Sensor noise comparison

This post is my take on sensor noise vs sensor size, this is not a scientific experiment, more of an understanding of how a sensor’s size has an impact on noise (Luminance and Chrominance) across ISO settings when the exposure is either under or over. I have produced this mainly for the purpose of deciding if I can work with the 1″ sensor and full frame, and ditch the Four Thirds kit.

I have used several cameras for this testing, with sensor sizes from full frame, APS-C, Four Thirds and 1″, with the following cameras.

All of the cameras were set to Program Mode, with Matrix or equivalent metering, and auto white balance. The images captured starting at the base ISO for the camera (for both the Olympus and Fujifilm the base ISO is 200) and then increasing the ISO one stop up to ISO 3200, I then bracketed the exposure by plus and minus 3 stops. The RAW files were then imported into Lightroom with default settings with no sharpening or noise reduction applied, I obviously had to correct the exposure compensation by adding or subtracting the 3 stops. All of the images were then exported to jpegs for sharing with this blog page.

For information, all of the images were captured indoors on a cloudy day with diffused light through the window blinds. The reason I chose to use two types of camera with an APS-C sensor, was to see if there was any difference between the Bayer and the X-Trans array.

I would also add that in real life situations the noise may not be apparent in the image, or some may find it adds to the image, it really depends on the subjects matter or type of photography that you follow.

The Full-Size Image is taken at Base ISO for the camera.

Sony A7R 0 EV ISO 100

Sony A7R @F4.0 1/60sec 0 EV ISO 100

Cropped Samples (Click on thumbnail for an enlarged version)

Fujifilm X70 0EV ISO 200

Fujifilm X70 @F2.8 1/140sec 0 EV ISO 200

Cropped Samples (Click on thumbnail for an enlarged version)

Ricoh GR 0EV ISO 100

Ricoh GR @F3.2 1/45sec 0 EV ISO 100

Cropped Samples (Click on thumbnail for an enlarged version)

Olympus E-M1 0EV ISO 200

Olympus E-M1 @F3.2 1/125sec 0 EV ISO 200

Cropped Samples (Click on thumbnail for an enlarged version)

Sony RX100MKII 0EV ISO 160

Sony RX100MKII @F2.8 1/50sec 0 EV ISO 160

Cropped Samples (Click on thumbnail for an enlarged version)

Conclusion

I realise that the cameras that I have chosen are not all equal as the pixel count and density differ. I think at first glance it is obvious that the larger the sensor the better it is at handling noise at the higher ISO settings, and at ISO 200 there is not a lot to choose between any of the cameras, except maybe when under exposed. Things do change however when you start to increase the ISO, and although the difference is marginal. It is also very interesting to note the different interpretation of the cameras matrix metering of the scene, the Ricoh closely followed by the Fujifilm underexposing the image, I assume to protect the highlights.

Further examination of the cropped images shows how each sensor handles the plus and minus 3 EV of the scene. It is clear that noise is further generated (both luminance and chrominance) at -3 EV at all ISO settings for all cameras, with some colour shift, noted especially at higher ISO. Where +3 EV has caused at some ISO settings some improvement in most if not all ISO settings. This does help to support the technique of exposing to the right, but maybe not pushing it to the extreme values that I have in my testing.

It is my understanding that all of the sensors in the tested cameras are manufactured by Sony, who seem to be the leader in the manufacture of sensors. That being the only camera that I was slightly disappointed with in this testing was the Ricoh GR. Checking DXOMark’s website, for all the above kit (except for the Fujifilm) the Ricoh come out higher than the smaller sensor cameras.

So can I manage without the Four Thirds based sensor cameras, well yes and no? My initial thought was to purchase an RX10 and replace all the four thirds kit, however, I am still deliberating that change.

  • Yes, I would get a nice portable camera with a 24 to 200mm equivalent lens.
  • Yes, I wouldn’t have to keep changing the lens for a different focal length.
  • No, I wouldn’t have the reach of the 75-300mm (without spending a lot of money on an RX10 III).
  • No, I wouldn’t have the ability to have a super wide angle or fish-eye lens.

So like I have already stated, I am still thinking about this one.

Many thanks for the comments and feedback please like, share and subscribe for regular updates.

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