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Generally speaking, photo quality from sub-$200 digital cameras drops off above ISO 200, so it's not a surprise that it happens with the M381. What's odd is just how much it drops off at ISO 400. Noise reduction hits hard, dramatically softening fine detail and shifting colors that were otherwise very good at ISO 200. Of course, this means things get worse as you go up in sensitivity to ISO 800 and ISO 1600.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET
To further illustrate my point, on the left is a 100-percent crop of a statue at ISO 64. The colors are accurate and texture and detail are very good. On the right is the statue at ISO 400 with colors that have shifted to sort of a gray-green with softened detail and visible noise/artifacts.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
For not having a wide-angle lens, the M381 has quite a bit of barrel distortion (top). With the lens fully extended (bottom) there is only a little pincushion distortion. Also worth noting is that the camera's Perfect Touch system, while overall very reliable, will occasionally overcorrect, washing out photos. Thankfully, this shows on the display so you can always opt to take a shot in Program mode and apply the Perfect Touch adjustments in Playback.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
This is an example of just how well the Perfect Touch system works. On the left is the original photo taken in Program mode. The shot on the right is with the Perfect Touch system applied in Playback.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
Colors are generally very good from the M381 at ISO 200 and below. They're, for the most part, accurate, though blues and violets look pumped up a bit. The auto white balance is good, but a little warm under fluorescent light (the pins in the upper right corner).
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
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