Saturday, October 5, 2013
Does Noise Performance Matter Anymore?
After many years of sensor development, I'm beginning to think that we have reached a critical point — the point where ISO performance for nearly all major cameras is enough for nearly all applications.
Hitherto, I was an advocate of more ISO, all the time. The better the noise, the more psychological barriers are eliminated. Moments and situations where a person would never have previously considered using a camera are suddenly open to capture. The epiphany moment for me was when I first used a Nikon D3s. With a good lens, that camera could see in the goddamned dark.
But that was years ago. That was a time when Canon, Nikon, and Sony's consumer cameras couldn't exceed ISO-800 without shitting themselves. ISO truly was the limiting factor in most photography. But look at most cameras today. For most of them, ISO-3200 is a cakewalk. No, none of them approach the extreme nighttime prowess of the D3s, but some get close. The Fuji X-series is just jaw-dropping in its low-light capabilities.
In all likelihood, things will get even better. Soon, APS-C cameras will be able to hit ISO-6400 without breaking a sweat. Taking photos of a black bear under a new moon? Psh! Ask me to do something difficult.
That's one of the reasons why my curmudgeonly focus has been increasingly turning to lenses. The only company whose sensors still suck is Canon, so just buy whatever camera offers the most features for the lowest price with the best workflow and rest assured that the sensor will keep up.
We may not be there quite yet, but it's getting close. And what a great place it will be.