Tag Archives: Noise

D800 First Impressions Follow-up 2

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  Jonathan — how are you liking the D800? Everything it’s cracked up to be?

A:  Really love it.  Up ’til now I didn’t think anything could outdo my D700.  But in most ways the D800 is substantially better.  There are four things I can think of that are negatives:

  • 36MP / 50MB file sizes (RAW) put a strain on every aspect of shooting.  Most lenses aren’t up for it.  1/3 the number of pics per CF card.  Three times the storage required.  And wow, Aperture takes forever to render the D800 frames, and doesn’t seem to have the right cache setup or something for such large images because going from frame to frame and then back again requires re-rendering every time.  And it can’t even have three frames viewed side-by-side and keep them all rendered.  It’s a real pain.
  • Battery life is lower.  Substantially fewer shots per charge than the D700 and D300.
  • Slower frame rate.  I really have gotten used to the faster frame rates of the D300 and D700 with the D3 battery in the grip.  The D800 feels very slow compared to them.  But on the other hand, the first issue above has caused me to take FAR fewer pictures.  A little like shooting film again…
  • Accessory cost.  For some reason Nikon is charging double for all the D800 accessories compared to all the previous models.  E.g., setting up a grip for the D800 with the premium battery / charger setup is over $1K!  D700 was half that.  Ridiculous.

My original thought was that it will easily replace both my D300 (birding, taking advantage of the crop factor for telephoto) and the D700 (everything else).  And it clearly does everything they do (with the above exceptions) and then some.  So pretty quickly I decided I should get a second body and ditch the others.  But  after living with it for a few more weeks, I’ve decided that 36MP makes it harder than expected to be an every day camera.  The sensor makes it unlikely that you could find a one lens kit that would make sense.  You end up having to carry multiple  larger, heavier lenses.  I’m going to Nepal in a few months and have a 7.5Kg limit for my entire pack, and I have yet to figure out a D800-based kit that will allow me to also take clothes.

Other than that, it’s a great, great camera.  The noise is great, the dynamic range is INCREDIBLE, AF seems very good, 2-axis level is much more useful, and the controls are much better.  I especially like the Liveview button and function on the D800.  As far as video goes, I have no idea.  Haven’t tried it yet.
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D800 First Impressions – Part 1

I finally had a chance to shoot with my new D800 on Tuesday. (I decided to delay travel into the night so I could have some daylight.)  I was just glancing at some of the pics while on a call and found one that illustrates some characteristics of the D800.  I’ll post more next time about my general impressions of the camera, but this pic will answer a couple of important questions – at least for me.

This is a (female or juvenile) Black-Throated Green Warbler:

2012-04-03-14-44-12

The technical details are:

JPG – Fine – L, FX crop (36.2MP).  300mm/2.8 AF-S VR, TC-20E III (600mm), F11, 1/200, ISO 3200, Distance 7.25’
LE NR – Norm, Picture Control – Standard, Active D-Lighting – Auto, JPG Comp. – Optimal Quality
Processing in Aperture:  Mild sharpening, added Definition and Vibrancy, slight White Balance, Exposure +0.5

There are two important things to notice here.  First is the incredible detail possible with this body.  The Warbler was quite gregarious and often came closer to me than I could focus!  I had to keep moving away from her, and had to switch from DX (my default birding configuration) to FX to fit her in the frame.  (What a great option to have available vs. the D300!)  BTW, the DOF at that distance is about 0.2”, or less than a quarter of an inch.  Check out the area around the eye.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.01 PM

Screen grab of 100% view in Aperture.

Another note:  The 300/2.8 VR I w/TC-20E III would not be considered a super sharp combination.  After realizing how poor it is wide open (F/5.6), I’ve started shooting at F/11 to at least get acceptable sharpness.  Still it’s nothing close to the 500/4 (on my wish list) or the 600/4.  Bottom line, this is not the best you can get out of the D800!

Second, notice the noise.  This is an ISO 3200 shot, with exposure pushed another 1/2 stop in post!  There was no noise reduction except for what may have been done in camera.  (Not sure if there was any…)

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.28 PM

This is much cleaner than my D300 at 1600, and as good or better than my D700 at 3200!  Wow!  I may have found a replacement for both.  Unfortunately, that means I’ll likely end up buying another one so I can continue to have two bodies.

As I said, I’ll try to do another post ASAP to present other thoughts about the D800, including overall feel, battery life, frame rate, focusing speed, controls, and accessory costs.

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Shoot RAW, Reduce Noise?

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Shoot RAW and you’ll have less noise.  OK, you and I both know that among RAW’s many benefits over JPEG, lower noise isn’t one of them.  Or is it?  Well, yes and no.

Technically, the level of noise you see in a JPEG can (should) be exactly the same as RAW, depending on the RAW conversion, not on JPEG’s inherent noise.  But look at the following pictures, noticing specifically the decreasing noise levels between them:  (These are screen shots pulled out of Aperture, thus the red highlighting in a few places.)

Two stop underexposed, adjusted in post

Two stop underexposed, adjusted in post

One stop underexposed, adjusted in post

One stop underexposed, adjusted in post

Correct exposure

Indicated exposure, adjusted in post

(Technical note:  All three shots are identical in camera except for exposure.  All three RAW files were adjusted identically except for exposure and recovery.  D300 @ ISO 400.  1/2500@f/5.6, 1/1250@f/5.6, 1/640@f/5.6)

Due to the Heron’s bright white feathers, the first shot is the greatest exposure I could get by with without blowing them out.  It’s actually a 2 stop underexposure compared to what the meter suggested.  Then in Aperture I gave it one stop boost and brought back the highlights with recovery.  In effect, this is the best I could have done with a JPEG.  (In fact the shadows are better due to the greater dynamic range maintained in the RAW file.  JPEG would not have had the same amount of data available.)  Note the very noticeable noise in the background.  Also, note in the pupils (and in many of the other background areas not visible in the crop) you can see a lot of dark areas that are pure black.

The second shot was given an additional stop in the camera.  This is the correct exposure for most of the scene, with the white feathers being the major exception.  So, in Aperture I left the exposure flat and just dialed in the same amount of recovery as the first one to regain detail in the white feathers.  That couldn’t have been done with a JPEG, as there would have been no data available to help out the feathers.  Note the much lower noise levels.  Also, all of the dark areas have detail in them.

Finally, the third shot was exposed as the camera meter suggested, giving a one stop overexposure to the scene.  In Aperture I pulled back the exposure by one full stop and matched the same recovery setting of the other two pictures.  As expected this gives a near exact exposure match for the other two.  The 14-bit RAW file from the D300 sensor has plenty of headroom to handle the highlights which are blown out by 1.75 stops, so I am able to bring them back to be basically the same as in the other two exposures.  The real benefit here, though, is the further reduction in noise.  It looks pretty good!

So does RAW have less noise than JPEG?  No.  But it does give you the headroom to overexpose by one, one and a half, maybe even 2 stops and then pull the exposure back in post, effectively reducing the noise levels and increasing the amount and quality of the detail in your shadow areas.

Had I thought of it at the time I would have also shot this at ISO 200 to determine if the overexposed shot (final shot above) had lower noise than I would have gotten simply by reducing the ISO.  The difference seems more dramatic than the nearly invisible difference between ISO 200 and 400, so I think this is better, but I’ll have to try it out to be sure.

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