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Tullio Sep 7, 2010 9:52 AM

How do you feel about "noise"
Image noise is probably one of the most common topics of discussion. Just about everyone mentions "noise" when talking about a camera, whether in a positive or negative way. Then there is the "common" knowledge that high noise is caused by high number of MP combined with small sensors. Over the years, P&S sensors haven't become much larger. I have 5+ year old cameras with sensor size of 1/2.33", which today seems to be pretty standard (up from just 1/2.5"). Of course there's always a brand/model here and there with larger sensor sizes (1/1.6") but they are definitely the minority. So, it looks like if any improvement over high ISO noise is to be made, it will come from the image processor rather than the increase in sensor size. Thus, we are now dealing with code and not physics.

Interestingly enough, after I got into the m4/3 system, I started shooting with a variety of MF lenses as well as participating in m4/3 dedicated forums and one thing I have noticed is the fact that m4/3 shooters seem to have a lot more tolerance for "noise" than everybody else. Why? Noise is still noise. Whether you get it from your brand new Panasonic FZ100 or from your GF1 with a vintage lens mounted on it, it's irrelevant...or it should be (I used the Panasonic models as examples because Panasonic tends to be one of the worst brands when it comes to controlling high ISO noise). However, I think that due to so many limitations involved when combining new and old technologies together, people look at the results with different eyes. What a combo can accomplish is much more important than the noise you get on your images and consequently, the perception is changing. Today high ISO noise does not bother me nearly as much as it did a year ago. I don't particularly like it but images I used to trash because of it, now I save. Do I see a trend with regards to this perception? Humm, hard to say but if there is one, for sure camera manufacturers are the greatest beneficiaries of all.

So, my question do you feel about "noise"?

MartinSykes Sep 7, 2010 9:58 AM

I hate noise if it comes from the camera. If I want noise for aesthetic reasons I can easily add it in afterwards. The camera should deliver as closely as possible a perfect representation of the scene in front of me.

JohnG Sep 7, 2010 10:03 AM

Interesting topic. My take is this: no camera is perfect. No single camera does everything well. I think people constantly re-evaluate their priorities. Sometimes image quality is paramount, sometimes convenience. Then there are various spots in between. As far as noise is concerned - my personal tolerance for my images is: I don't like it - not one bit. For other images - I think it depends on the type of image. For some street photography shots or shots where I think of as B&W candidates I think noise can be OK. But for most shots with people as subjects - noise is still objectionable to me. But I still like to make prints from my photos (or photo books). I also incur a huge convenience penalty dragging my DSLR and lenses around. So I can see why people would incur the noise penalty for convenience - different strokes for different folks.

TCav Sep 7, 2010 10:33 AM

I don't like noise, but I'll tolerate it if the alternative is a loss of detail, which it usually is. With my 6MP APS-C Konica Minolta 5D, I couldn't go above ISO 800 without intolerable noise, and the noise reduction would make the entire image look plastic. With my 12MP APS-C Nikon D90, I can go up to almost ISO 1600 before the noise gets too bad for my taste, and I still don't like the results of noise reduction.

tclune Sep 7, 2010 11:13 AM

"Noise" is not a single concept. I find chrominance noise (where you see tiny dots of various colors all over what is supposed to be a single-color object) hard to take, but the variation in luminance amplitude that shows up as a mild dappling of the same color is generally only noticeable if you are pixel peeping, and isn't even particularly objectionable then.

RioRico Sep 9, 2010 12:59 AM

Any picture taken is better than any picture NOT taken. If that means shooting at noisy ISO levels, so be it. I've shot a LOT with my Sony DSC-V1 in NightShot mode, which sees IR to boost the ISO while emitting MUCH noise. So I use PP scripts that remove the sniper-scope green, restore some colors, and do a little smoothing -- but the noise is still there.

Big deal. The human visual system is curious -- we like to see objects and structures and stuff in great detail, but we have immense tolerance for lack of detail when seeing faces, body parts, etc, whether human or not. The great example is an 8x8 pixel B&W square that, when squinted at, is recognizably Abe Lincoln.

When looking at pictures of stuff, noise can be intolerable. When looking at pictures of people and other animals, noise can be irrelevant. Yes, I try my best to minimize noise; but if it's a necessary trade-off for getting the shot, I don't agonize over it.

fldspringer Sep 9, 2010 5:21 AM

This is not a simple subject! I don't have any small sensored digicams, so my perspective is limited in that way.

I hate noise. I think we are all trained to hate noise. We lift shadows in post processing, and before we get to where we want, there it is.... Noise. We want enough shutter speed to stop action, but the consequence.... Noise. Don't want to use flash.... Noise. Noise is an obstical that keeps us from getting where we want to go.

My new cameras render noise much differently than my old cameras. The old ones have a much coarser noise texture and it is far more objectionable to me. Once there is any hint of banding, its over for me. I may be able to take some noise, but once there is a pattern to the noise, the photo is junk.

So how much is too much? I don't know. In printing, the threshold is much higher. Noise just doesnt seem to print, as the print always cleaner than the monitor shows. Its a consideration. Over the years, I'd say I've become more able to tollerate it.

I've gone through three generations of cameras so far (excluding film) and the progress has been very positive. The first camera became objectionable to me above ISO 400, the second at ISO 800, and my latest I do fine at ISO 1600. Two stops better in a short time span, that's breathtaking improvement.

iowa_jim Sep 9, 2010 5:54 AM

Do m4/3 uses have greater tolerance for noise because they must?

TCav Sep 9, 2010 6:10 AM


Originally Posted by iowa_jim (Post 1139147)
Do m4/3 uses have greater tolerance for noise because they must?

A "greater tolerance"?
Meaning they do better or worse?

It's the "4/3" thing that matters, not the "m". There's nothing fundimentally different between a 4/3 camera and a m4/3 camera as far as the generation and handling of noise is concerned, and they tend to be noisier than APS-C cameras.

gjtoth Sep 9, 2010 6:21 AM

Of course, noise is not a desired effect in most cases. However, depending on the circumstances, I would rather have the shot with noise than not have the shot at all. For example, when shooting formal portraits or still life, I would think noise unacceptable because the photog has control over light, camera settings, etc. However, when shooting candids, wildlife, etc., I think some degree of noise is almost unavoidable.

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