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.
Totally agree with your article in regards to camera noise… I think FUJI does a good job of keeping it as organic as possible. The images themselves are excellent
Thanks so much!
Also agree – of course.
What intrigued me were three sentences in your text:
“in the digital age we’re too often striving for “perfect” images with its squeaky-clean aesthetics.”
“Perfect pictures can be perfectly boring.”
“Creativity is rarely born out of perfectionism.”
I sometimes read so many comments all over websites, forums and others where one can criticize people’s photos so much, and I’m talking mostly about editing then – the highlights are too strong, the shadows too dark, too much noise, too far , too close, not by rule of thirds … when all creativity is taken out, the fun is dead.
Um, sorry Ritchie, not specific on your subject here or only partly, but you do touch a problem – and your three sentences here, can as far as I’m concerned, be added to the list of most famous quotes ever uttered by a photographer.
Wow, thanks! I’m reminded of Ansel Adams’ famous quote: “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” Back then the conversation was: is your lens sharp enough? That was how he responded. The concept matters most, and the other stuff takes a back seat, but there are so many “back seat drivers” in the photography world, aren’t there? I appreciate your comment!
Hi Ritchie, Fuji-x-weekly is now daily and even more than daily in my mailbox. What a treat!
Your article and the noise test video are both interesting. You know me, I also love recipes with noise, or dark areas, if indeed it is an artistic choice. The artistic choice is of course determined by the analogue culture and what was possible there.
But sometimes you want sharp, noise-free photos. When I photograph the kids in my class (I’m a science and technology teacher), I use the recipe that works best for it, and that is indeed ProNeg Standard. Sharp, natural, low noise and super beautiful tonality.
But that’s also the beauty of Fuji: you have the best of both worlds. Artistic approach or sharp, true-to-life images, for each there is a recipe (or an enhanced diy recipe).
Appreciate your work. Regards, Marcel
I agree. A time and place for both noise and no noise. Definitely don’t ditch high-ISO, though, because of 300% crops. I think advice of “don’t use Acros above ISO 3200” is extremely limiting, because Acros can look very nice well above that. Often I prefer it above that. But, you know, situationally speaking, and different strokes for different folks. Thanks for the comment!
Absolutely, and just to append a thought path I think you started to go down…it completely misses the point of the film simulation concept.
Don’t use Classic Neg above 3200 because of the noise? But what if Classic Neg delivers the exact color and tone that I want? I’m supposed to be conscious of this subjective threshold all the time when going from one simulation to the next?
Read the video comments…plenty of photographers ditching Acros for Monochrome because of these tests. Totally not the same thing!
Yeah, it’s crazy! Ditching a film simulation because of a small difference in noise at 300% magnification, while completely changing the rest of the aesthetic in the process, is just nuts. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!