The Online Photographer

Check out our new site at!

Monday, May 21, 2007

High P&S ISOs: B&W vs. Color

Ted Matsumura, Fuji F30 shot at ISO 3200 (click on image for larger version)

Ted Matsumura posted an interesting thought in the comments, which is that he uses his Fuji F30 up to ISO 800 in color but finds that 1600 and 3200 are practical in B&W mode. His blog is here. I think Mitch Alland actually prefers higher ISOs with B&W P&S shooting because it gives a rougher, grainy aesthetic similar to that of 35mm high-speed films.



Blogger Ira Crummey said...

I agree with tedm, I own an older Fuji, an S7000. It has a 6MP sensor but defaults to 3MP when the ISO is set on 800 (something aqbout comparing adjacent pixels to reduce noise). The resulting colour images are not terribly impressive, but set the camera on black and white and the images are very good. I think if I were in the market for an p&s right now an F series Fuji would be at the top of my list (even with those silly xD cards).

9:21 AM  
Blogger tedm said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for highlighting my blog and showing the photo. My name is Ted Matsumura, btw.

The F30 does perform in color at 1600 and 3200, though b&w mode is my preference. I just rolled over 5k captures on my f30, and love taking it out at night and coming back with some usable photos @ 3200 in b&w mode (vs standard color mode and pp to b&w).

Some color examples of using the f30 at 3200 with the moon, and street/store lights as the only light source are here:

in the Candice D galleries. You can use the photo info on to see which were taken with F30 vs Pentax *ist DL or a few with film (Leica M4P/J8 @f2/ISO 400).

Thanks Mike, keep up the great writing.


11:08 AM  
Blogger Dr Hiding Pup said...

Funny, I use my Olympus E-1 in much the same way. Everything shot at 400ASA or above tends to get turned into black and white...

11:28 AM  
Blogger dasmb said...

I've long held the opinion that the best way to deal with a shot that has a lot of color noise is to desaturate the image. The results, as you can see, are very filmlike and appealing.

This trick can work pretty well with RAW converters, too. For example, Aperture has two Saturation sliders -- one that affects Saturation during conversion, and one that gives a boost afterwards. Sliding down the pre-conversion boost can have a dramatic effect on the amount of isloated noise (also decreases blown highlights) and make the shot smoother without loss of desirable details...and then you can apply post-conversion saturation adjustments to taste. Example, taken at ISO 1600 and underexposed out of necesity by 3 or 4 stops.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Amin said...

I used an F30 for quites a while. Fuji compacts do B&W pretty well at high ISO, but could do with a bit less noise reduction in my opinion.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Albano Garcia said...

Ted, thanks for sharing. Great photos! This little camera performance in real life low light situations is simply outstanding!!!! I want one!!!!!!!!

1:12 PM  
Blogger Imants said...

As long as you aren't chasing midtones cameras like the GRD are great, producing stark contrasty results. Mitch does a great job with the camera

4:33 PM  
Blogger Simon Griffee said...

I've had similar experiences with less noise and more film-like look in high-ISO images in black and white shot with a Leica M8:

I haven't tested this thoroughly by any means, but find the red/yellow (warm) channels have lots of color noise in low-light shooting, and blue/cyan (cool) channels in daylight.

Lovely writing Mike—my favourite in the net! Beautiful photos Ted and Matthew!

5:54 PM  
Blogger Max said...

I once made a post for the Luminous Landscape site about color noise that never got published, I guess because most noise reducing software caught up on this so my idea was kind of redundant. If you are going to use the picture in b&w,especially with Photoshop's channel mixer, you can break down the color noise to whatever radius level you choose performing a gaussian blur on the color channels in lab mode (just big enough to break the color noise). then you can get to b&w through the channel mixer without any of the color noise but retaining the detail in the luminance channel and then doing the channel mixing. It's quite reasonable that loosing the color noise "improves" the low light performance for any given camera. It works.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm afraid the smeary p&s look - even in black and white doesn't really compare to the sharp contrasty tonal reproduction of a good B&W neg in my view.
If you want the 35mm grainy b&w look why not buy an old 35mm camera with an excellent lens and shoot and dev the film yourself. It really is quite cheap to do and a lot of fun!

6:08 PM  
Blogger Shaun Krisher said...

I think it's because it's because a single channel (black and white) image can borrow detail from the 3 different channels of the original capture (red, green and blue), and pick the best parts of each, so you can avoid the blue channel's noise that is the usual culprit in high iso images.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Matthew Miller said...

amin -- you've got your wish in the F31fd, which has less aggressive noise reduction than the F20/F30.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Ctein said...

Dear folks,

Interesting topic! Inspired me to do a little playing with my Finepix S6000, which has the same sensor as the f30/31 but slightly different image processing (and, very importantly, RAW mode). Just for the hell of it, I ran my experiments at ISO 3200 to really maximize the garbage.

First: it doesn't matter if you set the camera to B&W mode or save the images as color JPEGs and convert them to B&W in Photoshop. The results are the same (if you get the channel mixers settings just right). So, might as well leave the camera in color mode and retain the ability to fine-tune the color-to-B&W tone conversion later.

Second: honestly, the JPEGs look like crap either way, but at least a B&W version doesn't have the very annoying color blotchiness (very low spatial frequencies component) that afflicts the color image. That's mostly in the blue channel, which normally wouldn't be very noticeable, but the amplitude is so high that it seriously degrades the image.

RAW mode opens up many more possibilities. Oddly, Finepix RAW conversion produces extremely different results from Adobe Camera Raw; so different that you really can't make one look like the other. The Fuji's software does much, much more aggressive grain and noise reduction. Sometimes it looks better, but more often not. Working in RAW with ACR, Neat Image, and Focus Magic, I was able to produce passable (marginally) color prints. Well, they looked better than Konica 3200 ever did (talk about damning with faint praise).

But the B&W? I could actually make it look good! Opened with ACR with color noise reduction set to maximum, converted to gray scale in Photoshop, applied Neat Image at a bit less than normal strength, and added just a dash of Focus Magic. The result is moderately attractive! Whodathunk?! I think it looks as good as anything I ever got in TMAX P3200, which was a film I was fond of, probably even as good as Delta 3200.

Thanks for the inspiration!

pax / Ctein
[[ Please excuse any word-salad. ViaVoice in training! ]]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery
-- Digital Restorations

11:55 PM  
Blogger hugo solo said...

You can do the same with the G7 and iso 3200,both in movement

3:02 AM  
Blogger ILTim said...

Yes, I like to shoot my Minolta 7D in 3200 for B&W, its fantastic (even in good light).

The pocket cams lose any sense of texture, thats the biggest turn off.

11:36 AM  
Blogger chrispycrunch said...

Mike, unlike those who love b&w shots at high ISO, those who like color will be happy to know noise reduction software like noise ninja or neat image make high iso color images usable.

2:41 PM  
Blogger atropa said...

What B&W conversion plugin do yo suggest?

4:08 PM  
Blogger Ctein said...

Dear chrispycrunch,

There are severe limitations to what Neat Image (or Noise Ninja) can accomplish. While they can markedly reduce the fine-grain noise, they are helpless before large-scale noise that appears as blotchy color, a common affliction of extreme-ISO digital photos. It all depends upon one's standard of "usable" of course, but blotchy color becomes minor or completely invisible variations in density in B&W. Not only is the objective amplitude of the variations reduced, but human vision is much more tolerant of slight luminosity variations than chroma variations.

I'm a big fan of the noise reduction tools, but they don't change the fact that B&W conversions of high-ISO color images are going to appear to be of finer quality, regardless of the tools one massages them with.

BTW, if you're a heavy user of these grain reduction tools, make an investment in Focus Magic. The combination of Neat image (for example) and Focus Magic can give you a final photo that is both less grainy AND sharper than the original was. Miraculous!

pax / Ctein

8:17 PM  
Blogger ctyankee said...

Thanks for this ! I bought the A610 to replace my HiMatic 7sII which I carried everywhere with ISO 400 b&w film in it. I'm not so thrilled with ISO 400 from the A610 - passable in small prints and I don't print big from crummy low light snaps anyway - but I need to try b&w with it; if I was happy shooting b&w on film, why am I shooting everything in color ???

8:02 AM  
Blogger Mitch Alland said...

Imants, thanks for the kind words.

Mike, coming a little late to this thread of comments, I can't resist posting a link to a GR-D picture at ISO 1600: here and another link to a picture at ISO 100 with the D-Lux 3 that shows good grain.


10:56 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Your second link doesn't appear to be working properly.


11:31 PM  
Blogger Mitch Alland said...


Here is another attempt at the second link, for the D-Lux 3 picture here .


7:52 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

That works. I like both those shots.


9:54 AM  
Blogger Amin said...

Even at ISO 1600, my F30 photos are not rough and grainy, even at 8x10". Here's an example. Actually, I frequently find that adding scanned film grain can help add some needed texture to high ISO Fuji digital compact photos. Here's an example of some Tri-X 400 at 1600 grain added as an overlay to the photo linked above.

12:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home