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07-11-2009, 09:25 AM   #1
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the high iso/low noise conundrum

Given a few recent threads on high iso performance, I've gotten to wondering (always a dangerous thing) about high iso expectations. It seems that many want very high iso performance but also want it noise free. But is this really what you want?

As near as I can figure, a sensor is going to have a limit wrt resolution, pixel density, noise, etc. Physics is physics. And assuming that most of the APS-C cameras are using roughly similar sensors, it then comes down to what you do with the signal.

I know there is a lot to consider in the equation (other hardware circuits, etc), but at some point you have to come down to a choice - do you use math to get rid of noise at higher iso or do you just leave the data alone. I know my bias - I want the data without the math, because I can do the math later in pp. To me this is akin to jpg vs raw. Most everyone here shoots raw because they don't want to throw away data. Well, do you want the camera to be doing math to get rid of noise?

In the end there is no "right" answer. I actually like noise if it looks good but I'm not doing product shots and I try to avoid pixel peeping most of the time. If there is a trade-off between noise and detail, I'll take detail and make noise a choice that I make in pp. As far as I can tell, there is no free lunch and for any APS-C camera once you reach a certain "quality" level any lower noise is going to come from math trickery rather than some magically better sensor.

Or maybe I'm totally wrong. Wouldn't be the first time...two ex-wives would likely vote for that.

07-11-2009, 09:55 AM   #2
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Well, the simple fact is that some cameras render noise under high-ISO conditions better than others - better being (simply, crudely) less visible. Some DSLR's very visibly handle 3200 (full frame in particular) like others handle 800. Having just spent a while on pixel-peeper poring over 3200 shots from a wide range of DSLR's I can certainly attest to that.

I guess everyone just wants their shots to be as good as they can be under as wide a range of lighting conditions as possible.

People's expectations may be continually edging higher and higher in terms of having both high-ISO but low noise, perhaps unrealistically, but the march of technology - and the offerings of competitors - supports high expectations.

I think that is what Pentax is bumping up against here and elsewhere in relation to flagship cameras like the K7 and their high-ISO performance.
07-11-2009, 09:59 AM   #3
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There's definitely going to be noise at such high iso. I just want the photos to be useable at high iso. I'm definitely going to have more keepers photo wise with K-7 @800-1600ISO than with my K200D
07-11-2009, 10:33 AM   #4
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I don't think that noise must be constant with pixel density. I think we'll start seeing that change in the next couple iterations of sensors, say 2-5 years out. For example, there are labs working on making high-pixel-density non-bayer sensors (similar to the foveon). If someone fields a 4k (12-15MP) multiplane sensor in APS/C, it will make the bayer 22MP FFs look silly. However, I suspect that because of marketing, we'll see a multiplane sensor in FF first, as people won't pay as much for an APS/C as they do for a FF, even if the quality were better. Because it's not FF, you see. There are other technologies that look to improve improve our sensors across-the-board, too. They'll make it to cameras eventually.

I've often wondered why someone doesn't stitch together a raft of those tiny P&S sensors and make a sensor (APS/C or FF, I don't care) that's, say, 120mp. As light level dropped, you could gang pixels, and drop resolution from 120MP to 60, and then to 30, doubling and then quadrupling the "size" of the sensor as light levels dropped. Sure, your resultant image would shrink, but hey, a 30MP image at ISO3200? Or octupling the size of the sensel for 15MP at 6400 on FF, while still retaining the MIND BOGGLING 120MP in ISO 50-400... mmm. Can you say Wall Prints?

07-11-2009, 10:42 AM   #5
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I agree, people are expecting high ISO to be smooth and noise free. I think many people want the image to have the same look as ISO 100, but shot at ISO 3200.

Add to this the raft of people that now have a K-7 as their first DSLR. They are all out there, happily cranking out their own version of a "High ISO Test", but they are clueless as to how to get the camera to show its best. Generally, I think people expect the camera to do far too much for them.

Personally, I want to clean up the noise myself. I don't want the camera doing it for me.
07-11-2009, 12:57 PM   #6
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My take on it is, if the camera can produce the least noisy pictures WITHOUT smearing the details away (i.e. filtering), isn't that the ultimate win?

I think the issue is then the noise floor on the particular sensor/body. Personally, that is what I wish different about the current generation of Pentax cameras.
07-11-2009, 02:34 PM   #7
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Won't repeat myself on this issue - have expressed myself before...

But my observation:
We've quickly developed a Gen Y mentality wanting the world without any sacrifices - not just in high ISO noise reduction...
07-11-2009, 03:22 PM   #8
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You cannot have your cake and eat it to. Noise reduction removes bad data, but it also removes good data. Nikon and Canon have some excellent noise reduction in camera, but there is no doubt but that at the end of the day, there is also less detail in the photos taken at high iso, even for them.

I think people who have shot with film are more tolerant of a little noise, whereas those who grew up with digital want smooth, noise free photos.

07-12-2009, 06:58 AM   #9
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My K-7 defaulted to Bright mode with sharp setting set to FINE. I noticed at ISO 1600-3200, noise was a bit less with sharp set to Normal instead of FINE. I think it was same for K200D of mine but could be subjective for me.
07-12-2009, 07:02 AM   #10
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I'd like to see a poll of K-7 owners who regularly, or even more then 15% of the time shoot in ISO3200...hell, even anything above 1600.

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07-12-2009, 07:05 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Jasvox Quote
I'd like to see a poll of K-7 owners who regularly, or even more then 15% of the time shoot in ISO3200...hell, even anything above 1600.

Jason
Well with K200D i kept iso 400-800 and below as anything higher too much noise. Most of time <400 ISO. Now K-7 i'm happy with iso 800 and 1600 is useable. I mainly do alot of indoor/product like photography so I'm liking K-7 and most of time <400 ISO Don't think i'd ever need 3200 ISO. If i did, i'd break out my Sigma 530 Super flash
07-12-2009, 07:57 AM   #12
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I think that we are seeing a fundamental human trait in action: People feel most deprived when they see others who have more. In the case of the K-7, much of the hand wringing is not over the absolute noise level at high ISO (I think it is quite acceptable at ISO 1600), but over the fact that the Nikon D300 and the Canon 50D have less noise. Never mind that the Nikon and Canon's true ISOs are probably lower than the K-7s. It is the perception that someone else's camera is better that creates expectations for one's own camera that, if unfulfilled, leave one feeling deprived.

The feature set, build quality, compact size and improved speed of the K-7 combine to make it superior to its competition, but that fact is being lost in the frenzy over high ISO noise. This has become the litmus test by which cameras are now judged, at least in the online forums that are populated by obsessive gearheads.

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07-12-2009, 08:06 AM   #13
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I think there are 2 camps in the High ISO / low noise debate.

there are those who have shot film, and pushed it beyond the real limits, and then there are those who are Digital only shooters (allthough I am sure this is an oversimplified generalization) who don't understand how good they really have it.

Having shot film for years, and pushed B&W films especially to 3200 ISO on a routine basis, switching to digital was a real eye opener. My *istD far outperformed anything I could ever do on film at any comparable ISO. (OK the *istD was limited ot 200 ISO, so you could not draw a direct comparison to the great ISO 25 and ISO 50 films) but compared to ISO 100 films, th equality of the *istD was far superior (in my opinion)

I think too many people want it all. I feel sorry because it just won't happen.
07-12-2009, 08:11 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by robgo2 Quote
Never mind that the Nikon and Canon's true ISOs are probably lower than the K-7s.



High ISO Shots - PENTAX K-7 VS NIKON D300 [Page 2]: Pentax SLR Talk Forum: Digital Photography Review




QuoteQuote:
yana36 wrote:
Pentax has more HONEST ISO,
Canon and Nikon make marketing trick. They lie with real ISO.
Actually, this isn't the case at all.
DXO use a definition of ISO based on white point clipping which is useful for their purpose of comparing RAW sensor data. It tells you nothing whatsoever about how the camera meters and exposes, and it's not the one any of the camera manufacturers use.
The definition of ISO used by Japanese camera manufacturers (according to the CIPA standard they all have to adhere to) is based on the rendition of middle grey. This does tell you about the camera meters and exposes.
The discrepancy between the two tells you something about the number of stops between the sensor's white point and the camera's middle grey. The greater the discrepancy, the larger the highlight dynamic range (which is normally a good thing).





Andy Westlake
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07-12-2009, 08:16 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
I think there are 2 camps in the High ISO / low noise debate.

there are those who have shot film, and pushed it beyond the real limits, and then there are those who are Digital only shooters (allthough I am sure this is an oversimplified generalization) who don't understand how good they really have it.

Having shot film for years, and pushed B&W films especially to 3200 ISO on a routine basis, switching to digital was a real eye opener. My *istD far outperformed anything I could ever do on film at any comparable ISO. (OK the *istD was limited ot 200 ISO, so you could not draw a direct comparison to the great ISO 25 and ISO 50 films) but compared to ISO 100 films, th equality of the *istD was far superior (in my opinion)

I think too many people want it all. I feel sorry because it just won't happen.
I think it will happen, eventually, it will simply take a few years.

I haven't shot film, other than some futzing around with Polaroids and "instant cameras" in the 80's and 90's. Basically, my enthusiasm for photography is a very recent thing, but having used P&S's for a few years, I find the noise characteristics of DSLRs to be... remarkable. I get less noise and more detail from my K2000 @ ISO 800 than I did with my Canon A85 @ ISO 200.

BTW, has anyone ever noticed that on web sites such as Yahoo, CNN, etc there are plenty of photos with noticeable "noise"? It's not surprising, but maybe... disappointing... that so many people want the camera to do everything for them, including noise removal. It's like a person who buys all the ingredients for a fine meal, but doesn't actually want to cook it.
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