Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Nikon D90 High ISO Test Shots

I've finally gotten my D90. I've wanted one months before it was even announced. So when it announced in August I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and now I have :) I'm not too sure about the other features of the camera but I got it primarily for the High ISO performance.

First impressions:
  1. It's not that big. I knew all along that it was going to be D80 sized but still...
  2. The LCD screen rocks!
  3. So many buttons! I actually feel a little overwhelmed. Shows how much of a noob I am.
  4. Same thing for the menu. Going to take me some time to get familiar with it.
  5. Took some pictures and wondered why they look so washed out. Quickly changed the camera to use the vivid profile :D
For those who don't know, the ISO number basically represents the sensitivity of the camera sensor. Typically you will see ISO numbers like ISO 200, ISO 400, ISO 800 and so on. The higher the ISO number, the higher you sensor's sensitivity is.

Without going into the details, a higher sensor sensitivity enables you to shoot pictures better in situations where there is insufficient ambient light (like in a badly lit room). However there is one major problem with higher sensitivities and that is the problem of "noise".

In short, noise are the grainy artifacts you see when you shoot pictures using a digital camera. The higher the ISO number, the worse the noise.

Take a look at a series of test shots I did using several different ISO values. I turned off the noise reduction when shooting these pics. Also I'm depending 100% on ambient light (i.e. no flash!). The pictures are JPGs taken directly from the camera.

ISO 800
ISO 800

ISO 1600
ISO 1600

ISO 3200
ISO 3200

ISO 6400
ISO 6400

These aren't the full size images (they have been resized to fit the blog) so the noise isn't too clear but it's obviously there in the ISO 6400 and ISO 3200 pictures (hint: when looking for noise always look at the dark areas). I think we're also seeing some color shifting in the ISO 6400 picture.

Now let's look at the 100% crops of the above pictures to get a better idea of the noise problem.

ISO 800 crop
ISO 800

ISO 1600 crop
ISO 1600

ISO 3200 crop
ISO 3200

ISO 6400 crop
ISO 6400

Now do you understand the problem with noise? I'm very happy with what I'm seeing in the ISO 800 picture. ISO 1600 ain't perfect but I think it's still good. Unfortunately things seem to go to hell from ISO 3200 onwards.

I'm probably never going to use ISO 6400 again but the noise problem in the ISO 3200 picture can be fixed somewhat in post processing. Here's an example:

ISO 3200
ISO 3200


ISO 3200 NR
ISO 3200, noise reduced in post production

ISO 3200 crop
ISO 3200


ISO 3200 NR crop
ISO 3200 100% crop, noise reduced in post production

Not too bad, eh? So far I love what I see. Of course you can't compare the D90 to the full frame monsters like the D700 and D3. Those are superior but cost much much more.

posted by Wye Jon at Tuesday, October 07, 2008 (permalink) |

3 wise words from our readers:

a golden opinion from Anonymous jimmy 40d

Great article, would you post the ISO comparison with D80? what software did you use for the post production? should meet up one day for C vs N, I know C is gonna lost in this battle, but want to see how much better is N.

8:26 AM  

a golden opinion from Blogger Wye Jon

jimmy 40d: I can't post the comparison with D80. I don't own one :)

Sure... one day go yumcha.

9:13 AM  

a golden opinion from Blogger Wye Jon

jimmy 40d: noise reduction was done with noise ninja. I can actually make the noise disappear altogether but the picture will look like a watercolor painting.

9:15 AM  

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