Saturday, April 26, 2008

Review of Noise Control in Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FX36 and FUJIFILM FINEPIX F100fd

When I first got my trusted Canon Digital IXUS 40 compact camera, I had once researched on Panasonic LUMIX line of digital cameras. The LUMIX lineup of digital cameras are the pioneers to feature an optical image stabilizer (O.I.S.), and Panasonic call it the "MEGA O.I.S.". The "MEGA O.I.S." was the winning factor for the success of the LUMIX digital cameras in the earlier days. As technology catches on, other camera makes also adopted the optical image stabilizers such as Canon's Image Stabilization (IS) and Nikon's Vibration Reduction (VR). See how "IS" pits against "VR". Apart from optical image stabilization, digital cameras start to adopt a so-called "Dual Image Stabilization" technology, which is but the conventional optical image stabilization (real mechanical gyroscopic stabilizers) used in combination with high ISO (increase shutter speed). As we all know that high ISO translates to higher noise levels in images. Hence, what matters the most is still the acceptability of these high ISO pictures. We all know that the quality of the lenses, sensors and the image processors are responsible for the image quality. I try not to be distracted by the fancy names of image processing engines such as Canon's DiGiC III, Panasonic's Venus Engine IV, Fujifilm's RP Processor Pro, Nikon's EXPEED etc. I also try not to put too much faith solely on the quality of these good optics such as Schneider-KREUZNACH (adopted by Samsung & Kodak), Fujinon (proprietary to Fujifilm), LEICA (adopted by LEICA & Panasonic), Carl Zeiss (adopted by Sony, Nokia and Hasselblad), Nikkor (adopted by Nikon) etc. Which ever fancy names they can be called, only the images can tell its quality for itself.

Recently, during my process of looking for a possible replacement of my Canon Digital IXUS 40, I was researching compact digital cameras with quality and features. I streamlined to (1) Fujifilm for they have been delivering excellent cameras with inevitably the best noise control attributed to their deadly combination of theirn proprietary Super CCD sensors with RP Processor, and (2) Panasonic for presently being the only compact digital cameras with the widest lens at 25mm (compared to 28mm in Fujifilm FINEPIX F100fd) as well as HD video recording in newer models (LUMIX DMC-FX35/FX36 in SG and DMC-FX500). Nevertheless, Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FX500 (FX520 in SG) have yet hit the local shores, hence I selected Panasonic DMC-FX36 to pit against Fujifilm FINEPIX F100fd.


Features at a quick glance

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FX36

  • f/2.8, 25mm Wide Angle LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT Lens
  • 4x optical zoom
  • Intelligent Auto mode with Intelligent Exposure
  • 1/2.33” 10.1 megapixels CCD
  • Venus Engine IV
  • MEGA O.I.S.
  • HD Motion image (1280x720P) and HD output (component)
  • Face detection

Fujifilm FINEPIX F100fd

  • f/3.3, 28mm Wide Angle Fujinon Lens
  • 5x optical zoom
  • Dynamic Range (up to 400%)
  • 1/1.6” 12 megapixels Super CCD
  • RP Processor III
  • Dual Image Stabilization
  • Face Detection (fd) 3.0


    In a LIVE situation test, I evaluated the performance of Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FX36 VS Fujifilm FINEPIX F100fd. I compared particularly the noise levels at various ISO standards, from the lowest ISO 100 to ISO 1600 (not highest since beyond this is not really useable).
    All test setups are done such that the aperture is at its widest (f/2.8 for FX36; f/3.3 for F100fd) and at widest angle (25mm for FX36; 28mm for F100fd), shot from the same standing position and 100% cropped segments are compared.


    TEST #1
    ISO 100 - ISO 400
    CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE FULL SIZE
  • TEST #2
    ISO 800 - ISO 1600

    CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE FULL SIZE


    Verdict
    In accordance to the many myths that Panasonic LUMX digital cameras produces noisy images, it is rather clear that Fujifilm FINEPIX F100fd out-performs Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FX36 in terms of noise control and sharpness. The images from FX36 are already showing noise at lowest ISO 100. and become significantly unacceptable at ISO 800. The acceptance range of use is only up to ISO 400, while F100fd continues to prove its worth at ISO 800. Note that this evaluation is purely subjective.
    For plenty of post-processing work, noise control becomes a more critical criteria. For basic shooting-resizing-uploading and regular 4R print-outs, it is hard to tell any difference between both models. Remember that we are talking about "NOISE CONTROL" and not about metering & exposure.
    Though FX36 and F100fd both lacks Aperture and Shutter priority (A/S) modes, LUMIX DMC-FX500 (FX520 in SG) is a promising candidate with A/S modes. Furthermore, the capability of HD recording is an attractive bonus. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the HD recording is 1280x720 and not full HD 1920x1080, and the HD recording is very memory consuming such that 2GB records only around 11 minutes of HD recording at 30fps. The quality is also not to be compared with HD camcorders or conventional SD camcorders.
    In terms of price, Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FX36 slightly more costly than the F100fd. (please correct me if I am not updated with the latest pricing).

    Panasonic and Fujifilm are definitely leading the way with their class of feature-rich compact digital camera lineup. It will only take time before each other annouces another "ultimate" digital camera to counter competition. If we can all expect an F200fd in the making....

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