ISO vs. Image Quality

Started 9 months ago | Discussions
Inky22
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ISO vs. Image Quality
9 months ago

Greetings,

I'm wondering what peoples tolerance level is for higher ISOs.  Recently I've been taking some wildlife pics (mainly birds) under some challenging lighting conditions.  Many people recommend a shutter speed that is 3x the focal distance which would put me up to 1/600 of a sec. which means I have to raise the ISO quite a bit.  I really don't like to go beyond ISO 400 and would rather stay at or below 200.  I'm wondering how others feel about this.  At what point do you feel the loss of image quality due to high ISO is too much?

I have a D7100 with a 70-200mm f2.8 Nikon lens.  I'm also using Lightroom to develop my images so some noise reduction is possible, but it's not all together satisfying.

So, looking for opinions.

Thanks,

Ken

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Dave Courtenay
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

I think that you have placed this in the wrong forum, This is FX

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Rservello
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

You should be able to go well over 400 with no issues.  I have some shots I have taken at 5000 that look awesome!

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Shot at ISO 4000

ISO 5000

Modern DSLRs are much more capable than old film SLRs.  Don't be afraid to push it!

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dwight3
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

As noted, most people on this forum are interested in FX cameras. There is a perception that FX cameras do better at high ISO. This was true when the first FX cameras came out and the photosites were larger, resulting in better high ISO performance.

I believe the D7000 came out after the D3 redefined high ISO levels, and did very well for a DX camera. The D7100 is the next version. I never tried either one, but I would expect you could use it at fairly high ISO levels. The specs for the D7100 call for native ISO levels up to 6400.

Basing my comments on the D3 and D4, I would expect that you could get quite usable images from anything within the native ISO range for the camera. That doesn't mean no noise, but Lightroom does a fair job of noise reduction.

It all comes down to how sensitive you are to noise in your images. That will depend in part on just what you are using your images for. Selling them? Probably noise sensitive. Posting them online? Probably not noise sensitive. Small prints, not noise sensitive. Large prints, maybe.

I do a fair amount of photojournalism with my D4. I regularly use ISO up to 10,000 with no problems (they do take some noise reduction in LR). But the images are mostly used in newspapers or web-based newsletters. They can be strongly downsampled.

I used to have a D200. It was not a high ISO performer. 400 was my normal level and 800 was no real problem. 1600 was OK with some processing.

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Inky22
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Dave Courtenay, 9 months ago

Dave Courtenay wrote:

I think that you have placed this in the wrong forum, This is FX

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Ooops...  I'll move it to where it belongs, though it's more of a general question and I couldn't really find a good spot for it.

Tnx

Ken

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BartyLobethal
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Fact & Perceptions
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

The fact is that every increase in ISO above base for your camera model will result in a measurable decrease in parameters such as dynamic range and colour sensitivity, and an attendant increase in noise.

How far you go before you cross a line where those things are no longer acceptable to you is a matter of perception - personal taste. Another consideration is output - what is acceptable for a small downscaled image used for web display might not be acceptable for a large high-gloss print.

I'm happy with images out of my FX camera all the way up to ISO6400 provided I get the exposure correct in-camera. But coming from 35mm film I find the luma noise acceptable as is, and don't think the small amount of chroma correction required is problematic. But my typical output is pretty undemanding and allows a much greater latitude for error than a commercial landscape or architecture photographer.

Lastly, how important is the shot to you? Is it better to get that image of the Lesser-Crested Knuckle Farter albeit with some noise and additional post-processing ahead of you, or to go home and try again another day?

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BartyL

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michaeladawson
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Re: Fact & Perceptions
In reply to BartyLobethal, 9 months ago

BartyLobethal wrote:

The fact is that every increase in ISO above base for your camera model will result in a measurable decrease in parameters such as dynamic range and colour sensitivity, and an attendant increase in noise.

How far you go before you cross a line where those things are no longer acceptable to you is a matter of perception - personal taste. Another consideration is output - what is acceptable for a small downscaled image used for web display might not be acceptable for a large high-gloss print.

I'm happy with images out of my FX camera all the way up to ISO6400 provided I get the exposure correct in-camera. But coming from 35mm film I find the luma noise acceptable as is, and don't think the small amount of chroma correction required is problematic. But my typical output is pretty undemanding and allows a much greater latitude for error than a commercial landscape or architecture photographer.

Lastly, how important is the shot to you? Is it better to get that image of the Lesser-Crested Knuckle Farter albeit with some noise and additional post-processing ahead of you, or to go home and try again another day?

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BartyL

In general I agree with what you said.  I think one factor you didn't give enough attention to is subject matter.  Noise impacts detail.  You can often clean up the noise such that it is not objectionable at all in a printed photo at 8x10 (or even larger).  But you lose detail as you go up the ISO range.

Someone in a response above had a photo of a baby.  I can imagine that you could go quite high in ISO and the photo will clean up nicely with noise reduction software.  But a bird photo is a different matter if you are trying to bring out feather detail.

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BartyLobethal
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You've made a fair point
In reply to michaeladawson, 9 months ago

I assumed the OP understands that noise reduction = loss of detail, but you know what they say about assumptions.

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BartyL

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wasserball
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

Who are you shooting for? My suggestion is shoot and both low ISO at low speed and high ISO at high speed, and then decide which do you prefer.

A lot of times I have questions about camera exposure settings, flash in manual or flash in auto. Rather than to ask what others prefer to do, I set up my own comparisons. It is not scientific with bunch of meaningless numbers, but what I prefer based on the situation and environment that I will be shooting.

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Dr Bob
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Re: Fact & Perceptions
In reply to michaeladawson, 9 months ago

michaeladawson wrote:

BartyLobethal wrote:

The fact is that every increase in ISO above base for your camera model will result in a measurable decrease in parameters such as dynamic range and colour sensitivity, and an attendant increase in noise.

How far you go before you cross a line where those things are no longer acceptable to you is a matter of perception - personal taste. Another consideration is output - what is acceptable for a small downscaled image used for web display might not be acceptable for a large high-gloss print.

I'm happy with images out of my FX camera all the way up to ISO6400 provided I get the exposure correct in-camera. But coming from 35mm film I find the luma noise acceptable as is, and don't think the small amount of chroma correction required is problematic. But my typical output is pretty undemanding and allows a much greater latitude for error than a commercial landscape or architecture photographer.

Lastly, how important is the shot to you? Is it better to get that image of the Lesser-Crested Knuckle Farter albeit with some noise and additional post-processing ahead of you, or to go home and try again another day?

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BartyL

In general I agree with what you said. I think one factor you didn't give enough attention to is subject matter. Noise impacts detail. You can often clean up the noise such that it is not objectionable at all in a printed photo at 8x10 (or even larger). But you lose detail as you go up the ISO range.

Someone in a response above had a photo of a baby. I can imagine that you could go quite high in ISO and the photo will clean up nicely with noise reduction software. But a bird photo is a different matter if you are trying to bring out feather detail.

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Mike Dawson

I agree with BartyL. A lot will depend on what the OP is doing with the images. If it is just for the web then high isos can be usable as in the following

http://andyburnsphotography.zenfolio.com/local/hb042d44#hb042d44

This was taken at Iso 6400 (but on an 800E) and gives sufficient feather detail for the web as I managed to expose it well enough (not always easy in low light). I missed my shot of the Lesser-Crested Knuckle Farter 'cause I left the lens cap on.

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swestphotos
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

I shoot low light, but I hate anything over iso1250... but that's in bad sitatuions. When there is light but not enough for lower ISOs then I will go all the way to 3200 on my d600. ANything beyond that is too soft and noisy for me. If you make smaller image sizes you can reduce the horrors...

I would say it depends on how you're shooting. I expose with shutter and aperature before I touch my iso. 100-400 is what I would like to be on.

Test your camera... you never know how bad the detail looks at higher iso. Stuff gets REALLY soft after a certain ISO. Just depends on what your camera is capable of. lowest iso possible at all times if you ask me... I wouldn't want anyone to go over 1600 on APSC.

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olakiril2
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

I use what ISO is necessary to get the shot. If it has to be 6400 then so be it.

I prefer noise than camera shake.

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brianric
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

Depends on what I'm shooting. When it comes to indoor sports where I'm not using flash, I've shoot as high as ISO 12800 and the parents and the school consider the pictures more than acceptable. Life is much better now that I'm using a Nikon Df. If I'm going to shoot the team photo where I'm making 20 x 30, the maximum ISO I want to go is ISO 3200 on a D800, using flash.

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brianric
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to olakiril2, 9 months ago

olakiril2 wrote:

I use what ISO is necessary to get the shot. If it has to be 6400 then so be it.

I prefer noise than camera shake.

Agree. In my case a parent doesn't care about noise if I get that shot of the kid making the winning basket in a game.

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Skytalker
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

I do believe high ISO performance is part of the image quality. Depending on what you do, you might want a more or less capable camera in this area. Nowadays, unlike 10 years ago, all cameras produce good images at decent ISO.

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larrywilson
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Rservello, 9 months ago

I think the op is using a cropped sensor (d7100).  I would not advice them to go much over an iso of 1600 with the d7100.  I have a d7100 and go with my full frame camera for speeds over 1600 iso.

Larry

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larrywilson
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Re: Fact & Perceptions
In reply to michaeladawson, 9 months ago

I agree in that the subjects dictates the amount of noise that is acceptable.  When I said I used my d7100 up to around an iso 1600, this was for bird photography where feather detail is extremely important.  The op has the d7100.

Larry

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Inky22
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

Greetings,

I'm the OP and first off I want to thank everyone for their input.  I was hoping I could stir the pot a bit with this topic and I'm not at all disappointed.  I did not mention in my original post that this camera and lens are new to me.  I used to do a lot of film photography, but then everything pretty much switch to digital and I was pretty disappointed with the results unless I wanted to spend a gazillion dollars.  But now that DSLR have come down so much in price it was time to jump back in. So I'm currently on a pretty steep learning curve and it's nice to have this group of advisers.

Today I set up a test for ISO, shooting the same subject using a tripod starting at ISO 100 and stepping up to about ISO 2000.  The subject had both smooth and textured surfaces.  From this test and from what others have said and shown in this thread I'd have to say I can expand my tolerance for noise and IQ quite a bit, and rely on Lightroom to help me out.  One thing I did notice is that noise is much easier to detect and more bothersome the smoother the surface is, so the details of a birds feathers suffers much less than say a stalk of bamboo that he might be perched on.  That being said, there is a point where the loss of detail in the feathers is not tolerable, I just haven't quite determined just where that point is for me.  Right now I'm thinking it's around 800, though I have to say I was very impressed with the detail of the blackbird that one of the respondents shared.  I live near a wetlands that I visit daily to learn my camera and to dial in my tolerances, so I think I'll just set the ISO at 800 for a few days and see what I get.

Thanks again to you all,

Ken

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clarnibass
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Re: ISO vs. Image Quality
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

Are you asking about taking photos of birds specifically or just in general?

Most of my photos are at higher ISO including many at 6400. Otherwide I woudln't be able to take them. For the purpose, which is mostly posting online, it's fine.

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Alan Brown
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What quality was you getting with film
In reply to Inky22, 9 months ago

Inky22 wrote:

Greetings,

I'm the OP and first off I want to thank everyone for their input. I was hoping I could stir the pot a bit with this topic and I'm not at all disappointed. I did not mention in my original post that this camera and lens are new to me.

I used to do a lot of film photography,

It's been some time since I used film but even 400 ASA (ISO) was not that great.. your shutter/aperture setting would have been very lim ited with that wouldn't it..

I find even 1600 (on my D7000 better than 400 film ever was.. Even B&W.

We have more choice than ever now.. Don't have to change films half way through

but then everything pretty much switch to digital and I was pretty disappointed with the results unless I wanted to spend a gazillion dollars. But now that DSLR have come down so much in price it was time to jump back in. So I'm currently on a pretty steep learning curve and it's nice to have this group of advisers.

Today I set up a test for ISO, shooting the same subject using a tripod starting at ISO 100 and stepping up to about ISO 2000. The subject had both smooth and textured surfaces. From this test and from what others have said and shown in this thread I'd have to say I can expand my tolerance for noise and IQ quite a bit, and rely on Lightroom to help me out. One thing I did notice is that noise is much easier to detect and more bothersome the smoother the surface is, so the details of a birds feathers suffers much less than say a stalk of bamboo that he might be perched on. That being said, there is a point where the loss of detail in the feathers is not tolerable, I just haven't quite determined just where that point is for me. Right now I'm thinking it's around 800, though I have to say I was very impressed with the detail of the blackbird that one of the respondents shared. I live near a wetlands that I visit daily to learn my camera and to dial in my tolerances, so I think I'll just set the ISO at 800 for a few days and see what I get.

Thanks again to you all,

Ken

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