October 28, 2009

Lumolabs: Pentax K-7 sensor quality

I have previously reported about the image quality from the Pentax K-7.

The corresponding blog articles are here:

Here, I will set a level playing ground for future comparisons of the image quality obtained from various cameras.

In my lumolab testings, I will not report about ergonomics or lack of features etc. The internet is full of this easily obtained information and I will refrain from duplicating it here.

Test chart results:

The photo at the top of the article is an ISO test shot taken at ISO 1600 and color temperature 2900°K. It is a linearly converted RAW file (cf. "further reading" at the end of the article). Go to the gallery (click the image) to have a look at all test shots, available at original full size.

ISO resolution test chart using FA 31 Ltd. at f/4.5. The inner part is 4x. The Nyquist limit is at "7.8" in the inner part. Watch the original at 100% size.

The K-7 resolves down to the Nyquist limit with very little color moiré and false demosaicing. The anti alias filter is rather weak as it allows for moiré down to twice the Nyquist limit. Color moiré is under control though.

Zone plate test chart using FA 31 Ltd. at f/4.5. The big circles have a resolution limit of 1280 LW/PH. The smaller ones are 2x and 4x. The 4x circles at above ~4000 LW/PH have uncolored printing moiré. The Nyquist limit is at 3104 LW/PH which is about 61% into the smallest circle. Watch the original at 100% size.

The transition at the Nyquist limit is rather smooth (the printing moiré being stronger than the sensor moiré) with almost no color moiré.

Numerical lab result:

The numerical evaluation of all noise charts (the full SNR plot) is as follows:

Signal to noise ratio (SNR) for the Pentax K-7. Full measurement for various luminosities and ISO settings at color temperature 2900°K. Measurement similiar to The dotted lines indicate the slope for pure photon shot noise.

It is possible to derive both dynamic range and noise from the graph. If extrapolating the 0db point for ISO 100 at luminosity 0.07%, then the resulting dynamic range is 10.5 EV (print-normalized to 10.9 EV). E.g., DxO tests the print-normalized dynamic range of the K20D to be 11.05 EV which is about the same. The flattening at 30% gray and brighter is believed to be due to systematic measurement errors like imperfect gray patches.

The theoretical photon noise separation between neighboring ISO lines is 3dB. There are two effects which can be observed:

- The SNR drops faster than required by photon shot noise at gray levels under about 1%. This reduces the dynamic range. Gordon B Good found that this is due to a rather large read-out noise caused by the variable gain amplifiers (VGA) integrated into the CMOS sensor chip.

- The ISO 3200 line is only 1 dB separated from the ISO 1600 line. DxO labs found that this is due to noise redauction applied to RAW data at ISO 3200 and higher. Without such noise reduction, the SNR would obviously be about 2 dB lower.

Overall, the gray level noise (the SNR at luminosity 18.00%) is very close to the competition while the black level noise (the SNR at luminosity 0.10%) is rather large. This is of concern if brightness needs to be pushed in post processing. Interestingly, the ISO 1600 curve provides a better black signal than ISO 100 pushed +4EV.


- Resolution: Full Nyquist 14.6 Mpixel resolution, weak moiré, very weak color moiré, nearly no demosaicing artifacts.

- Noise: Gray level 40.5 dB at ISO 100, 28.1 dB at ISO 1600, dynamic range (print-normalized) 10.9 EV.

The image quality is excellent at low ISO values and if shadows aren't pushed-processed, good at low ISO values otherwise and in line with the 2008 competition at high ISO values.

Further reading: Lumolabs testing methodology.

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