Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 Review

 
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Panasonic G1 High ISO Noise Reduction

The Panasonic G1 offers 5 levels of noise-reduction settings also allow you quite a bit of flexibility in choosing how you want to make the trade-off between subject detail and noise levels. The combination of shooting with NR turned down to the lowest setting (-2) and using a good noise-filtering program after the fact can produce very clean images with lots of fine detail in them.

See for yourself how the noise reduction works under daylight-balanced lighting. Click on any of the crops below to see the corresponding full-sized image.

High ISO Noise Reduction Comparison
Daylight-balanced illumination
-2
-1
0
+2
I
S
O

4
0
0
-2
-1
0
+2
I
S
O

8
0
0
-2
-1
0
+2
I
S
O

1
6
0
0
-2
-1
0
+2
I
S
O

3
2
0
0

The above crops show the effects of four (-2, -1, 0 and +2) of the Panasonic G1's five levels of noise reduction available, under the studio HMI lighting we use to simulate daylight. To our eyes, the default (0) level of noise reduction strikes a good balance between noise and subtle subject detail, although the red fabric swatch presents a real challenge, as it does for virtually all cameras we test. Cranking the noise reduction setting up to +2 produces very smooth-looking images, while still maintaining good detail in areas of high local contrast (as seen in the circular scale), but a lot of detail is lost in areas of subtle contrast (the red fabric swatch is a particularly challenging subject, and the detail loss there is worse than you'd find in most real-world examples). At the other end of the scale, the -2 noise reduction setting leaves a lot of noise in the image, but also leaves the subject detail largely undisturbed: Use this setting if you have good third-party noise reduction software; with appropriate processing, the result could be quite good.

But how does the G1 compare to other compact SLRs? The following table compares default NR settings to the Canon XS, Nikon D60 and Olympus E-420, all 10MP models which have the advantage of fewer pixels (and hence potentially lower image noise, but at the cost of some resolution). In the case of the Canon and Nikon, they have larger APS-C sized sensors as well. Still, we think these comparisons are important because the G1 is being positioned as a step-up camera for consumers migrating from point & shoot digicams. The G1 is more expensive than any of the cameras in this group, but its small size and appealing design may entice many consumers who may have been considering one of its less-expensive competitors.

High ISO Comparison with 10MP SLRs
Daylight-balanced illumination
Canon XS
Nikon D60
Olympus E-420
Panasonic G1
I
S
O

4
0
0
Canon XS
Nikon D60
Olympus E-420
Panasonic G1
I
S
O

8
0
0
Canon XS
Nikon D60
Olympus E-420
Panasonic G1
I
S
O

1
6
0
0
Canon XS
Nikon D60
Olympus E-420
Panasonic G1
I
S
O

3
2
0
0
N/A
ISO 3,200 not supported.
N/A
ISO 3,200 not supported.
N/A
ISO 3,200 not supported.
N/A
ISO 3,200 not supported.
N/A
ISO 3,200 not supported.
N/A
ISO 3,200 not supported.

Up to about ISO 800, the Panasonic G1 competes very well with the other cameras in this particular comparison, although the Canon Rebel XS consistently beats all the others (the G1 included) in terms of the crispness of its images. The G1 is arguable the equal of the XS in the detail it resolves, but images from the XS show crisper-looking edges, particularly in areas of high contrast. (The G1 holds the edge in the always-problematical red fabric swatch.) At ISO 1,600 and above, though, the G1's default noise suppression has more difficulty with the red swatch, and luminance noise in the flat grey background increases noticeably. (Looking at the first set of samples though, the -1 noise reduction setting restores a lot of the lost detail in the red swatch, albeit at the cost of higher noise in the grey background.) At ISO 3,200, the Nikon D60 is the only one of these competitors left in the running. The D60 shows somewhat less noise in the grey background, and at least a smidgen of detail in the red fabric swatch, but the G1 wins easily in terms of fine detail shown in the circular scale.

Overall, the Panasonic G1 puts on a good high-ISO showing against its 10-megapixel competitors, although the Canon Rebel XS wins handily in all ISO levels it competes at.

Now, let's see how the G1 compares to other 12-megapixel SLRs, such as the Canon XSi and the Nikon D90, both of which have larger ASP-C size sensors, and which also sell closer to the G1's price point. (The Canon XSi is a bit less expensive than the Panasonic G1, the Nikon D90 sells for quite a bit more.)

High ISO Comparison with 12MP SLRs
Simulated Daylight
Canon XSi
Nikon D90
Panasonic G1
I
S
O

4
0
0
Canon XSI
Nikon D90
Panasonic G1
I
S
O

8
0
0
Canon XSI
Nikon D90
Panasonic G1
I
S
O

1
6
0
0
Canon XSi
Nikon D90
Panasonic G1
I
S
O

3
2
0
0
N/A
ISO 3,200 not supported.
N/A
ISO 3,200 not supported.
N/A
ISO 3,200 not supported.

Here again, the Panasonic G1 holds its own quite well up to about ISO 800. The D90 keeps the grey background quite a bit cleaner, albeit at some loss of detail in the red fabric, while Canon's XSi again has the edge in crispness.

At ISO 1,600, the G1 loses significant detail in the red swatch, and its luminance noise in the grey background is higher than either of the other cameras (the Nikon D90 wins big on that score). That said, though, while the G1 has more luminance noise than the XSi, the XSi shows considerably more chroma noise. The XSi doesn't provide a setting of ISO 3,200, but the Nikon D90 does, and handily defeats the G1 at that extreme ISO level.

All in all, we felt that the Panasonic G1 held its own against SLRs with APS-C size sensors pretty well, frankly much better than we'd expected. Up to about ISO 800, it was really a toss-up between the various competitors, but the G1 gave up some ground at ISO 1,600, particularly to the Canon cameras. At ISO 3,200, the Nikon D60 beat it in some areas, but clearly lost out when it came to fine detail. The Nikon D90 beat it across the board, but also sells for almost 60% more than the G1 at street prices. At the end of the day, a very credible performance from the Panasonic G1; Panasonic's engineers clearly seem to have gotten a handle on high-ISO noise-reduction processing.

 

Panasonic DMC-G1

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