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Old Dec 6, 2005, 8:51 PM   #1
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I posted the following in another thread, but I think it is important enough to warrant its own topic. After all, there has been a LOT of talk about it. I myself was at first horrified by the ISO 400 shots of the FZ30, especially after reading some of the reviews. So I decided to do my own comparisons. I am only using data that is readily available, but, then again, a datum is only as valuable as it is evaluated in comparison to others. After all was said and done, I ended up ordering the FZ30 with a very good conscience.

So, I spent some time comparing several camera's higher ISO pics to find out for myself if the "terrible noise issue" of the FZ30 is fact or fiction. These are all at ISO 400, unless otherwise specified. (For example I included the Fuji S9000 ISO 800 and 1600 images because its "Smart Blur" feature simply bumps up sensitivity in order to compensate for the lacking IS.) Here are the links. You decide for yourselves. (Make sure to look at them at full resolution).

Panasonic FZ30:

Fuji S9000 (ISO 400): http://www.steves-digicams.com/2005_...s/DSCF0699.JPG

Fuji S9000 (ISO 800): http://www.steves-digicams.com/2005_...s/DSCF0701.JPG

Fuji S9000 (ISO 1600): http://www.steves-digicams.com/2005_...s/DSCF0703.JPG

Canon Powershot Pro 1: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2004_...s/IMG_0297.JPG

Canon S2 IS: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2005_...s/IMG_0048.JPGand http://www.steves-digicams.com/2005_...s/IMG_0533.JPG

Kodak p850: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2005_...s/100_0014.JPG

Konica Minolta Dimage A200: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2004_...050_iso400.JPG

Nikon Coolpix 8800: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2004_...s/DSCN0453.JPG

Olympus c8080: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2004_...289_iso400.jpg

Sony DSC-H1: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2005_...s/DSC00479.JPG

In my opinion, those are all in the same ballpark, with the FZ30 being clearly better than for example the Canon Pro 1, and actually most of its competitors. The Olympus c8080 and Fuji S9000 (at ISO 400 only) probably take the prize for being best among all of them, but still quite noisy.

Here is what an image from a large sensor looks like. This was taken with the new Canon EOS 5D.
As you can see, it is by far less noisy than even an ISO 100 image from any of the previous cameras. That's why DSLR's cost so much more. But I think they'll tumble soon and a camera with a full size 36x24 mm sensor will be available in the $500 range by 2007 or 2008.

But it appears to be a myth that the FZ30 has any more noise issues than any other small sensor camera (which includesthe 2/3 sensor, by the way, since it is only about 20% larger than the 1/1.8 CCD used in the FZ30 and others), ultrazoom or not.

Fact is that probably only larger sensors will really handle excessive noise in higher ISO's. Possibly new cooling technology could improve noise on smaller CCD's. In-camera noise processing compromises image quality as the Fuji S9000 proves. But sensors are getting larger with more MP's and prices will be tumbling on those over the next couple of years. Mamiya just developed a camera with 22 MP on a 36x48mm CCD. http://mamiya.com/cameras.asp?id=1&id2=2107 This sensor would house 45 (!) of the FZ30's CCD's. Now, that's the ticket for low noise images at up to ISO3200 or even higher. But until development has reached a plateau where large sized sensors are the new standard and affordable, and maybe even available in an ultrazoom that does not weigh two tons, I am not going to spend 1000's of dollars on a system that will soon be outdated. For $500+ the FZ30 is the most and best camera that's currently on the market, period. Just keep the ISO at 80 or 100 and use a tripod when needed. Neat Image does the trick when you have to use ISO200, or very rarely ISO400. At ISO 100, there simply is no visible difference when printing a letter sized photo, even compared to the Canon EOS 5D.

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Old Dec 6, 2005, 9:03 PM   #2
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Good review Rduve! Jim
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Old Dec 7, 2005, 1:33 PM   #3
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nice comparison... my only comment is that the FZ30 pic had no sky to directly compare with the others. a minor point, and it in no way invalidates your conclusions. i agree, the FZ's handle noise as well as any competitive model, and actually better than most. and, as you pointed out, in most common print sizes (up to 8x10, and sometimes even 11x14), even the FZ20 will hold its own against images from most DSLR's, as long as you work within the FZ's limitations and keep your ISO low.

sensor technology will, of course, evolve. to me, the real question isn't how many pixels they can fit on a 24x36 sensor, or even a 4/3, but whether they can produce a sensor small enough to permit the 12x zoom capability of the FZ's, that will still significantly reduce noise. i'm no engineer, but i'd guess that the 1/1.8 sensor in the FZ30 is about as large as they could use and still retain the full 12x zoom in a compact, manageable size; the real challenge now is to see if they could make that same size sensor "cleaner". i suspect if they were to take the current FZ30 sensor and reduce the pixel count to, say, 6.3 MP (comparable to an EOS10D, and plenty for all but the most demanding photographer or the largest prints), the noise performance of the FZ30 would bemarkedly better. not up to DSLR standards, of course, but nonetheless very good for an "all-in-one" or "prosumer" camera. when the '30 came outi was frankly disappointed to see that Panny had succumbed to the megapixel race, rather than opting for a more modest increase in resolution coupled with the same bump in sensor size, which would've yielded much cleaner images. i'm still hoping that in its next incarnation, the FZ will opt for a lower resolution and less noise, rather than trying to cram ever more pixels into thesmallest possiblesensor.
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Old Dec 7, 2005, 4:02 PM   #4
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Using the past as a means of predicting the future, we can be reasonably sure the noise issue will be addressed one day not too far away. Looking at the past and the cameras that were avavilable even 3 or 4 years ago, compared to the FZ 30, and you absolutely know beyond any doubt were are in for some tasty treats somewhere down the road. And at a price we'll pay. It is just a really nice feeling to know that until the camera makers get there, this one, the FZ 30 is here now, ready to use. Four years ago I would not have been able to buy a camera like this at any price. There simply wasn't one like it. For me there really, honestly isn't a noise issue. Not for how I use it. It eclipses my expertise and then some. I still have tricks galore I can learn with this camera, and I know it can do what I want it to do. I have some wildlife shots, for instance that I got whithin the first few weeks or days, even, of buying this camera, that I have never, and could never have gotten... with my old 7i, 7X zoom clunk on added tele lens. And tho I enjoyed that camera, and learned a ton from using it, I was just left gnashing my teeth sometimes, because I am in the middle of some of the best wildlife areas, anywhere. And that camera didn't have the range I needed to be able to get some wonderful shots. How frustrating, with these outstanding specimens so close and yet so out of reach, without risking life and limb. Now for approx half what that cost me I have the camera of my dreams! I can get by in absolute comfort, waiting for the next big thing. Not every shot I shoot makes my heart race. But with this beauty, I am jumping for joy because now, at least S O M E of them really do do that for me. I can't wait to get back into the mountains again, because I know now I'm going to be posting some really cool shots sometime soon. (Oh, and so many of my fellow Panasonic owners...the FZ bunch...you guys just blow me away your shots are what makes me so keen to keep trying) Any one who bypasses the 30 because of noise issues, will get no argument from me, it's concievable some people must have the ability to use higher ISO's etc. and with as noiseless a result as possible. For them the answer is obvious. M O R E money, bigger camera, bigger sensor, more lenses....DSLR! While they're shooting noise free 3200 ISO shots, making their monthly payments, busy changing lenses and trying to keep their sensors dust free, they can always browse here for some free relief to check and see what wonders we're posting next. :lol:But seriously, bottom line is a lot of us are thrilled with the 30, and given a year or two, perhaps no one will even remember this issue. Thanks rduve, I not only pat you on the back for the comprehensive, unbiased presentation, I also had fun presenting this minor essay myself. Good work!

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Old Dec 7, 2005, 5:41 PM   #5
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Thanks, Kenneth. Well said. Seems like we are all on the same page here.

I had one more realization about the noise. It seems tome that what separates the FZ cameras from the rest is the way it renders the noise. I am not sure if that is CCD based or in-camera-processing based, but rather than creating a lot of visible noise specs like most other cameras, the FZ (at ISO 400) turns the image more into something that looks like cotton candy painted with watercolor. Almost like a photoshop effect. It's really a matter of taste of how one prefers the noise to be processed. It is going to be there one way or another at ISO 400 on a small sensor. One would probably have more control over how the noise is processed by shooting the occasionally unavoidable ISO 400 shot in RAW and then using noise reduction software to get the perfect balance between, noise, sharpness and detail. But again,it is going to be on veryrare occasions that this will have to be done. I figure that during the two years or so that I will own the FZ30, I am going to spend less time actually bothering with noise issues than I have already spent over the last few weeks researching and writing about them.

My FZ30 should be here on Friday. I can't wait. Look for new photos here over the next few weeks: http://euromaninla.zoto.com/galleries

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Old Jan 4, 2006, 7:02 PM   #6
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squirl033 wrote:
i'm still hoping that in its next incarnation, the FZ will opt for a lower resolution and less noise, rather than trying to cram ever more pixels into thesmallest possiblesensor
I hope that also...
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Old Jan 5, 2006, 7:11 AM   #7
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Because I am purchasing a digital camera in the next week or so, I spent the money to have 8x10 prints of various ISOs made from several different cameras, some of the prints are the exact pictures posted here by rduve.

All of the pictures from the superzoom digicams have some amount of noise as mentioned. It was my opinion from the prints, however, that the FZ-30 is most definitely a noiser camera than the FZ-5 (which i personally thought produced the most pleasing 8x10 shots of the prints I made). I agree with squirl033- a modest increase in megapixels to go along with the modest increase in sensor size would have been the best option for Panasonic. However, the FZ-30 has all of the options (and the hot shoe) that a camera like the FZ-5 does not.

Not everyone wants to be limited to shooting at ISO 80 or ISO 100. Many of us, like me, also need a solid camera for ambient light shooting and have the flexability to usethe wide range of shutter speeds and apeture settings afforded by being able to shoot at a higher ISO. My friend has a D-50 and the images he is able to get at even ISO 800 are remarkable indeed when printed to a larger size.

I am really frustrated after the prints I made.....for all of the cameras I printed photos from. Yet I do not have the cash for a dSLR and even just medium quality glass. The used camera market may be a good way to go. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and as long as a persons pictures are pleasing to themselves, who gives a poop about what someone else says! The flexability and variety of pictures capable with a superzoom certainly balance out noise issues somewhat. Until we all hit the lottery and can afford the Hasselblad medium format digital setup, these are the issues we will have to deal with. --K
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