Wednesday, July 1, 2009

so just how close is it?

DXOMark rankings

It's quite surprising just how close cameras are these days in terms of raw image quality. Granted, DXOMark doesn't take resolution into account, but measures other sensor properties like SNR (visible as image noise), dynamic range, color accuracy and acuity into account - but still. People splitting hairs over Canon 40D vs 50D are insane - the 40D actually ranks higher (63.5/100 vs 62.9/100) than the new model, confirming our belief that 15MP on APS-C is just too much.

Let's establish some baselines: what I would consider a poor camera from an image quality point of view (high noise, poor acuity, inaccurate color) - like the Sony A300 - scores 64 points. A really crap camera, like the Panasonic L10, scores 55.3 points. And there's a world of difference between those.


Small sensors are all down the bottom. The only DSLR that sits lower than a compact is the Nikon D2H - which is a surprise to me, because I thought that camera punched far above its pixel count, and had acuity far ahead of the competition at the time. Oh well.

Modern pro cameras sit up the top - headed by the D3x, D3, and D700. (88, 80.6, 80.5).

The biggest surprises:

Phase One P65+ (medium format, full 645 frame, 65 megapixels) and the D3x are only 1.1 points apart at 89.1 and 88 respectively. But there's a full order of magnitude price difference.

Canon's 5D is out of here. The D5000 pisses all over it: 72 vs 70.

What we consider a good compact - say a Panasonic LX3 (38.8) is only 3.3 points ahead of a crap one (Nikon P6000, 35.5). And those are significantly behind even the vintage D70 at 50.2 points.

I could never understand why people were making such a big deal about Micro FourThirds: the 2009 G1 is crap, and the numbers bear it out. It lags behind a 2005 D50, for crying out loud. Four years is an age in digital time.

Apparently, the Leica M8 (59.4) is fractionally worse than the Canon 350D (59.9) - and both are better than the D2x - really? I've used a 350D and struggled to get the kind of acuity, dynamic range or color accuracy the M8 and D2x are capable of. And I know for a fact the M8 outresolves both D3 and D2x, as well as being cleaner than the latter. Hmm.

If you compare cameras of the same vintage though, you'll see that they're all around a similar level - which is to say that for a FF DSLR now, expect 80-90 points at the high end; for the best of the APS-C cameras, around 73. What's really surprising is that the 50D lags the D90 by a whopping 10 points despite being a newer camera - in my experience, the 50D isn't that different to the D90 except when the noise reduction takes over at higher ISOs.

Of course none of this puts real world considerations like useability and price into consideration, but it's interesting to know nevertheless. For what it's worth, I've shot extensively with the D3x, and while it's an awesome studio or tripod camera, it isn't particularly good for photojournalism - most of the time, you can't make the most of the resolution because one is always shooting under compromised conditions. The D3 works much better. But then again, my keeper rate with the M8 is higher than the D3 despite being more than 20 points apart - go figure.

Bottom line is that once again, your camera really isn't an excuse.

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