edge integrity … it would take processing very well.

Crop 6 – Threads


There is noise creeping through here for the Oly and Panny even though we’re only at 800 ISO. The smearing also creates a less smooth gradient for the Oly. The Canons really shine here and are tied for best image here in my opinion. Strangely, the Canon jpeg engine is pretty sweet, as the G12 is holding its own despite the one stop penalty its lens exacts.

Crop 7 – Feather


Again, the Oly is producing some great color. The fine details are pretty smeared, but this is a decent looking crop. The S95 takes the detail crown, followed by the Panny. The G12 is not far behind. This is a tough call … for detail, I take the S95. For color, the Oly takes the prize.

Crop 8 – Globe


Dropping one stop has not really helped the Oly’s legibility at all. The smearing kills text. The two Canons are magnificent and the Panny shows just a hint of smearing. For this one I would take the Canons.

Crop 9 – Statue Image


The Oly is again betrayed by the smearing jpeg engine. The other three are very close. The Panny seems to have the detail edge.

Crop 10 – The Paintbrush


Surprisingly, the blue channel is acting up on the Oly, despite being 800 ISO and having lower pixel density than the others. Only the S95 has reasonably smooth texture on the bottle, and since all have similar brush texture, the S95 takes it.


This is a jpeg test. Thus, it is rather appropriate for many readers. Obviously, someone fairly skilled in post processing can shoot and process RAW and can take advantage of the Oly’s lens. But for jpeg shooting, I’m not fond of the Oly.

The Panny is great at wide angle, but I would take the S95. However, at tele, the Panny can shoot at 1600 and so can the G12. The S95 takes a pounding.

Frankly, the choice is less obvious than it was if you shoot them all at 1600. I think the G12 is surprisingly consistent and competitive. The Panny looks decent as well, and does not look too bad at 1600 ISO.

Perhaps the best way to approach these cameras is to admit that shooting them at high ISO is for web use only anyway. In such a case, the fast Oly lens might be enough to overcome the irritating smearing.

To check this out, let’s have a peek at the images at web size. No processing, other than light sharpening.

Oly @ 800


Click through for the 800px version. The rich color really shows. The issues identified in the crops are pretty much gone. This is a very nice 800 ISO image. So a pub shooter would find this the cat’s meow.

S95 @ 800


Not as richly colored as the Oly, but equally detailed. Nothing wrong with this at all. A wide shooter could do much worse.

But it takes a 2 stop penalty at tele, so let’s see what that means for web shooters.

S95 @ 3200


A definite loss of contrast and some fairly nasty grunge on the gray scale at the top tell the tale. Shots of the kids would not come out all that nice at such rarified ISOs.

G12 @ 1600


As I mentioned many times, the Canons are surprisingly consistent from 800 to 1600 ISO. And this image is pretty good. The key here is that, should you want the extra reach of the Canon, and perhaps the TTL flash capability, the slower lens is almost made up for by the great jpeg engine.

LX5 @ 800


This is a very nice image. This would be a very good camera for someone not worried about the lack of reach. The jpeg engine seems better than the Oly’s. The only issue is that it loses a stop at the long end. (Well … 2/3 stops.)

LX5 @ 1600


I’m not in love with the white balance here, but the image is pretty good. It will retain enough hair detail to be convincing, and noise is reasonably well controlled.

Samsung TL500 (EX1) @ 800


Yes, I booted it from this comparison because looking at its images at 100% can burn out your eyes. Rampant chroma noise, grain, blur … it’s pretty ugly. Yet we’re talking web images now, and the heavy down sampling changes the nature of the game. The image above is pretty decent, although the saturation surely suffers because of all the noise. Still … it’s usable at these sizes.


Well, I can admit that the previous article’s conclusion was only valid under some circumstances. For web use, in fact all of these cameras are pretty decent. I would personally be inclined to the G12 or Nikon P7000, since I need more reach than the street shooters have available. But of course, I am into the long zooms so I toil away with the F300EXR.

For enlargement or cropping with jpegs, I think I was right about the Oly. Look elsewhere. The F300EXR that I use looks as bad as the Oly at 100%, but I am quite sure that have no illusions about its ability to print large or crop.

If you are a RAW shooter, the Oly’s jpeg engine should not hold you back. The speed of the camera’s lens in undeniable. The DPReview tests don’t look great at high ISO, but run through ACR and Topaz Denoise and even high ISO shots might be pretty good. And with the speed of the lens, ISO 1600 is like ISO 6400 on the G12 …

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