This question comes in three parts. First, is your camera really as bad at high ISOs as you think? Second, is noise REALLY that intolerable? And is your attitude to noise stopping you from taking shots you might actually like?
There are plenty of photography experts who demonise image noise and tell you everything you must do to avoid it, and there are plenty of software companies that will sell you software to fix it – often wildly exaggerating the original problem with images clearly taken at the dawn of digital imaging.
For the record, I have tried regular in-software noise reduction tools, together with AI solutions such as DxO DeepPRIME XD, Topaz DeNoise and ON1 NoNoise AI. As far as I’m concerned, DxO is a clear winner, but I’ll save a detailed comparison for another day.
My real question is whether we are fussing over nothing, and whether we are being pitched solutions to a problem we don’t actually have?
This image was taken just a few days ago on a foggy night at ISO 6400 on an Olympus E-P7 – a Micro Four Thirds camera using a sensor format which, we have been told for many years, is dreadful at high ISO settings and way behind bigger-sensor rivals.
Well I don’t agree. First, there has been a quiet but profound revolution in sensor design and noise control, and cameras made now are completely different to those made ten years ago, or even five years ago.
Second, the noise in this image is apparent but not – in my opinion – excessive, and it strikes a good balance between noise reduction and detail rendition, which I think is rather good. It’s also a relatively ‘nice’ noise that echoes the dark and misty ambience of a street shot at night.
Now DxO’s DeepPrime XD process is so good that it will make this look as if it was shot at ISO while making the detail look even clearer. But you know what? I don’t think I’ll bother. This is fine.
We have become pre-occupied with technical quality. It’s a lot easier to be a technician than a creator, and too many people now seem to treat it as a substitute. You can call this a bad image from a creative standpoint (it is relatively ordinary), but if you call it bad only because it’s noisy, is it possible you’re looking too hard at things that don’t matter and not hard enough at things that do?
• If you are interested in DxO’s noise reduction tools, check out the links below. At the time of writing, only DxO PhotoLab 6 Elite has DxO’s latest DeepPRIME XD (eXtra Detail) process, and PureRAW 2 has yet to get this (it has regular DeepPRIME processing).
DxO store and trial versions*
DxO PhotoLab 7 Elite: $229/£209
DxO ViewPoint 4: $99/£89
DxO FilmPack 7: $139/£129
DxO PureRAW 3: $129/£115
DxO Nik Collection 6: $149/£135
• 30 day trials are available for each product