top 4 cameras sensors overall
The Top 4 Digital Camera Sensors in Overall Image Quality – DxO Labs

How good is your digital camera sensor? How does it compare to other camera sensors in terms of color depth, dynamic range, and low-light high ISO quality? Is there a reliable source where you can find this information?

The good new is yes, there is a great, reliable source for this kind of information – DxO Labs.

So how reliable is DxO?  In an online article, Popular Photography magazine says: “And unlike much of what you see on the web, you can take this information seriously. It comes from France’s DxO Labs (, which supplies sophisticated testing software to the optical industry. In fact, DxO’s Analyzer is an integral part of Pop Photo’s testing suite, and we swear by it.”

The people at DxO Labs know camera sensor image quality inside and out.  Their Optics Pro software is highly respected. They could write the book on the RAW capabilities of digital camera sensors. Fortunately for us, they have posted information on the RAW image quality of 53 current and recent digital camera sensors in the image quality database at

Canon 50D and Canon 5D Mark II compared
Canon 50D and Canon 5D Mark II, Sensor Quality Compared – DxO Labs

What good is this information?  Suppose you bought a Canon 20D back in 2004 and you are wondering if the Canon Digital Rebel XSi would give you better image quality.  That very question was asked in a camera forum recently and most people who answered had no clue, so they just guessed that the more recent camera would have better image quality. They were wrong. The answer is at DxoMark where you can pick any two or three cameras and compare image quality. As you can see from the graphic that follows this paragraph, the Canon 20D, launched in August 2004, has slightly better image quality than the much more recent Canon Digital Rebel XSi (450D), launched in January 2008.

Canon 450D compared to the Canon 20D
Canon Rebel XSi/450D compared to the Canon 20D

DxOMark ranks all cameras in terms of color depth, dynamic range, low-light high ISO image quality, and overall image quality. The top 4 cameras in overall image quality are in the graphic at the top pf this post. The top 4 cameras in each separate category (as of December 18, 2008) are listed below. These ratings are based on the RAW image output quality of the digital sensors.

Top 4 Camera Sensors, Color Depth

Color Depth is especially important to studio and still-life photographers.

Color Depth top 4 cameras
Top 4 Camera Sensors, Color Depth

Top 4 Camera Sensors, Dynamic Range

Dynamic Range is especially important to landscape photographers.

top 4 camers, dynamic range
Top 4 Camera Sensors, Dynamic Range

Top 4 Camera Sensors, Low-Light, High ISO

Low-light, high ISO performance is especially important to photojournalists, sports photographers, and action photographers.

top 4 cameras, low light high ISO
Top 4 Camera Sensors, Low-Light, High ISO

Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera Sensors

The folks at DxO Labs included a few digital point-and-shoot cameras in their image quality database. As would be expected, due to the tiny sensors and much smaller pixel pitch (size of the photosites), even the best of today’s digital point-and-shoot cameras do not come close in image quality to the digital SLR camera sensors, even the DLSRs from several years ago.

The Canon PowerShot G9 and the Panasonic Lumix LX3 are two of the highest rated cameras released over the last year or so, but as you can see from the graphic that follows, the image quality numbers just don’t stack up against digital SLR sensors.

Cand G9 and Panasonic LX3

A lot more information is available at  Go have fun and do your own camera comparisons.