Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Fuji X10 Photo Tests (UPDATE)

We have a winner!
PhotographyBlog has posted test photos of the new Fuji X10. I quickly ran a comparison test between it and a few other compact cameras. First, it is hands down the best compact on the market as regards JPEG image quality. It is very light on noise reduction, resulting in images with a large amount of detail.

At low ISO, I saw little difference between it and the Nikon V1, but the V1 noticeably pulled away after ISO 400. Considering that the Nikon costs over 50% more, that's a good performance. In the X10's more direct competition, comparisons with the Nikon P7100, Canon G12, and Lumix LX5, again, had the new Fuji easily in the lead. The only compact with a lens anywhere near it was the Olympus XZ-1, which was much noisier.

Unless Fuji absolutely borks the menu system, I cannot imagine that this will not become the undisputed leader of compact cameras. It's beautiful, the image quality is the best in its class, in fact, the only problem is the high price. At $600, it is also the undisputed leader as regards cost.

I have some problems fully digesting that. It may be the best, but is being the best compact camera on the market really worth at least $100 more than any other camera. I'm not sure. That puts it squarely in entry-level APS-C and Micro 4/3 territory. Really, at that price, I doubt that I will pony up the required scratch, but if they drop the price by $100, my ability to rationalize my way around it may disappear. It looks that good.


EPhotozine has also uploaded X10 comparison shots that are much more comprehensive than any other site thus far. They have provided full color cards of all available ISO settings and studio shots. These are all JPEGs which are of course a combination of actual sensor performance, lens performance, and image processing. We can infer performance of certain characteristics based on differences between the ISO settings, but as Sony has shown, if the image processing is crap, it's hard to pick out any hard data.

As regards ISO, the Fuji is the best. Not surprising considering its larger sensor, but the difference between it and the Olympus is huge. The Lumix LX-5 retains color very well but the noise is slamming detail by ISO 800. The same criticism holds for the Nikon P7100. The new Canon G12 does very well, nearly matching the noise characteristics of the Fuji. All of the cameras are usable up to ISO 400, with the Olympus falling away pretty quickly after that, the Lumix and Nikon are next, and the Canon and Fuji are very usable at ISO 800. None of the cameras seem to suffer posterization, instead opting to allow noise the simply degrade the image "naturally."

When the total packages are considered, though, the comparison gets a little tougher. I know that the Olympus has an amazing lens, but the JPEGs, even at low-ISO, frequently are so smeary that this fine detail is completely gone. The Canon has exceptionally high detail in the center of the frame, and its image processing is easily the best, but lens detail drops off noticeably in the corners. The Lumix is very even across the frame, but not the sharpest, nor is it the best processed. The Nikon has a good lens, is even across the frame, and has good processing, but anything past base ISO starts to get super-smeary. The Fuji, like the Lumix, is very even across the frame, but its noise reduction can get smeary at times. It seems to handle highlights better than the other cameras, which again is not too surprising considering the larger sensor.

These were all JPEG images, with some RAW from DPReview to help with my conclusion. The sensor benefits of the new camera make themselves known in shadows, highlights, and in overall ISO performance. The only other compact on the market that really compares is the Canon G12. The Olympus XZ-1 would be better, but its noise levels are just too high. Truly, it's the only camera in the market segment where the noise difference is large enough to notice without pixel-peeping.

What these new images reveal is a camera that will not be a slam-dunk, at least as far as JPEG production goes. To be fair, I never expected this. Every single one of these cameras does much better when they are unleashed by using RAW. The Olympus enters the realm of amazing, and the ISO performance capable from the Canon and Panasonic are impressive considering that the sensor is the size of a fingernail. It also further cements my opinion that for the Fuji to be a real contender, it will need to shed about $100. The Canon G12 is right behind the Fuji in every way, and costs over $150 less. And at low ISO, the lens on the Olympus is essentially perfect.

I would not consider the Nikon, and the Lumix is getting rather long-in-the-tooth, but both the Canon and Olympus are legitimate contenders, and both are much, much cheaper. I want the Fuji. I want it BAD. But I can't rationalize that cost.

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