Grain or Noise?

I was looking over the comments attached to the following picture by my fellow flickr-ite Scombs:


In the comments one party stated “I like the graininess here,” which got me to thinking: should we continue to call it “grain” or change-over to “noise”?

In the days of processed film the term grain was quite legitimate as photographs were indeed made of small grains (crystals to be precise) of silver halide. Film was made increasingly sensitive to light by, in part, increasing the size of these silver halide crystals. This was why when one shot with higher ISO film (or, here in the States, ASA) one noticed what appeared to be a more grainy appearance to the printed pictures.

However, digital photography replaces silver halide crystals with an electronic sensor and the effect of graininess is a result of the increase in sensitivity to light by the sensor as it turns up its gain. The net result is the same as with film-based images: an image with more grain. Yet it really isn’t grain now is it? It’s noise.

The fact that the effect appears to be the same does not alter the fact that how this effect is created comes about via very different methods. So, what do we do? Do we continue to call it grain (of which I still do – at least for now) or do we start to call it noise as would seem more appropriate?

Tell me what you think!


5 thoughts on “Grain or Noise?

  1. I hate to admit this but until your post I wasn’t quite clear on the difference between the two….doh, that’s because there isn’t any.

  2. bottom line, it is a very cool pic. i love the greens and the golds. and also…the picture creates a setting: sort of a buffy meets mama’s house: who knows what happened….

  3. You could call it noise with a grainy appearance, or grain-like noise. In digital photography the pinnacle often seems to be noise free images, but when the noise seems more raddomly it can give character to a photograph (and not only in B&W as it seems).

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