In the last part we had a look at the low ISO b&w pictures from the 3 GRDs and as with the low ISO color comparison there was not that much difference between them.
Now it's time to see how they compare at ISO 400, 800 and 1600. This should be more interesting and also more revealing since it will be more obvious how much luminance noise the cameras have.
Part 6 – Image Comparison GRDs – Part 4 (b&w: ISO 400, 800 and 1600)
As before, all cameras have been set to A-mode, EV -0.3, ISO 400, 800 and 1600 respectively, b&w image parameters with NR off (GRD II and III) and Contrast +2 and Sharpening at +1. The JPGs are unprocessed and the RAW files were batch processed with RAW Therapee 2.4 using the default profile and then just changed to b&w using the Faststone grayscale option. This test will be based more on the JPGs though.
The pictures have all been taken without a tripod.
Let's start with the first JPG taken at ISO 400.
Looking at the face it is easy to see why the GRD I has been praised for it's excellent b&w mode and great JPGs. While there is noise it is quite nice and not distracting while both the GRD II and GRD III show signs of NR and the image appears blotchy.
Let's move on to the RAW file.
All cameras look cleaner now but I feel that the GRD I JPG looked again better than the RAW file. Both the GRD II and GRD III are clearly improved now and especially the GRD III shows a very clean image.
Now it's time to move on to the next picture and see how another ISO 400 image compares, first in JPG.
As before at ISO 200 we can see the loss of details due to the NR smearing of the GRD II but also the GRD III is using more NR now than it did at ISO 200. Again, I prefer the noise in the GRD I image and also the contrast is better.
The RAW file should offer no surprises judging from he previous images.
And indeed it is not a big surprise to see that all cameras are a bit cleaner now but it is also clear that the other GRDs dont have any real advantage over the GRD I when it comes to noise or details at ISO 400 and RAW. The GRD III can get ahead by a small margin and shows less noise but not more details. All files could benefit from some sharpening but this is just the default RAW Therapee profile.
Let's see now how this picture looks at ISO 800 in JPG and see if the NR gets even more aggressive.
Ok, this image shows clearly how much you lose in the GRD II and GRD III due to the NR being applied, the GRD I has quite a lot of noise but you can still read 'CANS' and 'WATER' whereas on the GRD II and GRD III this is just a smear. I have to say I rather have the noise, which does not look to bad either, than lose details. The result from the GRD II and GRD III in JPG is very disappointing considering that both cameras have newer sensors and more MP, yet none can match the GRD I for details at ISO 800.
No it's time to see if the GRD II and GRD III can at least make it up when using RAW.
And indeed they can perform fine when used in RAW mode, this will get back the lost details. Yet the most surprising thing is how close the GRD I is when it comes to both visible noise and the details captured.
Moving on to the last picture at ISO 1600 in JPG.
Looking at this I don't think I need to lose any words about the GRD II output, it's simply unusable. The GRD I shows quite a lot of noise now and loses some details but easily outclasses the GRD II. The GRD III delivers a much cleaner image and while it shows signs of NR, it still captured a lot of details.
Let's move on to the last picture of this comparison and see how this picture looks when using RAW on the GRD II and GRD III, the GRD I does not have RAW at this ISO so it should be at a disadvantage.
I don't know what to say and will need to have Ricoh look at my GRD II, the performance is extremely poor and frankly unusable. The GRD I holds it's own very well even when comparing the JPG with the RAW files from the GRD II and GRD III. The GRD III has the best quality here and with some sharpening and some extra work when converting the RAW it should beat the GRD I. Another positive side effect for the GRD III is that if the picture is slightly overexposed you can't see the banding.
The high ISO b&w test is my favorite as I like shooting in b&w and this a lot of times in low light so the performance of the cameras at this is important. Looking at the results it is clear that the GRD II underperforms and is unusable at ISO 1600 in both RAW and JPG. As for the GRD III, it does a very good job but only if used in RAW mode and then it really shines.
Now, were I to choose a camera for b&w high ISO photography it would always end up being the GRD I because it performs extremely well and it does this using JPG so no further processing is required. Still, the GRD III with it's faster lens will be a better choice for most people but you need to be aware of the banding issue and work around it.
As usual you can download all the files used in this comparison here.
The next part will be a brief comparison with the Epson RD1s, this is more out of curiosity and I don't expect the small sensor GRDs to outperform the APS sensor in the RD1s.
Continue to part 7...