Wednesday, October 14, 2009

102,400 ISO

I try to stay on top of camera tech, partially because it’s my job and partly because I just love gadgets. I currently use a Nikon D70s DSLR and a Canon HF100 camcorder at work. Both are prosumer type cameras, but both are quite versatile and get nice results for the multimedia work I do. However, when DSLR cameras began appearing with video capabilities, I was quite excited. I could finally stop carrying around two cameras, and I could take advantage of the higher-grade DSLR lenses available for better low-light video.

Unfortunately, it became obvious very quickly that DSLR video is still sub-par to even mediocre HD camcorders. Despite larger lenses and sensors, the low-light performance is still noisy and motion trailing is a big problem. Nikon DSLRs still shoot at 720p while Canons can do 1080p but only at a choppy 20 frames per second. However, there were whispered rumors that Nikon might surprise us all today with the new D3s.

Well, the D3s is still shooting 720p video, but there was a surprise. At first I thought it was a typographical error, but it’s not. Nikon says the D3s can shoot at 102,400 ISO.

To give you a sense of the craziness of this, most point-and-shoot consumer cameras top out at 800 ISO with very grainy results. My D70s tops out at 1600 ISO, and while the photos are passable, I would never use them for print. I just can’t believe that 102,400 ISO would create a usable photo. Then again, perhaps a chip that can pull off 102,400 ISO will make romantic, dimly moonlit shots at 1600 ISO look amazing. We can only hope.

I still wouldn’t buy it, but I am looking forward to seeing what it can do and what ramifications this new sensor design will have on other cameras in the future.
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