Olympus E-P1 High ISO

Just wanted to post a quick update on the little E-P1 and it's high ISO performance. As some of you might know I am not the worlds biggest fan of super "perfect" images shot at astronomical ISO speeds. As long as 400 is workable I usually fine. In other words it is not my number one criteria in evaluating a camera. I know that most of the internet photographic community get's it's knickers in a bunch if even the slightest bit of noise can be detected when shooting a black featureless surface in the dark so take this assessment with that in mind.

Nobody really likes noise. Well I like some kinds of noise - like film grain with the right scene. The only real color "noise" that I ever appreciated was that of Kodachrome 200. That is the one film I liked the look of that had huge grain. Some folks like that Scotch Chrome 1000 or whatever. There was guy that made a career with that film shooting vodka bottles but that's another story. My verdict on the E-P1 is that it more than passes my meager criteria for high ISO shooting. Heck I cannot wait to get my Panasonic 20mm f 1.7 and shoot with this thing. I really have no issue with the ISO 1600 performance for real world subjects that I am likely to shoot in light that low. They will look fine.

Believe it or not I feel the same way about 3200 and 6400 on this camera. Obviously it's not appropriate if you want absolutely "perfect" color, detail, and smoooothness. Well actually you could crank either the on camera noise reduction up or the one in your image editor of choice and get smooth as well. Me - I won't bother. Here's why - most real world subjects I am likely to shoot in light that low are probably filled with detail. If they aren't they will be more "set-up" because they are supposed to be perfect, meaning I will probably worry about the light first. So for the rest of it there is a good chance the look of the image will be appropriate for my purposes. Heck half the time I will probably want it black and white anyway.

When in black and white I will run it through Nik Silver EFX Pro and one of their film simulations. Take my word for it that each and every film simulation in NIk, from 50 speed PanF to TMAX 100 to TMAX 3200, the grain engine totally overwhelms the digital noise by an order of magnitude and it looks fine. No need to run noise reduction first. Here are a couple of shots to see what I mean.

First off we have ISO 1600 strait out of camera with NR set to normal and everything else "flat"

Next we have the same image with a TRI-X simulation and no other changes.

Okay same thing at ISO 3200

Now with the same TRI-X simularion

Ultimately we have 6400 ISO - crazy stuff for a compact camera.

Same old TRI-X simulation

Now this is kinda moot because as I have explained before due to the way digital resizing works all of these images show way way more grain and noise than they should at these display sizes but will look fine when printed becauseā€¦. printer pixels are SMALLER. Same goes for optical printing - grain gets SMALLER at small print sizes so you can't see it. That is not what happens when you take a 12 MPIX image, add grain, then scale it down to screen size. The resize KEEPS THE NOISE/GRAIN AT SIMILAR SIZES TO WHAT IT WAS IN THE BIG IMAGE - ie. one or two pixels. That's not the point - the point is that the film simulations render all three images pretty much identical. If you shoot color I would say you be the judge as to worrying about the high ISO. Me - I really don't give a hoot about this level of noise in real world images, especially if my primary purpose is printing. As you can see, even with NO extra care the out of camera images look fine in color as long as their is detail and light gradation (usually the first couple of reasons to take an image in the first place). I do agree that a blank wall shot with 3200 and 6400 will look like crap. Who cares.

If you like to shoot/print black and white you have it made in the shade. Silver EFEX film simulations - every one - completely overwhelm any hint of noise even at extreme ISO's on the E-P1. I already knew that but being the paranoid belt and suspenders kind of person I do like to know what to expect before committing. Hope this was at all useful to anyone out there biting their fingernails over the noise performance "issue" with this camera.

For you pixel peepers - here is worst case ISO 6400 in all it's extreme magnification glory - who cares? Not me, but just to be complete you can't have any kind of image review on the internet and not talk about the almighty 100% because you know that's what people ask me all the time when I show them a book or a print. They say - "wow really nice but what does it look like at 100%?"

Click to get the actual pixels (don't forget to enlarge in the lightbox if there is an icon in the upper right corner)

And the Silver EFEX Pro TRI-X simulation to see if you can find any of the original camera noise in it.

Have a great holiday (well at least in the USA)


Ps. If you like black and white but shoot digital Nik Silver EFEX Pro is a must have - I like the Photoshop version for many reasons but the Aperture plug-in version works the same way and it is cheaper.

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