|July 31, 2005|
Nothing About Noise
I have returned to a state of pristine ignorance. Yet again, I know nothing about nothing.
I've always been acutely conscious of my lack of knowledge, and (ruefully) well aware of my limited ability to redress the problem. I study every day, but I read very slowly, write more slowly, and have a memory that's full of holes. I have limited time for deep reflection, and sleep poorly. I've never read Gibbon, or Suetonius, or Shelby Foote. I suspect I would not do well as a contestant on "Jeopardy," even though I'm an ace from my armchair.
But for a while there, I knew a thing or two about photography. With a degree in it, several decades' worth of experiences of many different aspects of it, a good visual memory, and thorough familiarity with a decent-sized library, I actually knew more about it than some people. I didn't know everything; I didn't know a fist-sized percentage of everything; but I could hold my own.
Well, all that's shot to hell now. All I have to do is open Photoshop,
and I'm an idiot again. Digital has returned me to a level of
familiarity with photography that matches my knowledge of everything
My talented niece Christy as the nightingale in "Once Upon A Mattress,"
Something to consider
But I digress. I was speaking of my ignorance, and I meant to bring up an example of one of the many things I don't understand. It's that everybody always seems to be talking about noise. Every time I log on to a forum somewhere, people are deeply concerned about it. Such-and-such a camera has noise. Noise at ISO 3200. Noisy sensor. Too much noise. I hear more noise about noise than I do about the national debt.
What in the world...? Noise has got to be the biggest non-problem in all of digital photography.
First of all, complaining about noise in pictures is like complaining that you can see brushstrokes in paintings at the museum. It's just a hallmark of the technique; it's not something to decry, it's something to enjoy. Random museum visitor: "My God, all those obtrusive little dots! Who is this Georges Seurat character, anyhow?"
Personally, I like a little noise.
Models by Georges Seurat, 1887 (Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA)
Secondly, people who enjoy discussing the noise of digital cameras, especially of digital SLRs, at great length are certainly not bringing to the table much history of experience with film. A mere 20 years ago, art photographers who used color print film were virtually wedded to Kodak VPS 100, because there was no 400-speed film with manageable grain and decent saturation, and there were precious few 100-speed color films with adequately low contrast. When 400-speed film with petit-point grain came along, it was a brave new world.
And finally, all these people happily debating about noise ad
infinitum, have they heard of
Neat Image and
Ninja? I use Neat Image Pro myself. Diddling about with digital, Arthur
C. Clarke's famous quote is oft brought to mind: "Any sufficiently
advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." (I think that's
it. I told you I had a memory full of holes.) Neat Image Pro is,
plainly put, magic. Remember that fantastic print I told you about? I'd
have to check to make sure, but it was shot at either 800 or 1600. I
think 1600. Neat Image made a mockery of any concern about noise.
The lovely little frieze in the corner of the picture. Neat Image Pro just plain rocks.
He was East Coast Editor of Camera & Darkroom magazine from 1988 to 1994 and Editor-in-Chief of PHOTO Techniques magazine from 1994-2000, where his editorial column "The 37th Frame" was a popular feature and where he presented, among other things, a set of three articles on "bokeh" by John Kennerdell, Oren Grad, and Harold Merklinger that were subsequently widely discussed among photographers.
His critical and technical writings have appeared in various publications
and newsletters such as The Washington Review and D-Max. A number of his
articles written under the pseudonym "L. T. Gray" (el Tigre) appeared in the
English magazine Darkroom User.
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