How much noise is too much noise?

How much noise is too much noise? 


Earth. Shot at Iso 8000, 1/80, F2.8, 122mm, on at Nikon D600. Photo by Philip B. Hansen.

In this digital day of age, where everybody can buy a camera body what shoots at Iso 6400, for USD 300, does it really matter? In a marketplace where every image are resized to 600pix wide, if that, and where everybody can buy a professional Full Frame camera and a F1.4 prime for less than USD 1000, is photography dead? No! Have the barrier of entry been lowered? Significantly!

I am one of those who got let into photography, partially, by this lowered barrier of entry. Is it a bad thing? For some. Seasoned photographers have seen their work opportunities disappear. Did you know that Sport Illustrated have laid of their entire photography staff?:


Iggy Pop. Shot at Iso 4000, 1/200, F2.8 on a Canon 6D. Photo by Jason Pindleton.

So, how much noise is too much?
Honestly, for web? Go as high as you need. I’ve seen shots as iso 6400 from older aps-c camera’s that had plenty of detail, yet little to no noise.

Does this mean you should just set it high, and forget it?
Most certainly not! At ANY iso, above native, you are loosing shadow and color information, as well as adding noise to your image. Does this kill your image? Probably not. But you should still care! You should care about any degradation in the image quality of your images. Just because it have become easier to get acceptable results, does NOT mean that getting the best result have gotten less important.


Mumford and Sons. Shot at Iso 6400, 1/40, F5.6. Photo by Jason Pindleton

I’m happy to be where I’m at. I’ve learned SO much the past 30 months. And I’m not nearly finished learning. And photographers whom think they are, need to get a reality check.



Siamese. Shot at F1.8 1/60 equivalent ISO 1600 on a Nikon F6, Sigma 50mm ART. Photo by Morten Ryming

If you do not know what you are doing, it makes little to no difference.
If you want to learn: buy an old semi-pro body that gives you easy access to manual controls.

If you want good images but don’t care about technice: Buy the latest entry level APC-c camera from nikon.

Are you a seasoned pro that want to challenge your selv: Shoot film! If you are doing it to challenge your shooting abilities, there is really no better way than to shoot film. It challenges you to know your exposure. Shoot at a lower ISO, and anticipate action.

For working pro’s: Really anything Full frame will create professional results.

Going with a d4s vs a d3 will set you back 4 times as much money, but will also grant you better dynamic range, even at 1.5 stop higher Iso.

Going with something like a D600, will get you the same noise level as a d4s, up till 12800, but a significantly lower dynamic range recorded. What’s the right for you? Well, I’ll let you decided that.

I shoot the ISO necessary to get the shot. If I have to go above 6400, I would rather shoot wide-aperture primes. But the D600 matches noise levels with the very best nikon cameras, even at iso 12800.

What’s that maximum ISO you will shoot?

All pictures in this article was used with permission from the photographers.


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