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Thread: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

  1. #1
    Subscriber Member jaapv's Avatar
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    My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    It is with some trepidation that I put this on a forum run by Photoshop jockeys.
    But it has worked so well for me that I wanted to share. I also put it in the M9 FAQ on LUF. I hope to learn from the reactions.


    There is a vital difference between the M9 and all other high-end digital cameras. The M9 has virtually no in-camera noise reduction at high ISO, resulting in more detail, but also more visible noise. To avoid this noise, there are two steps to be taken, but first consider the type of photograph:low contrast with diffuse light vs.high contrast with specular highlights. This will make a big difference to the approach you need to take in capture and post-processing.

    SHOOTING:

    The first trick is to gather as many photons on the sensor as possible to improve Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) without overexposing. That means: use the histogram. And go manual.

    It is easiest with the low contrast image - just bunch the peak up to the right and flatten the lefthand side of the histogram.

    The high contrast image will need clipping of the specular highlights. So move them off the righthand side of the histogram, and you will see the signal coming up on all other light levels. There is your optimum SNR which you must try to preserve whilst taking photographs by manually adjusting the exposure to the amount of real light, i.e. disregarding the bright spotlights that are trying to fool you into underexposing.
    This presupposes that you are on manual and are spending some time “ shooting the histogram in” before starting to shoot in earnest.

    Note that at ISOs below about 1250 you have enough SNR leeway to start trying to preserve highlights - a whole different game than avoiding noise!


    POSTPROCESSING

    Now we come to the second step: the capture sharpening and noise reduction in Adobe Camera raw 6 and Lightroom 3. I will describe the procedure for ACR 6.0, Lightroom users will be able to translate this easily, as it is basically the same.

    First make sure the program is set to Process Version 2010. You will find the setting under the Camera Calibration menu.

    If an exclamation mark appears on the lower righthand side of your preview it means you have an image that has been processed in Version 2003. Click the exclamation mark to reset the Process Version.

    With the image open (make sure your output parameters are set to Profoto RGB and 16 bits!) adjust the color balance and exposure to taste, and switch to the detail panel and hit alt-option(command)-0 to go to 100% view.

    We will use the sliders from top to bottom( more or less), bearing in mind that ACR is non-destructive and, with a subsequent adjustment made it is wise to got back to the previous steps for finetuning. It takes some experience to “ play” all settings to their optimum.

    Sharpening slider.
    Set for the optimum detail separation (normally between about 10 and 40), never mind that you seem to increase the noise, in conjunction with the next

    Radius slider
    Use the range of 0.5 to 1.5, never more. 0.5 is for high-frequency detail images like wooded landscapes, 1.5 for low-frequency detail images like glamour portraits.
    Once set, bearing in mind that visible halos and artefacts introduced here will get you in trouble later, skip the next

    Detail slider
    for the time being.
    And go to the

    Masking Slider.
    Then drag it with the alt key held down and you will see an edge mask being created on the fly. This will only be visible with the image at 100% or larger. It shows ( in white) what areas are being sharpened and (in black) which ones are being protected.
    So drag it until only the edges you want sharpened are showing. Never mind the small detail. For that you have the

    Detail slider.
    Alt-drag that one until you have your fine detail back without enhancing too much noise.

    Now go to the noise-reduction group.

    First go to

    Color.
    Normally the default setting of 25 will be fine to suppress the color noise completely, but by all means play with the slider to find the optimum setting. If you get some color bleeding on color edges you can move the

    Color Detail slider/Luminance detail slider
    from its default of 50, but be careful not to go too far left as it will make the image digitally smooth.
    Normally you won’t be using those two.

    The most important slider of the group is the

    Luminance slider
    Pull it right to see the noise disappear. When you are happy, go back to the sharpening group and tweak if needed, back to luminance, etc. (*)

    And you are done, go back to the adjustments panel. Now if you have a mixed frequency image, you can correct by using the adjustment brush and tweak the sharpening, both to more sharp ( for instance the eyes in a portrait) or softer ( for instance the skin of somebody in a landscape) (**). Then go on and open the image.

    Now this is a long instruction manual, but with a bit of practice it gets really quick and easy, and you can of course make a few presets for image types you commonly shoot. You can make the presets camera- and ISO specific too. Just tick the relevant boxes in Preferences


    (*)This is a most interesting slider. At a setting between 0 and 10 it will act as an extra sharpening slider for low-noise images, as it seems to add a bit of fine random structure, which enhances the impression of sharpness

    (**) Of course, for the more Photoshop-minded the elegant way to do this is to optimize for one frequency, open as a Smart Object, copy and redo for the other frequency, create a layer mask in PS and paint in the effect, but on the whole I find that a bit of overkill for routine use.
    JAAP
    http://www.jaapvphotography.eu
    The colours of my generation are black and white.

  2. #2
    Super Duper
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Awesome, Thanks JAAP!

    I will take a look and use your protocol. I rarely shoot at ISO 2,500, but if I do, I'll employ your suggestions and see what happens!

    Thanks for this very informative post!
    Ashwin Rao
    Seattle, WA
    My Photography

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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    I too will give it a try.

    I don't go to 2500, just 1250. At 1250, at least, you don't need any capture sharpening. Instead, wait until you have a converted image, & then use the PhotoKit Sharpener's Creative Sharpener on only those areas that truly need sharpening. This way you can avoid noisy areas altogether. And before printing use the Output Sharpener, but reduce the opacity of the Dark layer or delete it, to avoid sharpening shadow noise.

    Anyhow I'll try your way & see which works best.

    Kirk

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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    On the low-contrast image, if you can increase exposure enough to right-align the histogram, then you can probably shoot at a lower ISO instead with the histogram further to the left.

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    Member Steve Fines's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Hi,

    Thanks for posting this. I've just been using Dfine in PS on the 'auto' settings and been happy with it, but always good to try new things.
    ---------------
    Steve
    www.finesart.com

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    Senior Member sjg284's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    This looks great, thanks for sharing.
    I thought myself to be a decent LR user, until a friend showed me his workflow.
    Completely changed my ability to fix misexposure/etc. Really opened my eyes to how flexible RAW files are.

    Unfortunately I'm an M8 user!
    Has anyone posted a similar workflow for high ISO M8 shooting? (presumably less-high than 2500..)?
    blog
    steve

  7. #7
    Subscriber Member jaapv's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Quote Originally Posted by Jan Brittenson View Post
    On the low-contrast image, if you can increase exposure enough to right-align the histogram, then you can probably shoot at a lower ISO instead with the histogram further to the left.
    Of course you should use the lowest ISO possible, but it makes no sense to lose photons by shooting the histogram to the left if there is nothing to preserve on the righthand side. Have a look in the Schewe and Fraser book, the difference in noise on a 1DsIII ()at ISO 400 is dramatic! You will never trust autoexposure again.
    JAAP
    http://www.jaapvphotography.eu
    The colours of my generation are black and white.

  8. #8
    Super Duper
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Thanks a lot. I will check it out!

  9. #9
    Adam Marelli
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Hey Jaap,

    I wanted to extend a tremendous amount of gratitude for this entry. It was profoundly helpful. Based on my earlier thread, this is exactly what I was hoping to uncover.

    And you are right, I am finding the higher ISO's to be much more usable than I had anticipated.

    Happy New Year my friend!

    Best-Adam

    http://adammarelliphoto.com

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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Jaap,

    as always, thank you!

    i've never been afraid of 2500, but it's awfully nice to have something to fall back on if i really need to clean the image up.

    **********************

    a question for you, though, on metering on the M9 vs. the M8.

    i almost always had the EV at -1/3 on the M8 and was forced to go manual at night for low light situations with fast lenses (f/1.4 or f/1). or, at the very least, set the EV to -1.

    my M9, on the other hand, seems to under-expose in the same situations -- slightly during the day and by quite a bit when the light goes low.

    i know the key to the best shots at night is to go into manual, but i am still trying to learn what the M9 is capable of... so this change in metering has me absolutely flummoxed!

    TIA,
    cam

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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Quote Originally Posted by jaapv View Post
    Of course you should use the lowest ISO possible, but it makes no sense to lose photons by shooting the histogram to the left if there is nothing to preserve on the righthand side.
    But to shift the histogram to the right you need to increase exposure. So instead of 1/30 ISO 640 you'd shoot at say 1/15 ISO 640. I'm saying you're better off shooting 1/15 ISO 320 if you can afford that shutter speed, leaving the histogram to the left at the lower sensitivity. This will give you a cleaner result than increasing exposure at higher ISO and pulling it back in post.

  12. #12
    Subscriber Member jaapv's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    All this has no real effect. The object is to increase SNR, by capturing more photons. The only thing "increasing ISO" does is increasing amplification of the whole signal, noise and image together, so it has no real relevancy. That is principally different from film.
    JAAP
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    The colours of my generation are black and white.

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    Subscriber Member jaapv's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Quote Originally Posted by Jan Brittenson View Post
    But to shift the histogram to the right you need to increase exposure. So instead of 1/30 ISO 640 you'd shoot at say 1/15 ISO 640. I'm saying you're better off shooting 1/15 ISO 320 if you can afford that shutter speed, leaving the histogram to the left at the lower sensitivity. This will give you a cleaner result than increasing exposure at higher ISO and pulling it back in post.
    To amend my previous post:
    ETTR (which is what we are talking about)does not mean overexposing, it means exposing optimally to get the least noise in the image. That is not related to the ISO value as such.
    The basics of noise avoidance are to get as many photons on the sensor as possible to offset quantum noise, thus improving the signal/noise ratio. The ISO setting on a digital camera does not increase the sensitivity of the sensor, it just increases the amplification of the output of the sensor, so it has no impact on the SNR.
    The exposure of the sensor does have an influence, thus a correctly exposed image will have a better SNR than an amplified underexposed image. The reason that DSLRs appear to get a better SNR at higher ISO is because the in-camera noisereduction is increased as the gain is increased by the higher ISO value.
    The M9 does not ( or hardly) apply any noise reduction so this effect is non-existent on the M9.

    The confusion about this point is caused by the ISO definition of sensitivity for digital capture: It is supposed to be an equivalent to the film ISO sensitivity, leaving the measurement and definition of that equivalency to the camera builder. It does not apply to the native sensitivity of the sensor and does not mention things like the noise floor or dynamic range.
    JAAP
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    The colours of my generation are black and white.

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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Hi Jaap, thanks, this is great info. I don't have an M9, just M8, but have found that it's still fun and capable to get photos with a summilux at 2500, and exposing a stop to the left, if the material is suitable for underexposure. Here are some examples with about -1, in dimly lit rooms at night. The only time I have gotten better handheld exposures in such dim light were with a Noctilux with film at 800-1600.

    indoor 35/1.4 pre-asph images taken in dark/dim lighting here:



    and more at this link
    My Photography Blog here

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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Sean Read or Erwin Puts (I'm not sure who, could be some other tech head,) show examples of how the M9 does actually do some noise reduction on the RAW file? I remember reading some outcry about "file purity" or something.

  16. #16
    Subscriber Member jaapv's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Yes - there seems to be some pre-RAW conversion processing going on, but what and how much is unclear, other than that it is minimal compared to other brands and probably virtually undetectable.
    JAAP
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    The colours of my generation are black and white.

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    Senior Member CharlesK's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Thank you for sharing
    Impressive technique!!! I have tried with shots at 2500 ISO and it has cleaned up the images dramatically. This technique works well with shots that have been underexposed by about 2 stops. I tried to emulate the method in C1 Pro, but I have had no succes so far. Must be different algorithms at work!
    Charles Kalnins
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    Senior Member Ario Arioldi's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    The results achievable with LR3 and ACR6 in terms of noise/sharpness control are really superb.
    I've been a regular user of Capture One for years (I still have and use the latest release) but on this specific aspect it is not at the level reached by the Adobe products, IMHO.
    Thanks to Jaap for sharing his experience.
    Cheers,
    Ario

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    Senior Member CharlesK's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Further testing, has shown the noise reduction in the raw ACR module works brilliantly. It is very different to other after market noise reduction plugin programs, such as Noise Ninja, Noiseware Professiona or Topaz denoise. I use both CS5 64 bit on equal footing with C1 Pro 6.01 as both programs have features that excel. (I am running on windows 7 64 bit platform). I am finding the noise reduction in C1 Pro 6.01 has virtually no effect on the DNG files. I will follow this up with Phase One.
    Charles Kalnins
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    http://kalnins.zenfolio.com

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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Jaap,
    THANKS for the processing information ! I only have CS4 but tried your workflow as much as I could on an image I shot of a basketball game as a .jpg. It cleaned up the color noise quite well ! I'll try it on a raw file next chance I get.

    GlennB

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    Senior Member Jason Muelver's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Any tricks for the Aperture using crowd?
    http://jasonedwardphoto.com http://jasonmuelver.tumblr.com
    Nikon FX, Leica M8, Mamiya 645, Canon F-1

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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Thanks for sharing this...it works as well or better than anything I've tried to date.

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    Subscriber Member Chuck Jones's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Quote Originally Posted by jaapv View Post
    Yes - there seems to be some pre-RAW conversion processing going on, but what and how much is unclear, other than that it is minimal compared to other brands and probably virtually undetectable.
    Thanks for posting your noise reduction methods!

    JAAP, are you seeing much of a difference between ISO 1200 & ISO 2400? Sure looks to me also like they are doing some internal processing behind the scenes....

  24. #24
    Subscriber Member jaapv's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Yes - there is a small amount of noisereduction going on @ 2500, specifically noise that Leica says "cannot be reduced in postprocessing"

    Maybe some type of banding???
    JAAP
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    The colours of my generation are black and white.

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    Member ricardsonwilliams's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Thank you for sharing! I'm still learning how to get the best from my M9.

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    Senior Member leicashot's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Interesting topic. I have to be honest and say I don't really understand, but I know one thing from a lot of experience shooting in low light with digital. There is a huge difference between shooting in various 'forms' of low light. There is CLEAN low light and DIRTY low light, where dirty low light is a very soft and almost no existent form of diffused low light that digital sensors, and even film for that matter struggle to record details.

    Clean low light is usually from a fairly direct light source, and even thought it's low, it's transmission is much better, highlighting details enough for the sensor to record information much more effectively. I think if people understand the difference, they really won't waste their time even shooting in dirty light, unless they have no choice and must take that picture. For photographers, just being aware of this, can significantly help in PP.

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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Just found this post, thanks for help improve my M9 shooting

  28. #28
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    I wrote an article, "Shooting in the Dark" which outlines my general workflow, tips, etc.

  29. #29
    Workshop Member tollie's Avatar
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    Re: My M9 ISO 2500 technique

    Like Muddy... I just found your post JAAPV... so many thanks. I learn something new every day. The sharpening approach makes a big difference.

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