F/13 High ISO Test

This article shares a series of f/13 high ISO test images captured handheld with Olympus camera gear.

Like many other photographers I’ve been investigating the recently announced M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS super telephoto zoom lens.┬áThe fact that this lens will accept M.Zuiko MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters really appeals to me, since I own the 2X version. Using it with the 100-400 zoom would mean shooting at high ISO values with an aperture of f/13 at least some of the time.

As a result, I’ve been doing some f/13 high ISO test photography, and wanted to share my experiences with readers.

It is also important to mention that I recently added some additional software to my post processing approach. While many folks view software as an ‘either/or’ proposition, I’ve always viewed software from an ‘and’ viewpoint. All of the images in this article were produced from RAW files using a combination of software programs. My new standard approach includes DxO PhotoLab 2, Photoshop CS6, the Nik Collection and Topaz AI.

I only acquired my Topaz AI software yesterday afternoon so I’m still feeling my way around and experimenting with it.

First let’s have a look at an image captured handheld at ISO-6400, Like all of the photographs in this article an aperture of f/13 was used.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/250, ISO-6400

The next image is a crop done at 2600 pixels on the width, then resized for web use.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/250, ISO-6400, cropped at 2600 pixels on the width, then resized for web use

Here’s another ISO-6400 test photograph.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 164 mm, efov 328 mm, f/13, 1/100, ISO-6400

As regular readers will know, I always like to push my camera gear when doing test photographs. So, let’s have a look at another photograph of the same subject, this time captured at ISO-10000 using an aperture of f/13.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/250, ISO-10000

Here’s a 2600 pixel wide crop done of the above image, then resized for web use.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/250, ISO-10000, cropped at 2600 pixels on the width, then resized for web use

As part of our f/13 high ISO test, let’s have a look at three additional photographs, all captured at ISO-10000. Each is followed by a 2600 pixel crop, resized for web use.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/400, ISO-10000
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/400, ISO-10000, cropped at 2600 pixels on the width, then resized for web use
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/500, ISO-10000
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/500, ISO-10000, cropped at 2600 pixels on the width, then resized for web use
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/400, ISO-10000
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/400, ISO-10000, cropped at 2600 pixels on the width, then resized for web use

Each of us have our own expectations in terms of the quality of our images. I appreciate that many people would not feel comfortable shooting a smaller sensor camera at ISO-10000. Depending on subject matter I would be prepared to push my Olympus gear to this ISO level.

Unless I was in quite tight to a subject bird, I likely wouldn’t push my ISO this far. The following image, with corresponding crop, illustrates that I pushed my ISO a bit too far with this blue jay.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/500, ISO-10000
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/500, ISO-10000, cropped at 2600 pixels on the width, then resized for web use

Having said that, shooting at f/13 using ISO-4000, or even up to ISO-6400 is something that I would not hesitate doing when photographing perched birds. Here are a couple of sample photographs along with crops.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/250, ISO-4000
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/250, ISO-4000, cropped at 2600 pixels on the width, then resized for web use
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/400, ISO-6400
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, 1/400, ISO-6400, cropped at 2600 pixels on the width, then resized for web use

I hope you’ve found these f/13 high ISO test images to be of interest. A lot of assumptions are made about smaller sensor cameras. We need to keep in mind that advancements in lens and camera design, as well as with post processing software can help extend the usable range of M4/3 and other small sensor cameras.

The softening effects of diffraction can be reduced, and high ISO noise can be controlled through post processing. To accomplish this we need to develop some reasonable skills working in post, and find software that meets our needs.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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9 thoughts on “F/13 High ISO Test”

  1. (note new email address)
    I’m very interested to know what conclusion you have reached about the use of DxO Prime noise reduction, Topaz DeNoise and Topaz Sharpen. Topaz Sharpen has a ‘reduce noise’ setting, Topaz DeNoise has an ‘increase sharpness’ setting, and DxO prime is geared around noise reduction. That’s a lot of potentially interacting tools. Is there anything you would be willing to share along the lines of a ‘best sequence’ protocol for using these, and any insight into when to use one or the others for particular types of images.

    1. Hi Colin,

      I’m still in the early stages of working with the Topaz products, but happy to share my thoughts to date. It is important to keep in mind that in buying Topaz software I was only looking for incremental improvement as DxO PRIME was already doing a good job for me.

      My impression at this point is that Topaz Denoise AI is easier to use and is more effective at its designated role, than is Sharpen AI. Generally speaking when I decide to use Denoise AI with an image it does make a difference. There have been a number of instances with Sharpen AI when I’ve spent some time trying to use it with specific images and made a series of attempts with it… only to be disappointed with the results at the end of my efforts.

      I have tried to “save” some out-of-focus images with Sharpen AI and thus far have had no success in this regard.

      With my standard process the most logical place for me to use Topaz products is at the end. I’ve done some experiments doing less at stage one with DxO PhotoLab and putting more onus on Topaz to deal with noise and sharpening at the end. I have not been very happy with the results when I’ve done this. Topaz AI as a supplement to DxO PRIME can work very well. Folks who do not use DxO PhotoLab may have a different experience than I’ve had.

      For light to modest levels of noise I haven’t seen a huge advantage to using Denoise AI, although it can tweak an image slightly and in most cases is worth using. In cases with quite heavy noise, and when an image has not been underexposed, Denoise AI can make a significant difference.

      The Topaz programs are not a ‘magic solution’. Denoise AI can certainly be helpful and I will likely apply it as a preview to monitor its effectiveness with all of my images… whether I end up actually processing specific files with it is another story. Thus far Sharpen AI has been underwhelming… and I now only experiment with it periodically.

      Tom

    2. Hi Colin,

      I forgot to mention that when Topaz Denoise AI opens an image it applies some standard settings. I never use these. Instead I click on the ‘Auto’ settings and often engage Low Light mode. I also usually adjust the Recover Original Detail slider… but only to a maximum of about 15. These settings may need to be tweaked a tad, but this approach tends to work well with my images.

      When I haven’t been happy with the results using DeNoise I have tried AI Clear. This has done a better job on selected images, but generally speaking I find I get better results with Denoise.

      Keep in mind that I do this at the end of my process after I have run my RAW files through DxO PhotoLab with PRIME, CS6 and the Nik Collection. In most cases I am achieving the incremental improvement that I was anticipating with Topaz Denoise AI. As mentioned in my first reply to you, thus far I’ve not been impressed with Sharpen AI.

      I would not sign-up to pay for any upgrades to either one of these Topaz programs. I think investing in Topaz Denoise AI was worthwhile. In retrospect, I’d take a pass on Sharpen AI as it hasn’t performed up to its claims.

      A new version of DxO PhotoLab will likely be out later this year. Since I am currently using PhotoLab 2 I may upgrade to PhotoLab 4. At that point I should be locked in with my process in post for a number of years to come.

      Tom

  2. Hi Tom,

    Why would the new 100-400 super-zoom lens possibly necessitate use of f/13 aperture … is that, perhaps, an implication of using the 2 x teleconverter ?

    John TKA

  3. I would be interested to know why you added the Topaz software? What does it do for you that you were not getting from your previous software?

        1. Hi William,

          I haven’t worked with any older images yet, but based on the initial results I’ve been getting with new images I anticipate good results with prior images.

          Tom

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