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Why Compare High-ISO Noise Between Cameras?
© Darrell Young  

It seems like there's a lot of talk these days about how one camera, or another, outperforms the others in noise at 3200 ISO. Why so much interest in how a camera performs at the absolute edge of low-light image capturing ability?


I think it is, partially, the fascination that many have with the new ability to shoot at high ISO values on the fly.

Back in the film days we had to load in new film to shoot that way, so it took a lot more time. With digital, all we have to do is crank the ISO dial up a bit.

Yesterday, I was shooting some handheld available light images under florescent lights, and I was using only 600 ISO to take great pictures. Of course, with my D2x's ability to white balance, I also had accurate color images. See image to the left for an example!

I suppose if I were a wedding shooter, and the pastor would not allow flash, or a sport shooter limited to available light, I would be VERY concerned about the least possible amount of noise in my images at extremely high ISO values. But, for the majority of users, surely 100-400 ISO will provide all the range they'll normally use. Going to 800 ISO is really a rarity in my case, and I bet many of us never exceed that value.


Also, with cameras costing so much now, there is a measure of "class" concern. The "my camera is better than your camera" attitude has a LOT to do with how people rate things like high-ISO noise.

Unless one really needs the ability to take images in very low light situations, and most of us don't, then what is the big concern if one camera has better extreme ISO noise? This issue is one of those silly things that seem to come up from time-to-time.

Unless you are doing something rather odd, it is not normal to shoot at ISO values above 800. Why degrade the quality of your image unless you absolutely must have the extra speed. If i were in a dark parking lot and an alien spaceship landed, I suppose I wouldn't want to call attention to myself with flash; have you seen H.G. Wells - War of the Worlds, for instance?

For the VAST MAJORITY of us, extreme ISO noise is NOT an issue. Today's DSLR cameras are so good at getting rid of noise, that it really is a moot point. The D2x simply has no noise at 100 ISO. And up to 800 ISO has very little. I wrote a recent article on this subject here:

Nikon D2x - Understanding ISO and Noise Reduction Settings

So, when it is time to buy a new digital camera, you might want to glance at the 3200 ISO noise ratings, but there are much more imprtant things to consider about a camera. I've been shooting digitally since 1999, and I can count on two hands the number of extreme ISO images I have taken. I bet you're like me!

Keep on capturing time...

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