Pal2Tech posted a video today discussing the noise performance of various film simulations when using high-ISO photography on Fujifilm cameras. I like the videos from this channel, as they’re always entertaining and educational. I’ve learned several things myself, so I definitely recommend following him if you don’t already.
I wanted to mention this particular video (which you’ll find above) specifically because I think it misses the point on high-ISO photography. Or several points, really. I do still recommend watching it—I found it interesting, personally—and I appreciate the effort put into it. But I want to add my own commentary, so here we go!
The first point that’s missed is that Fujifilm’s digital noise doesn’t look like typical noise from digital cameras. Fujifilm’s programming makes it appear more organic, a little more film-grain-like, and much less hideous than that from other brands. So having some noise in an image isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Digital noise can actually be more than just “not bad” but can actually be a positive thing, and you might be missing out by avoiding it.
Which brings me to point two: in the digital age we’re too often striving for “perfect” images with its squeaky-clean aesthetics. In my article No Edit Photography: 7 Tips To Get The Film Look From Your Digital Photos, I stated, “Perfect pictures can be perfectly boring.” And, “Creativity is rarely born out of perfectionism.” Avoiding digital noise is ok, I suppose, but never at the expense of things that are more important.
Point number three (for those keeping track) is that digital noise (from Fujifilm cameras) can actually make your digital pictures appear less digital and more film-like (that’s tip six in that article I linked to in the last paragraph). In fact, my Ilford HP5 Plus Push Process film simulation recipe purposefully uses a minimum ISO of 25600, and it looks shockingly good when printed! If you’re striving for “perfection” and you are pixel-peeping at 300% magnification, noise might bother you a little. Otherwise, the “imperfection” of it can be incorporated beautifully into your art.
The simple takeaway is this: don’t be afraid to get a little noisy. Don’t worry so much about squeaky-clean pictures, but embrace the messiness of photography, and worry about the things that actually matter (like storytelling). Don’t be afraid to shoot at high-ISOs. Certainly if you are limiting yourself to below ISO 3200 for Acros, Classic Negative, and Eterna Bleach Bypass, you are missing out on some lovely pictures (you’ll find an example of each below). It’s ok to pixel-peep, but just know that nobody outside of some photographers care what an image looks like when inspected so closely, and most people who view your pictures won’t be impressed or unimpressed by how an image looks at that magnification, because they only care if the picture as a whole speaks to them in some way.