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Old Feb 22, 2011, 9:34 AM   #1
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Default High ISO noise in 4/3 cameras

Here's another issue I wasn't aware of (apparently there are lots more of these than I knew about ).

The latest (March 2011) issue of Popular Photography has a review of the Panasonic GH2. In the review they note that the noise level in that camera is unacceptable above ISO 800. That surprised me (considering how much folks love that sensor) but not as much as their explanation did:

"...most entry level DSLRs can keep noise to acceptable levels at least through ISO 1600. Given this camera's size, though, and the the difficulty with heat control that comes with that, Panasonic deserves credit for the imaging power it has built into the GH2."

So unless I'm out to lunch here, they seem to be saying that the constriction of the space in front of the sensor in a 4/3 camera (versus the space in front of the sensor of a DSLR camera with the flip mirror space) means that the 4/3 sensor is just gonna run hotter. So does this mean that Oly really has to pull a major rabbit out of a hat to make a 4/3 pro camera with acceptable high-ISO noise?

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Old Feb 22, 2011, 10:16 AM   #2
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I'm betting Pop Photo's noise tests (have not yet read the GH2 review) are based on in-camera JPEG's, and Panasonic does not have a good JPEG engine. Olympus JPEG's are consistently better, including higher ISO settings. DPReview's reviews of Panasonic G cameras have consistently always had the caviat of needing to shoot RAW and avoid what their JPEG engine does to the files. If you go the extra step of upping their noise filters to deal with the noise you lose lots of detail, and if you keep it turned either down or completely off, you have the noise. Something has to really be amiss for Pop Photo to grade down on anything like that, and with Panasonic, it is no doubt the JPEG engine.

In some recent stories posted at Luminous Landscape, the authors there have nothing but praise about the GH2, including the much improved higher ISO performance compared to the previous GH1, but you can also bet they are shooting RAW and getting the most out of every file in whatever software it is they are using these days.

Olympus sort-of already does the monkey-thing, considering how good JPEG's look out of cameras like the E-PL1 and I've been very pleased so far with the E5, although I have done precious little JPEG shooting with the E5. The JPEG's I have shot do look good, but at especially higher ISO settings there is a clarity you can achieve in Adobe Camera RAW that's simply not there in the JPEG's.
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Old Feb 22, 2011, 12:31 PM   #3
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Greg, you may be right about them just looking at the jpegs but that would surprise me, simply because they've been testing cameras longer than almost anyone.
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Old Feb 22, 2011, 1:42 PM   #4
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I think even the tests Pop Photo does on DSLR's are strictly at the JPEG level, too. That's definitely how I read recent reviews on both the E5 and Nikon D7000 cameras in recent Pop Photo issues. If you shoot RAW, the noise and resolution tests are pretty much irrelevant.
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Old Feb 23, 2011, 12:49 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Chappell View Post
I think even the tests Pop Photo does on DSLR's are strictly at the JPEG level, too. That's definitely how I read recent reviews on both the E5 and Nikon D7000 cameras in recent Pop Photo issues. If you shoot RAW, the noise and resolution tests are pretty much irrelevant.
Yeah. You mean the PopPhoto tests are irrelevant. That's too bad. Although a lot of pros (e.g. wedding photographers) need the OOC jpegs to be as good as possible, a lot of folks (both pro and advanced amateurs) buying high-end cameras are shooting RAW and PopPhoto needs to recognize that. If you shoot RAW, noise and resolution are still very relevant.

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Old Feb 23, 2011, 1:27 PM   #6
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I wouldn't call the tests at Pop Photo totally irrelevent. Probably no more so than what DPReview does, like testing a cameras high ISO capabilities by shooting at ISO 6400 under perfect studio lighting instead of something where any normal photographer would be actually need to use ISO 6400.

I subscribe to Pop Photo and do like reading the reviews, but it does seem to take quite a lot for them to really go down on a model much at all, which is about as bad an indictment of the Panasonic JPEG engine as I can think of.
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