Article as posted 4 Jun 2012 (there are 2 updates below): The images below are downsized photos from my Canon EOS 5D Mark II . But they had a problem!
You might have come across this problem which I recently researched. There were some interesting discussions 2 to 3 years back and even some more recently, including some related to the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III, but I didn’t find anything that seemed to resolve the issue for me although in retrospect there were some hints.
The most important reason I had to buy the 5D was image quality. So it was very disappointing to see a problem with it soon after buying it. It has to do with horizontal banding noise, which others have cited finding in shadow areas, but in my case it was banding in the light areas and at low ISO, 100 in most cases. Actually, the images which had problems showed something somewhat different than the banding most people cited.
Some suggested as a solution, or work around, to shoot toward the right on the histogram. This might be a short term solution but it seemed to me it should not be something you should be forced to do all the time, particularly on a ‘good’ camera, to get around a problem that should not exist in the first place. You may want to do this but you are limiting yourself on what should be available to you as part of the creative process, IMHO. Otherwise, why have bracketing, EVs….
There are circumstances where shooting on the left (underexposing) might make sense like getting an image without having to raise ISO. But the camera should not be limiting you because of some pattern noise appearing from an otherwise not so unusual lighting. And if you’re shooting on the right in low light, then you’re likely to not get a good image at all, unless you change ISO upward. I’m talking about fairly long exposures, maybe over 1/30th of a second, shooting hand-held.
As it turns out, I have many examples of images under similar conditions that do not have this banding/pattern noise, which show good detail in the lower light/mid-tones portions even when the sky is fairly bright. This is the balance I was trying to achieve.
So I was about to send my camera to Canon to get them to resolve this issue when I decided to take a look at all the images with the banding. The banding was not so much banding as it was striping, like fine lines that some describe as a linen or canvas look, almost as if painting on cloth. Most of the time it was horizontal but on some images the vertical lines were more pronounced. You can see some examples (image 1; image 2) . These are 100% crops. Look closely in the light or smooth areas. I added image 3 to show a portion of an image which has some tone curve adjustments where it’s easier to see the lines.
It was the difficulty of getting rid of the lines in post processing that added to the problem. When I did get rid of them, the result on the image was to remove much of the detail as well, as might be expected. In clouds it might not matter but in some other objects it would remove the look or ‘feel’ of the object. I also tried exporting the image to Photoshop and the end result was not satisfying. About the same result as I was getting in Lightroom.
When I went through the images in the order of shooting and found an image which had the striped noise, all the images following had the problem until I found one without and all the images following that one, had no trace. It turns out that all the images with the stripes were from one card.
After I formatted the card in camera and shot with it again, there was no trace of any banding or striping. The card is still suspect in my mind, not knowing what caused the issue or whether it might come back. But it was a relief to know the it was not the camera, well, hopefully not the camera. After all, the problem might have started with the camera write to the card. I have no idea what conditions would create the problem or whether I did something to create it.
But all the images since then have been very clean. In fact, as good as I expected. The Canon 5D Mark II is a great camera and produces great images. The image below is one that was taken within a short time from the ones above. You can see it at fineworldphotography.com.
Let me know if you have any ideas or comments. By the way, I’ve put some links about similar problems below. They might be helpful as well.
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Update of 16 July 2013: Recently, I got an email asking a question on the subject of this article and thought it would be a good update in case anyone came across the issue and wanted more information.
David Sulwer asked me if I still attributed the noise issue to the card and wanted to know what card it was since he was having similar issues.
Unfortunately, with many things going on, I did not see his email for a while and when I replied, somehow the email “Reply to” address linked was not correct and I didn’t notice. Anyway, I later sent the email to the corrected address and I hope he got it.
The answer to his question was that I was very sure it was the card since I never had the problem with any other card yet I had the same problem again when I used that card afterwards. Also, as I later found out, during the shoot where there was noise on some of the images, there were a few images that were very bad, not just noise, but actually showing a pinkish colored rectangular patch which did not have any resemblance to the image that should have been there. At the time, I didn’t associate the noise issue with the really bad patches on the other images mostly because the noise issue was so subtle. Afterwards, it seemed to me that they were different manifestations of the same underlying issue.
The card was a SanDisk Extreme III CF 4GB. I’ve had no problems with any other SanDisk (having a few) and it is possible that there were other issues involved. One thing was that it was a cold, dry day and it is possible that I discharged on it while handling it, either putting it in or taking out. All this happened within about an hour. Don’t know one way or another. I had the card for at least a couple of years before this happened with no issues.
I’ve been a bit more careful since then with other cards and have not run into this problem. Not that being more careful would actually change anything because I’ve never understood what the root cause of the issue was. The research I’ve done on cards in general has not produced anything that would shed light on what could cause these symptoms. If anyone has any ideas on this, please let me know.
In any event, this hopefully helps someone. Thanks for visiting,
Update of 29 Jan 2014: This is a short update to point out another possibility as to why images might have the striping/banding issue, a possibility similar to the issue I had but going maybe a step further and borne out by the experience encountered by Fransisco Font at Fransisco P. Font photography (his blog site is in Spanish). He had tried to find a solution to vertical striping on his images for a while with no success until he read my article and was able to determine that his Compact Flash card was the problem.
The difference Fransisco had in relation to my issue is that he attributes it to the card brand and specific model. He does not conclude that the card is flawed or corrupted, as I did, but rather that the card has the possibility of being incompatible with the 5D Mark II (or for that matter, any particular camera.)
I tend to think that although that is still a possibility, there might also be the possibility that his particular card was somehow corrupted or flawed from the manufacturer or somehow was corrupted before he used it (he said the card was given to him by his brother-in-law but doesn’t say it was new).
The idea that a card is somehow incompatible is food for thought and not to be dismissed. The one he had an issue with was a SanDisk CompactFlash 8 GB UDMA , same brand as the one that exhibited the issues for me but not the same model. Maybe his conclusion is correct (at least for the model he used) and we should check all cards before we trust them to our (possibly) great images.