Today, I have decided to do a very non-scientific back to basics ISO test on the excellent Samsung Galaxy NX 20.3MP camera, with the aid of my Sphero BB-8, to give you some idea of the ISO performance of the Galaxy NX.
The test was pretty straight forward, the Galaxy NX was mounted on a tripod, with the Samsung 60mm f2.8 Macro lens attached. The Galaxy NX was set to Aperture priority, no exposure compensation, aperture was set to f2.8 on each shot. No artificial lighting was used. Both the Long Exposure and High ISO Noise reduction were set to ‘OFF’ in camera. The AF point was set to Centre at the largest size of AF point. There is some mild focus shift as a result of the large AF point size, from BB-8’s head and the body circle, just beneath his head, but as I said at the start, this is non-scientific and is intended to give examples of noise levels without any on board camera help. I should have set the Galaxy NX to Manual Focus, but it was just a quick test. Writing this and uploading the files has taken longer than the actual test!
The Galaxy NX was set to Max Sharpness (in camera) with an increase in Saturation of +1. The reason for the Max Sharpness setting is to help make the noise as noticeable as possible, so that you will see the absolute worst the Galaxy NX images can get. My normal settings are Sharpness set to +1, saturation +1 again, both High ISO and Long Exposure NR are set to off. These are Out Of Camera JPEGs, I usually shoot RAW and JPEG, but the RAW files are just to huge to upload on my current broadband speed (which is terrible).
I’ll post the full image view first, actual images from the Galaxy NX at full 20.3MP resolution, the images are 5472 x 3648 pixels, but these have obviously been scaled down by the hosts to minimise the amount of data on their servers, then there’s a series of crops that were made at 100% view of each image, which should hopefully give you a fairly accurate idea of the image quality as the ISO is increased. The cropped image size at 100% was @640 x 640 pixels. Depending on the device being used to view this blog, the cropped images may have been upscaled to fit the available image template.
Rather than go through each and every 1/3rd ISO stop, I have included ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800 and the highest 25600.
Up to ISO 3200, noise is very well controlled and only really starts to be an issue around ISO 12800 and higher. At ISO 6400, a touch of Post Processing Noise reduction, keeps everything well balanced and the images are perfectly useable, depending on the proposed use.
As you can see from above, when the images are all scaled down for Web use, there isn’t really that much between them at first glance, but if you look a bit harder you can just start to see noise appear in the last image, at the highest ISO 25600 setting.
What this means is for immediate online use, the Galaxy NX allows you to shoot up the Max ISO settings without having to worry about the usability of your images.
Now, have a look at the crops when viewed at 100%. . . Please remember before viewing, the AF point was set to largest size, which almost engulfed BB-8 within the selected AF point, so the crops do show a slight focus shift between the actual points of focus on BB-8, some were on the BB-8 head and some were on his body.
If you read my earlier review of the Samsung 60mm f2.8 Lens, at f2.8 the depth of field is extremely narrow, only around 5 or 6mm is within the actual focus plane before everything else is thrown out of focus. Either BB-8’s eye or the circle in the middle of his body (just beneath his head) was the actual point of focus, so there is some differences in the following examples, but the focus shifts, don’t really affect the noise results and that’s what the test was for.
Please also bare in mind the sharpness setting was set to maximum, which introduces, at least to my eye, a certain harshness within the Samsung JPEG processing engine.
So, with that in mind. . .
**UPDATE** : Having checked on my 27″ iMac, the following 100% Crops are a bit larger than the actual cropped image size of approx. 640 x 640 pixels, so any imperfections will be exaggerated lightly due to the upscaling used in the image template.
With 20.3 million pixels on an APS-C sized sensor, there is going to be noise, especially at the highest sharpness setting, across all ISO values, but on the settings I usually use, Sharpness in camera set to +1, Saturation +1, High ISO Noise Reduction set to Low, there is virtually no noise up to ISO 1600. At 3200 there is a very slight ‘grain’, but you still have a perfectly usable image. At ISO 6400, with a touch of post processing noise reduction and a resize downwards, the images are more than usable.
At the higher end of the ISO scale, 12800 and 25600 at full size, the images are virtually unusable for any ‘mainstream’ pro use, but more importantly, if you look at the first series of images again, every single one of them is usable for Web Use, once the images are scaled down, detail is preserved and only the very last image @ ISO 25600 shows the slightest sign of noise.
So what does all this mean?
It really depends on what you plan to do with your images. More mega-pixels means more noise. It’s unavoidable. The trick is finding the balance between detail and noise.
Personally, having had a Nikon D800 with a full frame 36.3MP sensor, the Max ISO on that was 6400 and the images were noisy. However, if you applied a touch of noise cancellation in post, then resized those 36MP images down to a 24 – 30MP images, the noise was no longer a problem and the images were stunning. The Nikon D800 is however a huge beast of a camera and combined with pro lenses, I’m sure constituted more than a little to the tennis elbow I suffered in both my elbows.
With the Galaxy NX, I have found a very happy balance. The 20.3MP gives me more than enough detail. The ISO performance up to ISO 1600 is stellar. At 3200 and 6400, I can add some noise cancellation and resize down slightly, without a noticeable loss of detail or the noise being a problem.
In a world that’s moving away from printed media, there are more and more opportunities for images to be used online and the Samsung Galaxy NX is, in my opinion, the best suited camera for this 24/7 fast paced, ever changing Internet dominated world.
If you want to try and make money out of your images, be it printed or online, I would stick to a max ISO of 1600. When you submit to an online agency, the images are viewed at 100% for ANY imperfection. If you use a third party image editor and apply some mild noise cancellation on ISO 3200 and 6400 images, with a touch of resizing downwards (not a huge amount, maybe 10%), the images are perfectly usable and I have had mine pass quality control checks with no problem. The 20.3MP sensor on the Galaxy NX at the higher ISO of 3200 or 6400, when resized to @16MP, the images look absolutely great.
If you are shooting exclusively for online use, then in all honesty, it doesn’t really matter what ISO you use. The first batch of images at the start, show a typical web size for images and really only the last image has visible, but not unpleasant, noise (at least on my 11.6″ MacBook Air screen, I’ll check how they look on my 27″ iMac once I’ve posted this), so if push came to shove and you’re covering a concert, gig etc. for an internet blog or review, but didn’t have the fastest lens with you, you could push the ISO up high and still have perfectly usable images for Web use.
As photographers, we get caught up in specs, mega-pixels or lenses and we argue over full frame advantages over Cropped sensors, Micro 4/3 blah blah blah, but we mostly forget why we got into photography in the first place: the love of creating images.
With the Samsung Galaxy NX, I have found a system which is light, fun to use, gives me excellent results, has great lenses and allows me to instantly upload images or back them up to my Cloud service, with minimal post processing. I can usually get away with editing the RAW files in camera, then a quick export to JPEG and upload them while still out and about. I can instantly share to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+, the list goes on and on.
In a 24/7 connected world, where instant results are demanded somewhere in the world every minute of every day, the Samsung Galaxy NX is a camera that allows me to take on that challenge, so I can adapt to the new way potential clients want images delivered. More time making images. Less time spent editing images in front of a computer, should equal increased productivity, which in turn, should lead to higher income opportunities.
Finally, I would just like to reiterate the images used are straight out of camera JPEGS, no artificial lighting was used, only natural light (indoors in a room with only one window), the in camera settings used for the images above, Sharpness set as high as possible, with absolutely NO Noise Reduction were deliberate, to create the ‘worst’ examples of noise from the Galaxy NX sensor. With slightly tweaked in camera Sharpness settings (+1) and High ISO Noise Reduction set to Low or Normal, noise really isn’t that much of an issue up to ISO 6400 (again depending on your intended use).
If you shoot RAW and post process, the RAW files unlock a treasure trove of editing options and noise reduction can be applied quite aggressively before substantial loss of detail is encountered. Knocking the Noise Reduction down slightly and resizing your extracted file downwards to counteract any loss of detail, virtually eliminates any noise up to ISO 6400.
Whilst not scientific in any way, I hope this ‘back to basics’ ISO test gives you an idea of what the Samsung Galaxy NX can deliver and the opportunities a camera like this might be used for.