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I'm using EOS R5 for half year now. I'm using EF and EF/S lenses, because I spent too much on camera body and can't afford to acquire better RF lenses yet. I'm unable to get good photos without visible noise at low light or bad lit situations, when viewing photos at 100% zoom.

enter image description here

Settings: 1/800 | ISO 5000 | F5.6 Captured with EF 70-300 F4-F5.6 This image at 100% is unusable. Noise is too visible. It was captured at the stadium with not perfect lighting conditions. This kind of image was ok for local media where images are compressed from 40mb to 100kb, but for me at 100% noise was too much visible. 25% Luminance in Lightroom is applied.

enter image description here Settings: 1/800 | ISO 5000 | F5.6 Captured with EF 70-300 F4-F5.6 Same example as above picture. Image was shot at same settings as above picture. When crop or zoom-in image becomes unusable because of grain amount.

enter image description here Settings: 1/250 | ISO 12800 | F5.6 Captured with EF 70-300 F4-F5.6 There it is clear that iso is pumped too high, because of bad lighting conditions. enter image description here

Settings: 1/320 | ISO 6400 | F5.6 Captured with EF 70-300 F4-F5.6 Better lightning condition, makes noise almoust disappear. Noise is not visible that much at good lightning.

enter image description here Settings: 1/320 | ISO 3200| F1.8 Captured with EF 50mm F1.8 Noise is not visible when using a prime lens.

Should I get better prime lenses or should I save money for high quality RF lenses to get better performance?

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    You don't need better lenses (or a better camera). You need to shoot in better light or have more realistic expectations. It's not high ISO that causes noise in the first place, it is lack of enough light. Also, next time settle for something like an R6 and put the price difference towards faster lenses, prime or zoom. The lower resolution of the R6 means pixel peeping won't be blowing up your image to nearly as gigantic proportions, either.
    – Michael C
    Aug 3, 2021 at 20:50
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    With the R5 and the R6 - the lower resolution has better low light performance. But if you use denoising to the extend to sacrifice some resolution you end up pretty much an the same level. Aug 3, 2021 at 20:52
  • @KaiMattern That's mostly because downsizing to lower resolution means not magnifying as much when viewing at 100%.
    – Michael C
    Aug 3, 2021 at 20:56
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    First of all stop pixel peeping. You will NEVER be happy if you do this. More impoirtantly, when is an image ever used at 100%? Lastly you're NEVER going to have a noise free image, these are NOT unusable.
    – Crazy Dino
    Aug 4, 2021 at 9:00
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    I meant the loss of perceived resolution by denoising - not resampleing the image to a lower resolution. With smaller light wells on a sensor you always are at a disadvantage regarding signal to noise ratio. You cannot trick physics. You can however trick our eyes in post production. Otherwise jpg compression wouldn't be a thing. ;o) Aug 5, 2021 at 6:28

6 Answers 6

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Considering these are high ISO and 100% crops, I'd say these are excellent images!

I understand the desire for yet even better, we all have that.

Given your shooting examples (which I still think are excellent):

(1) Difficult lighting conditions can often be improved by shooting RAW and using a raw editor to help re-balance the extremes. Some raw denoise algorithms available to raw editors can perform better than the native camera, but don't expect miracles. A good raw editor can be as cheap as free, but it costs you in time.

(2) A longer lens to get you in closer optically so you're not effectively digital zooming with 100% crops. A fast long lens is going to be pricey.

Again, these are excellent shots!

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  • I don't know maybe it's too much megapixels that produce more noise at low light. These pictures looks good only until you zoom in. I shoot RAW, always and I saw also that Lightroom have problems processing R5 files, native Canon DPP get's better results with processing same photos but also takes 4 times more, since software is more than decade old. But also in this industry, you have to be quick and deliver fast. I tried to submit some of these to agencies like Shutterstock and Dreamstime, and they all got rejected because of noise visible at 100%.
    – Slasher
    Aug 3, 2021 at 21:24
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    I'm very happy to see this answer! I thought the same thing and was wondering if it was just me. Whew!!
    – FreeMan
    Aug 4, 2021 at 17:27
  • @Slasher "they all got rejected because of noise visible at 100%" how do you know that? Aug 5, 2021 at 13:20
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    @Slasher "After attaching case number and again submitting all of 98 photos they got all accepted" - does that mean they were originally rejected because you didn't attach a case number, not because of noise?
    – Aaron F
    Aug 5, 2021 at 21:43
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    @Slasher, the more megapixels an image has, the more you are magnifying when viewing the image at 100% zoom (where one pixel in the image is one pixel on the display).
    – inkista
    Aug 8, 2021 at 20:14
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An alternative might be to try out one of the new 'AI' type of noise-reduction apps/plugins.
OnOne, Luminar, Photoshop & probably others are offering this 'new, improved' type of noise reduction.

Here are a couple of screenshots of clips from two of your pics right up at 400% magnification, where you are really starting to see individual pixels. Left of the line is noisy, right is the noise reduction on fully automatic. I didn't touch a slider. [OnOne is considered only in beta for jpgs, 'release' for RAW.] You'll do far better on the originals than I can get here.

click for full size
enter image description here

enter image description here

I can see a bit of haloing on the lower pic. I'd be interested to see if that is cleaner from a better source image.

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  • Interesting development in the software sector! Curious if the "doughy" or "pasty" look, especially on faces, is less noticeable than with standard noise reduction! Aug 5, 2021 at 15:40
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica I haven't tested it extensively - I don't do a lot of low light stuff that needs that much work, but it does seem to be a lot "smarter" than in the past.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 5, 2021 at 15:54
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Are you trying to show off your new camera and humbly brag about your skills at the same time??

Serioursly, Those images look spectacular.

I use an APS-C camera and would love to have such low noise at 6400 ISO.

Answering your question:

My suggestion would be the following, in NO particular order:

  • If you want less noise, I'd say go for faster glass rather than newer glass for your requirements. Newer glass has higher resolution but isn't necessarily faster, so will not reduce your ISO needed and therefore will not be able to reduce noise. Faster glass on the other hand, will reduce the ISO needed, thereby reducing the noise.
  • Alternatively, you could just spend a little money(<300 USD at the most) and get better noise removal software and keep using your current lenses since your images aren't too bad to begin with. AI noise reduction softwares are working wonders now a days.
  • If you are technically adept , you can also try out various AI based codes available in the research space. There are a lot of new AI/ML based codes being developed, some of them are open source too. The benefit of this approach is If you like a particular code, you can fine tune it to best fit the kind of work you do.

I just read your comment about shutterstock not accepting those images. It's a shame companies aren't accepting your images coz they like to pixel peep. It is the emotion that the images evoke, and the subject and composition that should really matter, not the noise or aberrations. Those images are really nice but if you have to use them to earn, then I guess you have to satisfy the buyer. I'm guessing next, they will want the images to be tack sharp, absolutely noise free at 400% zoom and grant wishes if they rub the photos thrice..

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  • Not bragging about the camera or anything. Noise is not visible that much on these attached images, because they are resized and I couldn't find any image uploader that allow to upload images larger than 50mb. Best example is my third photo attached, you can see extreme noise grain at same settings like others.
    – Slasher
    Aug 5, 2021 at 8:18
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Should I get better prime lenses or should I save money for high quality RF lenses to get better performance?

You just need faster lenses. They don't have to be primes. They don't need to have RF mounts. For instance, you could get an EF 70-200/2.8 L IS II/III USM.

As for your current images, are they really "unusable"?

  • On a typical monitor, images viewed at 100% would measure about 82" × 55". Even if you are displaying them at that size or larger, they'll look fine at typical viewing distances.

  • Grain/noise doesn't necessarily detract from images.

  • There are noise reduction programs/algorithms that work fairly well.

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    I tried to shoot same match with 70-200 F2.8 L IS III, got much better results and contrast, but also on my 4K monitor I can see every single pixel that is grainy (not as much as on cheaper lens) but still. These attached photos have already noise reduction included, but still produces great amount of noise. Could also be monitor fault, if I view same photo on 1080p monitor, they all look great and can't see any noise. But still don't know if these kind of photos are ok for major agencies like getty or they reject it all because of noise like Shutterstock?
    – Slasher
    Aug 3, 2021 at 21:28
  • This. You've got an f4.5 lens at the widest and an f5.6 at the longest. Assuming you're shooting long, you're 2 full stops slower. Save and buy a faster f2.8 lense. Buy used. Realize though you're going to give up DoF. If you need even MORE light, then you're going to start looking at the F2.0 (135mm) or the 85mm f1.8/f1.2. Both are beasts for low light photography.
    – J.Hirsch
    Aug 5, 2021 at 15:37
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    @Slasher If you view the image at physical 100% (i.e. one camera pixel = one monitor pixel), the image is four times as big (2 times horizontally, 2 times vertically) on your HD monitor than on your 4K monitor. Because of the bigger size, the noise should be more visible on the HD monitor. Possibly your computer is cheating on you, and actually displays the image at 200% on the 4K monitor, and applies a sharpening algorithm on the magnification from 100% to 200%. Sharpening noise makes noise a lot more visible. This is not a fault of the image. Aug 5, 2021 at 17:51
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    @J.Hirsch Totaly agree with you. My friend had 85mm F1.8 and I tried it. Photos are already much better. imgur.com/a/LnVDpwG
    – Slasher
    Aug 5, 2021 at 18:32
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    @Slasher Not weird at all. I expected you were comparing images at the same zoom level. If you compare a 25% zoom level on the HD monitor with a 50% zoom level on the 4K monitor, the image is already "denoised" by scaling it down. As you say yourself: Less pixels = less noise. Aug 5, 2021 at 20:12
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Let me put your images in perspective. You are at a bad spot in the parameter space:

  • A not-so-bright lens.
  • Night shots with artificial light.
  • Fast-moving action scenes with the soccer shots.

Your lens could be worse, it could be even darker, and you could have even faster objects, but overall you are at the edge of ordinary photography here. Your shots would have been plain impossible in this quality before the current generation of light sensitive sensors: 1/800s at night? That used to be reserved for bright daylight. ISO 12000? 1000 was pushing it, quite literally. For a direct comparison, look at this shot from the DFB web site, taken with analog black and white film in 1972: floodlight soccer shot in 1972

We have come a long way.

Interestingly, I think the above shot looks great. Grain is not always bad, but of course the average customer may disagree. To reduce it, you must change the parameters. You cannot add more light, you cannot change the camera, you may not want to take longer exposures in the action scenes (but perhaps in the concert?), but you can get a brighter lens, and that is what I would do. I would get a prime lens (perhaps like the EF 200mm f2,8 L II — it looks like it performs well, handles well and is affordable, but I'm not an expert). Incidentally, using prime lenses was one advice I once got from a professional photographer when I asked her how take great pictures, but that may not apply to journalism or sports.

In any case, halving the ISO may make all the difference. Quartering, if you come down from f/5.6 to f/2.8, will be huge at these ISO ranges.

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    Great thinking. I'm really going to save up to buy 70-200 F2.8 RF. Shooting for local media does the job fine, they don't care about noise or anything in the picture, because images got resized from 8192x5464 to 800x600. But if I try to submit this kind of photo with high ISO I have to do extreme de-noising to be accepted. Also trying to use full stop ISO values like 1600, 3200, 6000 and not these between (2000, 4000, 5000) since they produce more noise than higher ISO values.
    – Slasher
    Aug 5, 2021 at 17:28
  • @Slasher Interesting. Aug 6, 2021 at 4:18
  • Yes, camera makers play interesting games with half stops. I think it was DXO that published a breakdown of 'raw' histogram bins and what you saw was some definite misrepresentation of ISO speeds- they were either exposing off by a 1/3 and shifting or some other messed up method. Since then I've always shot full stops on ISO and half on everything else. It's close enough.
    – J.Hirsch
    Aug 7, 2021 at 21:02
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I just wanted to chime in to remind you that you are fundamentally limited by physics.

Even if your sensor and lens are theoretically flawless instruments that record every single photon received with perfect accuracy and efficiency, you will still have significant noise when there isn't enough light. In fact, this is the primary culprit behind the noise you are seeing in your photos.

A perfect camera is still noisy due to photon shot noise. Photons are discrete particles. That is, photons are quantized, which means you can't have partial photons, only integer amounts, so you need at least a couple hundred photons per pixel on average or your photo will be visibly noisy.

The Wiki page has a nice visualization of this kind of noise: (I recommend viewing in a separate tab.) enter image description here

The middle image has an average of 10 photons/pixel and that amount is increased/decreased by a factor of 10 for each prior and subsequent image.

Left Middle Right
0.001 photons/pixel 0.01 photons/pixel 0.1 photons/pixel
1 photons/pixel 10 photons/pixel 100 photons/pixel
1,000 photons/pixel 10,000 photons/pixel 100,000 photons/pixel

To reduce noise, you ultimately need more photons to detect. Your options are:

  1. A larger aperture lens.
  2. Extra light (flash and/or reflectors in some situations).
  3. Longer exposure (just fast enough that motion blur is at acceptable levels).
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  • Or a combination of 1, 2, and 3 - particularly 1 and 3 are controllable by the photographer at a large sports venue.
    – Michael C
    Aug 24, 2021 at 14:44

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