src="http://www.mirrorlessons.com/wp-content/themes/mirrorlessons Butterflies in Low Light: Sony a6300 High ISO Gallery – MirrorLessons
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Date: 25/04/2016 | By: Heather

Butterflies in Low-Light – Sony a6300 High ISO Gallery with the Zeiss Touit 50mm Macro

sony a6300 high iso low light

Butterflies in Low-Light – Sony a6300 High ISO Gallery with the Zeiss Touit 50mm Macro

Not too far from where we live, there is a small yet very well-presented butterfly house situated next to the Cwm Rheidol Reservoir, a mere 10 miles from Aberystwyth. Founded by Neil Gale in 2000, the butterfly house is home to over 80 species of butterfly, of which 30 can be seen at any one time during the year.

For my high ISO tests with the Sony a6300, the house proved the ideal location for a few different reasons.

sony a6300 low light
a6300, 1/250, f/11, ISO 3200 – Click to see a high res version
  • First, although the ceiling of the house is translucent, the high-reaching plants block much of the sunlight, especially on a cloudy day.
  • Second, to photograph butterflies without the aid of a flash, you generally need a shutter speed of at least 1/200s, particularly with cameras that lack in-body stabilization like the a6300 or lenses that lack optical stabilization like the Touit 50mm, and slower aperture values to achieve a deeper depth of field.
  • Finally, since butterflies are covered in fine hairs and scales, it was easy to see judge how much detail was being sacrificed by using the higher ISO values.

Photographing the butterflies

For my tests, I used the optically excellent Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8, a lightweight macro solution for APS-C E-Mount and Fuji X cameras. Our full Zeiss Touit 50mm review can be found here.

Note: In order for Touit lenses to be compatible with phase detection, they require a firmware update. The Fuji X-mount versions can be updated from Zeiss’ website but unfortunately the E-mount versions cannot. The lens needs to be sent to Zeiss for the update. If you are interested in this macro lens or any other Touit lens for the a6300 or a6000, it is best to ask the seller if it has the latest firmware or not prior to buying the lens.

I also limited myself to ISO speeds between 1280 and 51200 with varying apertures and shutter speeds. All shots were taken with the help of a monopod to counteract the lack of in-body stabilisation.

sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/640, f/5.6, ISO 1600 – Click to see a high res version

Overall, noise and detail retention in the RAW files remains acceptable up to ISO 6400, which falls in line with the results produced by the latest mirrorless cameras we’ve tested. At these values, it is easy to pick out the individual hairs on the butterflies’ bodies and the scales on their wings, and even the many minute ommatidia (light receptors) of their eyes when the focus is right.

sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 1250 – Click to see a high res version
sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/500, f/5, ISO 1600 – Click to see a high res version
sony a6300 sample images
a6300, 1/100, f/8, ISO 2500 – Click to see a high res version
sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/320, f/11, ISO 3200 – Click to see a high res version
sony a6300 low light
a6300, 1/500, f/8, ISO 6400 – Click to see a high res version

At 12800, we see a decrease in detail and an increase in noise. The colours also appear flatter than at the lower values. This tendency continues until the highest value of 51200, which I consider completely unusable for any purpose since the excess noise blots out most of the fine detail.

sony a6300 iso 12800
a6300, 1/1000, f/10, ISO 12800 – Click to see a high res version
Sony a6300 25600 iso
a6300, 1/1000, f/10, ISO 25600 – Click to see a high res version
sony a6300 51200 iso
a6300, 1/4000, f/10, ISO 51200

A similar tendency can be observed from the JPGs with the difference you can adjust the Noise Reduction to High, Low or Off in the menu. I opted to use Low for the butterflies because High is far too aggressive and Off produces similar results to the RAW files.

sony a6300 raw
ISO 3200 – RAW file (exported from Lightroom) – Click to open high res version in new window
sonya 6300 jpg
ISO 3200 – OOC JPG – Click to open high res version in new window

As you can see, the Low setting does a good job of erasing most traces of noise but replaces it with a blotchy watercolour effect that destroys some of the fine detail. It is for this reason I prefer to use RAW files at the higher ISOs, not to mention that it is easier to recover the shadows and highlights in post-production.



How high can you go?

Since starting MirrorLessons and experimenting with many different camera models for a variety of genres, both Mathieu and I have found ourselves becoming more tolerant of noise at high ISOs. Sensors are so good these days that, as long as you don’t pixel peep at 100% or make large prints, noise and loss in detail aren’t as big an issue as they used to be.

sony a6300 sample images low light
a6300, 1/400, f/5.6, ISO 1600 – Click to see a high res version

A good example is the image below of the Tree Nymph butterfly. Despite having been taken at 25600 ISO, I don’t believe it would look out of place in a newspaper article or a small online image gallery promoting the butterfly house.

sony a6300
a6300, 1/2500, f/10, ISO 25600 – At this size, it is acceptable for use in newspapers or online

It would, however, be unacceptable as a full-page spread in a photography magazine or a large print in a gallery, as you can see from the crop below.

sony a6300 high iso
However, a crop reveals that it would not be acceptable as a large print.

In the end, the ISO speed you choose will depend on a number of factors, from the subject and the light conditions to where the image will end up and your personal tolerance for noise and loss in detail.

sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/500, f/8, ISO 3200 – Click to see a high res version

In the case of macro photography, most photographers will use tripods to stabilise the camera, flashes to freeze the action and techniques such as focus stacking to increase the depth of field. For this reason, it is rare you’ll actually have to use very high ISOs out in the field.

Genres such as low-light sports, on the other hand, do require high ISOs because you’re dealing with fast-moving subjects and shutter speeds of at least 1/500s. For the image below, for example, I had no choice but to use 12800 ISO because I needed a speed of at least 1/800s to keep the players in focus and the lens’ fastest aperture was f/4.

sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/800, f/4, ISO 12800 – Click to see a high res version

How about you? What is the highest ISO speed you are comfortable using? Share your thoughts below!

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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com/ Heather Broster

    That’s about how I feel about all MFT sensors as well!

  • HammeredToast

    I’m a GH4 kid, and I rarely feel comfortable about 3200, but I am tolerant of 6400 in some situations.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com/ Heather Broster

    I’m sure we’ll see the same 20MP sensor on the new flagship cameras, so unless they can work miracles with the new processor (if there is one), I doubt we’ll see much of an improvement for the time being. That said, I agree that fast primes help in this regard, as does the stabilisation!

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com/ Heather Broster

    Thanks! I do the same with my Oly 60mm and the E-M1 / GX8. I find that if you get the exposure right in camera, 3200 ISO is more than acceptable.

  • Paul Stuart

    I use m43 so i have set my limit to 3200 but with the acquisition of my 100-400mm lens where I am looking for better s/s i find I am in this area more and more wish m43 had a bit more in the iso department a lot of the time with fast primes and pro zooms it is not so essential .
    Also some software options help clean up images Lightroom dxo and topaz noise ,although this can make workflow time consuming and to truly master the likes of topaz takes a bit of thought and effort and I am not the most post production savvy so try to avoid anything labour intensive .

    Well I’ll hope the new flagship m43 Olympus and Panasonic later this year have a bit more in this area think it is more wishful thinking than anything with the focus on mp.
    Lovely pics heather I visited wisely butterfly house back in spring although I don’t think winter ever finished and do not think I used much below iso 800-1600
    I used the oly 60mm macro with the gx8 and omd em-1 with 40-150 MM plus t/c where I could not get so close to subject ,would like to try the Panasonic 100-400mm for the extra reach next time .

  • househe

    Nice article, Heather, as usual. I too enjoy butterfly photography. I started with a Canon S70, then S100 and S110 and those were fine up to about ISO 800, tops. Now, with my GX7, and GH4 and my Oly 60mm lens I can get nice results even at 3200 ISO. I do keep both limited to ISO 6400 just encase as I don’t want to miss some sought after butterfly in our area of Wisconsin. A lot of times I’m taking photos underneath leaves and that’s where I wish more cameras had the upper flash sync of 1/320 that the GX7 has. That’s often more important than high ISO for me.

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