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Digital Cameras - Nikon D3S Test Images
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This is our new "Still Life" test target. We're combining some of the elements from previous shots (DaveBox and Res Chart) into this and the "Multi Target" shot below, plus added a number of elements that are very revealing of various camera characteristics and foibles.
Here's what to look for in this target:
Our new "Multi Target" was first put into use in April, 2009, replacing the earlier "interim" design. This target incorporates a number of elements that combine aspects of the previous Multi target, as well as the previous Viewfinder Accuracy or "VFA" chart. Here's some of what you'll find in this target:
Framing marks: This chart evolved from the earlier Viewfinder Accuracy chart, so one of its major uses is to measure viewfinder accuracy. (See notes in the Viewfinder Accuracy section, at the bottom of this page, for more information on this.)
USAF resolution targets: An important use of this target is in evaluating lens quality, looking how well sharpness holds up as you move from the center to the corners of the frame. The little "USAF" resolution targets arranged at the center, in the corners, and along the diagonals are very useful for making fine judgements about blur, flare and aberrations in the image. We generally show crops of a USAF chip from a corner of the target and from the center, to show how lenses hold sharpness at wide and telephoto focal lengths.
Alignment "bullseyes:" We find these graphics from the graphic arts world (used to align sheets of film in the old film-based prepress days) very useful for seeing chromatic aberration in lenses. The bold black/white elements are good for seeing the colored fringes caused by CA in the corners of the frame.
MacBeth ColorChecker Chart: This is about as common a color standard as you can get these days, very widely available for only mildly exorbitant cost, and quite well controlled in its production. It thus serves as a good basis of comparison between cameras and between test setups. Imatest also understands the MacBeth colors very well, and uses them to produce its color accuracy map that we feature in all our reviews.
MacBeth ColorChecker SG Chart: The ColorChecker SG chart provides a wider range of colors, to give a more detailed map of a camera's color handling. We haven't begun using this chart in the color-accuracy graphs we routinely offer, but expect to do so at some point in the future. In the meantime, we sometimes refer to this chart internally, to get a more complete idea of what a camera's color map looks like.
Log C/F Target: The progressive resolution pattern located just below the center of the target is a Log C/F (logarithmic contrast vs spatial frequency) chart. Digital camera noise reduction routines work by looking at levels of local contrast, flattening-out detail at progressively lower spatial frequencies as the local contrast decreases. (This is very commonly seen in human hair, grass, foliage, and other subjects with subtly-contrasting fine detail.) This chart lets Imatest analyze just how a camera makes the tradeoff between contrast, detail, and image noise.
Color Starbursts: The six circular starburst elements arranged around the target are intended to reveal de-mosaicing artifacts and color-dependent resolution issues. The six starbursts provide examples of each combination of RGB colors intersecting each other. (That is, red, green, and blue against black, plus red against green, green against blue, and blue against red.) Given that the most common sensor RGB color filter pattern (the so-called Bayer) pattern has twice as many green pixels as red or blue, you'll generally see that the green/black starburst shows the best resolution, while the blue/red one shows the worst. The effects of different sensor geometries and color filter array patterns will be revealed here.
Musicians Image: Synthetic test patterns only tell you so much. While we have a lot of pictorial images in our other test targets, we thought it would be useful to include a small "natural" image here as well.
Part of the impetus in developing the new Multi Target in April 2009 was to switch to using a new 2x target for the resolution measurements, since the original ISO 12233 chart we'd used since the site first began in 1998(!) had become inadequate for testing the highest-resolution cameras. We'd for quite some time had a "homemade" 2x target, employing a shrunk version of the ISO 12233 chart, shot at 1/2 size. The resolution numbers on that chart all needed to be doubled to convert to the actual values, though, so we decided to go with a commercial 2x target to eliminate possible confusion on the part of our readers. Numbers on this new 2x resolution chart now read directly in hundreds of lines/picture height. (Because almost all of the area of this new resolution chart is now meaningful for resolution measurements, there was no longer space on it to overlay the MacBeth and other color targets on our prior Multi chart; hence the simultaneous change in our Multi target.)
The lighting in this shot is deliberately awful, about what you'd expect from noontime sunshine here in the Atlanta, GA area. (In fact, the color balance has been chosen to pretty well match the hazy sunshine here in mid-August.)
The reason for the harsh lighting is to provide a real "torture test" of how cameras handle conditions of extreme contrast; and in particular, how well they do holding onto highlight detail.
To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files D3SOUTBAP0.HTM through D3SOUTBAP3.HTM on the thumbnail
Indoor Portrait, No Flash:
The incandescent lighting used in most US homes actually has a very strong yellow color to it. Our eyes have an amazing ability to ignore color casts like this, something digital cameras struggle to emulate.
The incandescent lighting used for this shot is thus not only very common here in the US, but also very difficult for most digital cameras to deal with. While we probably want a little yellow color to remain in the image (to convey some of the mood of the original scene), too much will look unnatural and distort colors.
Most cameras' auto white balance systems have a great deal of difficulty with this shot, but many incandescent white balance settings struggle as well. (It seems that many cameras' incandescent settings are actually calibrated to the tungsten lighting used in professional studio systems, which isn't nearly as warm-toned as typical household lighting.)
If you intend to do much shooting indoors after dark, pay careful attention to this test, as cameras vary widely in this regard.
To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files D3SINBMP0.HTM through D3SINBMP3.HTM on the thumbnail
One additional note about this particular test series though: Because these images are shot under household incandescent lighting, the camera has to boost its blue-channel signal quite a bit to get back to a neutral color balance. Since the blue channel is generally the one with the most noise, this makes this shot a real acid test of noise performance. Noise levels in high-ISO shots taken under daylight conditions usually won't show as much noise. (See the "Far Field" test for examples of high ISO shots captured in daylight.)
Like several of our tests, these images are actually photos of a high-resolution poster, shot under studio lighting. The shots for this camera were captured with our third-generation House poster, which was assembled from 45 separate 11-megapixel images, shot with a very high-quality lens, and then stitched together into a single image. The resulting image amounts to about 450 very high-quality megapixels. This should have sufficient detail to comfortably challenge cameras up to at least 80-100 megapixels. (And even with higher-resolution cameras, we believe that the camera lenses themselves would be more likely to limit resolution than would the detail in the poster.)
Why did we choose to shoot a picture of a picture? The idea was to show a typical subject (a house and surrounding foliage) in a way that would be absolutely consistent from camera to camera. Any outdoor subject is going to vary considerably from day to day, as the lighting changes with the weather, atmospheric conditions, and season. Shooting a poster lets us compare images from cameras shot weeks, months, or even years apart, with the sure knowledge that nothing has changed from one shot to another.
Things to look for here are fine detail, as seen in the foliage and tree limbs against the sky, sharpness in the corners, and the preservation of subtle detail in the shaded brick patterns. - Many cameras with overactive noise suppression severely blur the brick patterns that are in shadow.
While the House poster in the shot above provides absolute repeatability from test to test, it doesn't offer the range of brightness (dynamic range) that the original scene had, nor does it contain the nearly infinite range of fine detail found in nature. For these reasons, we still shoot the original house, even though the vagaries of nature mean that no two shots will ever be directly comparable. (In fact, over the eight or so years since we first shot this subject, the trees in front of the house have now grown so large that they obscure much of the subject. - We're unfortunately going to have to switch to a different subject in the near future.)
Things to look for here are how well the camera handles the range of light levels from very bright to quite dark, and how well it renders the very fine detail visible in various parts of the image.
Note though, that because this is shot outdoors, the character of the light is unavoidably going to change quite a bit, depending on the atmospheric humidity and the time of year. - You thus shouldn't rely on it for absolute comparisons between cameras, since it's unlikely that conditions will be identical from one test to the next.
"Davebox" Test Target
Because most of its various elements are now contained or represented in the combination of the Still Life and Multi Target shots, we no longer routinely shoot the Davebox by itself, as would normally appear in this space. (We do however, still use it for our low light test below.)
Low light photography is an area where there are really enormous differences between digital camera models. This test starts at a light level about equivalent to typical city street lighting at night (one foot-candle), and then progresses down from there, each successive test being at half the light level of the preceding one. You may also see the effect of poor low-light autofocus in some of these shots, although we use a different test setup to check autofocus performance more directly. (The results of which are reported on in the main Test Results section.) Things to look for here include:
(Note: If you'd like to use a light meter to check light levels
for subjects you might be interested in shooting, a light level of one
foot-candle corresponds to a normal exposure of two seconds at f/2.8 and
Viewfinder accuracy is an important parameter, especially for shots where framing is critical. The optical viewfinders on most digital cameras match the (poor) accuracy of those on film cameras, typically showing only about 85% of the actual final frame area. It's likely that this is a deliberate design choice by the camera engineers, to help avoid users accidentally cutting off the heads of their subjects. We disagree with this approach, or at least feel that it should be mitigated a bit, perhaps by increasing the accuracy to 90 to 95%.
Unlike the optical viewfinders, the LCD viewfinders on most digital cameras tend to be quite accurate. There are exceptions though, and it's unfortunately not uncommon to find an LCD monitor that only shows 90% or less of the final frame.
Things to look for on this test chart are:
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.