Side Note: All photographs on this entry were shot at ISO1600, with noise reduction applied during post-processing.
I have been using an Olympus DSLR for more than a year and a half already, and I can admit this much truth about it, Olympus does suck when it comes to high ISO performance, in comparison to its peers. It did fall behind in terms of noise control, and anything beyond ISO800 (ISO1600 is the limit) on my camera, I would not even consider using them, even after resizing and applying heavy noise reduction. Yes, I acknowledge that high ISO performance is vital in certain situations, though all these while I have been limiting my shooting mostly below ISO400.
We all know the giants, for instance, Canon 5D Mk2 and Nikon D700 can shoot at IS0 100000000000000000 and turn the night into bright daylight and still produce very usable shots. The sad truth however, is that those cameras cost probably more than 8 times of my camera. I dare not say that it is not worth investing that much, and it all boils down to your photography needs and budget, but I will tell you this much, there is not a chance in hell I am going to afford one of those full-framers.
Yes, I am stuck with Olympus. I am not complaining about anything else, besides the bad high ISO performace. Olympus is good generally in other terms, which makes it one hell of a great camera to use, and I shall not go into details here. But there have been times when some of my best photo opportunities were ruined by intrusive noise when I do shoot at ISO1600.
A dear friend, Ann recommended me a software more than a year ago. It is a noise reduction software, and was claimed to be one of the most effective, and most popularly used worldwide. It is Noise Ninja, which comes as standalone, or as a plug-on to photoshop. I have recently acquired the standalone version, and boy, it was time to clean up some mess I have done in my history of shooting with high ISO images !! I spent the whole night racking through my old photographs, mostly taken when I was still new to my DSLR, trying to push the limits. That usually happens when I was shooting in extremely low light conditions, and yeah, I did not have an external flash back then.
Best example would be Aquaria, which I have visited twice. The first visit was with Jian, Hao and gang, and second time I just went in alone to test out my pancake lens. Both times i came out extremely disappointed with my photos because it was so dark, even at ISO1600 I could not get fast enough shutter speed to freeze motions of the marine lives. Nonetheless, do take note on how accurately the Olympus entry level DSLRs, firstly with E-410 and my later replacement, which I am using now, E-520 were handling focusing with just the kit standard zoom lens under such dim lighting. The focusing was slow, I confess, but it seldom failed me to get the right result. I know I have missed out just as much opportunities, but sometimes, all it takes was patience, determination and lots and lots of trials to finally achieve what you want in the first place.
Note: That guy is holding a Canon 7D. Cool camera that is.
Thanks to the Noise Ninja, now I managed to salvaged most of the shots I have taken previously. It managed to removed almost all the chroma noise. Of course, there was a great sacrifice in details and sharpness, in compensation for the noise control of the software. I do feel that the processing has been optimizing the output as much as it could, and the end result was not as terrible as I have anticipated. Yes, the photographs come out soft and it does not pop, but at least it did not look like it has been smudged, or smoothen. A little effort in pushing the contrast and boosting the saturation of colour bring back the life to the photos after noise reduction, and I found them working like a charm !!
I still remember my encounters with both Felicity and Daniel Liew, two famous Kuching bloggers, and they must have remembered how happy I was with my new toy, Olympus E-410 back then. I forcefully kidnapped them and made them model for me at Bing cafe in Padungan, which was notoriously known for near total darkness lighting. Even when I used ISO1600, the fastest shutter speed I could get was around 1/8seconds.. and I was struggling to keep the camera steady since I was still new to a DSLR back then. All the photos come out terrible, but now, digging them up again I find joy in cleaning the noise up and breathe some life into the old photographs !! You have got to say some of them look not too bad at all, considering the fact that I took those photos eons ago.
My current DSLR body, Olympus E-520 may be lagging behind in terms of technology, but hey, there are always ways to work around the issues. the noise reduction software may never beat what higher end newer camera models can offer, but as for now, I would rather spend my money on higher quality glass. Better lenses, can provide more flexibility and opens a whole new world of creativity.
Anyone else out there using an Olympus E-520? Do share your opinion.