Today I have more whitetail photographs, this time two bucks. Again, I was looking for the Pennsylvania elk and while searching for them came across these two nice, healthy bucks. One was a spike and the other a 6-point. The conditions for photography were far less than ideal: hazy, overcast, and downright lousy light in the mid-morning. This required a very ISO, 1600 to be exact.
I currently shoot with a Nikon D300. Previously, I used a Nikon D70. The differences in the two are amazing. One of the features that was greatly improved is the quality of photographs with higher ISO settings. I hear the D3 is even exponentially much better yet! In the meantime, I have to settle for the D300 and how it works in the higher ISO settings. I still prefer to stay at ISO 200, but sometimes this just isn’t possible. I get decent results even up to ISO 800 but get worried after that. My daughter acts in some school and local community musicals where the stage light sometimes requires an ISO as high as 2500! I do not like going that high, but with the D300 I still can get some useable photographs.
The results in wildlife photography are far different, however. Tack-sharp focus and no noise are required for quality wildlife photographs. We can never be too picky in trying to get the absolute best quality photographs. I will do much of anything with these photographs I am posting today but am showing them for the purposes of supporting my thoughts on this discussion of higher ISO settings.
These photographs were taken with an ISO setting of 1600. I did some minor post-processing in Adobe Lightroom 3.0. However, I did not use any noise reduction in Lightroom. I tried using it, but I personally think it sacrifices some sharpness, which is critical to me. Perhaps I am doing something wrong, but I just didn’t like the results using the noise reduction on these images. So what you see, as far as handling the higher ISO is right from the camera.
Here they are. Let me know what you think. Do you use higher ISOs with any success? Do you use noise reduction in post-processing? Are you satisfied with the results? What are the standards you use in your photography?
Bob–This is an interesting subject that we could write a book on to discuss adequately, so I’ll try to limit it to a few points. I don’t have Lightroom so I don’t know what is available in it. I use CS5, shoot RAW and load the images in Bridge and open the ones I decide to process in camera raw. It has a default color noise reduction of 25 with a detail setting of 50. I use this, which does remove the red and green dots etc, but I do not use the luminance settings and let them at the default of 0. Scott Kelby tells how to use this and I have tried it at times and then sharpened with unsharp mask, but I started using Noise Ninja soon after getting my 10D in 2003 and have gotten used to it so I still mostly use it, but I do allow CS5 to apply the color noise reduction. (It is good to get his book on CS5 as it gives a detailed tutorial on using Photoshop alone to control noise. He says CS5 is the first version of Photoshop that really does a good job at noise reduction and eliminates the need for plug-ins like noise ninja. (Coy uses Kelby’s method).
When I first got Noise Ninja I quickly ran into the problem of destroying sharpness while trying to eliminate the noise. In many cases it resulted in the image having a “plastic like” look to it. In time I came up with a method which gave acceptable results. Basically I download the NN profiles for my particular camera, which are made to work with Jpg. images. I still use these for the raw, but I end up tweaking the settings for each ISO and then saving these as custom presets. In many if not most cases I end up letting some luminance noise exist so that the image does not look soft. (noise ninja takes care of both the noise reduction and sharpening–you do not use unsharp mask, etc. after applying noise ninja, or at least I don’t).
At first I turned all noise reduction in Photoshop off, but I found that when I viewed prints (Canon 10-D) in strong light that the red and green dots were visible so I started allowing Photoshop to apply the color noise reduction which helped greatly and did not destroy sharpness. It seems it is the luminance that one must really use caution with to keep from destroying sharpness and this is what I control entirely with noise ninja in most cases.
In practical terms I find that for critical use I can tell little if any difference between ISO 100-400 with the 7D, 800 is usable, but I prefer to stay below it and I try to avoid anything higher unless it is absolutely essential to get the photo. With video I consider ISO 640 to 800 to be very usable and 1,600 to be for emergency situations–beyond that and it is simply too noisy with the DSLRs that I have a present. (I prefer to shoot at ISO 160 with the 7D and 100-400 with the T3i. There is a reason for this, but it is too involved to cover here).
Hopefully we can discuss this more in September when we are both in Elk County or more on your blog, but I’ll hopefully be in elk country for most of the coming week.
I find the d300 only practically usable up to about 1000 ISO. beyond that they are very grainy and lack detail and punch like the ones you show here. My wife has the D3S and she can take pictures of deer and other animals to ISO6400 and use no post processing and have saleable photos.