ISO12800 Street Portraits

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I hear a lot of people saying we should not go high ISO on Micro Four Thirds. While I agree larger sensor formats like full frame will always be superior when it comes to noise control at low light, high ISO environment, I don't see any reason why we cannot shoot high ISO with Micro Four Thirds. We should stop obsessing about high ISO noise, it is not the end of the world. and a good photograph is a good photograph regardless of noise. In my latest video on YouTube, I went to the streets at night and in many situations I needed to bump up my ISO up to 12800 to get my shots. You can see the new style POV video here, where I recorded my viewfinder screen, as if you were shooting with me on location!

E-M1 Mark III + 13-32mm kit lens shooting high ISO in low light

I was shooting with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and the Panasonic 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 lens. The choice of the kit lens was deliberate, it left me no choice but to push the ISO numbers to achieve sufficient shutter speed, especially when I was shooting portraits, to minimize motion blur on my subjects. I can stabilize my camera and hand with the built in 5-Axis IS, but even some minor movement on the human that I was shooting, if my shutter speed was not fast enough, there could be softness in the image. For most portraits I was shooting at ISO12800. 

At such high ISO numbers, of course noise was visible especially when you pixel-peep. Looking at the images they don't look too bad at all, in fact I was not too concerned with the noise. The structure of the images was still intact, I still have detailed, sharp, well defined images with good contrast and color. I don't think the images look too bad at all. I understand my tolerance to noise may not be same as you or anyone out there, but I'd rather have some noise in my images than having them totally wiped out smooth by some noise reduction software, leaving a smooth, waxy, water-painterly look. I don't mind the noise, I just don't want my images to look fake. Noise is not really the enemy. I am ok with some noise reduction applied, but no too aggressively until the image loses the organic look. 

Don't get me wrong, I am not against the many noise reduction software out there, I am sure they can save lives in some rare, difficult situations, salvaging unusable images to somewhat ok images. But for this particular session, at ISO12800, and mostly ISO6400 on other images, I was ok with what I get. I did shoot RAW and post-process my images through Capture One software, with noise reduction setting set to default, without further tinkering. No, Capture One is not the best software to handle high ISO, I use it or a plethora of other reasons I won't be getting into this blog entry, but my point is, noise was present in the images and I don't care. They don't look too bad, and they don't take away anything important from my photographs. I think the images look perfectly fine with some traces of high ISO noise. 

I'd rather spend more time out there with my camera having fun shooting new images than being stuck behind the camera in a never-ending post-processing loop trying to save my images just because I have become allergic to noise. 

Don't be afraid of the dark. Your Micro Four Thirds camera is a lot more capable than what you think. Shoot first, and see it for yourself!

ƒ/5.61/5032mmISO12800

/4.21/6018mmISO12800

ƒ/4.71/2020mmISO6400

ƒ/4.71/1020mmISO1600

ƒ/5.61/5032mmISO12800

ƒ/5.51/4028mmISO12800

ƒ/3.51/1013mmISO2000

ƒ/5.61/10032mmISO12800

ƒ/5.61/20032mmISO6400

ƒ/5.61/6032mmISO12800

ƒ/5.31/4026mmISO12800

ƒ/5.61/8032mmISO6400

ƒ/5.61/3032mmISO3200

ƒ/41/817mmISO2000

ƒ/5.61/2532mmISO6400

ƒ/5.61/4032mmISO6400

ƒ/3.81/515mmISO1600

ƒ/3.91/1016mmISO6400

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