In the good old days of film, I shot a lot of Kodachrome64... When lighting was not good your options were to use artificial lights or stop taking pictures. My second body usually had a roll of "high speed" film in it... ISO400 or ISO800..... same problem.... loose the light and you go home.
My first digital DSLR was unusable at ISO800 and topped out at a very noisy ISO1600. Now there isn't a DSLR (or mirrorless) on the market that does not produce better results at ISO12,800 than film did at ISO800.... and the numbers are slowly creeping upward.
Last night I mounted a laser pointer on the top of my camera and tried taking pictures of the cats chasing the red dot. You could not see the red dot. I turned the lights down low and cranked up the ISO to 12800 and it worked very well. These are shots that were impossible before and I have come to accept this as normal.... so yes, I need high ISO....
This is very true. Good cameras have always been expensive and out of the hands of most people. Now however, we in the digital age have gotten spoiled some with the advances in technology and I think the "noise" comparisons between film and digital are largely being forgotten.
I don't really stop and think about what ISO I need my 7D to be at to get the shot. I use whatever ISO I need to get the shot I want. I have said this in the past that I have shot as high as ISO 3200 with hummingbirds in flight and after processing the images look fantastic, both on screen and in print.
Guys are doing today with digital that could never have been accomplished with film back in the day. I think noise levels today are very acceptable even with crop sensors and you should buy the camera body that you need at the price you can afford and then use the heck out of it.
I also think because of computers too many people have become "pixel peepers" and look way too closely at the images they take. I usually print my photos at 11 x 14 and even at higher ISO's with my 7D they look great. Looking at an image zoomed in at 100% will destroy just about any image and I think any camera would have a hard time holding up to someone who is convinced that viewing them at that large of size is the only way to judge a camera's worth.
The way I look at it is, once I have processed my RAW image (regardless of what ISO I used on my 7D) and converted it to Jpeg and if the image looks good on screen, then make a print to be sure... good to go!
My 2 cents.
Maybe we are spoiled...however, maybe we are on the cusp of another revolutionary leap forward in IQ again. Ten years from now, we could be looking back at today, and saying the very same thing about noise levels today as we are about noise levels with film.
Yes, we have amazing technology today, and it's allowed for wonderful things. However, counter to "We have it great" is, we could have it better. And, we likely WILL have it better. Most companies are rocketing forward at lightning speed on all camera capability fronts. I know that Samsung doesn't have a great lens selection yet...but, YET. They have a 7D II killer on their hands (well, with the exception that the high speed 15fps rate is 12-bit RAW, which is kind of a Samsung killer ). All they really need is a great lens selection and a reliable support department. Those things simply need time to accumulate and build up.
Same goes for Sony...they are redefining a lot of the market today, and like Nikon, throwing out a lot of products to see what sticks (although I actually think Sony is doing a better job with product naming and whatnot than Nikon has ever done). It is, again, only a matter of time before Sony's lens lineup bulks up, and they have the benefit of Zeiss behind their glass.
Ten years from now, 14-16 stops of DR (maybe even as much as 20...there are already video sensors that do that with multi-bucket exposures) and ultra, ultra low noise, even at ultra high ISO settings, will be so common that we'll be looking at todays cameras like we look at film. For me, I honestly wonder if Canon will be a big player in that future. They may have lenses and support, but their products, technologically, are being matched or surpassed by even the likes of Samsung....
jrista, I 100% agree with you. Currently I see the following trends:
1) Sony - its superb sensor is used in many cameras, 35 mm and MF. Recently they introduced super autofocus http://petapixel.com/2014/09/16/heres-glimpse-sonys-new-4d-autofocus-technology-looks-feels/. Combine Sony's sensor with such autofocus and Zeiss lenses and you will get product that puts Canon products at least few generations behind. Of course, Neuro will say his famous words "but Canon's financial situation is better than Sony and Canon sells more cameras", however, he should try not to behave like Canon fanboy but start looking and other companies' innovations more seroulsly.
2) Samsung - look at Samsung NX camera and you will see significant improvements compared with 7D Mk II. Taking a look at Samsung and their innovations pace I would bet on Samsung rather on Canon which became very stagnant company. It is pathetic that after 5 years Canon released 7DMkII, without any innovations (it included current autofocus technology from 1Dx which already paid-off few years ago).
3) Tamron and Sigma - looking at their lenses quality, e.g. Sigma 35 mm Art. Sigma 50 mm art, Sigma 150-600 mm, Tamron 24-70, Tamron 150-600, I see that significant lens market share will be overtaken bu these 2 companies in the future. Canon will be relleasing 7.000-10.000 USD lenses, which will be interesting to some millionaires or lucky sports journalists.