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  1. #1
    Senior Member Anbesol's Avatar
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    Much ado about image grain.

    What is everybody's obsession with high ISO grain, it is almost as if it were the top benchmark to measure how good a camera is. Whenever a new camera is announced, consumers flood message boards and blogs and comment sections with high ISO query, the hubub is all about the high ISO. What happened to color renditioning, dynamic range, aliasing, color temperature management, etc? And these factors play a role across the entire ISO spectrum anyway.

    I think all of us here can agree that ISO 100-400 is ideal when you can get it, and no matter how great a cameras high ISO ability is - light permitting 100-400 will always be the better option.

    This rant was sort of sparked by my witnessing another debate at another forum, where cameras were being compared and the benchmark was pixel peeping 3200 ISO image grain at 100% crop. How absurd is it that we can become such compulsive nit-pickers, and completely forget the hundreds of other aspects and benchmarks that cameras can be measured by?

    Am I alone in this frustration?

  2. #2
    May the force be with you Canuck935's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Hear hear!

    That's what makes this forum so special. This one is actually about photography.

  3. #3
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anbesol
    What is everybody's obsession with high ISO grain, it is almost as if it were the top benchmark to measure how good a camera is. Whenever a new camera is announced, consumers flood message boards and blogs and comment sections with high ISO query, the hubub is all about the high ISO. What happened to color renditioning, dynamic range, aliasing, color temperature management, etc? And these factors play a role across the entire ISO spectrum anyway.

    I think all of us here can agree that ISO 100-400 is ideal when you can get it, and no matter how great a cameras high ISO ability is - light permitting 100-400 will always be the better option.

    This rant was sort of sparked by my witnessing another debate at another forum, where cameras were being compared and the benchmark was pixel peeping 3200 ISO image grain at 100% crop. How absurd is it that we can become such compulsive nit-pickers, and completely forget the hundreds of other aspects and benchmarks that cameras can be measured by?

    Am I alone in this frustration?
    Nope you are not alone!

    The camera makers are greatly to blame based on their advertising and marketing decisions. Very good higher ISO images can be made and of course it is not as easy as just turning up the dial.

    Advertisements starting appearing that showed a certain brand of cameras results compared to another brand of cameras results, O.K. Nikon vs Canon and one was nice bright action photo and the other was a dark blurred image. It wasn't really a fair comparison and the dark blurred image disappeared, but enough people had seen it.

    Of course that the images were taken by professional sports photographers under very specific conditions, so on and so forth, wasn't the message. It was, High ISO saves the day.

    Seems as if people want to shoot in the dark and get daylight quality for one issue. The second is attempting to use second rate glass and technique with no flash or other added light source to get what is at best, in some cases, a snapshot.

    That having been said the current group of high ISO performers does about as well at 1600 ISO as the first go around of digital cameras with variable ISO did much above 200 or so if not properly exposed. Also the achievement is often at other image expense due to the in camera processing, i.e. Sony by their own admission.

    With a little bit of work, a very fine image can be made at high ISO settings. If not post processed, yes it may display some noise. The problem may be that people have too many tools at their disposal that are not being used as engineered or intended to get the result they want or think they should get.

    I'm amazed on the other hand at how much difference their is between higher ISO performance in even entry level DSLR's today in late 2009 and the first professional DSLR's. Of course today's cameras benefit from much better in camera processing, newer sensors, and more experienced users.

    High ISO is the Holy Grail of the moment. Give everybody six months and there will be a new fixation.
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  4. #4
    Senior Member OldClicker's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    A little while ago I asked, "Is high ISO the new MegaPixel race?". Things that are easy to show are easy to market. - TF
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  5. #5
    Captain of the Ship Photo-John's Avatar
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    Good Discussion Subject

    Great subject, Anbesol. And I believe I can provide an opposing point of view

    My main subject is sports - you know that. Mountain biking, in particular. And a lot of that action happens in very low light. No matter what the limitations of my gear, I'm always pushing it as much as possible. At one point that meant ISO 200 or maybe 400, if I really wanted to get crazy. But there were photos that I just couldn't make with those ISO limits. I was forced to pan or use flash. And sometimes I don't want to pan or use flash. Sometimes I want a sweet shot of a rider frozen in the natural light. As an example I'm including a photo I shot this weekend at ISO 1600. This photo would not have been possible for me a couple of years ago. I would have been forced to use flash or let the rider blur and it just wouldn't have been the same.



    Another thing to take into consideration is the professional image market. Personally, I may not be that concerned with noise in many images. But photo buyers are. A lot of the time I think their expectations are silly, unrealistic and based on outmoded standards (drum scanned medium format film, for example). But that doesn't change what magazines, ad agencies and stock houses want. I think they may actually be the biggest dupes in the megapixel and noise marketing competition. I swear, magazine photo editors and stock houses are the first ones to buy into new camera hype. But if you want their money, you have to play their game.

    To summarize - I am happy to have less noise at high ISO settings. It means I can make photos I wasn't able to a few years ago. I'm not a pixel peeper (except by profession). But lower noise really does make a big difference for me. On the other hand, I don't think noise is evil. It doesn't necessarily ruin a photo. A lot of people get caught up in the tech and lose sight of the image. Content is what matters. I think a lot of the people who do the most pixel peeping are the same people who buy a sports car and only commute in it. They are missing the point and probably couldn't take a good picture if their life depended on it. Fair enough. Those people will always be around and their money helps fund better technology for the rest of us. I'm going to do my best not to get caught up in the hype. But if a better camera comes along that will really help me get better photos and that I can afford - I'm buying it.
    Photo-John

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  6. #6
    Arctic Man Majik_Imaje's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Well let me say this in regard to HIGH iso !!

    FIRST OF ALL. In the old days (chuckle) to become a professional photographer you needed to CREATE STUNNING IMAGES.

    PRO'S that worked for National Geographic had only one choice for film to use - ISO 25 !!!!

    Today's breed of Automatic computer driven cameras that do all the work. are hard pressed to possess the SKILLS that NG photographers use. So instead they are off exploring HIGH ISO'S

    Do you not know ??? the difference between 100 iso and 400 iso is only two F stops

    So use a frigin tripod !! the difference between 400 iso and 800 iso is ONLY ONE F stop !!

    The difference betwen 800 ISO & 1600 iso IS ONLY ONE F stop

    In other words.. YOU CAN CREATE any image you want @ 100 ISO !! ALL YA need is a tripod - but most people are too lazy to use one or better yet the CORRECT TYPE.

    FOR 50 years or longer. National Geographic astounded the entire world with skilled professional photographs only using Kodachorme ASA / ISO 25

    Therein- lies the main difference between a skilled professional and a ?? experimental wannabe

    This was created @ 100 ISO one minute @ F 45

    Last edited by Majik_Imaje; 10-27-2009 at 04:09 PM.

  7. #7
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    I share Anbesol's frustration... but that's good insight Photo-John!

  8. #8
    Moderator of Critiques/Hearder of Cats mtbbrian's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Look at this way...
    Considering that with a film camera you can have ASA whatever film, it seem logical for a DSLR to have all of the same capabilities and what not of a film SLR.
    Just my two cents...
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  9. #9
    Captain of the Ship Photo-John's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    It's true that great images were made before we had the technology we have now. I used to shoot motorcycle racing with ISO 100 slide film and a manual focus camera. It's also true that content should always come first. But neither of those things mean we should ignore the benefits of current technology. We definitely shouldn't get so caught up in camera features and specs that we lose sight of the goal (great photos). In the end the camera is just a tool for capturing pictures and the photographer is in charge. But if I follow your logic I will have to give up my car for a donkey cart. I like being able to cover some ground in a day - both with my camera and with my car.

    A couple more points -

    1) Sometimes one stop is the difference between a sharp photo and a soft one. I want every advantage.

    2) A tripod doesn't freeze action

    Thanks for your post. In case it isn't apparent, I like your message and point of view. But so far it seems it's my job to play devil's advocate in this thread
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  10. #10
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    I am reminded of an article I saw a couple of years ago: Compact Camera High ISO modes: Separating the facts from the hype. Just seemed to click with me that I actually wanted this for what I wanted to shoot.

    Of course, they're talking compact cameras, and there's more of a concern with those than with DSLRs as far as having a basic level of competent reproduction in low light and for fast images. Still, within limits, it does seem to make a difference, and provide additional opportunities like John related. So if you've got a raft of cameras to choose among, why not demand a certain level of ability, giving you more shooting flexibility, at least when narrowing the field to the 3 or 4 models you'll actually go to a camera shop to rent and test? All other things being equal (and these days, most of the objective numbers are close enough at each tier), something else that says 'this is more likely to capture the detail for which I am shooting' should be welcomed.

  11. #11
    Senior Member racingpinarello's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    I don't think a camera with great high ISO sensitivity would be a great camera without good color rendition, dynamic range, and computing power within the camera.

    I no longer have the time to play the role of monk and use an incredibly heavy tripod to get the rock still image on a piece of velvia. I now have to run like 500 mph to keep up with my daughter and/or dogs. Having a camera that can snap a great image at 1600 or 3200 will allow me to use a smaller aperature, thus getting a better allround image.

    Leica users constantly use 3200 b&w film for the street "scene". A great digital camera should be able to do the same. Why pay all of that money to have a low iso camera only?

    If you want a low iso, superb camera? Buy the Fuji S2 for about $200. It sucks over iso 400, but at 100 and 200 it was the cleanest camera around. Now, I would want the best low and high range camera available.

    Loren
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  12. #12
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anbesol
    ...What happened to color renditioning, dynamic range, aliasing, color temperature management, etc? And these factors play a role across the entire ISO spectrum anyway...
    Isn't it a "given" that each successive generation builds on the merits of the last generation. That is, today's camera will have the same if not better color rendition, dynamic range, noise at comparable ISOs, etc... I mean, have there been a case when "color renditioning, dynamic range, aliasing, color temperature management, etc" went backwards?

    So what's left to improve? Until recently, it was megapixels and high ISO performance. Now it's primarily high ISO performance. That's why the fixation is there.
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  13. #13
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Majik_Imaje
    ...In other words.. YOU CAN CREATE any image you want @ 100 ISO !! ALL YA need is a tripod - but most people are too lazy to use one or better yet the CORRECT TYPE.
    With all due respect, but I disagree with the above statement completely. When I'm trying to shoot a warbler on the wing hunting for insects or shooting macros in even the slightest of breezes or shooting super-telephotos when I can't open beyond f/4, I need to crank up the ISO as high as I'm capable of doing so for the intended purpose. Right now, I'm stuck at ISO 800 with my current camera for images I intend to sell up to 13"x19". It used to be ISO 200 with my first dSLR so I can't really complain.

    And yes, each generation (except for my current one) upped the maximum useable ISO by 1 full stop each time. To me, that's HUGE! Each step allowed me to push my abilities and results a full notch each time. All thanks to higher ISO for the most part.
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  14. #14
    Arctic Man Majik_Imaje's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    1974 I made a fortune - from Kodak because I did something that was known to be IMPOSSIBLE !!

    This all began with a woman who would not shut up and leave me alone - My wife !!

    The location was inside the boston Gardens for the ice-capades ice show . I was at the 'far end of the STADIUM. up in the highest level of that place, it is dark except for center ice.

    I have a Mamiya RB67 w/360 mm F 6.8 lens !! "I want photographs she said.. " I said there is not enough light for me to use this in here for those photos. Use your flash she said.. Ha !! That thing is not going to travel 200 feet to light the scene . no way !!

    I want photographs she kept saying! The Sesame Characters were skating. She wanted posters for my daughters room. I have VPS 100 ISO film. People are skating 'fast' !!

    I decide to go with the minimum shutter speed to hold this huge thing steady 1/250

    the lens is open @ 6.8 so basically I am shooting @ EV 15 partly cloudy outside !!

    but I am inside in the dark - yes there is light @ center ice. I create photographs

    I develop the film +30% for each stop I had to compensate for.

    C-41 process developer = 3:15 minutes / seconds precicesly !

    I increased the temp by one degree and develop for 5:30 (101.5) instead of 100.5

    I never ever thought in my wildest dreams that this was going to work. but I had to go through the motions to apease the other side.

    OMG.. I just could not believe these results.. This can't be true. - I am throughly confused now.. this cannot be possible.

    the next day I went outside and purposely underexposed film by 4 stops & six stops & 8 stops .

    The results were most impressive. IN fact - further testng revealed this FACT !

    On one roll of film - I exposed a few frames @ 100 ISO - then on that same roll I exposed frames @ 400 ISO 800 ISO & 1600 ISO. all this - on ONE ROLL of VPS

    Every frame was goreous color and @ 800 ISO I could literaly place my hand on that photograph and the skin tones matched with no grain !! At 1600 there was very slight grain that was consistent with 35mm film characteristics !!

    I sent all the neg's and prints to Kodak and they told me to get it patented !!!

    We have been trying to do this for 60 years was there reply.

    That was the start of Kodak relasing all the new high speed color films - Vericolor was phased out. They had already achieved what they wanted - they just didn't know it yet !!!

    Now in today's digital world, I have found out, this can indeed be done again digitally with extremely impressive results that knock your socks off !!

    It just depends on what you USE for imaje editing !!!

    I have just recently (within the last two days) STOPPED using Adobe photoshop to edit / process my images. I found something ten times more powerful !!

  15. #15
    project forum co-moderator Frog's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    "I have just recently (within the last two days) STOPPED using Adobe photoshop to edit / process my images. I found something ten times more powerful !!
    Offline Report Bad Post"

    What? What? What?

    High iso capability is very useful when shooting action,(fast or slow) in less than ideal lighting. If your doing stills on a tripod it doesn't matter as much.
    I've seen many fine photos that wouldn't be so fine without a lot of noise or grain.
    I want a camera that can give me the dynamic range of the human eye. I'll probably have to wait a while, eh?
    Just an amateur's point of view.
    Keep Shooting!

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  16. #16
    Captain of the Ship Photo-John's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Majik_Imaje
    It just depends on what you USE for imaje editing !!!

    I have just recently (within the last two days) STOPPED using Adobe photoshop to edit / process my images. I found something ten times more powerful !!
    So what are you using for image editing then? No matter what you use there are physical limitations based on the sensor, just as there are physical limitations based on the crystal structure of your film emulsion. Yes, we can push our film or digital images around a lot. And I do. But I'll take every bit of technological advantage I can afford. There's no reason to turn your nose up at what's available.
    Photo-John

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  17. #17
    Arctic Man Majik_Imaje's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Head on over to .. ..
    Adobe.com and download Lightroom3 beta and play with it !!

    Get your very best image and play and watch what happens. whoa it knocked me right over !!

  18. #18
    Captain of the Ship Photo-John's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Majik_Imaje
    Head on over to .. ..
    Adobe.com and download Lightroom3 beta and play with it !!

    Get your very best image and play and watch what happens. whoa it knocked me right over !!
    Oh, I've been using Lightroom since the very first beta. It is great. I don't think it's a replacement for Photoshop, though. I use them both on almost every image. I'm glad you've discovered, though. It is a very powerful tool
    Photo-John

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  19. #19
    Senior Member Anbesol's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Wow, quite the conversation started!

    I wasnt saying high ISO is useless, I am simply saying that honing in on that singular aspect of imaging as a way to benchmark the technological value of a camera is foolish. It is made even further absurd by the 98%+ of imaging that is better done under ISO 800. I think it is great how far image noise performance has come, but it is not the be all end all of imaging technology and performance.

    An equally or even more significantly pressing matter to modern imaging technology is dynamic range. How many photo's have you seen with hot white spots or pitch black? So why isn't the internet flooded with people curious about the dynamic range of a camera?

  20. #20
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anbesol
    ...I think all of us here can agree that ISO 100-400 is ideal when you can get it, and no matter how great a cameras high ISO ability is - light permitting 100-400 will always be the better option...
    Why? On my current camera, I can't see the difference between ISO 100 images and ISO 200 images in terms of noise. I bet in a few years I won't be able to see any difference between ISO 100 and ISO 1600. If one can't see the difference, why not use the higher end when there is no penalty? The 100~400 ISO is rather dated.

    Low ISO will always be required for those needing long shutter speeds in bright light or for those who want extremely shallow DOF without using ridiculously high shutter speeds. Other than those, there really will be no advantage to keep using low ISOs in the future.
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  21. #21
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anbesol
    ...An equally or even more significantly pressing matter to modern imaging technology is dynamic range. How many photo's have you seen with hot white spots or pitch black? So why isn't the internet flooded with people curious about the dynamic range of a camera?
    Not to drive this conversation off-topic, but I think the range was sufficient several generations ago. Unprocessed RAW images look spectacularly awful because the dynamic range is already very wide. In every single image I process, I bring in one end or the other (typically both) in order to bring the contrast back to a more realistic level.

    Not picking on you. Nice conversation though.
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  22. #22
    Arctic Man Majik_Imaje's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    I dunno ?? Maybe they don't understand it fully enough yet .

    some people like to explore and climb to new heights. - others are content to stay in their comfort zone !!

  23. #23
    Senior Member Anbesol's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Well to be truthful I cant remember the last time I actually used ISO 100, the lowest I go in regular circumstances is 160, but my use does mainly lay between 160 and 640. I dont know why you call 100-400 dated, its still useful and I cant see a time that they wont be useful.

    As for the range - with my Sony A700 they have different dynamic range options, allowing a standard mode or 5 levels of dynamic range optimization, or turned off. I've been able to use it to get what would have otherwise required an HDR composite. You can't say that tonal range is done growing, when you see things like HDR compositing gaining in popularity. Not saying that base level native tonal range needs improvement, but the ability to enhance the sensors ability to capture wider range.

  24. #24
    Senior Member OldClicker's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Loupey
    Why? On my current camera, I can't see the difference between ISO 100 images and ISO 200 images in terms of noise. I bet in a few years I won't be able to see any difference between ISO 100 and ISO 1600. If one can't see the difference, why not use the higher end when there is no penalty? The 100~400 ISO is rather dated.

    Low ISO will always be required for those needing long shutter speeds in bright light or for those who want extremely shallow DOF without using ridiculously high shutter speeds. Other than those, there really will be no advantage to keep using low ISOs in the future.
    But, as the thread topic suggests, you are saying that there is no difference based only on noise (like all the reviewers). I think things like subtle low ISO colors and detail are being sacrificed for high ISO noise. I'm not saying that higher ISO is not a good thing or that it will not get better as the technology progresses, only that it has become the single spec (as MPixels use to be) and therefore the marketers will specify designs that sacrifice other aspects to get the high ISO. - TF
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  25. #25
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: Much ado about image grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by OldClicker
    But, as the thread topic suggests, you are saying that there is no difference based only on noise (like all the reviewers). I think things like subtle low ISO colors and detail are being sacrificed for high ISO noise.
    Yes, I'm saying there is no difference (at low ISO's) as a good thing. I've been perfectly happy with ISO 100 since my first dSLR. Performance at low ISO hasn't degraded over the last four years.


    Quote Originally Posted by OldClicker
    I'm not saying that higher ISO is not a good thing or that it will not get better as the technology progresses, only that it has become the single spec (as MPixels use to be) and therefore the marketers will specify designs that sacrifice other aspects to get the high ISO. - TF
    Even if low ISO performance is sacrificed for the sake of gaining clean ultra high ISO performance, the demand will still be extremely high. People will just use older cameras for the low ISO stuff. ISO's beyond 3200 is a new frontier and many people will be more than happy to explore it. Manufacturers will be more than happy to provide it.
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