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Five years ago I bought the Canon PowerShot S2 IS and loved the pictures it took. All pictures were very sharp and overall I was very happy with the camera. Last year I "upgraded" to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 but overall I have been disappointed with the pictures (they always appear grainy as if I am using a high ISO). I have tried many different settings on the Panasonic DMC-ZS3 but I have not been able to take pictures with the same quality as the 5-year old Canon PowerShot S2 IS.

What feature or specification is missing on the Panasonic DMC-ZS3 that I had on the Canon PowerShot S2 that gave the much better pictures (and that I want when I purchase my next camera)?

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Could you post examples of the pictures taken with either camera? –  sastanin Nov 24 '10 at 15:22

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

If you care about noise and performance at high ISO, than what you care about is sensor size. Or better the ratio between the sensor size and the resolution (mm²/MP). Additional megapixels can be harmful here.

The bigger the sensor, the larger is the area corresponding to one pixel, the more light it can get (assuming the same level of technology used), the better signal-to-noise ratio. Speaking about quality, there is less need to remove noise (in-camera or in post-processing), and thus more details are preserved.

Most digital SLRs have a sensor of approximately APS-C size, 25.1 × 16.7 mm. Cameras of the Four Thirds system have a slightly smaller sensor (18×13.5 mm), and "full-frame" cameras have a slightly bigger sensor (36×24 mm).

Compact cameras' sensors are an order of magnitude smaller (typically 7.7×4.6 mm). The difference is usually is related to different in-camera processing approaches used in different camera models. Some may do more noise reduction and produce a smoother image with fewer details, and the others may decide to do less noise reduction but preserve the details. Megapixel inflation is particularly harmful on compact cameras.

The downside of the bigger sensor is, apart from the price, that it requires bigger and more expensive lens. So the camera itself tends to be bigger and heavier. You can get the best of the two worlds (the big sensor and the small camera size) if you choose one of the new mirrorless cameras. Sigma DP series, Olympus E-P series (Pen), Panasonic G series, Sony NEX, Samsung NX are some of such cameras.

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I am not concerned about shooting photos at a high ISO. I pretty much leave it on auto for the DMC-ZS3 (which usually is ISO-200). But even manually setting the ISO to 100 on the DMC-ZS3 did not help. –  Jeff Widmer Nov 24 '10 at 15:10
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According to the specifications from dpreview the DMC-ZS3 sensor is 0.28 cm² and the Canon S2 is 0.24 cm². So sensor size cannot explain the problem... but now I know that sensor size is an important feature! –  Jeff Widmer Nov 24 '10 at 15:13
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Regarding my previous comment about sensor size: Could the problem be that the DMC-ZS3 sensor is pretty much the same size as the Canon S2 yet it is trying to take a picture that is twice as big? –  Jeff Widmer Nov 24 '10 at 15:15
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Both are compact cameras, with approximately the same sensor size. But the newer camera has more megapixels, so it has a smaller pixel size. So there is less light per pixel, so it has to amplify the amplify the signal more, and thus it has to either do more aggressive noise reduction (=> details are lost) or produce a more grainy image. Did you try to compare them at the same resolution (2560 x 1920) or do you compare 5MP shot to 10MP shot looking at 1:1 scale at both? –  sastanin Nov 24 '10 at 15:27
    
Advanced compacts like the Panasonic LX5, Canon G12 or Nikon P7000 have a larger sensor size in a compact body. Another way to go could be micro 4/3 cameras (Olympus PEN, Panasonic GF2) –  t3mujin Nov 25 '10 at 11:10

I think feature is actually lower resolution.

I'm guessing that you're looking at the pictures "full size", at 100% pixel-for-pixel view. The newer camera has just about twice as many pixels as the old one, and while these new pixels do have extra detail, except in very good circumstances they won't actually have twice the detail. In order to compare fairly, make prints that are the same size, or scale the DMC-ZS3 pictures down to 2592*×1944 (using 'bicubic sharpner' in photoshop, or the equivalent).

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mattdm and jetxee are right. Equivalent-sized prints (or crop, on screen) are the only meaningful comparison. A 100% view is completely misleading. Both cameras have OK lenses and tiny sensors, meaning the images will be similar, though the Panasonic's will have the edge just because it's newer technology.

At the end of the day the only way to get much better images is a bigger sensor, with a lens that can keep up with it! Something like the Panasonic LX3/LX5 is a step up from what you have, then the mirrorless 4/3 cams like the Panasonic GF1, Olympus EP-1 etc are next on the ladder, followed by DSLRs. With any interchangeable lens camera, be sure to budget for a couple of decent lenses or you won't get the best out of it.

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