How good is the Nikon D800 sensor at high ISO? That is, how bad is its noise? I thought I’d take a gander and setup across from a bookshelf at the top of our stairs. The light was all household incandescent ceiling lamps, so nothing special. I had my white balance set for “Auto 2”, which is a new (at least to me) setting that is intended to preserve warm tones. I think the it came out a bit too warm, but it doesn’t really matter for these tests. I used aperture priority at f/8 for best sharpness (I had tried f/2.8, but lost some of the texture in the leather bindings). In Lightroom, I only cropped the images to 636 pixels square. I made no exposure adjustments, accepted the standard sharpness settings for NEF (RAW) files (Sharpness 25, Radius 1.0, Detail 25, Masking 0), and made no noise reduction adjustments (but will show the effects of those in a subsequent post).
Here is the master, full-frame image:
Nikon D800, Nikkor 70-200 mm @ 200 mm
13 s, f/8, ISO 50
And here are three of the images from a set of 10 different one-stop steps in ISO range, starting with the D800’s highest ISO of 25600, followed by the standard maximum ISO of 6400, and finally the lowest ISO of 50. This is only one type of image that you might judge noise from, but I was going for an understanding of noise in solid black and impact on detail, as represented by the gold lettering. Portrait, landscape, architectural, and other subjects may hide noise better or worse. Maybe I’ll get to those one day. In the meantime, to see the full 10-stop set of these ISO test images, check out the “Test” set on my Flickr pages.
Note that the difference between ISO 25600 and 6400 is quite large, while the difference from 6400 to the very clean 50 is much less pronounced. That is, of course, not very surprising at face value. But, what I find more important is that the level of acceptability of the top standard ISO of 6400 is much better than, let’s say, the D300’s top standard ISO of 3200. (Now that I’ve made that subjective statement, I suppose I’d better go out and prove it!).
Let me know your thoughts, and if you’ve found this useful.