Friday, July 29, 2016

Fujifilm X-E1 & High ISO

Night Bench - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 55mm, f/4, 1/30, ISO 6400.
I mentioned in my review of the Fujifilm X-E1 that it has the best high-ISO capabilities of any APS-C sensor camera that I've ever seen, and even ISO 6400 looks good. I've been asked to talk about this in more detail, so here we go.

According to DxOMark, the Nikon D3300 has the third best high-ISO capabilities out of all Bayer APS-C sensor cameras (DxOMark doesn't look at non-Bayer sensor cameras like Fuji X-Trans), only slightly below the Nikon D5500 and Sony A6300. The D3300's high-ISO capabilities are nearly identical to the full-frame Canon 5D and Sony Alpha 850. Many people may not realize that this "entry level" DSLR is actually quite good.

ISO 6400 on the Fuji X-E1 looks very similar to ISO 3200 on the Nikon D3300. That's a one-stop advantage for the X-E1 over one of the best high-ISO Bayer APS-C sensor cameras! It also puts it on par with some full-frame cameras.
Milky Way & Shooting Star - Coalville, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, f/2.8, 28 seconds, ISO 6400.
Using DPReview's Studio Comparison Tool (which doesn't have the X-E1, but does have the X-Pro1 and the X-E2, which have identical image quality), it's easy to compare the digital noise of the X-E1 against any number of full-frame cameras. At ISO 6400, the X-E1 has comparable noise to the Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 1D X and the Nikon D4--amazing! I actually find the digital noise of the X-E1 to be more pleasing because it isn't saturated, so it looks more like film grain.

When you think about all of this it's actually quite incredible. I remember shooting film and common ISOs were 25, 50, 64 and 100. ISO 400 film was considered high-ISO, and you might push that to ISO 800 or 1600 by adjusting how long the film sat in the developer. There were a couple of decent ISO 800 films (such as Fuji Pro 800Z). I used Ilford Delta 3200 a couple of times.

Conventional wisdom at the time was to use the lowest ISO film that you thought you could get away with. This continued with digital, as early digital cameras were not good at high-ISO. Now digital cameras have seemingly no ISO limit. ISO 3200 on the Nikon D3300 looks good. ISO 6400 on the Fuji X-E1 looks good. Many newer full-frame cameras look good at ISO 12800.
Antique Beer - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 55mm, f/6.4, 1/60, ISO 6400.
On the Fuji X-E1, I would compare ISO 6400 to using Fuji Pro 800Z film (or, at least, you can make them look similar). The best results on the X-E1 are found at ISO 800 and below, but it's good to know that higher ISOs are available when you need them. There are photographic opportunities that exist now that didn't 10-15 years ago simply because of how far digital camera technology has come.

The three photographs in this post are all out-of-camera JPEGs. No, really! ISO 6400 out-of-camera JPEGs that look good seems mythical, but it's not. The X-E1 has a very good JPEG engine built into the camera, and what seems impossible is right at your fingertips with the X-E1.

If you can't afford a full-frame camera but want full-frame high-ISO capabilities, your best bet is a Fuji X-Trans camera. It's as close you'll get without spending the big bucks that bigger sensor cameras cost.

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