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Photography - Settings - ISO and Noise

Abstract - Nagged by the question of how much quality I was loosing by flirting with higher ISO settings, I decided to run a test. This page reports the results of the test that I ran.

Conclusions - The C-5050 and the D70 both produce low noise results at their lowest ISO settings. And both have slight, but noticeable noise when the ISO is increased to the next logical level e.g. from 64 to 100 for the C-5050 and from 200 to 400 for the D70. At higher ISO levels, the noise is obvious and in my opinion, objectionable.

Recommendations - Use the lowest ISO settings for both cameras unless you have specific reasons for increasing the ISO. And if you must increase ISO, try to limit it to no more than 100 for the C-5050 and 400 for the D70.

Background - The advantage of low ISO settings is less noise or graininess in areas like water backgrounds where it might be visible. The disadvantage of low ISO values is that more light is needed, which in general means lower f stops or slower shutter speeds, neither of which is particularly good in underwater photography.

For my C-3040 and my C-5050, using the lowest settings available was not a problem. So that is what I used. And when got my D70 I started at ISO 200, the minimum for the D70 which ranges from 200 to 1600. But according to Thom Hogan;

"ISO 400 is actually quite close to 200 in quality, so don't be afraid to use it. Normally you don't want to give up any image quality at all, but the very slight increase in noise at ISO 400 isn't worth agonizing over: if it allows you to capture what you need to, use it!"

So for me, wanting to go to higher f stops for a greater depth of field on my Nikkor 12-24 lens, ISO 400 seemed like a good idea. But nagged by the question of how much quality I was loosing, I decided to run a test.

The Test - I tapped a piece of matte photo paper to an electrical outlet and took flash pictures of the outlet at about a 15 degree angle to prevent glare with my C-5050 and my D70 in flash mode. I took the pictures in RAW mode and opened them in Photoshop CS with the Adobe RAW converter values all set to zero. The only adjustment I made was to the exposure level to get the pictures near maximum exposure in the target area. I then saved the images as TIFF files and subsequently converted them to JPEG files set at the highest quality setting. The results of the test are shown below.

Note: Doubling the ISO setting doubles the light gathering capability of the lens. This doubling can be equated to 1 f stop. Thus, logically I would have preferred to have doubled the ISO for each picture to maintain the same relevance from one level to the next. However, I was not able to follow this logic with the C-5050 because the only ISO settings available are 64, 100, 200, and 400. The net effect of this limitation is that since 100 is not double 64, one might expect a lesser increase in noise going from 64 to 100 than from 64 to 128. Stated another way, If you think you see a greater increase in noise with the D70 going from 200 to 400 than with the C-5050 going from 64 to 100, logic is on your side.

 
Olympus C-5050 100%
ISO 64 ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
 
Nikon D70 100%
ISO 200 !SO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600

 

 

Olympus C-5050 400% Nikon D70 400%
ISO 64 ISO 200
ISO 100 ISO 400
ISO 200 ISO 800
ISO 400 ISO 1600
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