Friday, June 20, 2014

The ISO12,800 Cat

Yes yes, we all know how superior those full frame cameras are when it comes to low light shooting, producing clean high ISO images. Now the envelope (popularized by Ming Thein) is being pushed further and we are seeing cameras capable of doing impressive ISO numbers, at the moment, as high as 400,000. Steve Huff even posted his teaser image of the Sony A7S image shot at ISO80,000. 

We all want the camera manufacturers to produce better and better products, surely, and we do not want the imaging technology to stay stagnant. We live in an interesting era now, and I am just excited to witness even more amazing stuff coming. 

While everyone is lusting for astronomical high ISO numbers, I am actually very content with what I have, and what my gear can do now. Here is a shot of a cat, who hid away in a narrow gap underneath a table. It was so dark that, even at wide open F1.8 (I was using the 45mm F1.8 lens), I shot the image at ISO12,800 to achieve shutter speed of 1/20 second. The cat moved of course (animals never stayed still) and I fired multiple shots to ensure there were a few that was taken when the cat stopped moving. All images were perfectly in focus (ISO12,800 is considered low light to me, if it is not to you, I do not know what is) and thank goodness for that miraculous 5 Axis Image Stabilization, I can nail this shot hand-held. 

The ISO12,800 cat


It was not a very good shot of the cat. You can see that the cat was afraid. Afraid of me chasing him into that narrow gap. But hey, sometimes, even negative emotions can produce a different outcome in a photograph. I know usually show happy and bright images. Sometimes, I do things differently. 

Some people say that what is the point of shooting such an image when you know you can't print it large. Well, I don't print it large. When I shot this cat I did not intend to print it all. In fact, I knew the image will suffer loss of detail and will not be good being viewed at 100% (believe me you don't want to). However, I also know that I will be showing it just for blogging purpose, and being reduced in size, it will be perfectly fine. Aren't we consuming images being viewed on webpages most of the time? Facebook, Websites, Flickr, 500px pages, and the likes?

I acknowledge everyone has different levels and standards of what is "usable" in terms of high ISO noise tolerance. To me? That cat is perfectly acceptable. 

14 comments :

  1. This is a wonderful picture, Robin. One can almost feel the apprehension in that cat's body language. Tugs at any cat lover's heart. Love it, thanks for sharing!

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  2. Totally agree Robin.

    In my humble opinion the high ISO is the next megapixel race. It's good for marketing, but is it really useful in daily use? Year for year there are reports of the average settings most press photos are shot with and they barely go above 800 ISO. When I look into my Lightroom library the majority of my images are taken between ISO 200 and 1000 and a few at 1600 or 3200. Anything above? - not really. An interesting light is almost essential for most good photos and if there is "some" light we barely need anything above ISO 3200 with our fast lenses and effective stabilization. Sure, some of these new cameras almost become a nightvision but will this result in good pictures? A photo without an interesting light is a boring picture and when we increase the brightness with a higher iso it will still be a boring picture. People will always try to shoot at the cameras basic ISO (which hasn't changed by the way) to get the most of the possible image quality - or did I miss the point were landscape photographers dropped their tripods and fashion photographers sold their flashes because of the increase in high ISO performance? A good light is essential for a nice image and high ISO can't solve that "problem".

    During the last months and years I had many more moments were I wished that we could have an ISO 50 or 25 to avoid carrying a ND Filter than hoping for new high ISO values.

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    1. Exactly right. I remember when we had Kodachrome ASA 25, and only had to carry a polarizing filter. Great stuff ...

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    2. Hi Leif,
      Very good and meaningful argument indeed. You were absolutely right, I shoot most of my images at base ISO, or as low as possible, and rarely do I exceed ISO1000. Even for indoor shots, I would employ flash to help me fill in light where there was inadequate, with that I do not need to push up the ISO unnecessarily.
      High ISO is not the solution. I hope more people realize that.

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    3. I spend many hours in 'the bush' trying to capture birds. They're inclined to hide in the shadows. I do not require a high ISO race to huge numbers. But I do value clean images at anything up to ISO3200. I currently try to limit ISO to 800. But of course I hope that the sensor makers continue to strive for lower noise at ISO's like 1600 and 3200, as I'm sure they will do, because there are occasions where one simply has to use those to catch an elusive bird!

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    4. I think high ISO is very important for future camera sensors. We all like to shoot at base ISO because it is the best the sensor gives you. However if you can shoot ISO 3200 - 6400 - 12800 or even 25600 with getting clean images, we all like to shoot a lot night action either with a slow small zoom lenses or we can set our excelent prime's around F8. I think high ISO performance can be game changer for all us. We have stuck on Sensor tech with little increments, lenses are only getting smaller if your sensor goes smaller but than quality suffers, it will be amazing if you can suddenly get 2-3 stops of freedom. I agree on having ISO 25-50 if it is possible...

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  3. To some extent photography has always had the aspect of bigger-better-faster. It makes you wonder how anybody ever enjoyed shooting film in the "olden days" when we thought 800 to 1600 ASA was outrageously fast :-)

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    1. I think people have lost sight of what photography truly means, and have gained much pleasure from measurebating. Which is sad really.

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  4. Extreme ISO levels are a subjective debate. Who needs them? For videographers this will be a big step for them - 400k+ ISO with a 35mm sensor with no line skipping - Sony have made the A7s video capabilities well known with the amount of promotional video's they've pumped out. Couple this with the Log2 processing and it will be a capable "shoot anywhere, any-light" video camera with terrific dynamic range and detail retention - even if you don't intend to shoot at 4k. Photographers will benefit just as much - big fat, light soaking pixels. It's the detail and color retention you gain from high sensitivity sensors, not just the visual "noise" No one will be consistently shooting at the extreme ISO's but I can foresee photojournalists seeing benefit in a camera like this that has no compromise in being able to capture a photo in dim light.

    Personally, I travel, and travel for long durations. 2012 I spent 8 months abroad. In an ideal world I'd love to shoot at base ISO, but sometimes I may be only going to a certain location once and move on. I can see the benefit in having a camera system with terrific low light performance - you are simply unhampered by those situations whereby the light isn't favorable and you are unable to return again. A camera body, such as the A7s could be a terrific solution. A modern day, throw back to the terrific D700 (which I owned for several years) and in a small form factor. Smaller 12MP files, ISO 50, weather sealed primes, 1/8000th shutter (cough..Nikon Df, i'm looking at you) and silent shutter for street. Of course High ISO would become the new battlefield, the limits of traditional CMOS sensor designs are reaching their limits.

    p.s. the cat photo is perfectly acceptable, seems like you've caught out its hiding spot ;)

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  5. I'm wondering what's good or not but I think so much is oriented to web use that quality is almost forgotten.

    Anything from ISO 3200-6400 is useful for me in photographing sports indoors. I was using the E-5 at ISO 1600 with the 35-100mm f/2.0 and the GH3 at ISO 3200 (generally) and got acceptable photos but never tried to print them.

    I traded the GH3 (while the value was still good) for an E-M1 and will get the GH4 when it's readily available. The E-M1 seems similar to the GH3 in dim situations--not great, not horrible.

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  6. Hi Robin,

    This picture would actually print just fine. It may not be perfect for 20 x 30 prints the resolution is actually a smaller factor in the overall look. People will ignore the resolution more than the intent of the photograph when it looks good.

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