Low noise at high ISO is very important for many photographic applications such as astrophotography, low light work and action photography.
If this is THE MOST important factor for you, then check out the new website DxOMark.com which tests various dSLR sensors for dynamic range, signal to noise ratios and thus performance in low light.
But low noise at high ISO is NOT everything in photography.
Indeed, it is unlikely that noise levels in a photo are a prime determinant of what makes a great photo – the best photos in the world would still be great photos even if there were increased noise levels.
Having a camera in your possession when a photographic opportunity presents itself is MUCH more important than low noise – hence the role of smaller, lighter, compact cameras.
And if you like taking photos in the wet then the Olympus E-3 and its pro weather-sealed lenses are perhaps the most weather sealed dSLRs out there as evidenced by these swimming pool shots which I don’t think people would dare do with any other current dSLR camera without a water-proof housing.
There are many other factors which contribute to a great photo – just search the web for great photos – it is rare that the camera itself really contributed substantially to the photo if it was not for the creative eye and expertise of the person using the camera.
I went to a photographic exhibition of the late Australian social documentary photographer, Rennie Ellis who apparently mainly used simple Pentax and Nikon 35mm film cameras. The cameras themselves are practically irrelevant – it is his style, his ability to relate to people, being where the opportunities were and his ability to see these opportunities which make the photo. Low noise at high ISO had NOTHING to do with his fantastic imagery which grows in value with time.
For instance, the image of former Australian deputy prime minister, Jim Cairns at Confest, French Island, 1980 with a nude sunbaker (hence not shown here), and this image of Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everidge) who he found painting at a beach.
If you are in Melbourne, don’t miss his free exhibition at the Ian Potter Gallery, NGV, in Federation Square.
ohh.. and if you still don’t believe the most important thing is the eye behind the camera rather than the camera, read Ken Rockwell’s blog