This low-light handheld test is important for me as it’s one of my most-used scenarios. I’m also interested in telephoto shots at on-stage press events and various types of video but for my first Panasonic Lumix Z150 test I wanted to see how much better it was than my old (5 year old) Canon S2IS 5MP bridge camera. Of course it’s a massive improvement. I’m estimating a total 8x quality improvement of sensitivity, stabiliser and definition through sensor pixel count and lens. That’s a massive 3 f-stops of usefulness.
In this test I took a large number of shots of a multimeter (showing a LUX reading of around 95 from a big 30W daylight-temperature CFL energy-saving bulb 2M away) and chose the best pictures to analyse.
The other two devices used were the Canon S2IS and my Nokia N8 which has a larger sensor than both of the bridge cameras. To help make the images easy to compare I set the ISO at 400 and took the images at about 15 cm, the distance at which the multimeter was full-frame in the non-zoom Nokia N8.
A reminder of the sensor sizes on the three cameras being used here:
- Nokia N8 – 1/1.83 – 7.2 x 5.3 mm (est.) (12Mp)
- Panasonic FZ150 – 1/2.33 – 6.12 x 4.51 mm (12Mp)
- Canon S2IS – 1/2.5 – 5.744 x 4.308 mm (5Mp)
A typical DSLR sensor size is 23.7 x 15.7 which, for a 12MP resolution, is about 13x more light per pixel given the settings used in this test.
The N8, because of it’s bigger sensor, was able to shoot at a higher shutter speed than the FZ150 and S2IS but due to the lack of mechanical stabilisation it took a lot of tries to get my best shot. The Canon S2IS did its best job first go as did the FZ150. Stabilisation is really helping in these still-subject shots.
The Canon S2IS result is horrible in comparison to both of the others but the FZ150, despite the smaller sensor, is the winner with much better clarity and lower noise. Sensor size helps get the light in but there’s a lot more that goes into making a usable image.
So to the images. Click for originals at Flickr where you can see the important EXIF data.
Nokia N8 – 12MP. 1/42 at ISO 398, f/2.8.
Panasonic FZ150 – 12MP. 1/20 at ISO 400, f/3.6
Canon S2IS – 5MP. 1/20th at ISO 400, f/3.5
Note how all the images are ‘usable’ at these online sizes of 500 pixels wide. You can see the subject and read the main feature. It’s very important to note that because that’s often all you need to do with an online photo.
Crops of the images (below) drill down into how much detail there is in the images. Crops are a good indicator of how much room there is for lower light, handshake and other issues. The Canon S2IS has no room for error at all. The Nokia N8 is quite impressive although the grain is a bit worrying. The excellent FZ150 quality is a real cusion, in fact, on the FZ150 I re-did the test with the ISO up to 3200 (giving me a useful 1/125 shutter speed) and still got a better image than the Canon S2IS. I know that with a DSLR I would be looking at something like 3 F-stops more room to play with over the FZ150 but I’m really happy with this 100 Lux test. 1/125th shutter speed is fantastic, especially when you can take 12 frames per second and pick the best image. I wonder if the stabilization systems in DSLRs are any better than the one in the FX150?
Nokia N8 crop (full size)
Canon S2IS crop (full size)
Panasonic FZ150 crop (full size)
All image crops processed with best JPEG output quality in Paint Shop Pro.
Although the FZ150 wins by a mile, the Nokia N8 has to get a some respect here. That’s an amazing result from a smartphone in a low-light handheld situation. I challenge any other smartphone to get close to that. The S2IS is a camera I will never be using again though.
This has been a test of one of many possible scenarios and the FZ150 has done well. There are many other scenarios and most of them are situations where the Nokia N8 has no chance to compete. Long-distance work, 1080p 60fps video, hardware stabilized video, photo during video, 12fps multi-shot (up to 60fps in lower resolutions on the FZ150), SDXC storage, self photo/video and many many more situations. I’ll be exploring more with the FZ150 over time but for now, I’m more than happy that the FZ150 is going to be a great all-in-one image and video tool for the next few years of my online work.
Are you doing online video and photo work with an all-in-one? Perhaps the Canon SX30is or another similar bridge cam? Let me know.
Postscript: The quality improvement gain in 5 years is about 4x based on sensor improvements and another 2x (possibly more) based on stabilisation and software processing improvements. In 10 years, how many photographers are going to choose the big, heavy, large sensor format over the compact sensor format? [Note: I totally accept there’s a need for optical TTL photography.