The hunt for a high performance compact (in March 2010) often leads us to a very short list of cameras: Canon G11, Canon S90, Panasonic Lumix LX-3. Although all of these cameras have great lenses and features, none of these cameras really possess a sensor that has any real advantage over the standard. It is the brands that we often dismiss, and the cameras that dont quite have the feature sets that we desire that actually have sensors that have some merit as being designed for better performance. The technologies that I am referring to are Fujifilm’s SuperCCD and Sony’s Exmor R.

Fuji’s SuperCCD technology has long been the benchmark setting sensor in the compact camera market, producing the amazing F30/F31 (2006) compacts that have ISO performance that the compact cameras of 2010 are only starting to match. The technology has evolved quite greatly over the years culminating in the major redesign in 2008/9 to produce the current generation SuperCCD EXR, but the oversized octagonal photosites aligned at 45 deg remain.

Sony’s Exmor R sensor takes traditional CMOS and puts it on its head, literally. Traditional CMOS sensors have layers of circuitry overlaying the photosites, as you can imagine this is rather inefficient in capturing light. The Exmor R sensor has this reversed, it is the first backlit CMOS (ie. the circuitry in under the photosites) that has been mass produced.

These two technologies promise better light gathering abilities. As a long time Fuji user and the owner of a Fujifilm Finepix F100fd which utilises an 8th generation SuperCCD HR, I was keen to test the abilities of Sony’s Exmor R sensor, as a result I found myself the owner of a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX5. Unfortunately I have yet been able to source a SuperCCD EXR sensor for comparison, but lets see how 2yr old SuperCCD technology stacks up against Exmor R.

First of all, how do these cameras compare to a DSLR? I let both cameras decide what to do (TX5 was placed in iAuto and the F100fd was in M – which is a bit like Programe but all settings were left in default), and then took my Nikon D60 + Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 and fired off a similar shot on all three cameras.

D60_Quad

Nikon D60

F100_Quad

Fuji F100fd

TX5_Quad

Sony TX5

Now all three shots look quite different. I imagine this is because there are differences in the processing of these JPG images in all of these cameras. Both the Nikon and the Fuji prefer to keep the highlights at the expense of the shadows, whereas the Sony brings out the shadow detail at the expense of the highlights, as seen in the following 100% crops.

Nikon D60 – Shadow

D60_Quad_shadow

Fuji F100fd – Shadow

F100_Quad_shadow

Sony TX5 – Shadow

TX5_Quad_Shadow

Nikon D60 – Highlight

D60_Quad_highlight

Fuji F100fd – Hightlight

F100_Quad_highlight

Sony TX5 – Highlight

TX5_Quad_highlight

Here is another comparison bewteen the Fuji and the Sony, this time in more challenging light.

Fuji F1oofd

F100_HallwayF100_Hallway_shadow

Sony TX5

TX5_HallwayTX5_Hallway_shadow

Here we see a difference in the noise reduction strategy. The Fuji F100 removes chroma noise very efficiently but leaves luminance noise, giving the image a grainy look. The Sony removes both chroma and luminance noise, leaving a watercolour effect in the image. Neither result is disastrous, and both cameras have done well. Something I found startling is was the difference in ISO used, the above pictures were shot at ISO 800 (Fuji) and ISO 320 (Sony). If you take this into account, you can say that the F100fd is a lot better at higher ISOs as the noise reduction used in the Sony at ISO 320 is already removing detail….but this is not a good test for this.

So, we can now tell how well these cameras stack up against a DSLR (albeit an entry level unit), the question remains, how well does it work in low light? To answer this I took both the F100 and the TX5 out to the Chinese Night Markets and tried to take similar photos with each. (Click for original images)

F100_GirlTX5_GirlF100_TeaTX5_Tea

From these we can see that both cameras perform really well in love light conditions, presenting respectable images without flash. It is hard to say either camera is superior, so it is up to the end user to decide what they prefer. Both images of the girl were shot at ISO 800 but the exposures are greatly affected by the highlight/shadow bias. However, if you look closely at the full images the Fuji retains better fine detail than the Sony when examined closely.

In conclusion I have found that both cameras perform well (kudos to Fuji for doing so well despite being 2yrs older) and am very happy to keep them both in my arsenal. However there are still many tests that need to be done before the effectiveness of these sensors are really compared. Sadly neither of my cameras have proper manual control so it is virtually impossible for me to shoot equivalent images. In these compact cameras I just like to have an image that is not washed with noise, and both these cameras provide me with a solution. If I have to make a call I would probably still go with the Fujifilm F100fd as I prefer it’s colours and its highlight retention.