Though we’ve made great strides in the past few months, it’s hard to know exactly how the L16 stacks up against other cameras without seeing it for ourselves. So, we asked a couple members of our image quality team to put the Light L16 to the test.
Our goal was simple: to see how the Light L16 compared to some of the top DSLR and mirrorless camera competitors out there. The Canon 5D Mark IV was an obvious choice for a test camera. We paired it with a 24-105mm base lens to roughly match the focal lengths on the L16. Our other test camera was the Fuji XT2, which we combined with a couple of prime lenses that were comparable to the L16’s key focal lengths. As our testing evolves in the coming months, we’ll contrast the L16 with a broader range of the latest leading cameras.
How we tested
For this initial comparison, we wanted an out-of-the-box experience, so we left the cameras in auto mode for all tests except low-light. Over the course of two days, our photographers shot a variety of different settings to test key camera features, like dynamic range, low-light, color accuracy and detail, as well as tonal range. We used a tripod to standardize our results and captured each image within a few minutes of the others. Our photographers didn’t do much in post-processing, besides assigning a fixed white-balance and correcting auto exposure.*
Here, we wanted to see how each camera would hold up in shadows: Would we notice noise or splotchy color patterns in the shaded regions? How would each camera expose the scene for such complicated lighting? The Canon exposed the scene for the shadows and miscalculated the white-balance, interpreting the scene as warmer and brighter than it actually was. We also noticed some chromatic aberration, or fringing, in some of the leaves. The Light L16 demonstrated the finest tonal range, retaining shadow and highlight details and no exposure clipping. We did, however, notice some fringing and color noise in the tree; this will improve as we continue to tune our algorithms for chromatic aberration. The Fuji prioritized a much higher shutter speed, creating a much noisier image with greater contrast. It did, however, have the best edge-to-edge sharpness.
We started with a simple, close-up portrait in soft, outdoor lighting. The Canon overexposed the image, but demonstrated great detail and the most accurate, natural-looking skin tone. The Fuji captured a much darker image that had less tonal range. Even at roughly the same aperture as the L16, the Fuji’s focus fell off—notice how her eyes do not have even sharpness. To our image quality team, the Light L16 photo had the most highlight and shadow latitude—not to mention that nice bokeh blur (a nod to our proprietary depth capabilities). What the photographer found most impressive, however, was the fact that the L16 seemed to have a medium-format perspective—an effect you usually only get with a longer lens.
High Dynamic Range
In this photo, our team put each camera’s dynamic range to the test. A dark foreground can play tricks on a camera’s auto exposure and white balance, so we wanted to see how the L16 would do with complicated metering scenarios such as this. The results showed consistent, edge-to-edge detail and sharpness, though the L16 had a little trouble rendering the super-fine details in the shadows. This is likely the result of a computational error, which we’ll fix as we continue to tune our algorithms. The Canon demonstrated decent sharpness and detail in the center, but grew soft towards the edges of the photo. The Fuji exhibited the most impressive fine detail of the three cameras, but also the most edge distortion. Fuji's unique color handling made itself apparent here as well.
Scenes with Low Dynamic Range
Our photographers shot this scene at dusk to test a low-dynamic-range scene with fine shadow detail. The Canon defaulted to the highest ISO of the cameras, exposing a brighter scene than you see in the other photos. As you can see in the lower left brick building, the Canon sacrifices some finer details in favor of suppressing color noise. The L16 demonstrated excellent fine detail—you can clearly see the people at the end of the pier—and showed the most latitude in the highlights and shadows. Though you can read some of the street signs on the Fuji photo, it exhibited the least tonal latitude, leaving less information to work with in post-processing.
This shot was a good test of each camera’s daylight white-balance accuracy and dynamic range. Our photographers specifically put plants in the foreground of the photo to fool the camera’s meter; oftentimes, cameras will introduce a magenta tint to compensate for the green foliage. As you can see in the photo on the left, the Canon fell for the trick (but didn’t fail the test), introducing a slight magenta cast. All cameras achieved accurate exposure and had pretty even histograms. Though the Fuji showed the least amount of fine detail, it also had some of the most accurate coloring. The L16 once again displayed excellent fine detail, whereas the Canon and Fuji cameras both demonstrated some chromatic aberration.
The final test for the three cameras was one of color and detail in dim lighting—and each one did surprisingly well. We wanted a longer shutter speed to blur the surface of the water and capture the glow in the sky. We chose a 1/2 second shutter speed for all cameras, which meant switching the L16 to manual mode. We let the other cameras determine their ISO and white balance, making sure they were equivalent exposures. The Canon clipped the highlights on the building, and therefore didn’t render detail in those areas. The Fuji demonstrated remarkable shadow detail without noise, but we noticed some distortion at the edges, as well as some chromatic aberration. The L16 photo was slightly brighter and had better tonal range than the other two images as it managed to retain the highlights. Like the other cameras, it struggled with color accuracy in the low lighting.
The Bottom Line
Like any form of art, photography is inherently subjective. It’s all about the choices and tradeoffs a photographer makes—and different cameras take distinct approaches to each kind of scene. When we compare photos like these, we aren’t positioning one camera as better than another; we’re simply showcasing how each camera performs in different scenarios. And unless you know where to look (like members of our image quality team), you may not even be able to see much difference. Part of being a photographer is knowing how your camera will behave in different situations—and knowing how to manipulate that behavior to achieve the look you want.
This initial test was a good gauge of where the Light L16 technology is at and where we need to focus our efforts in the coming months. We’ll continue to test the Light L16 and compare its performance with that of other popular cameras on the market.
*All images were shot from Raw files by Camden Ramsay and Sean Custer. For reference, Light L16 photos have a different aspect ratio (4:3) than images shot by Canon and Fuji cameras (3:2). For the purposes of this blog post, we cropped the L16 photos to match the 3:2 aspect ratio.