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Thread: How does your sensor behave at higher ISO settings?

  1. #1
    Member Grumby's Avatar
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    How does your sensor behave at higher ISO settings?

    I have become a bit disillusioned at my camera's (lack of) ability to perform at higher ISO settings, and wondered if this is a general trait on low-end cameras, or is a Canon/Nikon 'thing', or perhaps my camera was just a Friday afternoon job and has a poorly performing sensor...
    I have a Nikon D3000, and mostly used it at ISO 100 until recently, when I read somewhere that (some) Nikons perform better at 200 than 100. I switched to 200, and could see no obvious difference in quality under most conditions, so happily accepted the extra stop this effectively gave my basic kit lenses.
    However, the other day I was trying to get some surfing shots in overcast but bright conditions. At ISO 200, I was metering at around 1/320 at the maximum f/5.6 I can get at 200mm stretch on my zoom. I wanted to get up around 1/1000 or better, so tried shifting the ISO to 400 and 800 to try them out. Even on the camera's screen, I could tell that the ISO 800 pictures were not worth keeping, and when I saw the ISO 400 pictures at full size on my PC, I deleted them in disgust as well. I was appalled at the drop off in quality even at 400, when the camera is designed to go to 1600 or even 3200 (Hi1).
    I know it's really silly to compare them, but some pictures a friend of mine took with his 5D mkII at ISO 3200 in low light, came out as clear as anything my camera can produce even at 100, and even his Hi1 setting of 12800 is better than my 800. OK, so he has a pro-ish level camera, and certainly he has pro level lenses, whereas I have an entry level camera and very mediocre glass, but should my sensor really only produce acceptable images at ISO settings of 100 and 200 - perhaps 400 if I was desperate..?

    Cheers
    Grum

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    It would be easier for us to try and see what your problem may be if you post a couple of example pictures.
    Your problem may not be high ISO noise issues it might be motion blur if the shots were taken hand held. The better togs on this site can tell the difference (I have difficulty in seeing the differences). Oh and try to leave the Exif data attached and/or describe how you took the shots.
    The sensor on the D3000 is a reasonable sensor and should operate ok at ISO 800.
    I hope someone can help you.
    Cheers
    Darey

    Nikon user, Thick skinned and wanting to improve, genuine C & C welcomed.

    Photographs don't lie ! - Anonymous Liar

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    Good point Darey. I'm fairly certain this is sensor noise I'm seeing, but I'll do some test shots in the next day or two, and post some examples for the experts to look at.

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    Account Closed Wayne's Avatar
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    Performs pretty good ISO 12800 with some mild noise reduction.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Wayne; 03-04-2012 at 11:18pm.

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    Moderately Underexposed I @ M's Avatar
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    Grumby, it sounds like there are a couple of factors at work here.

    You say that you were photographing surfers in halfway bright conditions. I will hazard a guess that the noise and image quality was at its worst on the surfers skin and wetsuits (if they were wearing dark ones) and what you are facing there is that noise will always show up worse in under exposed or darker parts of an image. Depending on your metering and the light available the camera was probably trying to control the exposure on the bright whites of the waves and not blow out the detail in them, that then results in the "dark" surfer and resulting noise.
    The other part with the Nikon sensors and noise is that the D3000 was the last of the D40x, D60,D80, D200 style of CCD sensor. The later models all have CMOS sensors and they are mostly superior for noise control to the CCD sensors.
    Don't sweat too much though, the D3000 used at the base ISO can produce excellent images and under good conditions 800 should be acceptable with minor noise reduction. Even at 1600 under perfect conditions the images processed correctly should be at the least usable even if not up to the standard of later generation cameras.
    Andrew
    Nikon, Fuji, Nikkor, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina and too many other bits and pieces to list.



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    Hi Grum,

    I@M's answer is spot on. I'll just add a little to it by crossing out a coupler of your questions - things you don't need to worry about further.
    • Noise performance does not vary with price. Low-end cameras and high-end cameras of the same type generally use the exact same sensors and have the same noise performance. (Note, however, that different types of camera body vary. In particular, large-sensor cameras like the Canon 5D series and the Nikon D3 series have much lower noise, but that is simply because they have bigger sensors. The technology inside them is much the same. As time goes by we will see more and more low-noise, large sensor cameras entering the lower end of the market. Already we have seen Canon's 135 models drop from over $10,000 to around $2000. That trend won't suddenly stop.)
    • Noise performance does not vary with brand. (Much.) (Or at least not for long.) Back when the Nikon D200 was manufactured, Canon was well ahead on noise. Canon's 20D was significantly cleaner. Nikon's then-new D200 tried to respond to Canon's better sensor design with heavyhanded in-camera software noise reduction. This was not a success, and the 20D and the 30D remained best-in-class. Nikon then tried again with the D300, which was excellent, and subsequently a number of low resolution but very low noise full frame cameras which turned the tables - for the next few years, Nikon was the leading low-noise brand (but only in the full frame range and at the cost of resolution). Right now it looks as though Canon and Nikon are in the process of changing places again. But all of this is taking place in the expensive full frame world. With ordinary crop cameras like yours, there is no difference worth mentioning between recent model Nikon, Canon, and Pentax units. Your old D3000 uses a sensor identical in specification to the old and not-very-nice D200 sensor. I believe it is the same part, in which case it will have the same noise performance. It should be usable at 400i, 800i will, as you say, be pushing it. But with care and attention to good exposure technique, you could get away with it.
    • Individual sensors do NOT vary. In other words, you could have 100 D200s and test them and the noise performance will be the same in every case. Or 100 K-5s. Or 100 60Ds. A "Friday afternoon job" won't have more noise, it just won't work.
    • As mentioned above, the 5D II is a full frame camera with a much bigger sensor. The larger sensor gathers more light but produces only the same amount of electronic noise (less actually, as it's a better, more modern design than the D3000, but about the same amount as a current model D7000 or K-5). More light - less noise = better picture.
    • Lenses do NOT contribute to noise in any way. (Except insofar as a fast lens may allow you to shoot at a wider aperture if you can afford the relatively shallow depth of field. Mostly you can get away with it.)

    The conclusion for you is much as you say - you are going to be fairly limited by the D3000. 100 and 200 will be fine, 400 usable, 800 marginal, and anything over that out of the question. There is nothing wrong with your camera, it's just an old model that wasn't very good at low noise. Learn to deal with it by exposing carefully (push the exposure up as high as you dare then pull it back in post - look up "shoot to the right" on Google) and (if you can) upgrading to some nice fast lenses. Eventually you will upgrade the body (there is no hurry) and the new one will be all the better because of the skills you have honed.
    Tony

    Edit and critique at will. Tokina 10-17 fish, Canon 10-22, 24-105, 100-400, TS-E 24, 35/1.4, 60 macro, 100L macro, 500/4, Wimberley, MT-24EX, 580EX-II, 1D IV, 7D, 5D II, 50D.

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    Arch-Σigmoid Ausphotography Regular ameerat42's Avatar
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    ++ with the ^^. Also, how are you processing the images? Are they straight jpegs, or are you using then processing raw files? If the latter, you will have plenty of scope to fix any noise.
    CC, Image editing OK.

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    Who let the rabble in? Lance B's Avatar
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    I'd love to see some examples of your images.

    At the higher ISO's you will lose Dynamic Range, but at 800 noise should still look good especially in bright conditions. The only time you really get into trouble with high ISO is in the dark areas of an image and underexposed conditions or when there is huge dynamic range, outside the range that the sensor can handle at that ISO.

    I do live very close to you if you want to meet and discuss options and tips etc.

  9. #9
    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    So far you've received all the necessary info to help you understand the basics, I have nothing to add to that, but!

    Quote Originally Posted by Grumby View Post
    ......
    I have a Nikon D3000, and mostly used it at ISO 100 until recently, when I read somewhere that (some) Nikons perform better at 200 than 100. I switched to 200, and could see no obvious difference in quality under most conditions, .....
    You read this correctly!

    If you are using raw file type(NEF), you have an allowance to recover the dynamic range a bit in post processing.

    That is, if you are struggling to capture a very contrasty scene within the limits of the sensor, you can both under and overexpose by a certain amount, and in processing you can reduce the exposure to reclaim blow out highlights, AND increase exposure to reclaim lost shadow detail.

    If you try Nikon's ViewNX2 and use the Dynamic Light tool, you will see this work in action.
    (CaptureNX2 has a better version of this, but CNX2 cost money where VNX2 is free to use).

    Anyhow, back to the use of ISO100 and ISO200.
    If ISO200 is the base ISO, what happens is that the camera is capturing the scene at the standard ISO level and that's it. There is no ISO processing in camera to achieve the stated ISO level.
    But, if you use ISO100, the camera actually captures the scene at ISO200 and then processes 1 stop of under exposure into the image before giving you a file to work with.
    What that means is that if the raw file has already been processed by the camera, the highlight detail is harder to reclaim when doing processing work on the PC.
    as an basic example of what this means is that you are processing an already processed image.

    OK.. having said that, you can now forget about it all, as your D3000 has a base ISO of 100, not 200.

    The previously info only applies to Nikon cameras(I don't know about other cameras!) if the base ISO is set to ISOXXX, and there is an option to use a lower value that that.. eg, Lo1, or Lo.07.... etc.
    The D3000 uses the old D200 sensor from years back, and has a base ISO of 100.
    The newer cameras use different sensors, such as the D90, D3100 and so forth, and they may have an ISO range from 200-3200, and beyond those values may also have Lo1 - Lo0.3 and at the higher end may have Hi0.3 - Hi 2 or something.
    It's these Lo and Hi values where the major processing is applied by the camera.
    Some folks say that you also shouldn't use intermediate ISO values such as 640 or 1000 and so on.. that is values other than the standard 1 stop of 200, 400, 800, 1600 and so on.

    If you get a newer camera this info may assist you in some way, but for use on your D3000, the best quality ISO value to use is the lowest, ie. 100.
    As you increase ISO on the camera, you will see a gradual decline in absolute image quality.

    FWIW: on my D300 which has the option of Lo1(ie. ISO 100) and a base ISO of 200, I still use ISOLo1, as it then gives me more room to recover the shadow areas. I try harder not to blow out the highlights, but if I know that I'm going to have too blow the highlights, I switch to ISO200 and work from there.
    ISOLo1 always gives me the ability to sharpen more before a grainy pattern emerges from other parts of the scene.

    So while the info that you've read about the use of ISO200 over ISO 100 can be true for some Nikon cameras, it doesn't hold true for all, and not for your D3000.

    hope that helps.
    Nikon D800E, D300, D70s
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    WOW!!!
    Thanks everyone for your input, explanations, and the time you've taken to make it all clear (pardon the pun - given we are talking about noise...)
    So, the first thing I'll do is switch straight back to ISO 100
    The next thing I'm going to do is start to investigate RAW format a bit more seriously. I tried it once before, but all the extra steps in the processing workflow, and having the additional (large) files to store as well, all put me off it a bit - but that was back when I spent my whole time in Auto mode and was content with the pop-up flash... I think I've grown up a bit since then, and am ready to move into the big boys' playground.
    I'd like to learn a bit more about noise reduction techniques - I've used the in-camera NR setting a few times when doing night photography and exposures measured in minutes rather than fractions of a second, and tried the basic NR filter settings in Photoshop (I have an old version - CS3), but I didn't really know 'what' I was doing, or why. Are there any tricks of the trade, or useful resource sites with info on the subject? Does shooting straight to JPG impose any constraints on NR post-processing?

    Many many thanks to you all once again
    Grum.

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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    As long as your exposures are captured well, jpg is fine.

    That is, blown highlights and lost shadows where inappropriate are better recovered with a raw file.
    As before lower BASE ISO is best for this process.

    It really depends on the situation and need.

    I'm primarily a landscape nut, and for some inexplicable reason I've found myself trying to eke out every last ounce of detail I could manage.
    (with a combination of filtering and processing for both highlights and shadows).
    Shoot at the appropriate camera settings for best quality for the given situation and spent time clicking here and there to get what I could from the image .. etc, etc.

    But then on the flip side, I've shot at a couple of parties for friends/family at high ISO and used the in camera NR setting to speed up the raw conversion process.
    I could have shot in jpg mode, but the conversion from raw to JPG is quite simple anyhow.
    It's a form of insurance I suppose.
    Basically kept the party images as is, and set a few edit steps for highlight, shadow and whitebalance and pressed the convert button.
    Processing doesn't get any easier than that.

    Card space is not really an issue as it's quite cheap to get more card for this extra space. This also has the added benefit that if one card suddenly goes bang, you have others to work with.
    (I've had one 2Gig Sandisk card corrupt itself on me in the past 7 years).

    The other real advantage in shooting raw over jpg is that you simply allow the camera to select the WB value and most times it gets it right. But when it gets it wrong, you have much more control over readjusting it on the raw file.
    (I've never been impressed with the jpg WB readjustment tool in LR3).
    As an example of how this can make a difference. Imagine you are a party at a house, in one room there is only incandescent lighting, and in the next room there is a combination of LED, fluoro and CFL lighting. You set your WB to incandescent for the one room and then quickly move to the other. In the other room, the lighting is all mixed up and you have to decide which WB setting to use on your jpgs.
    You will get a higher quality output file in having shot raw when doing the WB correction in editing than you will get from doing a colour balance correction on a similar jpg file.

    Also note that I do all my editing on NEF files using only Nikon's ViewNX2 and CaptureNX2, so I don't muck about with in camera settings picture settings such as WB, Picture Control, and so on.
    Lightroom (and CS) are much more powerful image editors when compared to the Nikon software, but the Nikon software is easier to use on NEF files.

    I've never checked the comparison between applying NR to jpgs vs raw files, as I only shoot raw files.

    The other point to be aware of with shooting in jpg mode is that of super high end quality for the final output.
    With jpg you only really have an 8bit file that can be converted to a TIFF file at a point in the future, but the reality is that you're never going to gain all that much more detail or quality from that TIFF file, as the initial data in that file is derived from a lower quality image.
    A TIFF file generated from a raw file can always have a much higher level of detail if you need it too.

    For a landscape photographer this could be important for a high quality print file where subtle colour graduations in the image could have an impact in the print.
    This super fine level of detail is not really something you will want to extract from every image you capture, but as before .. it's a kind of insurance policy.
    If you ever do capture that million dollar image, then you have the ability to print it off in a million dollar kind of manner if required.

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