Don't Obsess Over High-ISO Noise in Your Photos

Every photographer worries strives for the best possible photos, and high-ISO noise is one of the most common reasons for a reduction in image quality. It might be something we worry about just a little too much, though. This excellent video essay makes a case for why we should be willing to embrace high ISOs a bit more. 

Coming to you from Robin Wong, this great video essay discusses why high-ISO noise is something many of us can afford to worry about a bit less. One of the most common mistakes I see newer photographers make is using too slow a shutter speed to freeze the action in the frame or to avoid camera shake in an effort to keep the ISO as low as possible for better image quality. While it is true that lower ISOs produce technically better images, modern cameras handle noise remarkably well, and post-processing software can do quite a lot to reduce noise after the fact. On the other hand, if an image is blurry because of camera shake or subject motion, there generally is not much you can do to save it, so don't be afraid to crank that ISO! Check out the video above for the full rundown from Wong. 

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Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I find that I don't care at all about high ISO luminance noise. It's the color noise that bothers me. That is one big advantage that Fuji shooters enjoy. Even at high ISOs, color noise is largely absent—at least on their X-Trans sensors. As a former Fuji shooter, I never realized how good I had it (in this respect) until I went back to Canon.

I find a little noise lessens the sometimes clinical / perfect look of digital.
Doesn't bother me but YMMV

It all depends on the type of noise. If a camera has decently random luminance noise in situations where the SNR is low enough that a lot of fine detail is lost, then the luminance noise actually works to your benefit in terms of perception. It gives the impression of fine detail, and even skin texture on images that would otherwise lack it due to the poor SNR.
Things can be further improved with selective noise reduction to better give a sense of perceived fine detail.

beyond that, there is still the ideal of just having a sensor and signal processing back-end that capture and retain the actual fine detail int he scene without having noise.

People seem hung up on noise in their photos nowadays! First is good noise reduction software out there that can fix this.
Second, I started off long before digital was a thing! With film you used what you had tt685 for a job. In low light situations such as concerts etc that meant "high soured film"! But high speed meant around 400 ISO probably pushed to increase the sensitivity! This stuff had grain like on the beach!! And that was all there was so we used it!
Nowadays we are talking noise at ISOs unheard of back then, and the nose is still much lass than bank then. We would have given anything to have film at the high ISOs used now!!
Like Robin says stop worrying about things that don't really matter and concentrate on getting the shot!!

I grew up in a photographic sense using Ilford FP4, a 400 ASA rated B/W film, it had character and when developed the way I wanted the results were sometimes magical. I find digital cameras take all that away, the result is what the sensor is capable of but then, using other digital options you can change everything about the picture you took. Technology, wow, why can't I see the eye of the eagle flying high at an insane height, or the beetle on the tree leaf in the forest a mile away? Do photographers today actually buy cameras to take photographs or just to pixel peep?

Noise, digital noise, use it to enhance the character of your images not to hide the fact that ISO 128,00 is bad, you got the shot didn't you?

Thank you, Robin! I’ve been using the iPhone 12ProMax while traveling with a group of non-photographers; usually no time to do much more than See, compose quickly and shoot; try to shoot in RAW, so I can edit later, using some AI like gigapixel to add to the image if needed. And sometimes, JPEG is all that one has time for. I title this “Why Italian trains “finally” run on time!”