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10-16-2012, 06:41 PM   #1
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Noise Reduction/Sharpness

I'm not exactly a beginner, or a photoshop novice, but I'm getting somewhat frustrated when taking wildlife photos.
I see soo many great bird and other animal pics where you can see the distinct feathers or strands of hair taken at 1100 and 1600 iso with a K20, but for the life of me, I can't get that kind of resolution. At those ISOs I get choppy, blotchy, noisey, nasty mud basically.

What program, or photoshop plug-in are you using that cleans up the high ISO noise but doesn't destroy the integrity of the image.

I have Neat Image Pro as a plug-in and maybe I don't understand how to use it. It's not camera shake, becuase half my images I've actually used a tripod and I'm getting decent shutter speeds like 1/1000 sec. But I'm afraid to go over 200 iso. I've had this issue with multiple lenses like a DA 50-200, 55-300 and now my Sigma 50-500.

I just tried the sample picture searcher, and looking at some of those great pics with these same lenses just drove home the point- I'm doing something wrong.

Help?

10-16-2012, 07:14 PM   #2
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Getting these shots is always very difficult and requires great attention to detail. I by no means class myself in even the same league as some on the forums but here are a couple of my tips: (I shoot with the K-7)
The Do's:
  • Do use a tripod or monopod where possible
  • Do stop the lens down I aim for F8-f10
  • Do use a fast shutter (1/ (2xFocal Length)) Or faster for handheld 1/Focal length I find is fine one a Tripod upto about 400mm
  • Use lowest ISO you can afford to whilst meeting above criteria.
  • Do Shoot Raw
  • Do get close to reduce cropping.
  • Do Make sure you lens is not back/front Focusing
  • Do use good Noise software. LR4 is good for general stuff, or in really bad situations I use topaz Denoise plugin for Photoshop.
  • Do learn to use software properly, see books/youtube/forums etc.
  • Do Sharpen images where needed.
  • Get exposure spot-on (It will help limit the level of noise)
  • Practice Practice Practice.
The Do not's:
  • Shoot JPG
  • use Shake Reduction with a tripod
  • Shoot lens wide open (with your lenses anyway) some of the DA* lenses you might get away with it a bit more.
  • Shoot at full zoom (With 55-300) I have heard its better around 200-250mm and cropped... Mine arrives in a few days so I will check this for myself
  • Get to liberal with Noise reduction
  • Over sharpen
  • Expect to get perfect images without learning the full limitations of your lens and camera
10-16-2012, 07:15 PM   #3
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Make sure you're not front or back focusing...I thought my 170-500 was a dud until I did some correction. The longer the focal length(depending on distance), focus accuracy will be crucial with the small DOF.
10-16-2012, 08:58 PM   #4
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Absolutely agree with all of Chaos_Realm's comments. I have a 55-300 and it is much better once focus corrected. It does make a difference between not quite there and achieving satisfying images, even if the correction is fairly small. Long tele is a real art to master - I still have a long long way to go on the learning curve. Where a tripod is inconvenient, I use a monopod a lot and that really helps. Avoiding camera shake is vital. Put your lens on 300mm and put the camera onto magnified live view and see how much the image moves with tiny touches of the camera. This is what you are striving to eleminate by technique.

I agree the 55-300 starts to soften out at the 300mm limit but not all that much and overall it is a good lens for its price and compactness. I haven't directly compared shooting at 300mm vs cropping from 250mm where it is sharper - Chaos_Realm has made me curious about this point and I will do a comparison at some point. When you are down to looking at individual hairs and feather strands on distant subjects, you really are talking tele photo perfection and such skills take time to develop as well as good glass. As Chaos_Realm also commented, filling the frame with the chosen subject is important here - heavy crops on say a duck fiiling 1/4 of the frame or less won't bring the result you want. Been there, tried that, crashed and burned, and now need to work out how to get closer. If the subject is moving, tight framing is a challenge in itself and one I have a long way to go with.

One thing Chaos_Realm didn't mention was take lots and lots of shots during each session while frequently re-focussing and playing with exposures - the keeper rate is low so its a numbers game. I mention exposure as white fur/feathers are very easy to blow out and loose detail. Using lens hoods is important - it is easy to loose micro-contrast with light falling onto the front element.

10-17-2012, 12:28 AM   #5
hcc
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I think that chaos_realm gave you some excellent advice. Let me add a few tips.

I use a K-7 for wildlife and there are a few things that works:

- I use AF.C to AF faster

- I set the camera to Hi continuous shooting and I always shoot a sequence of 2-5 shots

- I try to keep the ISO below 800, sometimes setting ISO amnually to 200. (I suspect that it would the same with the K20 since the sensor is similar.)

- I use AF centered

Hope that the tips may help.
10-17-2012, 01:00 AM   #6
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One thing to consider with noise is that it sometimes depends more on the amount of light available than the ISO setting of your camera. I've shot birds at ISO 1000 with my K20D on a late spring evening in not-so-sunny Sweden, and the images were passable noise wise, but not detailed down to every feather. Could it be that the shots you've been looking at were taken at brighter locations, or maybe brighter aperture settings?

Otherwise, K-5 is of course the solution. I've always felt that the K20D was a little too high-res for its time, and that it shows in the noise quality and DR.
10-17-2012, 01:49 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by nomadkng Quote
I'm not exactly a beginner, or a photoshop novice, but I'm getting somewhat frustrated when taking wildlife photos.
I see soo many great bird and other animal pics where you can see the distinct feathers or strands of hair taken at 1100 and 1600 iso with a K20, but for the life of me, I can't get that kind of resolution. At those ISOs I get choppy, blotchy, noisey, nasty mud basically.

What program, or photoshop plug-in are you using that cleans up the high ISO noise but doesn't destroy the integrity of the image.

I have Neat Image Pro as a plug-in and maybe I don't understand how to use it. It's not camera shake, becuase half my images I've actually used a tripod and I'm getting decent shutter speeds like 1/1000 sec. But I'm afraid to go over 200 iso. I've had this issue with multiple lenses like a DA 50-200, 55-300 and now my Sigma 50-500.

I just tried the sample picture searcher, and looking at some of those great pics with these same lenses just drove home the point- I'm doing something wrong.

Help?
Can you show some images to illustrate the problems you are having? A resized image and a crop at 100% would be really useful.

You ought to get decent images at up to 1250 if you nail focus and exposure, and PP the image appropriately, with sharpening applied after you have resized to a web sized image. Images shot at ISO1250 look awful when you view them at 100%, but when resized for the web or printed at a reasonable size, will look fine.
10-17-2012, 02:36 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by nomadkng Quote
I have Neat Image Pro as a plug-in and maybe I don't understand how to use it.
Invest in going through the manual. I'm getting excellent results with NI pro as a standalone (both on Windows and on Linux) all the way up to ISO 6400. A couple of tips:

First big tip: set [Advanced Mode] in the [Tools] menu!

a) Either prepare your own noise profiles (they have a handy monitor target to do that) or use auto-profiling. Don't use the supplied profiles, I've found them to be very specific to the exact setup of the person who contributed them.
b) When you use auto-profiling, watch out for a warning that states the profiled area is too small - intervene manually in those cases or use the pre-supplied profiles but apply the [Auto fine-tune] setting.
c) Make sure you set the sharpening sliders to something that makes sense for your images - the standard settings on all profiles is too low. I usually set 60% on the Mid-slider and 40% on the Low slider in addition to the 100% on the High slider that seems to be standard.
d) On some images, experiment with removing the checkmark in the box under sharpening that says [Conservative].
e) On selected images, experiment with removing less noise. I get excellent results with the High/Med/Low sliders set to 80/60/40 percent. Removing too much noise does not improve an image.

I hope that helps!

10-21-2012, 05:04 PM   #9
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The bad news is that most of the super sharp bird photos you see are taken with Canon or Nikon. Part of that is that the big boys has better glass. The other advantage is FF cameras that can get lower noise at 6400 ISO than the K-20 can get at 1000. I know several serious bird photographers. They're using Canon 1D's or Nikon 4D's and 500-600mm f/4 lenses. That's $30-50,000 worth of gear.

The good news is that there are some things you can do. You'll need to get closer to the birds. Using a blind is a good step. Even with the expensive set-ups, serious bird photographers learn the techniques of getting closer to birds. The other thing that doesn't cost is patience. I've gone out with people who spend hours, waiting at possible locations, hidden in a blind or behind something, waiting for a bird to possibly get close enough to shoot. Basically, it's a skill. I've spent enough time with serious birders to realize that I am not patient enough or willing to spend enough to be a serious bird photographer.
10-21-2012, 05:41 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by nomadkng Quote
I'm not exactly a beginner, or a photoshop novice, but I'm getting somewhat frustrated when taking wildlife photos.
I see soo many great bird and other animal pics where you can see the distinct feathers or strands of hair taken at 1100 and 1600 iso with a K20, but for the life of me, I can't get that kind of resolution. At those ISOs I get choppy, blotchy, noisey, nasty mud basically.
I feel your pain.
And I can say from experience that a better low light camera would definitely help here. ie. the K-5 is twice the camera that the K20D is in low light(better high ISO performance, better low level NR in RAW).

QuoteQuote:
What program, or photoshop plug-in are you using that cleans up the high ISO noise but doesn't destroy the integrity of the image.

I have Neat Image Pro as a plug-in and maybe I don't understand how to use it.
Having test the most recent version, I'd say Neat Image Pro is fine for surface type work. Though if you want to keep as much detail as possible then there is only one noise reduction software that will rebuild edge detail. And that is Topaz Denoise.

Having said that... I'd also mention that there are other means and methods which I like to call "Advanced Noise Reduction" which can be used to get all you can out of noisy images. Though the results will only be as good as the tools used in getting there.

QuoteQuote:
It's not camera shake, becuase half my images I've actually used a tripod and I'm getting decent shutter speeds like 1/1000 sec. But I'm afraid to go over 200 iso. I've had this issue with multiple lenses like a DA 50-200, 55-300 and now my Sigma 50-500.

I just tried the sample picture searcher, and looking at some of those great pics with these same lenses just drove home the point- I'm doing something wrong.
Help?
I agree with you on the settings here. A tripod and 1/1000 shutter is plenty to get the job done. That being Here are a few more tips that may prove useful in your process:

1) Shoot in RAW
2) If doing high ISO(800-6400), then process your chroma NR in Adobe Camera RAW(or lightroom) and finish by processing the remaining noise in Photoshop.
3) Use the best NR software you can afford. Topaz Denoise is the undisputed king while any other software would definitely help as well.
4) Learn to post process for noise reduction. This usually involves multiple RAW samples and compositing. Though the results will speak for themselves.

Hope this helps.

PS. if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Last edited by JohnBee; 10-21-2012 at 05:47 PM.
10-21-2012, 07:24 PM   #11
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In addition to all the great tips that are mentioned already, try to use a powerful flash with a zoom head set to the telephoto position. It can make all the difference in the world. If you are shooting from a stationary position, you can use multiple flashes with remote triggers positioned properly to literally paint the scene from multiple angles and minimize shadows.
10-22-2012, 04:26 AM   #12
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In addition to all the other good advice something more to think about:

My standard bird setup is 600mm glass on a tripod with a fork mount.
I consider 30 feet distance the limit for quality shots of sparrow size birds and never go beyond 40 feet.

Shooting with a 300mm zoom at 50 feet hand held just won't cut it.

Good glass, long glass, tripod, get close....

And finally two more things - get close and get even closer if you can.


Taken with a 6mp DL, ISO 800, JPG, full frame (just to make the point that gear and shooting in RAW isn't everything even with demanding small bird shots)

Last edited by wildman; 11-08-2012 at 12:28 AM.
10-22-2012, 05:29 AM   #13
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Breathtaking image and excellent advice too!
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