Canon SL2 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing the Canon SL2's image quality to its predecessor's, the SL1, as well as against several competing ILC cameras which all sit at similar price points or product categories: the Fuji X-A3, Olympus E-M10 Mark III, Nikon D5600 and Sony A6000.

NOTE: These images are from best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved: click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Canon SL2, Canon SL1, Fuji X-A3, Olympus E-M10 III, Nikon D5600 and Sony A6000 -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Canon SL2 to any camera we've ever tested!

Canon SL2 vs Canon SL1 at Base ISO

Canon SL2 at ISO 100
Canon SL1 at ISO 100

The Canon SL2 features a new, higher-resolution 24-megapixel APS-C sensor compared to the older 18-megapixel sensor in the SL1. The increase in resolution is definitely visible, as the SL2 displays better detail than its predecessor here at base ISO, with improved color and contrast as well. The SL1 does a little better in our tricky red-leaf swatch, though, however that's partially because the SL2's higher resolution resolves more of the individual threads which it likely treats as noise and tries to suppress, blurring the subtle leaf pattern more in the process.

Canon SL2 vs Fujifilm X-A3 at Base ISO

Canon SL2 at ISO 100
Fujifilm X-A3 at ISO 200

Both these cameras use 24-megapixel Bayer-filtered APS-C sensors, so resolving power is closely matched. The X-A3 image is however sharper and crisper, although sharpening halos around high-contrast edges are even more obvious than from the Canon. While noise is quite low from both cameras at base ISO, chroma noise is a bit higher from the SL2, however luma noise is higher from the X-A3, though keep in mind the Fuji's higher base ISO of 200. Colors are generally a bit warmer and brighter from the Fuji.

Canon SL2 vs Nikon D5600 at Base ISO

Canon SL2 at ISO 100
Nikon D5600 at ISO 100

Here we compare the Canon SL2 to possibly its closest rival, the Nikon D5600. Both cameras have 24-megapixel APS-C sensors but the Canon's sensor has an optical low-pass filter which the Nikon does not, giving the Nikon an edge in per-pixel sharpness. However, much of the Nikon's crispness above is due to different approaches to processing, with the Nikon sharpening more effectively by default, though it does generate slightly more obvious sharpening halos. Noise is a little more visible from the Nikon, and both cameras offer pleasing default color reproduction.

Canon SL2 vs Olympus E-M10 III at Base ISO

Canon SL2 at ISO 100
Olympus E-M10 III at ISO 200

Above we compare the 24-megapixel APS-C SL2 DSLR to the 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds Olympus E-M10 III mirrorless camera, which both sell for about the same price at time of writing. As you can see, the higher resolution SL2 does resolve a bit more detail, however the E-M10 III image is much crisper, with better contrast and somewhat brighter colors. Sharpening halos are also quite visible from the Olympus, but it uses a tighter radius than the Canon, arguably making them less objectionable. Noise levels are similar, despite the E-M10 III's higher base ISO.

Canon SL2 vs Sony A6000 at Base ISO

Canon SL2 at ISO 100
Sony A6000 at ISO 100

Although we believe the Sony A6000's 24-megapixel APS-C sensor has an optical low-pass filter, it must be a fairly weak one. Again, the big difference here is in processing, as the Sony's default sharpening is more advanced than the Canon's, producing a crisper, more detailed image with almost no sharpening artifacts, though noise appears to be a little higher. We prefer the color from the Canon, though, as it is more accurate with less of a yellow to green shift.

Canon SL2 vs Canon SL1 at ISO 1600

Canon SL2 at ISO 1600
Canon SL1 at ISO 1600

Here at ISO 1600, we can see the SL2 continues to deliver better detail, contrast and color than the SL1. The SL2 displays just slightly higher luminance noise levels, however the noise "grain" is a little more consistent than from the SL1. Both cameras blur our troublesome red-leaf swatch pretty heavily, though.

Canon SL2 vs Fujifilm X-A3 at ISO 1600

Canon SL2 at ISO 1600
Fujifilm X-A3 at ISO 1600

The Fuji X-A3 comes out ahead here at ISO 1600, producing a cleaner, crisper image with better detail, although interestingly, chroma noise is actually a little higher from the Fuji, and more noise reduction and edge enhancement artifacts are visible.

Canon SL2 vs Nikon D5600 at ISO 1600

Canon SL2 at ISO 1600
Nikon D5600 at ISO 1600

The Nikon D5600 retains more fine detail in the mosaic crop, with fewer noise reduction artifacts as well. Overall, the D5600 continues to produce a sharper, crisper image, and the noise grain from the Nikon in the shadows is also tighter. The SL2 does a better job with our difficult red-leaf pattern, though.

Canon SL2 vs Olympus E-M10 III at ISO 1600

Canon SL2 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M10 III at ISO 1600

The E-M10 III produces a cleaner, crisper, brighter image here at ISO 1600, though its more aggressive default noise reduction has introduced some distracting artifacts in the form of small clusters of black pixels in the mosaic crop. Overall, though, we prefer the E-M10 III's image quality here, despite the lower resolution.

Canon SL2 vs Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

Canon SL2 at ISO 1600
Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

The Sony A6000 continues to hold onto more fine detail here at ISO 1600, while producing a sharper image with lower luminance noise, however its anti-noise processing produces a grain pattern that doesn't look quite as natural and film-like as the SL2's, and the SL2 continues to produce better color.

Canon SL2 vs Canon SL1 at ISO 3200

Canon SL2 at ISO 3200
Canon SL1 at ISO 3200

Once again, the SL2 delivers better detail, higher contrast and more pleasing color than its predecessor here at ISO 3200. Luma noise appears a little higher from the SL2 in flat areas, however chroma noise is lower, and the noise "grain" appears more consistent.

Canon SL2 vs Fujifilm X-A3 at ISO 3200

Canon SL2 at ISO 3200
Fujifilm X-A3 at ISO 3200

The Fuji X-A3 continues to pull away from the SL2 here at ISO 3200, delivering much better fine detail, lower noise levels, higher sharpness (albeit with more noticeable sharpening halos along high-contrast edges) and better contrast (except in our tricky red-leaf swatch where the Canon produces slightly higher contrast). An easy win for the Fuji.

Canon SL2 vs Nikon D5600 at ISO 3200

Canon SL2 at ISO 3200
Nikon D5600 at ISO 3200

The Nikon continues to deliver much crisper details here at ISO 3200, though sharpening halos and other edge artifacts are more obvious. The images have similar noise levels in flatter areas however the D5600's noise pattern is a bit more fine-grained if not quite as consistent. This time the SL2 blurs our red-leaf fabric more than the D5600, but offers slightly higher contrast. Overall, it's a fairly close race here but we'd give the edge to the Nikon here at ISO 3200.

Canon SL2 vs Olympus E-M10 III at ISO 3200

Canon SL2 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M10 III at ISO 3200

Similar to what we saw at ISO 1600, the Olympus E-M10 III still manages to deliver a much crisper, cleaner, sharper image here at ISO 3200, and those clusters of black pixels in our mosaic crop are much less obvious. Impressive performance for a Micro Four Thirds camera.

Canon SL2 vs Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

Canon SL2 at ISO 3200
Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

The Sony's noise reduction processing does well to remove more noise than the Canon's, but it appears more aggressive and less natural, and is particularly noticeable in flatter areas such as in the bottle crop. Very fine detail in the mosaic crop looks better from the Sony, though both cameras produce smudging and other noise reduction artifacts. Our infamous fabric swatches prove troublesome for both cameras with NR impacting detail in different ways from each camera. The Sony appears to hold onto more detail in our red-leaf fabric, however much of that apparent detail is heavily distorted and false.

Canon SL2 vs. Canon SL1, Fujifilm X-A3, Nikon D5600, Olympus E-M10 III, Sony A6000

Canon
SL2
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon
SL1
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Fujifilm
X-A3
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D5600
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Olympus
E-M10 III
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony
A6000
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways, so we like to look at it separately. Here the SL2 clearly offers a major improvement over the SL1, not only in resolving power, but also in noise performance as the SL1 obviously resolves less detail at base ISO, and degrades much more quickly as ISO climbs. The SL2 does well against the other APS-C contenders in this group in terms of resolution as sensitivity increases, however it doesn't quite offer the same amount of crispness as the Fuji, Nikon or Sony. The Olympus E-M10 III performs very well in terms of contrast and sharpness, but detail can't quite compete with the 24-megapixel APS-C models. The Sony A6000 does very well at base ISO and ISO 3200 in terms of detail and sharpness, and its sharpening algorithm produces the least amount of haloing, however image quality falls off noticeably at ISO 6400, and it also suffers from the most false colors.

 

Canon SL2 Print Quality Analysis

Very good 30 x 40 inch prints up to ISO 400; a good 16 x 20 inch print at ISO 1600, and a nice 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800.

ISO 100 and 200 printed images are quite good at 30 x 40 inches, displaying rich colors and very good fine detail. Larger sizes may certainly be fine as well, depending on your viewing distance, as the only real limit is resolution at these sensitivities.

ISO 400 is also capable of a quality 30 x 40 inch print. There is perhaps a touch of fine detail loss if you view close enough, and if you squint you may yet see a mild trace of noise in a few flatter areas of the print, but overall still very good.

ISO 800 produces a solid 20 x 30 inch print, still quite a nice size at this ISO given the class of camera. There is a mild softening that begins to occur in the red channel here, pretty common for APS-C cameras by this ISO, and just a mild trace of noise appearing in the shadowy areas of our target, but otherwise a good print to be sure.

ISO 1600 allows for a nice 16 x 20 inch print, with only mild issues similar to the 20 x 30 inch print at ISO 800. This is still a generous size and it allows a lot of flexibility in gain for low-light shooting to know you can achieve a large print size at this sensitivity.

ISO 3200 is usually the turning point for APS-C cameras in general, and the SL2 is no exception, displaying much more noise in general in the larger print sizes, while aggressive noise reduction begins to take a toll in various ways. We are confident calling the 11 x 14 inch prints good here, giving them our stamp of approval for all but the most critical printing purposes.

ISO 6400 prints are suitable at 8 x 10 inches, which is not bad considering how high this ISO is. Pretty much all subtle detail is now lost in our tricky red-leaf fabric swatch, but that's a pretty standard occurrence across APS-C camera models at this sensitivity. Colors are still nice and full, and there's enough detail at this size still remaining to achieve a solid print.

ISO 12,800 produces a surprisingly good 5 x 7 inch print, considering this lofty sensitivity. This is definitely a suitable ISO for all but the most critical printing purposes at this size, and will definitely work for things like good family prints.

ISO 25,600 images can be printed to our smallest analyzed size of 4 x 6 inches, and once again the print is actually fairly good for this camera class -- colors are not muted as we find with some models at this gain setting.

ISO 51,200 does not provide a usable print and this gain setting is best avoided, though you may be able to get away with a 4 x 6 inch print here for less critical applications.

The Canon SL2 bests its predecessor, the popular Canon SL1, at every ISO by a print size or more. The higher resolution combined with improved noise reduction processing is evident, and anyone looking to upgrade for larger prints will be pleased in that regard. In addition, the camera matches stride in the print quality department with the larger and pricier Canon 77D, giving interested buyers more than one reason to choose this little gem based on image and print quality.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 



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