Fuji noise huh, the best in the game huh ?
Maybe, but I'm not really interested in the whole game I just want to know how noise affects photos with the camera I use for shooting contrasty landscape scenes at sunrise & sunset.
So my X-T2 landed today. As I've already owned the X-Pro2 for around 6 months I wasn't really as excited as getting my hands on the X-Pro2 as the image quality (which is the most important thing right ?) wasn't going to be different. The lenses I had would be the same, and I already knew I'd love the X-T2 so really this was a bit of a functional purchase just to get hold of that tilting screen.
First things first, the X-T2 is great but I now see why the X-Pro2 get's the grand title of X-Pro. That thing is seriously robust by comparison, it just feels solid and more substantial in many ways. Hmm except not having a tilting screen :(
Anyway onto the main topic of today's lecture......
CAMERA NOISE AND ISO
I've become very disregarding of ISO settings in the last couple of years. I used to be quite strict with making sure to take the tripod and ISO100 route for as many landscapes as I possibly could to ensure the best setting for each image. I think it's the influence of platforms like Instagram with their low resolution approach and a little realisation that great photos aren't made by a complete lack of noise but by being out to see great things. I have basically left my Fuji cameras in ISO AUTO mode for the last year or more and rarely switched out of it. I must be honest this has probably caused me some problems in post processing, not major issues with severe noise but the a little disappointment from time to time where I can see on a 5k screen a little more 'grain' than I would like in the shadows. Still it hasn't changed one bit my love of being in those places and capturing memories and I don't think it's prevented me from getting some worthy shots handheld and kinda ditching the tripod lugging duties. I have also been shooting a lot more in the wider open apertures (sharpness isn't everything) which naturally means more light and less need for high ISO's so again leaving the AUTO ISO to do it's thing hasn't been a problem. I tend to put minimum shutter speed to 1/125 to actually push the camera to use higher ISO's in exchange for being much more likely to get a sharp image and limit to ISO6400.
So, if ISO setting don't matter why write a blog post about it ?
Well I just fancied seeing what the real difference was between the ISO settings on the X-T2 I suppose. Not as a straight from camera view but with some adjustments in Lightroom that tend to actually cause noise to be a problem. Pushing shadows up, adding grain and trying to sharpen detail.
As you would expect, I took some photos of an Indian cooking book and a bear egg cup currently planted with an aloe in the late evening window light. Not my usual subject matter but the lighting was warm and natural for the late evenings where ISO comes in to play. The cooking book had some nice texture and colours, and the bear, is a bear.
All photos were shot in uncompressed RAW at f5.6, auto shutter speed with no exposure adjustment, auto white balance, and auto focus honed on the cooking book tree (which I now realise you can't actually see in these crops, but trust me all the same focus)
Once imported into Adobe Lightroom CC the adjustments made were, +80 Shadows, +20 clarity, Sharpening to 42 with detail turned up to full and masking at 56. Probably a bit more sharpening than I'd usually do but sharp photos are always better right ?
So the first thing I need to say is that ISO200 is the best, did you not know that already ? I mean it's really so clean and lovely that it is the best and wherever possible you really do need to use this setting.
That said and in total contradiction, there isn't much point in fussing about anything up to ISO 800, you really won't notice the difference unless you want to. You definitely won't notice the difference at normal viewing distance.
Where I feel it's worth comparing is to see just how different ISO200 and the higher ISO's are, so starting with ISO 200 - ISO 1600 ........
Look to the right of the bear onto the whites of the wall and you will see some noise where the shadows have been pushed up. Considering this is a 100% crop it's pretty minimal noise, as soon as you zoom back out you wouldn't notice, and here is the rub the ISO1600 is actually the better shot simply because the ISO200 shutter speed whilst an admirable effort handheld is slightly blurred due to camera movement. Guess what that's the whole point of higher ISO, to give you the ability to get a sharp shot in low light so I've basically shown you nothing you shouldn't already know. Use higher ISO when you need to, lower ISO when you can.
So what AUTO ISO settings will I use on the X-T2 ? Well I think I need to see a wider range of the ISO impact to make that decision. I still think I can get away with keeping AUTO ISO on but if I want to pay a bit more attention to noise and maybe from time to time get the tripod out, maybe I should take advantage of the 3 AUTO ISO options and create a low/medium/high setup.
Next up, ISO1600 v ISO3200
Yeah, ISO3200 is a little bit worse than ISO1600, perfectly good for those quickly grabbed shots, atmospheric photos behind the scenes of a trip or indoors shots but I do actually think I find this too much noise to try and process a landscape image, especially if trying to work with the colours in an interesting way and adjust white balance, hue's, luminance etc.
Next up .... ISO3200 v ISO6400
Well if I wanted to get a photo and ISO6400 was the only option then I'd have no issue with it but again I'd like to think if I'd made the effort to get up early, drive, put up with cold etc on a weekend it's a bit too much noise for that and I'd be disappointed with the limitations here.
And finally ISO1600 v ISO6400
All things change in comparison and context, ISO6400 makes ISO1600 look very clean by comparison, not ISO200 clean but then why do you need a photo to show you that ISO200 is the cleanest setting right ? I think I could work with ISO1600 for 99.9% of shots, ISO3200 for 70% of shots, ISO6400 for 40% of shots.
Like most stats, they are made up.
SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ?
ISO is like a box of chocolates, if you read the label you'll know what you are getting. The hard part is deciding which one you want. Easy rolling, handheld freedom from the ISO settings or tripod wielding clean images ?
I think I'm going to try this;
AUTO ISO 1 - ISO 200 Default, ISO 1600 Maximum, Minimum Shutter Speed 1/60 - Walking about landscapes.
AUTO ISO 2 - ISO 200 Default, ISO 6400 Maximum, Minimum Shutter Speed 1/125 - Everyday Hussle
AUTO ISO 3 - ISO 200 Default, ISO 12800 Maximum, Minimum Shutter Speed 1/500 - Keep it Sharp.
Manual ISO Selection - When something amazing is unfolding in front of my eyes and I know I need the best possible quality.
Hopefully these comparison images have shown the difference in the key ISO settings and my ramblings may have at least made you think about your own approach to ISO settings. If not at least I've filled up my blog a bit and sunk a couple of glasses of red wine whilst listening to some new music.