Nikon D810 – Shooting at High ISO

A little chatter about “noise” on the D810 user group on Facebook today has led me to making this post to give food for thought to fellow creatives who are having a little bit of a hard time with when shooting at high ISO with their D810.

KEY POINTS

  • The D810 is a lowlight BEAST
  • Noise isn’t always bad, the same way film grain has its place
  • ISO 3200 is NOT the upper limit of this camera
  • Anyone can make it shine when shooting at high ISO with a few technique improvements!

  • First up I’m going to start by saying that the D810 is capable of incredible photographs when shooting at high ISO. 12800? No sweat. However, there are a few caveats. These caveats apply to ANY DSLR – (any camera, really, digital or otherwise!) So let’s dive in!

    D810 Noise Tests

    Here’s some screenshots of a few images I shot this morning to show just how good the D810 can be at high ISO. This first set is at ISO 3200 and is the same image viewed on my 27″ monitor in Lightroom with the viewer set to fit and again with the viewer set to 1:1 (100% zoom) These images are straight out of the camera, no adjustments at all (and no makeup… but plenty of freckles!). Click on one and you can flick between the two of them to compare.


    ISO 3200

    Not too noisy at all if you ask me. Now let us ramp it up a little, and double the ISO to 6400.


    ISO 6400

    Still looks good huh? Remember there is NO noise reduction on this image – no processing at all. Look how sharp those lashes are! You’d print an 8×10″ of this and wouldn’t even notice. Let’s get ridiculous now and double the ISO again.


    ISO 12800

    We are starting to see some noise in this image, but it doesn’t look that bad at all. Why? Because the image was correctly exposed and hasn’t been cropped. It’s like I chucked a roll of 1600 film in an old camera. Have a look at Michelle’s eyelashes in the 1:1 image. You can make INDIVIDUAL lashes out. For me, I would use luma noise reduction on the background of this image, but as for the subject, I would consider whether I had to or not, as I wouldn’t want to lose any detail. That decision is up to you, and what you’re using the photo for. Think about how big this image would have to be printed for Michelle’s eye to be that big. That’s a big damned print.


    SO WHAT IS GOING ON WITH MY IMAGES???

    Ok, it’s time for the caveats, and here they are, in no particular order, as they are all vital for shooting high ISO.


    • Noise from Cropping

      The second you crop an image, no matter which camera it comes from you instantly increase the size of the pixels in that image. That makes it easier for your eye to pick up those pixels, and subsequently any “issues” with them. So to help control your noise – get your framing right in camera! Remove the need to crop and you will be starting from a far better place in terms of avoiding noise. Conversely, if you properly downsize an image, you will reduce the size of the pixels and get the opposite effect. So if you don’t need all of those 37 megapixels, have Lightroom or Photoshop downscale the image to the size that you need. I will write an article on the best ways to resize images soon, so stay tuned for that.

    • Noise from Exposure

      Exposure is (obviously) critical in a photograph. It is even more critical when shooting at high ISO. If you’re shooting a really high ISO value for your camera and you underexpose, you will need to push the image up in post-processing. This is the single worst thing you can do when shooting high ISO. Underexposed, high ISO photos that are pushed in post processing look terrible (That’s the real nasty noise that you can see by pushing your exposure slider to +4 – Avoid this at all costs.)

      The simple solution to this is to expose your photos correctly, or even overexpose when shooting high ISO. Bringing a high ISO photo down in post processing yields a much more pleasing result than pushing an underexposed image. Use a slower shutter speed, open up your aperture (if possible) or else add light.


    • Noise and Viewing distance

      One more thing, the viewing distance of an image should roughly be the diagonal length of the image (top left to bottom right). If you’re any closer than this you are pixel peeping. Don’t believe me? How often do you stand six inches from the photos hanging on your walls? Go up to your local Nespresso shop and stand as close to the giant picture of George Clooney drinking a coffee as you sit to your computer. You’ll see noise. Hec, you’ll probably see pixels on some posters.

    >>> Related Post: Learn How to Style a Family Photography Session…

    Conclusions

    The key things to take away when shooting high ISO can be summed up pretty simply:

  • Expose correctly (or even over expose slightly)
  • Don’t crop
  • Consider the usage of the image before worrying too much about noise!
  • If worst comes to worst, add more light!


  • Hope this helps you guys get a little more from the very capable D810 when you are shooting at high ISO.

    Thanks for reading

    Ben.

    SHARE
    COMMENTS