Camera test: Satio vs Nikon D70S vs Sony Cybershot W180 vs Xperia X1i.
One of the unavoidable tests that every camera goes through is the "Pixel peep" test, where people zoom into the photo at 100% and try to make sense of what they see. Does this make a lot of sense for practical applications? Not really, but it's a very good test to see the amount of pixel level detail and also the noise characteristics of the sensor. So today, we're going to do exactly that.
The participants are:
1) The Satio
2)The Nikon D70S
3) The Sony Cybershot W180
4)The Xperia X1i
The scene that we are going to photograph throws a challenge to whatever camera that attempts it. It's a textbook. The scene has:
- Small text. Pixel level detail is very important.
- High contrast. As the camera's built-in noise reduction kicks in, it may introduce JPEG artifacts around the edges.
- A grayscale image. Again, a test to see pixel level detail that is being resolved as well as to see how much chroma noise is being introduced.
- Solid white. Shows the amount of luminance noise.
The Satio has a resolution advantage as everyone knows. 12.1 MP as opposed to 10.1MP for the W180, 6.1MP for the D70S and 3.2MP for the X1i. However, we shouldn't forget that the D70S has a sensor larger than that of the other three combined! To make matters a bit more challenging, the D70S is equipped with The AF Nikkor 50 f1.4 lens, one of the sharpest lenses in the Nikon range.
To even things out a tiny bit, I am shooting the D70S in JPEG mode and not RAW (which adds a bit more detail) as I feel that this would be a fairer test. Also, the conversion from RAW to JPEG depends from software to software (and adds an extra step) and I want to use images straight out of camera for the test. All shots were taken handheld with flash (Steadyshot enabled in both the Satio and the W180) except for the X1i, because the sample image from it was taken a little while earlier when the ambient light was stronger. The LED flash in it is nowhere near as strong as the Xenons in the other three anyway. The D70 was used in aperture priority at f2.8, which is the same aperture that the Satio sports. The ISO was bumped up to 400 to compensate for the lack of shake compensation on the D70S (THis wouldn't matter as at ISO 400, it would still produce a cleaner image than the smaller sensors cam manage at base ISO. It's just logic). The W180 has an aperture of f3.1 at the wide end and the X1i has f2.6. All cameras were made to focus on the grayscale picture and then the frame was recomposed to ensure consistent focusing.
Now there are a lot of variables in this test. All cameras have varying focal lengths, which makes things a bit tricky. What I did was to fill the frame with the book as much as I can by moving back and forth. A bigger challenge is the differing resolutions that the cameras have. While taking the 100% crops for instance, the sample fromt he D70S would be a lot smaller than the one from the Satio. I decided to post them in their original resolution itself as no resizing tool is perfect and when we are comparing pixel level detail, this tends to skew the results.
Let's see how each competitor fares in the challenge.
Here are the images taken by all 4 cameras:Satio:Click here for full-size version:D70S:Click here for full-size version:W180:
Click here for full-size version:Xperia X1i:Click here for full-size version:
Sample 1 (100% crop):
D70S Satio W180
There are no two ways about this. The D70S absolutely butchers the rest. The combination of a huge sensor and a super sharp, pro grade prime lens is just too much to handle for the rest of them. The ridges on the dome and the dotted texture below it have been rendered perfectly with minimal noise. Even the text is somewhat readable. And keep in mind, the in-camera noise reduction was switched off!
Perhaps, a fairer comparison would be between the Satio and the W180. Here, the approach that both camera softwares have differs like day and night. The Satio's module sacrifices noise reduction in favor of preserving detail while the W180 module has only one goal in its mind. Kill noise dead.
A lot of people would be satisfied with the W180's output. I'm not. The Satio's output, while having visible chroma noise can be corrected in post without losing detail. Another thing to remember is that if one downsamples the Satio's output to the dimensions of the D70S sample, the noise would be a lot less evident. The blurriness caused by the aggressive noise reduction algorithm in the W180 can't be corrected, no matter what.
As for the X1i, well... Thanks for coming!
Sample 2 (100% crop):
Again, the D70S is a master of containing noise; but this comes at the cost of per pixel sharpness. The extra 6 odd MP in the Satio finally start to show their might with the sharply rendered text. Chroma and luminance noise is still clearly evident.
I'm frankly disappointed by the W180's output. The aggressive noise reduction has made a huge blurry mess of the text and the output is clearly inferior to that of the Satio.
The X1i sample is there simply for illustrative purposes.
Sample 3 (100% crop):
This is taken from the far side of the book which is slightly closer to the camera,as the page is raised by a bit and this is where the D70S's strength becomes its weakness. At a given aperture, bigger sensors have much tighter depths of field than the smaller ones. This is clearly evident in the samples. Both the Satio and the D70S were at f2.8, but the DSLR's sample is out of focus, thanks to the tight depth of field. (To match the Satio's DoF, the D70S should have been stopped down; which would necessitate the use of a tripod.) The other three cameras, by virtue of having a smaller sensor ensures even focus throughout.
Funnily enough, the W180's noise reduction takes its job a bit too seriously, while its counterpart in the X1i is rather incompetent!
Sample 4 (100% crop):
D70S Satio W180 X1i
This is taken from the top right corner (Page number). Once again, The D70S has the cleanest output while the Satio has the sharpest (albeit noisiest) one amongst the rest. The W180 once again makes a blurry mess of the outlines while the X1i exhibits serious JPEG artifacts arising from a poor noise reduction algorithm.
Had I used a D90 (12.3MP) though, difference between the Satio and the D70S samples would have been far greater.
There is no substitute for sensor size and quality optics. We knew that before the test even started and the D70S underlines this emphatically. However, the Satio surprisingly outperforms the W180 with MUCH sharper image quality with only 2MP more and arguably less sophisticated optics. The closer distance between photosites on the Satio sensor does result in more noise, but this can and should be corrected in post. I am glad that SE didn't add an aggressive noise reduction algorithm to the Satio as this would have negated the sharp details captured by the sensor. The X1i was included in the test to show how far sensor technology has come in cameraphones in a short period of time.
What do you guys think of the test? DO let me know in the comments.
A Gift to all future Satio owners.
As Promised, I have something for you all. It's a collection of wallpapers for the Satio! In the main page of the blog, you'll find a photo album on the left side. Go inside, choose the picture you want, right click and choose "Download this image". That's about it!
The first wallpaper is a picture of the Satio tself, taken with my DSLR. The second and third are pictures taken with the Satio. I've tried all three in mine and they look brilliant on the 16M color screen. Hope you'll like them too! I'll upload more wallpapers as I photograph more things, so please keep checking back!
Lastly, you can use these wallpapers on other S60 V5 devices as well (as they all have the same resolution of 640 x 360), so if you have one of those handsets and like these wallpapers, feel free to use them. Hopefully, that'll make you realize how awesome the Satio is and make you sell the current phone and buy a Satio, haha.
P.S. You can redistribute these wallpapers as you wish, but please do credit them back to me if you do so.
Now this isn't exclusive to cameraphones alone, but of all the people who take photographs, I've seen camphone users make this mistake the most. What is this mistake you ask? Well, imagine you're visiting some new place. You see a neat building and decide to take a picture of it. No problem. Here's your cameraphone. You take it out, focus on the building and click away!
...and here's what you'll end up with:
Now here's how that picture SHOULD have been taken:
Notice anything different?
The key word here is Metering. In cellphones, You get center weighted metering, which means the camera gives more weightage to the object that is being focused at. When one focuses on the building (Which is ALWAYS darker than the sky), the camera pumps up exposure to bring out all the details on it. Unfortunately, this means that the sky would get blown out. Here's where you follow two golden rules of photography:
1) When in doubt, underexpose.
The first is self explanatory. Blown highlights can't be recovered in post no matter what. Underexposed parts on the other hand, can be. The second means that one should focus on one part of the image and then physically move the camera (Sideways, not in and out) to capture the frame you desire. In our case, this means that we focus on the white clouds (Which sets the metering correctly and also focus at infinity) and then recompose to frame the way you want.
Why did I type all this out? Because it is very easy to take bad pictures with a great camera(phone) like the Satio with incorrect technique and then blame it on the phone. Believe me, I've seen people blaming K750s, N82, Innov8s, C905s et al for bad pics when their metering habits are to blame. If you happen to be one of those people, sorry about the harsh words, but please improve your technique!
Anyway... Here are some more shots I took today. As usual, these are processed. Hope you'll like them!
Later today or tomorrow, I'll be posting a surprise for future Satio owners. Stay tuned!
Exploring the Beach/ snow mode.
The other day, I received a request to try the beach/ snow mode out. Now to the uninitiated, this is a mode that enhances the blues and whites in an image. What better way to try it out than on a beautiful day with clear blue skies and snow white clouds?
Here's what I managed to capture. Straight out of the camera:
You'll notice that as claimed, the blues and whites did turn out nicely. In comparison, here's the picture I clicked a few days ago with the "Normal" mode.
You'll notice that the sky was a bit purplish in this one and I corrected that in post. So yes, the beach/ snow mode works!
Now another thing that I wanted to bring to notice is the usefulness of those 12.1 megapixels. Sure, there are tonnes of people who scoff at this figure and say that it's just a marketing gimmick that has no value whatsoever in the real world. Screw them and take a look at this:
That's a 100% crop from the first image. This is an EXCEPTIONAL level of pixel-level detail that you're seeing there. So yes, megapixels do matter, if you know how to use them.
Ok, now here are some more shots that I clicked; this time post processed:
The first photo, edited:
Hope you'll like them!
Thank you note.
Here's something that I cooked up to show Rikard and Sony Ericsson my sincere appreciation of being chosen as a Test Pilot. Thank you and hope you'll like this:
I've totally given up on Picasa at this point. The site completely degrades any image that I upload. Jpeg artifacting and pixellation abound in any image that has strong gradients in it.
Someone asked for pictures of my Satio. Now if one was to look for "Normal" product shots of the Satio, there are tonnes of them available online. Go to GSMArena or something for such pictures. Instead, I chose to make some artsy shots of the Satio in acordance with my vision of photography. They aren't as perfect as I wanted to be, but I love them nonetheless. Hope you do too!
All images taken with a Nikon D70 and a Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro.
Check the Picasa page to see the horrible job it did on these same pics!
The WOW factor
There are people who prefer out-of-camera shots. And then there are those who edit each and every shot they take to their heart's content. I don't believe in the "Photographs should stay faithful to the real world" argument. A photographer is not a book keeper. He doesn't need to keep records of what everyone who walks down the street saw. As Thom Hogan
says, the photographerdecides the angle from which he sees the subject, he decides the type of exposure needed, he decides the crop and so on. In short, when you see a photograph, you're seeing the scene as he envisioned it. And that is the difference between a photograph and a snapshot.
Now with cameraphones, things get a bit more challenging as your ability to fine tune the settings are restricted. So post production makes a lot more sense with them. Witha sensor such as the Satio's that records quite a bit of per-pixel detail, the potential offered can only be realised in post. Take this shot for example:
It's a classic photography problem: High contrast. Even the sophisticated, multizone meters in DSLRs tend to get fooled in such situations, so the going gets very tough for a camera phone. The satio has metered it pretty decently, with even exposure that doesn't blow the highlights out (The clouds are still visible).
Now see what a little retouching can do:
Now isn't that way better?
Things get a lot more complicated in low light, high contrast situations. The ISO gets bumped up to the max as the meter goes haywire trying to figure out an opttimum exposure that's not too slow for handheld photography. Now add some reflective surfaces to the equation:
The depth of field is understandably quite narrow as we're in macro mode. Again, we see an evenly exposed shot that doesn't blow out the highlights. This is a good thing as we can enhance the detailing in post. Like we see here:
See how much more powerful the shot is now? Now some of you may say that there is visible noise now. Yes, and it's because of two things (We'll get to the second one shortly). The ISO value is bumped up to 500, which contributes to the uniform noise. The way to counter this is simple. Convert the image to monochrome. What you have now resembles film-grain, which old school photographers love. If you see my portfolio, I actually ADD noise to my DSLR images in post. Noise adds characters, so don't be afraid of it and learn to use it to your advantage.
Now the lines and blotches you see on both images are commonly known as JPEG artifacting and is added by Picasa. For some inexplicable reason, Picasa severly degrades image quality as we upload photos to it. Flickr has this problem too, but not to this extent! It'd be great if the google boffins can sort this out.
So my advise to potential Satio buyers is, don't be afraid to experiment. The image that comes out of your Satio has so much potential and you can unlock it all with only a few clicks! Download GiMP or Picasa and start experimenting! There is no "Right" way to add the "WOW factor" to your images. It's subjective and it's all about how you see it in your mind.
As for the other features of the Satio, I installed Opera Mini 5 Beta today. here's the lowdown:
- Browsing is noticeably faster thanks to Opera's "Turbo" thingy.
- The one-finger pan works way more smoothly than the S60 browser. It also only needs a feather touch. The S60 browser somehow needs a wee bit more effort than in the main menus (Not a ful-blown push, just a slight bit more effort). I still have no idea why.
- The UI is uber-cool
- No display of data used while the page loads likein the S60 browser
- Images somehow don't look as good as they do on the S60 browser (which renders them perfectly). Also, animated GIFs don't seem to play. I'll look into the settings once more later today to see if there's something that can be turned off or on to fix this.
- Some pages don't get rendered correctly. For example, in my Flickr page, the buttons for various options are somehow rendered UNDER the image! The S60 browser again gets this right. I'll update this post later with screenshots.
The on-screen keyboard looks great, but is not as big as the S60 keyboard that covers the entire screen.
Since this is a beta, things would probably get better down the line.
Do feel free to ask me any questions that come to your mind!
Satio's day out
Saturday started out to be great, but by the time I went out for some shots, the sky was dismally overcast. Hence the night shots. I did manage to overwhelm the bejeezuz out of a cellphone shop employee who had the Satio in his hands while he was trying to find a protective casing for it. I think the 12.1 MP decal did it, haha.
Sunday thankfully was a lot better with a beautiful sky. The Satio had no problems metering the shots. Here are some samples:
While we are on the subject of metering, I was initially disappointed that the Satio didn't have a spot meter option like older SE Cybershots (Like my K770i), but then I realized that the Macro mode meters with a Spot meter and can be used for landscaping as well. How useful is this? Well. you could use it to expose the sky and silhouette the foreground. Like here for instance:
I did use the Macro mode as intended; this time in proper lighting. Here are the results:
As for functions other than the camera, the Satio's got me hooked. Productivity is the hallmark of this handset, thanks to the power of S60 and the intuity of SE's UI. Best of both world, really. Coming from a 100 based featurephones (I have used Smartphones, but not as my primary phone and not for an extended period of time), the Satio is a giant leap for me. I managed to get Exchange mail from work running on the Satio in 10 mins thanks to Roadsync (Kudos to SE for bundling it free with the Satio) and the S60 inbox took care of push Gmail (Although, the settings recommended by Google turned out to be incorrect and I had to scour some forums to get the correct port settings).
Anything more that I want to see on the Satio? A facebook widget that resides on the standby screen, definitely. The current facebook shortcut is a link to the website and operates on a pull basis.The Facebook widget offered by SE on the new A200 handsets is simply brilliant and I'd love to see it ported to the Satio. Hell, even Nokia's Facebook app is way nicer than the current webpage link. I'm currently using Fring for my Facebook updates (Which works brilliantly on the Satio, btw), but I really want the widget from A200. Please make it happen, SE!
Here's an indoor shot from the Satio to end the post. Next time, I'll show how the Satio fares against my Nikon D70S and a Sony Cybershot W180. Do check http://picasaweb.google.com/sandblaster2001/SonyEricssonSatioPictures#
for more pictures and of course, The launch blog
for the latest on the Satio.
Here's an indoor shot to finish off this blog entry:
Some of you know that Sony and Sony Ericsson are my favorite brands when it comes to consumer electronics. As for those who didn't; well... Now you know. Now Sony Ericsson is just about to launch a feature laden handset called the Satio. A launch blog for the same was set up with Mr. Rikard Skogberg, Business Manager - Product To Market at the helm. Rikard initiated a contest to select two people who can test the Satio out, give feedback and generate content from and involving it.
As luck would have it, yours truly was selected as one.
As of today morning, I am in posession of one of the earliest retail versions of the Satio. My mission? Explore the photographic capabilities of the handset more than anything else. The Satio packs in an astonishing 12.1 MP in its sensor. Naysayers may scoff at the megapixel figures, but the fact of the matter is, this phone IS a quantum leap when it comes to cameraphones. In fact, I dare say that it blurs the line between camphones and compact point & shoots.
Now why is that so?
Take a look at this for an answer:
That's a 500 ISO, handheld shot with no flash. A shutter speed of 1/8 seconds and the traces of blur are minimal. And the bokeh... Oh yes, there actually IS bokeh in a cellphone shot! Perfectly round, creamy bokeh from a cellphone. Imagine that!
The noise is well contained too. There are some JPEG artifacts which makes me crave for a RAW output option. With today's high capacity card, there is every reason to provide a RAW/DNG option for output so that the user can extract the maximum possible quality from his shots. Let's hope that SE would do something on those lines and set the tone for the industry. :)In the following days, I will subject the Satio to further photographic tests. Do check back for updates!As for the other features, let's start with the screen. This is quite possibly the best resistive touchscreen out there right now. No, seriously. I took the Satio to a Samsung showroom and compared it side by side with a Jet. There was a significant difference in the feel. The Jet needed noticeable pressure on the screen to register a press while the Satio's screen worked with a slight dab. Yes, slight touches that would register as a click on a capacitive screen won't do the job on the Satio, but this is as good as it gets on a resistive. Period.It's quite clear that even though the Satio is an all rounder, more emphasis is being placed on the imaging side. This is why the standard pair of earphones offered looks quite unexceptional. I say looks because they sound surprisingly good for a pair of standard headphones!Initially, I scoffed at them as they weren't in-ears (Rikard did say that the bundled earphones vary from market to market and some areas get the HPM-77s as standard), but I decided to give them a spin nonetheless. And boy, was I in for a shock! I played a song called "Aimo" from a Japanese anime called "Macross Frontier" on the phone. This song was chosen as it's extremely melodic with an emphasis on treble and beautiful vocals. A very good song to test out the clarity of any audio device. The Satio's output was crystal clear. The instruments and vocals were well defined with no muddiness whatsoever. And the experience only got better when I tried the same song with my Bose Triport around-ears. The phone is definitely pumping out some serious power as it drove the Bose's drivers with ease. In comparison, my friend's Nokia 5530; which sounds really great with Nokia's supplied in-ears was a mess with the Bose connected. There was stereo crosstalk everywhere.I really do wish that SE had added a 3.5mm jack to the Satio, though. I can guarantee you that if that was the case, my Sansa Fuze (Which is universally regarded as a brilliant sounding player) would stay in the comfort of my cupboard for a long long time! Yes, the Satio has seriously good sound quality and if you don't believe me, please do test it out yourselves once the phone comes out officially.I'll do more audio tests with blues, jazz, rock and metal tracks to see how the Satio's audio capabilities hold up.Before we sum the audio up, I should add that the standard audio player does not feature equalizers. At least, none that I could find! This is not a problem for me as I am a purist who prefers to listen to songs as they were recorded. Once you start using premium headphones, this is the only way you want to listen to music, trust me. That said, a lot of people do seem to want equalizers and they would be better served with a third party audio software. There are tonnes of them available, so I don't think it's a serious issue.I did some browser tests too and the results were on par with other webkit based browsers. The pages rendered perfectly and the loading times were quite fast on both 3.5G and WiFi. There is no full flash support in browser (Only Flash Lite), so people who want the same would have to wait a wee bit for the touch version of Skyfire. I'll install Opera mini 5 soon and post my observations soon!All in all, the handset has given me tonnes of things to smile about and only a few niggles. The Satio does everything that it's supposed to do really well and has a brilliant camera that's second to none and I can see it doing very well in the market. Do check back as I explore the other features that the handset offers. If you have any queries about the Satio, please post them at The Satio launch blog
. There are a lot of helpful people there who'd answer them in no time!