Theory into Practice: ISO Versus Noise

Phil Wherry, a good friend and experienced photographer, and I were corresponding about digital camera imaging sensor size versus image noise. In general, smaller sensors tend to be noisier than larger sensors. The message thread flowed to the topic of ISO versus noise, in relation to my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom camera. Phil wrote, “I think noise is more often objectionable above ISO 400 on the Panasonic.”

I used my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 to shoot the following photos of one or more Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) at the Visitor Center, Huntley Meadows Park.


The following camera settings were used for the preceding photo (above): Normal Program mode; ISO 400; focal length 108mm/600mm (35mm equivalent); 0 exposure value (ev); aperture f/5.2; shutter speed 1/50. The shutter speed was too slow to stop the motion of the bird’s wings, so I switched to shutter priority mode, set the shutter speed to 1/1300 second, and shot the photo shown below.


The following settings were used for the preceding photo (above): Shutter Priority mode; ISO 800; 108mm/600mm; 0 ev; f/5.2; 1/1300. The camera automatically increased the ISO to 800 in order to compensate for less light reaching the camera sensor at a faster shutter speed. Although the faster shutter speed was able to “freeze” the bird’s wings, the resulting photo is noticeably noisier.

Bottom line: At an ISO of 400 the level of noise is acceptable; at an ISO of 800 the level of noise is unacceptable, consistent with Phil’s opinion.

Copyright © 2012 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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