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Image Quality Part One: Best Cheap Compact System Cameras

Canon EOS M

As mentioned when reviewing the EOS M’s collection of features, the camera benefits from Canon’s DSLR tradition when it comes to the model’s sensor.

It features the same APS-C chip as found in the entry-level Canon triple-digit DSLR range, and as a result it should offer a good level of image quality.

Canon EOS M 1
ISO 800 and ISO 6400

Out of the six cameras on test, the EOS M resolves the highest level of detail throughout the ISO range, and as a result will be the best suited should you be looking to reproduce your images as large-scale prints.

The EOS M also handles noise at higher ISO settings well, managing to limit the effect right up to ISO 3200. Above that chroma noise becomes something of an issue, and as a result shooting above that setting is avoided.

Canon EOS M

As you’d expect from a Canon, the EOS M also delivers a reliable level of white balance performance, while the metering is also pleasingly consistent, managing to even deliver even exposures even in difficult lighting conditions.

Nikon 1 J3

In stark contrast to the ample sensor size found in the Canon EOS M, as well as the other APS-C-sporting CSCs in the group, the sensor found on the J3 is much smaller.

As a result of this smaller sensor size, there are concerns about both how the J3 handles noise at the higher ISO settings and how much detail the camera can resolve.

Nikon 1 J3
ISO 800 and ISO 6400

The latter of these concerns is realised the most starkly, with the J3 delivering a much poorer high ISO performance than much of the rest of the group. Noise becomes somewhat of an issue even at the lower settings, with ISO 800 being a reasonable cap on the setting we’d use.

The level of detail is also much lower than the others, and you’d certainly have concerns about making substantial enlargements of images captured with the J3.

Nikon 1 J3 1

It’s not all bad news however, as the camera’s metering system performs particularly well. Even is scenes of high contrast, the J3 manages to capture detail in shadows and well as highlights.

The J3’s white balance system is similarly consistent, producing colours which are neither too warm nor too cold.

Olympus PEN E-PL5

The sensor found in the E-PL5 is of Micro Four Thirds format, and as a result it sits somewhere between that found on the J3 and the larger APS-C sensors found on the other models.

As a result, it should offer a reasonable amount of detail capture and this rings largely true. Although it’s not up to the standards found in the EOS M and GF6, it’s certainly respectable in this regard.

Olympus
ISO 800 and ISO 6400

The performance across the ISO range is also respectable. Noise is well controlled across the lower end of the ISO settings, although the maximum usable limit is in reality around the ISO 1600 mark.

The EPL-5 features a 324-zone metering system, and as such you’d expect some fairly consistent metering results.

Olympus 1

However, images don’t have the same punchiness in exposures as some of the rivals in the test, and it’s often the case that you’ll have to toy with the exposure compensation settings to improve the look and feel of images.

The Auto White Balance system, on the other hand, delivers consistent results in a range of settings with colours appearing nice and neutral.

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