The 40D and high ISO

Posted on 3 November 2007, 21:27

One of the factors which initially led me to buy a 40D was the anticipation of better high ISO performance than I was getting from the 30D.

The 30D is no mean performer at high ISO, but I sometimes found more chroma noise than I was really happy with: yes, I could deal with it in Neat Image, but ideally I’d prefer less in the first place.

The 40D shares the new Dig!c III processor with the 1D Mk III and I hoped that some of that camera’s extraordinary high ISO Performance might rub off on its little brother.

Now then: many 40D reviews out there suggest that it is at best as good as the 30D at high ISO.

Be that as it may, the nature of the noise at high ISO appears to be very different, with chroma noise very well controlled, and luma noise being smalled-grained (a benefit of the extra 2 mp, presumably) and unobtrusive.

So, without having done any side-by-side pixel peeping tests between the 30D and 40D, my personal opinion is that the 40D’s high ISO performance is substantially better than that of the 30D.

In fact I now regard 400 and 800 ISO as my baseline ISO settings for day-to-day use of the camera.

But it gets better than that…

Note that these aren’t great pictures – they’re only intended to indicate something about Real World noise performance. All were taken with the 40D and 100-400mm at 400mm.

800 ISO starling

This is a pretty typical 800 ISO example from the 40D.

I have given it a light dusting with Neat Image, but that was just to increase background blur and to make up for the cropping I had to do.

The end result is what matters though, and in IQ terms, it really is as good as I could realistically hope for.

800 ISO starling

Another 800 ISO starling – no noise reduction this time.

Again, there’s no problem at all with noise – there’s very little difference between this and 400 ISO from the 30D.

The background in particular is smooth and lacking in artefacts (in fact it looks hardly any different noise reduced!) and detail in the bird is fine.

1600 ISO test

This is 1600 ISO.

Here, I’ve applied very light noise reduction (lower slider values than I would usually use to smooth out backgrounds from my 30D at 400 ISO) and I’ve increased contrast and saturation slightly.

Detail and colour are unaffected by the high ISO or the post processing.

1600 ISO test

This is more telling though: 1600 ISO and no noise reduction – simply a slight crop, resize, Levels and USM sharpen.

I find this very impressive, I have to say.

I should probably look at the colour balance again though..!

1600  ISO test

For completeness’ sake, this is the same picture after a bit of Neat Image.

As you can see, there’s a difference, but in truth it’s not a big difference.

I doubt that I would bother NR processing the original for my kind of “Real World” use.

3200 ISO test

Finally, this is 3200 ISO and – again – no noise reduction.

I have done nothing but the usual resize, Levels (rather a lot here, which makes noise more obvious), sharpen and saturation tweaks.

Personally I think that the amount of noise here is impressive given the sharpening and Levels lift I applied: with selective sharpening – and if I’d made a better job of exposure in the first place! – things would have been even better.

Or I could always go over the noisier parts of the picture with a “blur” brush…

3200 ISO test, noise reduced

3200 ISO is definitely usable then: and it goes without saying that it cleans up brilliantly in Neat Image (which seems to be very Canon-friendly, I’ve found).

All in all then, I really don’t care what the professional camera testers out there reckon about 40D noise performance: as far as I’m concerned, it’s a wonder.

It’s a good time to be a Canon user!

For clarity, I should mention that in-camera NR is off in all of these pictures.

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