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low light performance

Discussion in 'This or That? (MFT only)' started by awatahurm, Sep 17, 2011.

  1. awatahurm

    awatahurm Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 10, 2011
    I love my E-P3 because it's compact, easy to use, and delivers great OOC JPEG's. It also looks cool and is great fun.
    As far as hobby cameras go, I couldn't ask for anything better.
    But I originally got into :43: because I'm looking for a superior travel camera.
    In that respect, the E-P3 is perfect in every way except one: low light performance.
    Unfortunately, this is very important to me because at least half of the memories I want to bring back will involve low light situations.

    I've seen reviews where the e-p3 delivers great detail and color range at ISO 3200. But those reviews are obviously written by people with more skills than I could acquire in time for my next trip in November.
    (Please check the original size images to see the full level of distortion.)

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnshare/6156304265/" title="Camera Raw noise reduction by awatahurm, on Flickr"> 6156304265_2d765e1576_z. "640" height="480" alt="Camera Raw noise reduction"></a>
    ISO 3200, Camera Raw noise Reduction

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnshare/6156303561/" title="e-p3 in-camera &quot;standard&quot; noise reduction by awatahurm, on Flickr"> 6156303561_d504751233_z. "640" height="480" alt="e-p3 in-camera &quot;standard&quot; noise reduction"></a>
    ISO 3200, in-camera "standard" noise reduction

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnshare/6156847182/" title="no noise reduction by awatahurm, on Flickr"> 6156847182_b644c03ac7_z. "640" height="480" alt="no noise reduction"></a>
    ISO 3200, no noise reduction

    So now I'm wondering if the Fujifilm Finepix x100 might be a better travel camera. I wouldn't mind a single lens and slower AF if I could get better low light pictures. (I also think the built in ND filter might be useful.)
    But I'm worried about the learning curve. I can see that skilled photographers get much better low light images from the x100. But what about someone like me, who comes from a "point-and-shoot" background?
    Any and all opinions will be welcome.
  2. stratokaster

    stratokaster Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 4, 2011
    Dublin, IE
    • Like Like x 1
  3. DDBazooka

    DDBazooka Mu-43 Veteran

    Sep 3, 2011
    Those pictures look fine (to me anyway), especially when resized for a computer monitor. If you were making large prints though, consider using a DSLR if you want to shoot in low low light.

    Alternatively, you can get a faster lens :) 
    • Like Like x 1
  4. krugorg

    krugorg Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jul 18, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    It is true that at high ISO, the X100 images will look better than the E-P3. I'll share a couple things I considered when I picked the E-P3 over the X100 (and my main use is travel):

    1) Speed - I was concerned about missed shots with the X100 due to slower operation speed (power on, wake up, writes), not just AF speed difference versus the E-P3

    2) IBIS - for the newb here, thought this would help doing handheld shots during travel (normally do not have a tripod with me)... I thought this would also help keep me down in lower ISO

    3) Lenses - obvious, I know, but nice to have a couple options during travel... a semi-wide for landscapes, architecture and then maybe a 20/1.7 or 25/1.4 for indoors and night, again keeping the E-P3 down in the lower ISO range.

    4) Reliability - this may have been all resolved, or nothing more than a few problem cameras, but had read posts on dust on the sensor that had me a little worried. Also, sounds like there were some issues with sticky aperture blades. All this could be cleared up now... not trying to slag on the camera, just seemed like the E-P3 was a bit more fully-baked to me.

    I only briefly used a X100 and exchanged for the E-P3, so I'll let the experts chime in with more useful information!
    • Like Like x 2
  5. I don't like to be stuck with just one focal length, so in spite of all it's other qualities, that one restriction would make the X100 a terrible travel camera for me. Certainly I could never use it as my only camera.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    What lens are you using? Sure the X100 has lower noise. But if you stick a 20mm 1.7 or 25mm 1.4 on it you can almost always use a lower ISO. And get a gorrilla pod.

    • Like Like x 1
  7. awatahurm

    awatahurm Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 10, 2011
    I used a 12mm 2.0 on the shots above. I love the 20mm 1.7 in normal light, but the e-p3 seems to have a tougher time focusing it in lower light. Also the 12mm colors somehow seem more vivid at low light.

    As for the gorilla pod... I plan on getting something along those lines, but I haven't researched all the options yet.

    Thanks to everybody for the responses and advice.
  8. goldenlight

    goldenlight Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 30, 2010
    Just a word about exposure at high ISO. Always expose to the right of the histogram, so the the curve almost, but not quite, clips the edge of the graph. If highlights are small and unimportant within the image, you might even want to purposesly clip them slightly. That will help prevent the shadows from blocking up with too much noise. Use auto bracketing so you can select the best exposed frame later. Also, never have Auto Gradation set when using high ISO or shooting in low light. :smile:
    • Like Like x 2
  9. Mellow

    Mellow Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2010
    Florida or Idaho
    I agree in principle, but it's difficult when there's not much light. Sometimes the best you can do is slightly underexposed if you want to keep the ISO and shutter speed within reasonable values.
    • Like Like x 1
  10. Ned

    Ned Mu-43 Legend

    Jul 18, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    But if you underexpose for speed, then you can't complain about the loss of image quality, right? Proper exposure is key to high image quality, no matter what the camera, sensor, lens, etc.
    • Like Like x 1
  11. goldenlight

    goldenlight Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 30, 2010
    That's OK so long as you don't try to recover the shadows in pp - if you do you'll have noise pouring out of every pixel. After all, it is an Olympus!

    But yes, if it's a subject that suits low key exposure, allowing the shadows to block up can actually help mask noise. Also, with little or no detail to lose, you can go heavy with noise reduction in these shadow areas. When using this technique I usually slectively reduce noise, using the control points in Nik Dfine 2.0 to reduce noise far more gently in the well-lit main subject than in the shadows.

    Here's an example, taken at ISO 3200, 1/8th sec @ f3.5 with an Olympus E-3.


    The E-3, of course, is significantly worse for noise at ISO 3200 than the EP-3.
    • Like Like x 2
  12. awatahurm

    awatahurm Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 10, 2011
    Heh. I didn't even know that Auto Gradation existed until you mentioned it.
    I see that the factory setting is "Normal". Should it be set to "Low Key" for high ISO, or is "Normal" OK?

    Also, are there other settings I should consider when shooting low light?
  13. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    X2 - at least in my travels, the opportunity to "zoom with my feet" is rare. I need access to a variety of focal lengths, preferably with fast apertures.

    if the EP3 isnt doing it for ya, you dont need to jump ship - The G3 has much better high ISO noise control than the EP3.
  14. goldenlight

    goldenlight Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 30, 2010
    Low Key Gradation is a form of exposure compensation in which the exposure is shifted to the left of the histogram, essentially deliberate under-exposure. It only suits images where you wish to retain a dark and moody look, maybe a gritty and harshly lit portrait of a rugged old man for example. My picture of the boy by the fire is essentially low key; whilst his face is well enough exposed by light fro the fire his outline is indistinct, merging rapidly into the inky black shadows that surround him. I didn't use the camera's low key setting, though, I manually adjusted exposure compensation and bracketed to get the result I wanted.

    High Key Gradation has the opposite effect, creating a light image full of bright tones, verging on over-exposure. An example of a suitable subject would be an evenly and softly lit baby against a white background.

    Auto Gradation is something else. When faced with a scene of greater dynamic range than the sensor can handle, on this setting it attempts to darken the highlights and lighten the shadows in much the same way as you might do in pp. However, unlike in pp, you have no control over the amount of adjustment. It can work well in certain situations but in others tends to introduce a lot of noise, particularly when using all but the lowest ISO.

    The biggest problem is forgetting to switch it back to normal after using it for a specific shot and I never use it, prefering to bracket exposures in tricky lighting then manually adjusting if needed in Elements. I keep the Gradation set to Normal on my cameras at all times.

    Exposure technique is the main consideration for low light, high ISO shots but the other setting to consider, especially with mixed light sources is White Balance. AWB generally works well with Olympus cameras but in particularly tricky situations it might pay to try various alternative settings if there is time.
    • Like Like x 5
  15. awatahurm

    awatahurm Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 10, 2011
    Hey! This really works!

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnshare/6158504242/" title="low light 2011-09-18 by awatahurm, on Flickr"> 6158504242_0cee39abbf_z. "640" height="480" alt="low light 2011-09-18"></a>
    ISO 3200, 12mm 2.0

    I think I can manage this with a little practice.
    Thanks so much, goldenlight. You probably saved me $1200 and who knows how much grief.
  16. goldenlight

    goldenlight Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 30, 2010
    Glad I could help. :smile:

    Enjoy that camera and lens, I got to try that combination at a pre launch Olympus event and was bowled over by it. I'm in the process of raising pennies for the EP-3 at the moment but I suspect it will be a much longer wait for the 12mm.
  17. Vivalo

    Vivalo Olympus loser Subscribing Member

    Nov 16, 2010
    You could also try to put the in-camera noise reduction to off and sharpness -2. That should help you to keep the details in your jpeg and to edit that noise later in PP with more powerful tools.
    • Like Like x 1
  18. starlabs

    starlabs Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 30, 2010
    Los Angeles
    Exposing to the right gives good results - with one big caveat: it will lower your shutter speed. And depending on how much you shift, the difference in shutter speed can be significant. Depending on what you shoot, this can lead to subject motion blur or camera motion blur.

    Search for WT21's thread on exposing to the right. Good info in there.
    • Like Like x 1
  19. goldenlight

    goldenlight Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 30, 2010
    True, but in that case you need a higher ISO anyway. Exposing to the left in order to preserve shutter speed and avoid increasing the ISO, then trying to lighten it in pp, will produce at least as much (probably more) noise than increasing the ISO and exposing properly in the first place. :smile:
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