How important is high ISO?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Lovesong, Jan 16, 2007.

  1. Lovesong macrumors 65816


    Sep 15, 2006
    Stuck beween a rock and a hard place
    Alright...I know this issue has been discussed here, and on other forums, and yes, this is probably going to end up being another one of those DSLR threads, but I think that this is a question that may really make my decision for me, and I would appreciate any input.
    I have been doing a lot of research in trying to decide on a DSLR. From what I've read, the Nikons tend to have better ergonomics and bang for the buck, while the Canons tend to have better IQ as their forte. In particular, I was looking at the high ISO performance of the D200 vs the 5D.
    Over the last 5 years I have been a P&S shooter, though before that I owned a Minolta SLR. The main question I have is how important is it to have good noise performance at high ISO? In my film days, I really never used a film faster than 400, yet I doubt I ever pushed the camera to its full potential. From what I gather, the D200 and the 5D essentially produce the same IQ up to about ISO400, following which, the 5D runs circles around the Nikon. How often do you guys push your cameras to high ISOs? I'm primarily interested in having a camera that will have excellent IQ, for landscapes, and when I'm travelling around. I need something that will keep me happy for the foreseevable future (and yes, I know that you'll tell me buy the glass, not the camera, but to be fair both Canon and Nikon make some top-notch glass). In particular I'm looking at the Nikon D200 with a 17-55 f/2.8, and the Canon 5D with the 24-70 F/2.8 L. Any input would be awesome.
  2. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    It depends on what you shoot and how fast your lenses are. With f/2.8 lenses I think you'd rarely go above ISO400 unless you needed a lot of depth of field. I also think the last Nikon firmware update made it good up to about 1250, though you have to be much more careful about not underexposing.

    For landscapes, I'd probably look more at the Canon with the Sigma 12-24mm though. Full-frame with a massive field of view when shot from down low with a good foreground makes for some very, very impressive images.
  3. coldrain macrumors regular

    Dec 20, 2006
    High ISO performance is of course important when you push lighting situations. Lower light and handholding or moving subjects means you need to shorten the needed exposure time, and that is where high ISO settings push the boundaries of photography.

    It is personal to how much importance you put in it. I personally already am annoyed at times about low light ISO 800 photos from my 350D, so I would not be happy with a D200.
    But landscape photography rarely would need higher ISO use, to in that sense the D200 would be a good choice too.

    I have a 18-50 f2.8 Sigma which I used for landscape photography. It is quite a nice lens, but with some CA at 18mm wide open. I sometimes find it not wide enough though, so I also got a wider zoom lens, the very sharp 12-24 f4 Tokina.

    So maybe 17mm is not wide enough for you either in all situations, with such excellent ultra wide zooms available.

    The D200 should be compared to the EOS 30D though. The EOS 30D also is better in high ISO than the D200, but that is not so important at landscape photography.

    The Canon EF-S 17-55 f2.8 IS USM is a very nice, very sharp lens though, and makes the EOS 30D worth considering. Pair it with a Canon EF-S 10-22mm USM and you have a big wide range of high quality glass.

    The Nikon 17-55 f2.8 DX is a very good lens at its wide end too, losing some resolution/contrast towards its long end.

    Cheaper (and still good) alternatives are the 17-50mm f2.8 Tamron (avoid it on the D200, as it has problems with focussing accurately on the D200 with the internal motor), and the Sigma 18-50 F2.8 Macro (improved version, and better on the D200 regarding AF). Both available for Canon and Nikon.

    The 5D is a bit more dynamic than the other two, and excels in gradients like skin tones, and shadows, especially compared to the D200. But its full frame sensor does mean you have more vignetting towards the corners with wide angle lenses, and stopping down does not resolve that totally.

    So for wide angle landscapes the 30D may actually be a better choice than the 5D (because of vignetting due to its full frame sensor), the 5D being an excellent portrait and wedding camera, for instance.

    If I were you I would make my choice between the Canon EOS 30D (or 40D if you are waiting till spring with your purchase), and the Nikon D200 (or D80 if you do not need a sealed body and its other extras), and base my choice mostly on what lenses would be best for your purpose, and get a body from that lens brand you choose.
  4. leandroc76 macrumors regular

    Oct 27, 2003
    What it all boils down to is noise.

    For the price of a 5D if you can find it lower than $3500 (body only) then the ISO performance is about the best you'll get from a DSLR anywhere on the planet.

    And that's coming from a Nikon shooter. The D200 is much improved at higher ISO's but still not as close as the 5D.

    All that it really doesn't matter if you're not going to shoot at an ISO higher than 400. As a wedding shooter, I rely on the higher ISO's to gain a stop or two in low light conditions. the trade off is a little more noise. but it is manageable. and in most prints (no greater than 8X11) my customer's won't even notice.

    Although I have seen unbeleivable prints from shots straight out of the camera shot in ISO1600 @ 24 x16 inches from a D200. Yes the noise is present but only in the darker, unexposed areas.

    The 5D is abit small in my hands for my tastes, which is why I shoot Nikon, that and I already have all the Nikon glass.

    But you said your into Landscapes. I won't waste your time on preaching about tripods, but I will say that with one, it really doesn't matter which camera you have, you'll want to shoot at the lowest possible ISO anyhow.

    As far as "IQ", which I assume "ease of use" the D200 is far better ergonomically.

    FWIW: the Nikkor 10.5 Fisheye is one of the most sharpest ultrawides I ever shot with.
  5. atari1356 macrumors 68000


    Feb 27, 2004
    If you plan on taking pictures indoors... then having good image quality at high ISO certainly helps. It's especially useful if you want to freeze motion by raising the ISO indoors.

    I take a lot of pictures of kids indoors, so for that reason I'd definitely choose the Canon 5D.
  6. hodgjy macrumors 6502

    Apr 15, 2005

    I personally think too much emphasis is placed on noise. Way too much. Sure, little p&s cameras have more noise than DSLRs, but now a days DSLRs have lower noise than their film counterparts (in most cases). A lot of time, the noise is only visible when you blow the picture to 100% on your computer screen. Printed out, you can hardly see any noise.

    I can print 5x7's and 8x10's from my little p&s with hardly any noticeable color noise, but some shadow noise is noticeable. When I use my Canon 20D, I never see ANY noise at any print size from any iso (well, if I used 3200 and printed to 8x10, some is noticeable).

    So, my advice is to not worry about the noise issue because, well, it's not an issue. Pick the camera that has all the features you want and feels the best in your hand. Noise should be the last criterion you look into. Have you ever looked at Ansel Adams' old pictures? They are noisy as heck. No one talks about the noise, but rather how gorgeous the shots are.
  7. coldrain macrumors regular

    Dec 20, 2006
    Don't compare film grain with sensor noise. Film grain is better compared to pixel amount. You can make a gorgeous photo with an 1mp camera, but pixels do show up when printed big. Colour and saturation, or contrast in B/W, are preserved well though. Noise on the other hand sucks contrast and colour away, because they are just faulty readings, and have nothing to do with how course the grain is.

    Noise is a big factor in certain situations. Not in landscape photography so much, though.

    And in my opinion, how well the sensor performs and what lenses are best are a much bigger deciding factor than how a camera feels in your hand. I made some very nice photos with my Nikkormat FTn... and it was not formed to a hand shape in any shape or form.
  8. leandroc76 macrumors regular

    Oct 27, 2003

    All great points here, and if anything this should be your bottom line... to further back up my point, I use the higher ISO's for speed!
  9. EstorilM macrumors regular

    Jan 7, 2007
    Fuji Super CCD SR? EASILY up there with the 5D for noise, especially DR. It's also Nikon F-Mount. :D

    Anyways, about the D200 vs. 5D - they were designed to do very different things - I see the 5D best suited for indoor studio work, architecture, etc. The D200 is a better handling camera, faster in every way, and is better suited for outdoor / sports settings.

    If noise is your only concern, I'd take a look at the Fujis or the 5D - one has a crop, one doesn't (however in addition to the initial cost of the 5D, you'll need more expensive, higher performance glass to use with it.) APS-C sensors use the "sweet spot."

    The S5 should be out in a little bit, and will be up there with the cost of the 5D, it will also have similar speeds - however it'll have the D200s flash commender and full iTTL support, along with the same weather sealed body, detailed battery info, and they actually used Nikon's flagship metering (3D Matrix II) and the same CAM1000 AF from the D200.

    Unfortunately it's still too slow. :( (3fps, slow processing due to the Fuji sensor, transfer rates, etc.)

    edit: I found some Japanese website that did a noise test of a pre production S5, I'm pretty impressed (considering it's a crop you're looking at.)
  10. hodgjy macrumors 6502

    Apr 15, 2005
    You made all valid points. As far as the noise vs. grain, you are correct, but I was simply making a point that the quality of a picture goes beyond little markings that tatter the picture. That's all. It's all about composition, color, etc. Noise and grain aren't, and shouldn't be, important.

    As far as ergonomics, I was referring to the OP. The choice was narrowed down to the D200 and 5D. I think it's foolish to pick one camera over another because of noise. Both cameras have different feature sets and ergonomics. Both will take gorgeous pictures. But because photography is rarely limited by the equipment, and mostly limited by the user, I think it's important for the user to get the camera that they are more comfortable with. I'm sure Ansel Adams or Paul Strand can take better pictures with a 2mp el-cheapo Canon Powershot than I ever could with an EOS 5D.

  11. leandroc76 macrumors regular

    Oct 27, 2003
    I agree The S3 Pro isn't so shabby either.

    Anyhow there really isn't a DSLR out there that can't do what you want it to. Save the money on body to get the best glass. I've seen some of the best images made with a disposable camera!
  12. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    For landscapes, if you don't want to do HDR processing, the dynamic range of the S3Pro is top-flight. I'd forgotten about the Fujis (even though I've got two S2Pros knocking about)-- good catch.
  13. Lovesong thread starter macrumors 65816


    Sep 15, 2006
    Stuck beween a rock and a hard place
    Thanks for all your input. I agree that for the most part the person taking the picture is the limiting factor in how well all your pictures turn out. I guess what I'm concerned about is the fact that my last camera, a Panasonic FZ20, produced some truly nice photos, with quite a bit of noise, which frustrated me to the point of selling the darn thing. I'm looking at getting either the D200 body for ~$1400, or the 5D for ~$2300 after rebates (with a cheap zoom lens). I guess I was wondering if the $900 difference is really worth the image quality gain. As for wide-angle lenses, I think the 24-70 on a 5D would be sufficient to get me going; I'll probably get a set of primes later on. On a crop-factor camera such as the 30D a 17mm lens would be more like a 27mm, and one thing I have learned from my friend who owns the 5D is that getting cheap lenses will not really work on a FF camera, as it's going to expose every last imperfection.
  14. hodgjy macrumors 6502

    Apr 15, 2005
    A few things to consider, in my opinion.

    1) For all practical purposes, you'll never notice the difference in noise between the D200 and 5D. Noise is the most noticeable when you don't expose the picture properly. Learn to expose properly, and noise will never be an issue.

    2) I don't think you want to put cheap zooms on either camera. However, since the D200 is a crop camera, you can get away with it more than you can with the 5D. The 5D will really show the lenses' weaknesses in the corners.

    3) If you are going to be taking mostly landscape pictures, I'd consider the following packages:
    --Nikon D200 ($1400) plus Tokina 12-24 ($500). Total, $1900.
    --Canon 30D ($1050 after rebate) plus Canon 10-22 ($650). Total, $1700.

    The Canon 5D really shines for indoor shots, like sports and portraits. While it would be awesome for landscapes, you won't miss the extra features. Plus, you can use the sweet spots of all full-frame lenses on either of these crop cameras. As far as noise goes, you'll never notice the noise difference between the D200, 5D, and 30D when shooting outdoor landscapes.

  15. EstorilM macrumors regular

    Jan 7, 2007
    Well said, and I agree - except for the indoor sports stuff, 2 things are going against the 5D in this respect - 3fps continuous max, and not having the 1.5x crop (I'd feel naked without it attempting sports.) However you could crop the actual image a little more with the increased resolution (though not really that much of an increase.)

    For sports, and anything under $3500 for a D2, used 1D, etc.. I think the D200 is king (the viewfinder, shutter lag, blackout time, and ergonomics alone make it unbeatable for the price. (compared to the 20d, 30d.)

    I got the sigma 24-70 2.8 (EX, DG, HSM, macro) when I first got the camera, and it's great (except for some purple fringe in tough situations, like water splashes that are backlit.)
    But oh man, for $320 you can't go wrong! That lens would noot be happy on a 5D.

    Blah, I really need a 10-24 / 12-24. :(
  16. coldrain macrumors regular

    Dec 20, 2006
    As you say, 17mm will be about 28mm on a APS-C crop factor camera. This is the same for both a 30D and a D200 though.

    So why does that influence you in the decision about choosing between a 200D and 5D... and not looking at the 30D?
    The 30D is the natural camera to compare, and it performs better noise wise in case you are still worried about that, than the D200.

    Compare the 30D and D200 and their lens options. And compare full frame (5D) against APS-C (D200 and 30D). Those are the comparisons yoru should be making in your choice.
    Especially concerning wide angle photography. And do not underestimate a 30D, it is a very capable camera.

    And to EstorilM, shutter lag and blackout time of a D200 better than the 30D? The 30D is faster in AF (not by a huge factor but still), both shoot at 5fps... how is the D200 better in these respects? *puzzled*
    And ergonomics, some prefer a Nikon, some prefer a Canon. That is very personal and also a matter of what you are used to.
  17. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    Noise is a function of the physical size of the sensor. That's why the DSLRs are so much better at low noise then the P&S cameras and why the full frame 5D is better then the DX sized Nikon or APS-C sized Canon. If you got the bucks then buy the Hasselblad with it's "double size" 36x48mm sensor. Big sensors are expensive so have to compromise.

    For landscapes I would think you would be shooting at the lowest ISO you can and letting the shutter speed go to some very long exposure. One second or so is not unresonable for many landscape photos. Just get the IR remote control or use the self timmer and a sturdy tripod. Or just buy a $100 used film body for even better resilts and scan the negatives. Also you typically don'r need a fast lens for landscapes. in small format photography you'd be shooting at about f/8, give or take or where eer the lens is sharpest and has ther DOF you want..

    If yo do buy the 5D canon you will be buying full frame lenses for it. Likely all "L". So it will be a much more expensive system then a D200 which can use cheaper glass.

    While I like my Nikon DSLR, I'm thinking of going to film for landscape photography and for some studio macro or table top work. I'm thinking 4x5 format is best for this kind of stuff. That is stuff that holds still while you work and wait for the light. The trouble is my littel Mac Mini chokes big time even on scanned 6x7cm negatives (100 megapixels) and would out right die if I fed it a scanned 4x5. I'm waiting 'till after spring to buy a Mac Pro so I can work with 100+ MP images I have some ideas for a few 4 foot prints. Long story, but my ideal landscape setup would a a huge sensor, low ISO speed (under 100) and slow lens with stuffer speed inn the "few seconds" range. Or in a studio I can use enough light so I can do f/16 and 40 or 50 ISO

    What you need the high ISO for is candid, available light shoots indoors or for sports where yu need to freeze the action with 1/1000th sec exposures.

    No matter what camera, digital or with film, you always want to use the lowest ISO speed that will do the job.
  18. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    What do you want for typical output? Though it's more of a PITA, if you're going to mostly print at 8x10, then I'd advise shooting at 8x10- contact prints from an 8x10 are astounding and they change the hassle factor of printing immensely.

    I've got a 5x7 with a 4x5 reducing back that does really well and gives me access to 4x5 film- but it's such a PITA compared to digital that it's been sitting unused until I make enough that I can take six or eight months off to shoot. My guess is at that point I'll be getting a BetterLight back for it anyway.

    Scheimflug (sp?) gives you a "wedge" of focus that when given an interesting foreground and distant higher background will blow you away. If you've got the patience for LF it's still THE way for landscapes that sing.
  19. coldrain macrumors regular

    Dec 20, 2006
    Lovesong, this is an example of ultrawide on an APS-C crop factor sensor camera like the Canon EOS 30D and Nikon D200, in this case a Tokina 12-24mm f4 lens at 12mm (on a Canon EOS 350D).
    Equivalent focal point on an EOS 5D would be 19mm.
    As you can see, sometimes ultra wide can give nice wide views. So do consider going wider than 17mm (or 24mm full frame).

    Attached Files:

  20. Lovesong thread starter macrumors 65816


    Sep 15, 2006
    Stuck beween a rock and a hard place
    Hmmm...I think I like hodgjy's idea. Going with the 30D and a wide angle lens like the 10-22 will probably be the way to go. I guess I was leaning more towards the Nikon based on built, and the fact that you do get those extra MPs. I think that you guys are right, I should probably go with a APS-C camera, as I wouldn't have to get all L-type glass (or gold-ring Nikon). I guess I'm thinking more about Canon now, as Costco's prices are dirt-cheap, and comes with a crappy 17-55. Probably the 10-22, a 50 1.4, and perhaps more of a zoom such as the 70-200 2.8. I'm looking at ~$3000 this way. What do you guys think?
  21. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    If your technique is good, you'll get fantastic pictures from any of the choices really. I'd just add that you might want to factor in a good tripod, ballhead and double bubble. For landscapes where the ballhead might be subject to dirt, I'd recommend the Acratech line as they're dead easy to clean and cheaper than something like a BH2. For tripods, get the biggest one you can lug around. I also like Arca-Swiss style plates with stop screws- pricey but generally bombproof.

    If you're doing wide, you may want to invest in a pano head instead though and get some stitching software if you don't already have some.
  22. dllavaneras macrumors 68000


    Feb 12, 2005
    Caracas, Venezuela
    If you shoot low-light situations or want action-freezing shots, then high ISO is very valuable/ You can always fix the noise (to an extent) with NR programs like Noise Ninja
  23. coldrain macrumors regular

    Dec 20, 2006
    Both the 30D and the D200 are very well built. Both are meta bodies. This is not the big difference. The D200 is weather sealed, meaning you can use it in a stiff downpoor. I myself am not that weather proof photography wise, so I do not find that so important. A bit of rain kills no camera.

    The difference between the 8.1mp Canon and the 10mp Nikon is not that big, it is hardly noticable on photos. The Nikon D80 is a plastic body, but still sturdy anyway. As is the Canon EOS 400D/XTi. The Canon 40D with 10.1mp will keep you waiting for a few months, but since the difference in resolution between 8 and 10 mp is small, that is not really worth the wait in my opinion

    On the Nikon side you have a 12-24mm f4 Nikkor, a Tokina 12-24mm f4 and a Sigma 10-20mm. The Sigma vignets a bit, even when stopped down.
    On the Canon side you have the Canon 10-22mm f3.5-4.5, the Tokina 12-24mm f4 and the Sigma 10-22mm.

    Distortion wise, the Canon beats the rest over the whole range, followed by the Tokina. Resolution wise the Tokina beats the rest. The Nikon is also good, but by far the most expensive.

    Factor in buying Nikon capture NX when you go for the Nikon, $150 worth of very good RAW conversion software.
    With the Canon its high quality RAW conversion software comes standard, but it has a lot less bells and whistles.

    I would not go for a 18-55 kitlens, and just choose a Sigma EX DC 18-50 f2.8 macro on Nikon or a Tamron 17-50 f2.8 Di II or Sigma EX DC 18-50 f2.8 on Canon in place of any kit lens on either platform.

    Or if you do not mind spending the money, the Nikkor AF-S 17-55 f2.8 DX or the Canon IS 17-55 f2.8 IS USM.

    A 70-200 f2.8 from either Canon (IS and non-IS version), Nikon (only VR version) or Sigma (no IS, very affordable and as good as the other 2).

    My preference goes to the 30D because of its UI and its sensor (and its lens line-up), some others prefer the Nikon platform.

    Both will give you a very capable setup though. A compact good tripod is of course a good idea, as can be good multi coated circular polarized light filters.
  24. bhdean macrumors newbie

    Nov 27, 2006
    You don't have to buy Nikon Capture NX for RAW files. If you are doing very light touch ups Nikon's Picture Project can handle it and should come with the camera. If you have Photoshop; it can do the conversion just fine. Or you can get the Lightroom beta and it will do a bit more than PP for free, at least for now.

    I shoot in RAW and I have Photoshop, PP and Lightroom and I have no problems converting my RAWs over.

    As for the Noise difference. Canon does an excellent job reducing noise in camera. Nikon you will need to pick up some kind of noise reducing software, which isn't expensive at all. After running the shots through the noise filter; you can't tell a difference. I've been testing out Noiseware Pro and its has been doing a good job so far and only costs about $40 dollars for the stand alone. Only problem I have with this program is that I can't import NEFs. I have to save to a TIFF first.

    As mentioned above, unless you are shooting low light and trying to stop actions; you won't need high ISO all that often. I shoot sports and I'm usually shooting at ISO 800 or 1600 with a 2.8 lens. I get minimal noise as long as my exposure is right on. When I do get some nasty noise; post production cleans it up nicely.
  25. wisredz macrumors regular

    Aug 4, 2006
    I'm really happy with my D200's ISO performance. It gives a lot of grain when pushed really high but that only pleases me, because I really like the look of grain on B&W photos.

    I don't think ISO will be of great importance when shooting landscapes. A good wide lens will do you a lot of good with landscape. But as has been mentioned before the quality of the pictures you take does depend solely on you. Nikon or Canon doesn't make much of a difference, seeing that they both manifacture nicest cameras on the face of earth.

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