Noisy Digital, 08 April 2010


I’ve made no small secret of my disdain for high-ISO settings on digital cameras, but I always withheld final judgment, since I hadn’t seen the results from a DSLR. I had heard from reasonably reliable sources that the larger sensors and better optics could produce more a “realistic” appearance of “grain” in a digital image, so I didn’t want to entirely discount the possibility that a DSLR would be yield such results.

Now, I know better.


Photo Information:

Camera: Nikon D80
Lens: Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX
ISO Equivalency: 1600
Color Setting: Vivid

Oh sure, I could still withhold judgment until I’ve had the opportunity to play around with a full-frame sensor, but realistically, I don’t think there will be much difference. The size difference between the sensor on my D80 and my older P80 is quite substantial and, well. [1] There’s nothing “realistic” about the so-called grain in this photo. Absolutely nothing. Sometimes, I truly wish that digital camera manufacturers would quit trying to emulate film grain in their digital cameras. [2] Seriously, folks, if you want to get good, grainy images, [3] use film.

Oh, and by the way, the subject of this photo is the Sheridan stop on the CTA Red Line, which is a few blocks from my apartment. I happen to like this stop and the building housing it, despite the horrible digital noise in the photo. I’ll stick to using the lowest possible ISO setting and slapping my camera atop a nice, stable tripod.


[1]: The Coolpix P80 uses a 1/2.33″ sensor (~30 mm²), while the D80 uses a DX sensor (~370 mm²); a full 35mm frame is approximately 864 mm². Given that the DX sensor is roughly 12x larger than the 1/2.33″ sensor, while the full-frame sensor is only 2x larger than a DX sensor, it just doesn’t seem like the improvement from a DX sensor to a full-frame sensor will be all that substantial, given that the DX results aren’t much better than the 1/2.33″ sensor results. Oh well…won’t stop me from acquiring a full-frame DSLR (if I can afford it, of course), but high-ISO performance won’t be a priority.

[2]: It has always amused me that film manufacturers expended enormous amounts of effort and resources actively trying to reduce the appearance of grain in their products, while digital camera manufacturers are now expending similar amounts of effort and resources to improve the appearance of “grain” in their products. It is even more amusing that at least one of these manufacturers makes both products (I’m looking at you here, Kodak…)

[3]: If that’s the sort of thing that interests you. Personally, I was never a big fan of film grain, but I do occasionally like the look – in limited doses, that is.


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