After experiencing the intoxicating allure of a new Nikon D3 this week I was left wondering if my current camera, my Canon 1ds Mark II, was really over the hill.  All washed up.  Certainly it's done an admirable job supporting my family over the last five years and still produces stunning images in good light, but can it still measure up to the low light performance we've come to expect from the most modern DSLRs like the Nikon D3 or the Canon 5d Mark II?  We shall see..

I was going out in some very low light areas so I took the 1ds Mark II along for the ride.  My objective was to see how well it would perform with and without modern noise reduction software in such conditions at its maximum ISO.  Newer cameras can operate up to ISO 25,600. 

 

Nana Plaza Bar

Typical Bar Patron (85mm F1.2L @1.2  ISO 3200)

 

This image of a fine English gentleman was taken in a pub (ISO 3200) with a light level much below how it appears.  No noise reduction.  The room was very dim so I exposed a bit longer to bring out this image.  At first glance the image appears sound.  Nice color which is usually the first thing to go at higher ISO's and a good amount of detail which is the second thing to go.

 

Close up, Nana Plaza

100% Crop

 

But when we zoom in for a closer look we can see there is a significant amount of noise present.  The best way to minimize noise from an DSLR is to nail the exposure and I did.  Still, there is enough detail to see the pattern in the iris of his eyes and the individual eyebrow hairs that fall within the DOF of this lens.  This image, with noise reduction, could be used for many valid photographic purposes.

 

Hua Hin home

Dark Closet  (24-70mm F2.8L  F4 ISO 3200)

 

This image was from my archives.  ISO 3200 in program mode where I was shooting the inside of a house to show a client what it was like for rental purposes.  Perfectly usable and no noise reduction.  At the sizes I sent him you can't see any noise or other signs the camera was at the very limits of its design.

 

Teak house, Bangkok

Thai Teak House (24-70mm F2.8L  F4  ISO 3200)

 

Another spec that tends to fall off at higher ISO's is dynamic range.  No noise reduction.  Yet, there is dynamic range galore with this ISO 3200 image from my 1ds Mark II.  Nailing the exposure properly is the key.

 

Expresso Machine, Nana Plaza

Coffee Machine in Dark Pub (85mm F1.2L  F1.2 ISO 3200)

 

From the same dark bar above we have their coffee machine.  It was so dark in the bar I really wasn't sure what this thing was until I saw the back of my LCD.  No noise reduction used.  When you zoom in to the text on the side you'll see the text is very well focused and crisp.

 

Soi 22, Micro Bus, low light workshop

Microbus Bar (70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 ISO 3200)

 

This image of this old microbus is a great example using noise reduction software.  It was much darker than this image was exposed to show.  Red is the first color to go when pushing high ISO limits, yet this red is perfect.  the only time we could see this red with our eyes is when a car drove past and it's headlights illuminated the paint.  At ISO 3200 this image was captured from about 30 meters and the colors and detail are very good.  Noise reduction software was used.

 

Close up, low light workshop

100% crop of Microbus

 

Here is a crop of the same image.  Notice the detail on the ladies face and the booze bottles?  My noise removal software did an admirable job of reducing the grain.

 

Street Vendor, Soi Cowboy, low light workshop

Soi Food Vendor (70-200mm F2.8L @F4.0  ISO 3200

 

This is the same dark street but exposed to show what our eyes were truly seeing.  Overall the image quality is very good and until you zoom in very close you can't see any grain at all.  No noise reduction was used.

 

Soi Cowboy vista, low light workshop, bangkok images

Soi Cowboy Signage (70-200mm F2.8L  @F5.6 ISO 3200)

 

Most of you will recognize this location, but do you recognize the perspective?  Have you ever seen this shot from this angle?  I haven't.  This is the first.  A fine noise free ISO 3200 image thanks to proper exposure and a good noise removal software package.

Of course modern DSLRs will perform better in low light but I shared these shots with you this week to illustrate that even if you're shooting a five year old camera, you can still make very good images if you nail the exposure and effectively use a good noise removal program.