A journey through pixel count and noise.
(similar to my Nikon forum post)
I shot Leica cameras since I was in university in the late 1960's for fun and some income. From about 1985 until 2002 I basically avoided photography as a hobby until one of my photographer friends convinced me to pick up a second hand Fuji S1. To my great surprise, I was totally blown away by the absolute print quality I could achieve and the incredible lack of noise/grain I had experienced for so many years. Here is a chronology of the cameras I acquired since 2002 and a basic comment about the noise and pixel count. This mixes Fuji, Nikon an Camera images (sorry).
The summary of my findings is that pixel count and noise is not really "important" in the grand scheme of things. All cameras I used did really well in terms of delivering excellent images. It will be interesting to see what the current crop of new cameras has in store.
The Fuji S1 I purchased in 2002 was superb at all ISO values up to about 800, however even ISO 1600 was much better than the film grain noise of Tri-X. This is from a 3.4 megapixel camera - which easily allows blowups to 16x20 (and I say for ALL cameras, no matter the pixel count).
(p.s.. all images below are essentially out of camera with crop and exposure adjust only)
Fuji S1, ISO 800 and 1600
The Fuji S1 hand banding issues (in-spec according to the Fuji folks in Canada) so I acquired a 2.6 mpix Nikon D1. The overall impression was that noise was pretty fine up to 800 and still very acceptable at ISO 1600 This is even if you crop the image as below. My images from this camera have been used may times for posters in sports, theatre, and dance.
The absolute detail of the D1 was somewhat lacking, so I purchased a D100. This was an amazing camera that allowed excellent detail and fine images from ISO 200 to 3200 - and ISO 6400 was very useful:
The D1x, with it's "funny" 5.3 mpixsensor was also a stellar performer at high ISO:
The D2h with 4 megapixels was very useful and excellent upwards of ISO 1600
The D2x was a superb 12.2 mpix camera with really fine noise rendition up to ISO 3200. It was spectacular if you shot panos.
Nikon Canada service was absolutely miserable - 4 cameras usually resulted in 2 cameras at Nikon for repair - often the same camera needed multiple trips to fix ONE problem. I switched to Canon and the 12mpix 5d.
Image quality of the Canon was identical overall to the D2x at ISO 1600 and lower:
At ISO above 1600, a clear noise advantage was on the side of the 5d:
The Canon 10 mpix 1D-III approximately matched the overall performance of the Nikon D2x, however had advantages at higher ISO values:
The 21 mPix 5D-II was a real surprise. A hefty number of pixels teamed up with very fine indeed low noise performance made this a winner for studio/scenic as well as extreme low light work. Too bad the focus system was not quit what I hoped for - but works well with centre spot even in very low light.
Noise hounds find ISO 6400 to be unusable - however I find it EXTREMELY useful and can produce very beautiful low light shots - and works well for dance.
The advent of the Nikon D3 really provided a new level of image performance, at least in the area of noise quantity. The first Canon that matched the D3 noise was the Canon 1D-IV with 18mpix. I found that the you could tell the difference due to pixel count when you compared prints side by side - however my eyes did not see any real difference in quality when images are viewed independently.
Even ISO 12800 works well...