Saturday, March 21, 2015

Nikon D3300 & High ISO

Old Cup of Coffee - Tehachapi, California
High-ISO is important to the urban exploration photographer. Often one find's themselves in dark situations, and tripods are not always a convenient solution. A camera capable of good image quality while in the higher ISOs can be valuable urbex photography tool.

Not long ago high-ISO digital photography was limited to cameras with full-frame or larger sensors. Those days are gone. APS-C sized sensors are now producing results that just five years ago was only possible with larger sensors.
Oh, Well - Boron, California
Digital technology changes quickly, and advancements are happening everywhere. It is an exciting time to be a photographer. Just in the last year we have seen improvements in camera sensors all the way from medium-format to the tiny sensors found in cell phones.

Not too long ago I purchased Nikon's "entry-level" DSLR, the D3300. This camera has a 24-megapixel APS-C sized sensor. As I've been using it, I've been blown away by its high-ISO capabilities.
Shelvador - Rosamond, California
It is not only an improvement over the D3200, but it is right up there with what Fuji is getting out of their 16 megapixel X-Trans sensor. It is also right up there with full-frame sensors from just a few years ago, like the Canon EOS 5D, Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, the Sony A850 and the Sony A900 (according to DxOMark).

Comparing JPEGs from the D3300, there is almost no distinguishable differences between ISO 100 and ISO 400. Yes, if you closely study side-by-side 100% crops you can detect a slight increase in digital noise in shadows that have been lightened (or burned, using the old darkroom term). The first jump in noise is at ISO 800, but it is a small jump that's difficult to notice without a close study. The jump at ISO 1600 is similar to the previous one--small and not all that obvious without a close look. If you were to compare images captured at ISO 400 or below with images captured at ISO 1600 there is a noticeable increase in noise, but it still isn't all that big of a difference.
Small Wood Table - Johannesburg, California
At ISO 3200 the photographs begin to look just a little soft, but there is no noticeable increase in noise. This is because Nikon has increased the noise reduction applied. While the images are softer, they still look quite good. With previous cameras I have owned, I might have expected similar results around ISO 800.

Above ISO 3200 there are noticeable increases in noise and softness. However, RAW files, with some careful post-processing, are perfectly usable up to ISO 6400, particularly for grainy monochrome images.
Half Cup - Rosamond, California
When it comes to digital cameras I have always been a low-ISO guy. I've never been all that satisfied with high-ISO results. But with the Nikon D3300 I'm quite happy to use the camera all the way up to ISO 3200. In fact, every image in this post was captured at ISO 3200 using the D3300.

Now the really amazing thing about this is that the D3300 is not an expensive camera. In fact, I paid $375 for mine (body only). Even just one year ago similar results were not possible at that price point.

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