Friday, July 07, 2017

How do high ISO images from Sony A6000 actually measure up?

If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that I used to own the Sony A6000, along with a couple of kit lenses (zooms) and adapters so I could use vintage lenses such as the Carl Zeiss T* Biogon f/2.8 28mm.

Well, not long before I switched from Sony to Fuji, I visited a Pin Mill in Suffolk. Pin Mill is a hamlet on the south bank of the tidal River Orwell, located on the outskirts of the village of Chelmondiston on the Shotley peninsula, south Suffolk. I once had the privilege of sailing on the Nancy Blackett, a boat that was owned by the children's author, Arthur Ransome. Nancy Blackett is a fictional character in nine of the twelve juvenile novels in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series of books. The author was a keen sailor and the Nancy Blackett was Arthur Ransome’s favourite amongst his various cruising yachts.

A friend of ours owned her for a while and we joined him for a day's sailing up the river to celebrate my father-in-law's 70th birthday. Dad was a keen sailor himself and had served in both the Royal Navy (he captained an LCT on D-Day at Sword Beach) and the Merchant Navy. We enjoyed a pleasant day's sailing until sundown, at which point we rejoined the other members of the family who had stayed ashore. The boat is now owned by the Nancy Blackett Trust and I highly recommend checking out their site and learning more about the Nancy Blackett, Arthur Ransome and his interesting life. You can also visit the site of the Arthur Ransome Society (TARS) for more information on him. As well as being an author, he was also a journalist and he was in Russia during the Russian Revolution. He personally knew many of the key characters, including Lenin and Trotsky. In fact, he ended up marrying Trotsky's secretary, Evgenia Shvelpina. She was his second wife and they are buried together at Rusland in the Lake District.

The reason I was at Pin Mill in the first place was because of the happy memories of that day's sailing with my father-in-law. I was also a huge fan of Arthur Ransome's books as a child and knew about his connection to Pin Mill. I had also sailed from Pin Mill with a friend and his parents, along with my wife. We had enjoyed a day sailing and sleeping overnight on the boat after a wonderful BBQ on the shore.

Well, that was quite a diversion! Let's continue with my tale of taking photographs with my Sony A6000 shall we. By the time I arrived the light was already starting to fade as it was January. This meant that I was using the lenses wide open and the ISO was set at auto. This meant that when I first started taking photos I was having to use around 1000 ISO. By the time I finished it was much higher at 3200 ISO. I wasn't expecting great things to be honest as my experience with the A6000 was that it tended to be prone to noticeable levels of noise beyond 1600 ISO. So, lets see how some of the images came out.

E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS. ISO 1000. 55mm.ƒ/4.5. 1/200 sec.
So, this is the first image I shot. It was taken on 24 January 2017 at 17:27. I converted it black and white because I think it works better as a monochrome image. I think it looks ok considering the light levels.

Here is another image taken shortly afterwards.

E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS. ISO 3200. 110mm. ƒ/5.6. 1/90 sec.
Again, I converted it to black and white. I also tweaked the contrast and sharpening (the originals were RAW format, which always come out softer than in-camera Jpegs as most cameras apply some sharpening to Jpegs by default). Considering its at ISO 3200, I think it came out quite well. Of course, all you pixel-peekers out there (I was one too so its ok to admit to it!) will say that you can see noise in the image. Yes I did apply some noise reduction, but like sharpening, I prefer to apply a minimal amount. Its far too easy to go over the top and to ruin an image.

Well, lets try another image, this time taken near the end of my time at Pin Mill, when light levels were really low.

E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS. ISO 3200. 119mm. ƒ/5.6. 1/125. 
This one was taken at 17:43, so you can see that the light fades quickly in winter once the sun has gone down. I think that the noise is greater in this image, partly due to the subject matter. I tend to find in photos with large areas of the same tone that noise is more evident. In the rope one about, the complexity of the subject means we don't see the noise as much. It's there but we tend not to notice it. That's my theory anyway!

So, what conclusions can we draw from this?

  1. If you are ever in the vicinity of Pin Mill (not far from Ipswich) it's well worth a visit. I can recommend the pub there too, especially for the seafood. It's called the Butt & Oyster. It can get busy as it's popular so you may want to ring ahead and make reservations.
  2. Don't be afraid to use high ISO settings. Modern cameras are good at coping with noise and you can always reduce the effect later in software. Also, when we used film (some folk still do - another post on that topic!) we got used to grain. Some of us even chose our film/developer combinations to make the most of grain!
  3. Early in the mornings and late in the day, the light can be gorgeous and if there is mist about or its winter, you will get some lovely images. So experiment, don't be afraid and who knows, you may get to love high ISO settings!
  4. Finally, it's not so much the camera and lens you use, it's all about your vision and creativity.
Hope you enjoyed reading this post and see you soon. Until then, go and shoot some photos or edit ones you have sitting on your memory cards or hard drive.

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