I recently purchased the Canon s95, which is the best of the “shirt pocket” size cameras, with a 1/1.7″ 10MP sensor. Overall I am very impressed with the handling, features and image quality for such a small camera, and is my top recommendation. Below is a comparison between all the main ISO settings between 80 and 3200, and first some photo editing to show the possibilities of noise reduction on a 1600 ISO image.
For a primer on small cameras and how and what to buy see my article on the previous generation of small cameras, which explains why there are only 4 small cameras on the market worth buying.
In summary the four current cameras are
three out of these four cameras USE THE SAME SENSOR – made by Sony, who unbelievably haven’t made their own “enthusiast compact, concentrating instead on the mass market “point and shoot” and DSLR’s. Image quality, therefore is as you can probably imagine should be virtually identical between these cameras, when shooting RAW, which bypasses the in-camera processing.
As a consequence choosing between these cameras is not a question of comparative quality, but of what you want to use the camera for, and this is mostly determined by the lens focal length, speed and size.
* If you want the greatest lens range and don’t mind the chunkier body, choose the G12.
* If you want the smallest camera possible that delivers good quality RAW images, choose the s95.
* If you want a camera that excels at wide angle choose the Panasonic LX5.
* If a swivel screen is important, to enable you to shoot above your head, or low down or to shoot from the hip – choose the G12 or the EX1
* If you shoot most of your images in poor lighting conditions, the Samsung’s fast lens will enable lower ISO’s to be set.
I have taken some pictures with the s95 and fiddled with them to get the best results using he RAW files. I always shoot RAW!
I have also been to a couple of parties with the camera in my pocket and taken several pictures while I get used to using this machine.
Handling is easy, with the ring around the lens and EOS style wheel on the rear making it easy adjust settings. The camera is quite small and there are buttons or the pop up flash wherever I want to put my fingers. Auto white balance has been surprisingly good even in snow. Workflow is the same as my 5D Mk2 – import into Lightroom and edit non destructively until I need to do some serious editing or noise reduction, then I open into Photoshop.
First test ISO performance and comparison of noise reduction techniques.
1600ISo This is a small portion of an image taken at a party in low light and shows very high noise levels typical of this size of sensor. The top image is the RAW file with no noiser eduction (NR) applied. The second image shows the standard Lightroom (LR) default settings of 25 Colour noise reduction with no Luminance NR. As you can see the colour noise has gone but considerable Luminance noise remains. Adding Luminance NR in Lightroom leads to considerable smearing of detail. The lowest image shows the effect of using the Neat Image photoshop plug in to reduce noise and this does a much better job than Lightroom, but frankly this is still pretty awful.
I wouldn’t recommend shooting 1600 ISO with such a small sensor – it is there for emergency use only.
All these images were shot in RAW, Auto white balance, imported into Lightroom in default settings (which most significantly means +25 Colour Noise Reduction, +25 Sharpen).
I have made no attempt to improve these at all, so this gives a real life comparison of noise at different ISO’s direct from the RAW output. The comparison images are 100% pixel for pixel and are a crop of the centre.