Often I hear from photographers questions about the noise level in a camera at higher ISO settings. They express a feeling that there is too much noise and that is a problem.

I suggest that changes are here — and more are coming.

High ISO equals too much noise (not necessarily)

Sandhill cranes photographed in deep fog at ISO 12,800, 1/1250s, f/6.3. Lumix G9 and Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3.

The statement above — high ISO equals too much noise — is not necessarily true as camera technology improves. In the past, I might have agreed wholeheartedly. Noise in many older cameras was extremely objectionable.

Due to the need for an anti-aliasing (AA) low pass filter to eliminate moiré patterns in front of the camera sensor, image noise is blurred. AA filters create squiggly patterns within the noise. That’s what I believe most photographers find objectionable.

Camera technology improves and AA filters are being removed. Therefore, noise is now more organic and film-like such as in the newer Lumix cameras.

Push the ISO

Photographed before the sun rose. The sun just added a little color to the clouds and therefore the reflection. ISO 12,800, 1/1000s, f/6.3. Lumix GX85 and Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens.

I’m pushing ISO to high limits. When you photograph avian life before the sun crests the horizon high ISO allows shutter speeds that stop action. Without higher shutter speeds any movement could be blurred beyond recognition. Prior to this change where moiré patterns are mostly handled with the in-camera software I would never have pushed to the top ISO of the camera.

If you have a non-AA filter camera and find a moiré pattern in your image it can be removed fairly easily. You can use post-production especially if you photograph in RAW.

High ISO – not just for wildlife

I learned high ISO is not just for wildlife by mistake. When photographing a gentleman in an extremely low-lit bar I was at ISO 25,600. I had just come from capturing birds long after the sun went down. I didn’t change ISO because I forgot. Even with high ISO, shutter speed was only at 1/50s. Because it was a casual portrait, no tripod or ancillary lighting was used. You can see the results of that portrait and post-processing in my post on photographing strangers.

Noise can move images in an artistic direction

Display at the Festival of the Cranes. Image of the two sandhill cranes in flight (top left) are pretty much straight out of camera. See more of my art at coatesart.net

My art on display at the Festival of the Cranes. One photograph was captured at a higher ISO and printed pretty much straight out of camera. Most people found that hard to believe. With image quality reminiscent of the granular ‘noise’ of film they, and I, like it a lot.

Your thoughts

I’d like to hear from you. Have you tried high ISO on your camera? Did you like the results? Do you have a camera that doesn’t have an anti-aliasing filter?

Yours in creative Photography, Bob