High ISO and noise, time to get real (long post).

Started May 30, 2011 | Discussions thread
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papillon_65
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High ISO and noise, time to get real (long post).
May 30, 2011

I’ve been prompted to write this post after taking some family shots in lower light using my GH2 and 20mm 1.7 and also because it has played on my mind for a while.

I took a few shots at ISO 1600 and 3200 using the GH2 and was pleasantly surprised at how they turned out. I use LR3 for most of my PP and I have found that it provides a great balance between sharpness, detail and noise reduction when dealing with high ISO shots. I’ll add the caveat that noise is a pretty subjective topic and I’m fully aware of this.

I’ve read a lot of comments recently relating to noise in m4/3’s cameras and cameras in general and I’ve got say that I believe a lot of it is ridiculous. I’ve also got to add that reviews and reviewers are some of the worst culprits. I’ll take the GH2 as a case in point although it does apply to many other cameras, some that I still use myself.

In the case of the GH2 I’ve read reviews and posts which frequently state that they wouldn’t advise using this particular camera above ISO 1600 and in some cases ISO 1250.

Give me a break! does everyone print at billboard size and view from 6 inches? Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating but I do sometimes wonder. My acid test for noise is to carry out my normal PP in LR3 and then review the files at reduced sizes, usually starting at 1:2 and working from there. Having taken a few test shots and in real world usage, I’ve come to the following conclusion with regards to the GH2 in particular ( this is because it’s usually my camera of choice these days ). I can happily print in colour at 1:2 for ISO 1600 and 3200 shots. This is effectively 50% the size of the original 16mp ( in 4/3 aspect ) and will give me a very large print if I want it. At ISO 6400 in colour I would be happy at 1:3 or a third of the original size, again, a pretty sizeable print. I would also be happy to print an ISO 12800 shot in 1:4 and possibly 1:3 depending on the subject, and yes, I am talking about colour shots. The GH2 raw files retain both colour and detail very well at all these ISO’s from what I am seeing. The main caveat with shooting at higher ISO’s is that the exposure must be spot on as there is very little leeway for pushing or pulling the exposure.

I do not understand why reviews and reviewers insist on relating noise on 100% crops to real world usage. Does anyone seriously print everything, or even anything for that matter, at 100% the original size? on a 16mp camera like the GH2, or any camera for that matter, reducing the size automatically reduces the noise seen, as does printing. As a rule, I tend to shoot mainly in the low ISO range anyway but I really don’t have a problem using every ISO available to me on this camera if I need to. I find it staggering that people insist that they wouldn’t go above ISO 1600 for instance. I’m also talking about shots taken in lower light which will exhibit more noise. In decent light things are even better. Am I the only person who takes this approach? I challenge anybody to take a properly exposed GH2 shot at ISO 6400, print it at 10X8 and tell me that it looks bad. I really do think that ISO 12800 could be printed to 10X8 if you get the shot right, definitely in mono and possibly in colour with some care in exposure and PP.

I had a very good example of what I am talking about recently. I have a photo which means a lot to me taken in 2003 with a 4mp P&S. In those days I pretty much took snaps and wasn’t really aware of how to look after my images. I recently reviewed this image and because of poor jpeg manipulation in the past I was left with a 49K Jpeg at 1024x768. I really wanted a decent sized print of this image to put in a frame. I tweaked it for colour and contrast and sharpness and uprezzed to 150% of the original. I then down sized it again and was left with an image at about 215K. I had this image printed at 8x10 and it’s now sitting in a frame and looks excellent. Even at close viewing distance you could not tell what camera took this image.

When I consider what I started it with it lead me to the conclusion I could use any ISO from the GH2 and still get a decent sized print from it, with the caveats I have mentioned.

I’m not advocating using high ISO for detailed bird shots or fine art but I think an awful lot of people are dismissing higher ISO shooting because they insist on reviewing everything at 100%. No consideration is being given to downsizing and the size of print, not to mention the process of printing and what the results can be.

Shooting with the GH2 and 20mm 1.7 at ISO 6400 or 12800 can be done in incredibly low light, that’s potentially an awful lot of missed opportunities. Reviewing shots in this light at high ISO’s on a low resolution screen will give you a inaccurate perception of how good a print can potentially be. I’ve also concluded that an awful of people do not print their images and have a distorted perception of what noise is and what is acceptable, based on too much fud and pixel peeping. It’s somewhat ironic that the people who often make the most “noise” about it (pun intended) are the ones who never display images and probably never print. The people who usually have a balanced view are the older generation SLR and 35mm users who actually know what will look good in print, because they used to deal with it on pretty much every film they used. I’m interested to hear about others views on this, particularly GH2 owners.
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It's a known fact that where there's tea there's hope.
Tony
http://the-random-photographer.blogspot.com/

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