Sunday, September 21, 2014

Nikon D3300 & High ISO

Bull Elk - Stallion Springs, California
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.

Digital technology changes quickly, and advancements are happening everywhere. It is an exciting time to be a photographer. Just this year we have seen improvements in camera sensors all the way from medium-format to the tiny sensors found in cell phones.
Joyful - Stallion Springs, California
I very recently purchased Nikon's "entry-level" DSLR, the D3300. This camera has a 24-megapixel APS-C sized sensor. As I've been playing around with it, I've been blown away by its high-ISO capabilities.

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).
Shelvador - Rosamond, California
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.

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. In years and cameras past, I might have expected similar results around ISO 800-1600.  
Half Cup - Rosamond, California
Above ISO 3200 there are noticeable increases in noise and softness. However, RAW files, with some careful post-processing, are perfectly useable up to ISO 6400, particularly for grainy monochrome images.

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.
Vanity - Rosamond, California
ISO 2000.
All of the photographs here, with the exception of Vanity above, were captured using ISO 3200 on my Nikon D3300 with a 55-200mm zoom lens. I even added grain in post-processing to many of the images (Bull Elk and 7 Eleven are the exceptions). As you can see, the results are quite pleasing.

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.
Old Motel Chair - Rosamond, California
Home Perfect - Rosamond, California
7 Eleven - Bakersfield, California
This was handheld.
Yellow Reading Chair - Rosamond, California


  1. Have you noticed that if in a scene mode such as landscape the ISO will be unusually high (300+) even under direct sun? Conversely, under shaded conditions the ISO will often go lower than expected (~200). What can explain this?

    1. You know, I'm not really sure. I don't think I've ever used the scene modes. 90% of the time I'm in aperture priority mode, and the other 10% I'm either in manual or shutter priority. I'll play around with the camera when I have a chance and see what it does. Thanks for the comment, by the way.