I recently twittered (we’ve got a Photocrati twitter feed here, check it out and give us a follow!) ┬ácomparing noise between modern digital SLRs and drum-scanned Velvia. I was fairly gobsmacked by going back and looking at some five-to-eight year old drum scans I’d had done of my early 35mm landscape work, most particularly by just how spoiled we’ve all gotten about low noise images.

What I said was “OMG, my old, clean, crisp drum scans of 50-speed film, remembered fondly, have more noise than ISO 1600 DSLR files. Progress!!!!”

Needless to say, I got called on it, so this morning I went back and looked to see if I had a few quick examples I could pull up. I grabbed a block from the scan I’d been working on, and found a comparable, recent image I’d taken at ISO 800, and grabbed roughly 500×500 pixels from each after downsampling the drumscan from an original resolution of about 7K pixels on the long side to the same resolution as the 1Ds3. While that downsampling will cost in terms of resolution, if anything, it’ll mitigate the noise in the drum scanned slide.

ISO 50 Velvia, drumscanned and downsampled about 7:5
ISO 50 Velvia, drumscanned and downsampled about 7:5

1Ds3, ISO 800
1Ds3, ISO 800, noise reduction entirely off

Now, I’m not saying these two samples prove anything by themselves. What I would say is that the general sense of noise and grain I get from using drum-scanned Velvia vs. ISO 800 on the Canon 1Ds Mark III is, subjectively speaking, well-conveyed by these two examples.

The 1Ds3 image was processed by Lightroom 2.3 and the image with sharpening and noise reduction turned completely off. With standard noise reduction and sharpening settings, the 1Ds III image is significantly cleaner than what’s shown here, and noise reduction seems a little harder to get working on the clumpier grain of the Velvia scans.

While the sky is more saturated in the Velvia image (and some of that is the nature of the scenes on those different days, but some of it is surely the extra Velvia contrast), in my experience this basic result, that modern DSLRs, even those with many, many tiny pixel elements are producing significantly better images on the whole at ISO 800 than I was getting at 1/16th the speed six years ago–particularly when the way the images respond to digital darkroom tools is taken into account.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still nostalgic about Velvia. And I played Paul Simon along with the rest of you last month when Kodak announced the end of Kodachrome. But in terms of making cleaner images and better prints, I’m more and more grateful for the advent of digital SLRs.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I have swithch to digital with the D70 (Nikon). Right now I own both D3 and D700, I really can say that the last two are nice cameras really better than film.

  2. I thought the same thing about my (now ancient) D60, and it’s true in spades of the (old enough to have a kid brother) 5D. I have an image I shot on the beach on a very overcast Seattle day at 3200 ASA, that could be 50 speed slide film.

    On the other hand, people tend to look at their images closer now than ever. One hand giveth; the other taketh away.

  3. “On the other hand, people tend to look at their images closer now than ever.”

    Indeed, indeed!

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