8 Jul 2012

Project D800E - after first serious assignment

It was a while since my post about preparing for shooting with D800 in low light conditions. Short after publishing it I was able to test most of the ideas described there. The occasion was the end of school year gala at the school where my wife teaches. Because it was my first shooting assignment with D800 I played safe and prepared the setup for low lighting conditions.
Then the event started as my assignment did. Very quickly it turned out that I don't have to boost the light. D800 was able to produce the images with acceptable noise (more about it in a second) using only the ambient lighting:

I will not write about the fantastic dynamic range of the D800 and the autofocus possibilities. It is already written more than enough about it. What I'd like to do instead is to discuss the workable limits of the sensitivity in such conditions. By workable I mean a combination of shutter speed vs ISO (assuming constant aperture) allowing to take the sharp pictures. The 'safe' shutter speed minimizing the risk of motion blur I set to 1/125 s or higher. After doing initial tests my first bet was to go with ISO up to 4000 but no higher. Here there is an example explaining why.

When looking at the image in 1:1 scale one can see the significant noise in the background curtain as well as on the faces of the persons. Using ACR or Lightroom the problems can be helped to some extent:

The noise is reduced, but I started to loose the details in the picture. Explainable, because I needed to stretch noise reduction quite significantly in Lightroom:

So at this level of ISO one needs to start making compromises between the overall sharpness and the acceptable noise. My final touch on this picture was to use the "Sharpen for screen" with the "Amount" option set to "High" when exporting the image to JPEG. That improved the picture even further.
Final note: of course the value I have chosen is not an absolute truth, far from that. It is rather a guideline for this particular type of lighting (a moderately lit stage) and the type of scene (limited group of people on the stage). When one is going to shoot a close-up of somebody's face and the face would fill the frame, ISO 4000 might work just fine. 
If one wants to see more photos taken with D800E, please visit the school photo gallery. It is in Polish, but it is easy to start browsing through the photos just by clicking on the gallery thumbnail and then go back with the web browser's 'back' button. Or, by using the Google Translator.