High ISO, noise, megapixels and etc.

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by dixeyk, Jan 2, 2013.

  1. dixeyk

    dixeyk Guest

    I think sometimes we obsess over things like high ISO, dynamic range, noise etc.

    I can fully appreciate that someone wants what they want but I have never found myself looking at properly exposed output from one of my cameras and thought that it was unacceptable. When images are a wreck nine times out of nine it's my fault. I mean there are limitations with certain cameras like my NEX 5n can squeeze out a bit larger print than my G2 or Fuji X10 but I find the IQ to be quite good on each camera I have. I even have prints hanging up that were done from my old 2MP Nikon Coolpix 800 over fifteen years ago that look great. The files from my NEX look very different than the ones from my G2 but that doesn't make the G2 files unacceptable...just different. When I use it I try and play to it's strengths not make it do things it doesn't do well. I don't expect my Honda Fit to out race like a BMW M3 but I can carry a ton of crap in the Fit and still get 35MPG.

    Currently I have been playing with a Fuji X10 and I am really pleased with how well it works. It can't touch the NEX in terms of high ISO and noise but a quick trip to LR does wonders for an image. What it lacks in raw image quality it makes up for in convenience, portability and flexibility. IMVHO photography is about capturing the image not a contest about who captured it best. You're freezing a moment in time and if you miss it it's gone. A few days ago I went out walking on a frosty morning and took some shots of things covered in the frost. The day was breaking and by the time I got back home the delicate little crystals that I found so interesting were gone because the temperature had rising a few degrees. I was using my X10 and if I couldn't have gone back out with my "better" camera because everything was gone. I managed to catch a few moments in time. Just because the images have more noise or the sensor doesn't do high ISO as well as the NEX is immaterial.

    I'm sure there are folks who need a particular feature either for a project they're doing or maybe as a requirement for the work they do (or they just want it) but I think it's hard to find a bad camera these days. In fact, I think you can go back 3-4 years and still have a tough time finding a truly bad camera. in fact some older models have some very appealing things about them. Newer can mean faster, better Auto WB, metering, more resolution but I'm not entirely sure that any of that necessarily equates to better.
  2. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    OK......here's my counterpoint.

    We will NEVER have enough IQ. Yes I routinely captured shots that made me happy 5 years ago when decent shots at ISO 800 were barely conceivable. But that doesn't mean that I don't want auto ISO6400 to be great. In a perfect world, I shouldn't have to think about ISO at all. Hopefully we'll get past that soon. When I look through a viewfinder I'd like to define my shot my a composition on the 2 dimensional plane of the frame and consider the 3 dimensional plane of focus. I am willing to consider aperture to control the DOF and the shutter speed to freeze the action (or blur it), but it's high effing time that I should no longer need to consider the sensor's sensitivity to light...I mean if I really cared about this stuff, I'd be shooting slides, right?

    So, no......don't lock me into yesterday's tech. I'm not even satisfied with today's tech. And if you think you are, good for you...... keep your camera for a couple years....and no cheating. Just use what you have. Just keep your hands off my dreams for a REAL dream camera. Because all the cameras we have are good enough......but I want better.
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  3. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    A few disjointed thoughts on this matter:

    1) We all know that there have been lots of amazing photos made with old and/or crappy gear, so clearly the newest tech is not needed to make a great photo.

    2) Old tech and/or smaller sensors can create a look that some of us find enjoyable in its own right. Sean Reid wrote an essay about this, called "On Small Sensor Cameras" (or something like that) on his (pay) site. For me a digital sensor pushed hard (whether it be a 2/3" sensor at ISO 1600 or a full frame sensor at 12,800) starts to look "lo-fi", which has it's own charms. Sort of like listening to rap music made with 12-bit sampling if you can relate to that. The word which comes to mind is "crunchy".

    When that look is desirable, a small and/or old sensor is the easiest way to get it. Or you can take a modern, larger sensor and crank the ISO up a ton :smile:.

    3) Sometimes the wonderful performance of a lens and/or sensor contributes to an image. Again - I'd make an analogy to music where there are pieces of music which call for high bitrate or lossless files and a quality system.

    It's interesting that Kevin uses the G2 and X10 as examples of lower file quality and/or older tech because there is a lot further "down" to go, even amongst modern cameras. The G2 sensor still considerably outperforms nearly all sub-1" sensors in most respects, and the X10 is near the pinnacle of smaller than 4/3" sensor performance, bested only by the RX100.

    I agree with what I think is the main point of the OP - that it's hard to find a bad camera from the past few years. At the same time, I think some of the new cameras truly distinguish themselves, whether it be the IBIS system on the E-M5 or the sheer image quality per unit volume of cameras like the DP2M and RX1. I'd throw the E-PM2 in that last category as well - I'm blown away by the files I get from this tiny, relatively inexpensive camera.
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  4. dixeyk

    dixeyk Guest

    There is nothing wrong with wanting better I wouldn't have three cameras (nor have bought and sold nearly twenty five cameras in the past two years) but a newer camera doesn't make the shots I made last year worthless. They exist independent of whatever gear created them.
  5. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. SC All-Pro

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    Let's make it a three part counterpoint. I love the X-10 too, and feel quite comfortable keeping it as my carry around camera, but I'm not going to get rid of my E-M5 and the nice kit of primes I have for it, and if I had the money I'd order an M-9 and two or three Leica primes tomorrow. But I don't want to stop thinking about iso. Tri-X has a different look than Pan-X had or than Ilford Pan-F still does have. I like the variety of looks from different films, often the result of iso speed, and I don't want my night shots -even my digital ones - to look like shots taken in bright sunshine. A certain grittiness caused by "noise" or -- from where I come from, "grain" -- is how I think about that kind of shooting. And if photography is about imaging with reflected light, the amount and intensity of that light is always going to matter, one way or another. I'm thrilled I can shoot at 3200 with my OM-D and get results I could never get with film. but I'm going to miss Kodak T-Max 3200, even if I did not use it that often. Pushing HP5 to 800 is usually all I need. By all means keep improving the technology, but let's face it, the fact that Cartier-Bresson did not have the latest electro-photographic gizmo doesn't diminish the force or beauty of his work. So, yes, IQ, if one means simply resolution and contrast -- ie sharpness -- and grainlessness or noiselessness, can be overrated.

    My ongoing film shooting commits me to yesterday's technology anyway. I even bought a Chromega B Dichroic enlarger today, because my big old 5x7 monster won't fit in the space I have to build a darkroom. And I'm not shooting anything bigger than a Hasselblad now anyway. All my 4x5 enlargers were Omegas, so I'm looking forward to this. Yesterday's tech?? Yes, but quite capable at what it does, which will aid me in doing what I want to do -- make silver prints of my Hasselblad and various 35mm camera negative. Silver is not better or worse, but it does have a different character -- one that I like. And how I love that Hasselblad and its Zeiss lenses, each one the weight of a brick, with GLASS. There was some awfully good photography being done in the 70's and 80's when they were made.

    So I agree in essence with Kevin. A good camera does not stop being good because technology improves. I just posted some pictures from an old 5MP Olympus 5050Z I still have. Now its operation is so painfully slow that I no longer use it except to take it down and keep it in operating condition, but the files from it produced very nice pictures, limited in resolution and tonal range compared to today's offerings, but quite nice in themselves. Kodachrome 25 didn't have great dynamic range either, but it was film for certain purposes.

    And my 1938 Leica IIIb with a 1952 Summicron on it gives good results. Put that Summicron on theE-M5, and it's just lovely.

    I'm happy with the cameras I have, and look forward (of course) to acquiring and using even more. Since getting the X-10 I've got my eye on an XE1. So I'm not immune to the lure of technological improvement -- or the fun of using the best toys -- but a great photograph does not necessarily need the greatest equipment of its time. Edward Weston shot with some pretty dated lenses on his 8x10, then contact printed the negatives using an overhead lightbulb for exposure, and (I've seen some of the prints) made some of the most beautiful photographic prints ever created.

    God I can go on!
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  6. dixeyk

    dixeyk Guest

    You're right, I am using a NEX, G2 and X10 so it's not like I'm using an old Coolpix 900 but I do have some prints that I made years ago using a Canon S10 that still look pretty good. You're also right in that the main point is that it is pretty difficult to find a truly bad camera these days. I think anything made in the past few tears is awfully good. I agree the E-PM1, E-PM2 are both great examples of this.
  7. dixeyk

    dixeyk Guest

    I am not trying to be a Luddite here...I also shoot a NEX with some very carefully collected Minolta MC Rokkors so it's not like I am shooting an old Kodak Instamatic 44. I like my NEX and appreciate it for what it is and there are times when it is exactly what I want for a number of reasons but I also realize that the images I can get from my old Panasonic ZS3 (a bit less modern than my other cameras) can be just as good because it's the camera I had with me and ultimately the image capture is more important to me than what I captured it with.

    That doesn't mean I won't end up with an XE1 or some other cool new camera at some point (FWIW I did just buy both the G2 and X19 before the end of the year) but I'll buy it because I want it not because it'll make my pictures any better.

    Also, you'll notice I said maybe WE obsess about this stuff. I include myself in that.
  8. RT Panther

    RT Panther SC All-Pro

    Dec 25, 2012
    If you disregard hi-ISO performance,
    Then the Foveon represents the ultimate in IQ.....:biggrin:
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  9. dixeyk

    dixeyk Guest

  10. RT Panther

    RT Panther SC All-Pro

    Dec 25, 2012
    • Like Like x 1
  11. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    For my everyday shooting needs, the biggest hurdle I have is shadow noise at low ISO. I guess this is related somewhat to high ISO as well, but anything above ISO 400 represents only about 10 percent of my photos. Even at 1/30 second exposure, I see noise in the shadows with my E-PL2. I know that the OMD has greatly improved shadow noise and dynamic range, but this technology isn't there yet even on the 1/1.7" compact cameras. I'm hoping we get there soon.
  12. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Over time you start to establish your own definition and minimum thresholds of image quality, and develop your own tastes in whether a particular camera's output looks good to you regardless of what the empirical measures of IQ tell you. If you could rank image quality purely on dynamic range, noise, etc it would make things very easy, but that is not the case. I think that it is okay if those thresholds change over time as technology changes, even if you have the proof hanging on your walls or on your hard drive/s that the abiity to produce high quality images is not a new phenomona.
    • Like Like x 1
  13. dixeyk

    dixeyk Guest

    Never mind.
  14. Gary

    Gary SC All-Pro

    Aug 19, 2012
    Southern California
    Gary Ayala
    Why do I feel compelled to respond here ... but don't really have anything to say?

    After a certain base-level of dynamic range, the more you add the less significant the additional dynamic range becomes.

    Noise is different, noise is a distraction. The more noise the greater the distraction ... soooo ... the greater the noise the greater the visual impact one's image must contain to overcome the distraction of said noise. (Which is why high noise and landscapes are generally unsuccessful.)

    I like noise because dealing with noise, man-handling noise, wrestling noise to a manageable and acceptable level requires skill and experience and sorta separates the men from the boys.

    ISO is such a nice means to control shutter, aperture and capture the image you previsualize.

    • Like Like x 1
  15. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    it's interesting to notice that the pursuit of more-better-sharper-whatever becomes an end in itself rather than a means to an end, just as the acquisition of the (often rather aesthetic in themselves) cameras easily becomes an end in itself. Note that I say "an" end, not "the" end. People can have multiple motivations.

    I've stopped being interested in "better" specs. When I found myself staring endlessly at 100% zooms of corners of my pictures in the quest for "sharpness" it suddenly seemed quite absurd. Only I and similar obsessives would ever judge my photos on that basis. If I printed them, no-one was ever going to go over them with a loupe as part of their aesthetic judgment of the picture. No one whose opinion mattered to me anyway ...

    I also see something rather curious (it may simply be my way of looking at the world) in that - as image capture devices are ever more sophisticated, and especially as people become more skilled at processing their (say) XPro1 or DpM images - the end results start to look quite peculiar to me: The images I am seeing apparently contain more detail and sharpness than my own vision can manage if I look at the same scene "live". They begin to appear cinematic, oddly frozen and abstracted. Perhaps a new way of seeing is emerging.
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  16. flash

    flash SC Veteran

    May 6, 2011
    These days I'm far more likely to add grain digitally for effect than to worry about it in an image. Nor am I personally interested in turning night into day. That's not to say I don't appreciate technological progress. If it weren't for the improvements in DR and ISO in the EM5 I wouldn't be using m4/3 today.

    But often the persuit of technological improvement is simply because of lazy technique. 5 axis IBIS is great, but I've practiced enough to be able to handhold my M9 and a 50mm lens at 1/15th of a second and get sharp images. So my "need" is for only 1600 ISO even in the dimmest environments with a 50mm f1.1. The issue becomes more about subject movement then. Of all the people who moan and moan about the CDAF abilities of m4/3, who actually uses it? And who uses best practices in technique like prefocusing and separating focus and shutter to improve their hit rate. Sure there are some, like Gary, who "need" better CDAF. But he's probably got pretty much flawless technique. So any improvement comes from the camera. But for the rest of us we could do well to stop paying camera manufacturers for a stop higher ISO and learn to hold a camera steady, really steady. Learn how to breathe, how to hold a camera properly, how to squeeze a shutter.

    Occasoinally there are times where a particular technology or function really does make a difference. But 90% of the time we could get the same result by learning to get the most out of the craft and to know our cameras better.

    gary has said on more than one occasion that it takes time to truely learn to be "one" with the camera you use and that it takes time to use a camera instinctively. We need to apply that to the craft as well. When we are close to perfecting the craft then an improvement in technology can make a real difference.

    90% of my failed images are a direct result of poor technique, poor preparation or too much cafiene. 90% of the time I blame those failures on the gear....

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  17. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I used one camera for a year (actually it turned out quite a bit longer in the end, one way and another) PAD project at mu-43, and I noticed myself getting happier with my photography over the period. Knowing exactly what you can (and can't) do with a particular camera is invaluable. I said in another thread that I couldn't understand how people who constantly change cameras could achieve consistency.

    And of course, in the last 18 months I seem to have acquired another dozen cameras (all film) and I'm less happy with my consistency with every day that passes ... If I had to earn my living from pictures (as opposed to being a happy snapper), I expect I'd be living in a cardboard box under a bridge

    There is definitely something to be said for Don's (Streetshooter) dictum about not letting a camera interrupt your vision ...
    • Like Like x 4
  18. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Whether I like it or not, I just can't escape the fact that for a given circumstance I can often see and appreciate the difference in output from one camera to the next. Sometimes the difference is just in the signature of one brand/camera/sensor/lens to the next, and sometimes it is because I feel that one camera just produces a better looking image or is better equipped to shoot in that environment. In the latter case, when a camera consistently comes out second best it quickly becomes a camera that I either won't use or have to force myself to use. Neither of those two options is a whole lot of fun.
  19. Gary

    Gary SC All-Pro

    Aug 19, 2012
    Southern California
    Gary Ayala
    Last year, with the introduction of the OM-D, I jumped into µ4/3. I have abandoned my FF system in exchange for µ4/3. I can see a difference between the two systems, I can feel a difference when shooting between the two systems. My FF system is superior to µ4/3, but typically, not significantly different. I am quite pleased with the final images I am getting from the OM-D. If I upgrade it will be to a µ4/3 camera which mechanically is superior not necessarily IQ-ly superior.
    • Like Like x 1
  20. BillN

    BillN SC Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 25, 2010
    S W France
    Just a slant from what I shoot these days

    90% of my images are big crops from the centre of the image

    I need all the pixels, (and light), that I can get

    Depends on what your subject is ........... photographic kit is now pushing all the boundaries, technically

    It is an exciting time to be an AP

    pixels are coming down in price ........... but quality glass is not ........ for sports and nature photographers equipment will always be expensive