Noise from the Nikon D800e Camera

Nikon D800e camera and Nikon AF-S 85mm f1.4 G lens. Exposure Details: 1/10 second @ f1.4 ISO 3200.

The Nikon D800e Camera

I bought my new Nikon D800e camera and lenses just prior to a short photography trip to New Zealand in August 2012. While I rarely employ high ISO's it's only reasonable to be interested in the capabilities offered by new technology, including the ability to make quality images at high ISO. Before I get into the relative noise associated with using this camera at high ISO's allow me to place my very unscientific tests into context.

Mine Games - The Event

I recently attended the initial screening of Mine Games, a motion picture film made by my nephew, Richard Gray at the Melbourne Film Festival. It was a big night for the family. We began with a celebratory meal at a local Chinese restaurant, prior to attending the initial screening of this most excellent suspense film. Afterwards I was dragged along to the after party. Frankly gala balls, awards, red carpet events and the like are really not my thing. Nevertheless, where family is involved, it's important to make the effort. And, from my point of view, I'm always glad when I do.

Nikon D800e camera and Nikon 24-120mm f4 lens @ 38mm. Exposure Details: 1/5 second @ f4 ISO 6400. 

The Venue

The party was in the darkest, dingiest joint you could imagine. Some might call it cool. My aged mother would likely drag out the "it was as dark as the black hole of Calcutta" (considered by many as an actual historic event) quote if she'd attended. But the 3 1/2 hour one way trip to the big smoke is becoming too much to ask of her. Anyway it gave me the opportunity to make some pics of the family, geographically scattered (from each other) as we are.

That's not to say it was easy. The joint was hot, crowded and, at the risk of repeating myself, incredibly dark. What's more I was not at my best, having had very little sleep over the previous week while working towards an overly ambitious deadline. It helps to be relaxed and well rested when it comes to hand-held (non tripod based) photography at exceptionally low shutter speeds. Other than having the shakes I was, frankly, concerned about my ability to get myself and my car home safely. Being that tired is far from ideal, even for an experienced, self-proclaimed low light (photography) specialist like myself.

Noise Performance

You can see, from the captions underneath each photo, the combination of high ISO, slow shutter speed and wide apertures used to make these images. The results are pretty good when it comes to subject sharpness. There are a few reasons for that which I'II outline as follows:

  • An ability to hold the camera still while making the photo
  • An ability to keep the subject still while making the photo
  • Use of the Nikon SB-900 flash to help freeze the subject during the relatively slow shutter speeds
  • Application of Clarity and Detail (i.e. Sharpness) sliders in Lightroom
  • Application of Noise Reduction in Lightroom

    Nikon D800e camera and 24-120mm f4 lens @ 35mm. Exposure Details: 1/15 second @ f4 ISO 3200.

    Image Discussion

    The second and third images are a little bit crunchy for my liking. That's largely due to having to have to work at ISO 3200 and 6400 and accept less than optimal exposures. I normally utilise my histogram to capture as much detail as possible, by photogrpahing with my camera set to RAW and ensuring my exposure is placed as close to the right hand edge of the histogram as possible.

    The final two images in this post were made with a zoom lens at that lens's rather moderate maximum aperture of f4. Placing the exposure towards the right of the histogram would have resulted in a shutter speed too slow for me to be able to hold the camera still. The compromise was to accept a less than optimal histogram and the crunchier image that resulted.

    The reason the top image displays smoother tonality is because I changed one key component: the lens. In this case I brought out my beautiful new Nikon AF-S 85mm G f1.4 lens which I used at its maximum aperture of f1.4 This allowed 3 stops (8 times) more light to reach the sensor than would have been the case with an f4 aperture. That provided me with the ability to achieve a much higher (faster) shutter speed and/or an image with data pushed over to the right of the histogram. I chose a bit of both for a greater chance of image sharpness and smoother tonality. What's more the very shallow depth of field provided by the f1.4 aperture gives the image at the top of this post a special quality by bringing your eyes back to our lovely foreground subject.


    Whatever camera and lens/es you own its worthwhile doing just such tests so that, when you need to come up with the goods under difficult lighting conditions, you can approach the situation with a reasonable amount of confidence. And, by the way, it's that little bit of confidence that, when push comes to shove, can help keep your camera steady.

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    Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru