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Thread: ISO settings - What do you use?

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    Default ISO settings - What do you use?

    Never really played around with ISO settings on my 40D and 50D bodies, always sticking with 100. But when I asked this question on another forum was pleasantly shocked to see some of the posters are using 400 and above for daily use, and with excellent results. One person commented there was no different in print quality (11x14's) 100 vs 400 that couldnt be seen except with a magnifying glass.

    Curious, what ISO are you using in Alaska and what size prints are you making?
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    It all depends on available light.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snowwolfe View Post
    Never really played around with ISO settings on my 40D and 50D bodies, always sticking with 100. But when I asked this question on another forum was pleasantly shocked to see some of the posters are using 400 and above for daily use, and with excellent results. One person commented there was no different in print quality (11x14's) 100 vs 400 that couldnt be seen except with a magnifying glass.

    Curious, what ISO are you using in Alaska and what size prints are you making?
    I use the full range of ISO values available on my cameras, but that varies considerably from one camera to another. For example, I keep an old Nikon D2X around for when the light is good and I want longer reach or more depth of field (typically for birds and macro, respectively). The D2x is useful up to ISO 800. On the other hand with a Nikon D3S it is not unreasonable to shoot at ISO 12800, though I usually limit it to 10000.

    There are some real "gotchas" though, in addition to the differences between older and newer models.

    Each camera has what is known as a "base ISO", which is usually between 100 and 200. As you increase the ISO above that the amount of noise increases and the range of tones (the dynamic range) that will be recorded is reduced.

    But, and the exact numbers are different for each camera, there is a range where the difference is all but negligable, then above that there is a range where dynamic range goes down on a 1 to 1 basis (1 stop more ISO speed equals 1 stop less dynamic range), and then at an even higher plateau the visible noise goes up very fast (and the overall image quality goes down very fast).

    The Nikon D3S has the highest useful ISO range of any camera currently available, and with it ISO settings from 200 to 2000 are almost indistinguishable. Up to 3200 the results are almost as good, with a reduction in dynamic range but not a great loss in image quality. Up to ISO 12,800 there is a steady loss of dynamic range and a steady decrease in image quality. Beyond that there are significantly faster decreases.

    Essentially, with a D3S anything from 200 to 2000 is about the same, up to about 4000 is okay except for the most critical needs, and up to 10000 is okay for casual requirements. (The trick with all of that is accurate exposure.)

    Every camera has a similar curve, but the significant points on the curve are at different values. A really old Nikon D1, for example, is not so good at ISO 400, and pretty bad at 800. The D2X is good up to 800, and pretty bad at 1600. The D3 is good up to 6400, and not so hot above that. The D3S is good up to 10,000.

    You can experiment with your camera to learn what ISO range that you can tolerate for the type of work you do. Just take note of the comment above about accurate exposure (do a web search on "ettr" or "expose to the right").

    Here's a shot I took a few days ago and had printed as 12x18. I'm sure it would look good at 20x40 too. This was at ISO 2000 with a Nikon D3S.


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    With a 50D, shooting raw and processing in Adobe Lightroom 3 (same as the latest ACR in Photoshop CS5), even pixel peeping I can't see any difference up to 400 ISO, and is very nearly as good at 800. I don't hesitate going to 1600 when needed, and occasionally find myself shooting at 3200 and 6400 with good to more than acceptable results. With Lightroom 2, or shooting jpgs even 1600 was painful, and I would never have gone above that. (The 40D/50D does a poor job with high ISO jpg files.) There is some slight fine detail lost at 800, with more lost at higher ISOs, but, depending on the subject, the pictures can still print well.

    One thing you have to be careful about at 1600 and above is getting the exposure right, especially don't underexpose it.

    the 40D is nearly as good. In fact when pixel peeping it can look slightly better, but since the 50D has 50% more pixels it usually prints better. If processed the same, a 50D raw file will produce an image virtually as good as a 7D.

    I rarely make prints larger than the 13x19" printer I have.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Strutz View Post
    With a 50D, shooting raw and processing in Adobe Lightroom 3 (same as the latest ACR in Photoshop CS5), even pixel peeping I can't see any difference up to 400 ISO, and is very nearly as good at 800. I don't hesitate going to 1600 when needed, and occasionally find myself shooting at 3200 and 6400 with good to more than acceptable results. With Lightroom 2, or shooting jpgs even 1600 was painful, and I would never have gone above that. (The 40D/50D does a poor job with high ISO jpg files.) There is some slight fine detail lost at 800, with more lost at higher ISOs, but, depending on the subject, the pictures can still print well.
    That is a really good point that has a number of ramifications. I didn't even think about it, because I shoot RAW virtually all the time. But it points out why shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG is a good idea, even if the camera JPEG seems to "good enough". The camera's raw converter is never going to be upgraded, but the one we use on our computer in 5 or 10 years will almost certainly not be the one available today!

    One thing you have to be careful about at 1600 and above is getting the exposure right, especially don't underexpose it.
    This is another point that needs to be understood very well.

    If an image is "overexposed", which is not necessarily defined as "too bright" but rather means that the brightest desired area is brighter than the camera can record, the desired highlight data is absolutely lost, and everything brighter than maximum is cutoff at pure white. Hence that is a very abrupt limit.

    When an image is "underexposed", which is when the brightest desired texture is anything less than the maximum value the camera can record, there is a slow degradation (loss of dynamic range and increase in noise) that is proportional to the amount of underexposure. Under expose by 1 fstop, and the results are just about exactly the same as increasing the ISO by 1 fstop.

    Which is to say that on a camera like the D2X, where ISO 800 is okay and ISO 1600 is not, when shooting at ISO 800 an image underexposed by 1 fstop will be at least as bad as one correctly exposed at ISO 1600. And if overexposed by 1 fstop, the entire spectrum in the upper 1 stop range will be gone! Also, note that on that camera the effect of under exposing when shooting at ISO 200 has little noticeable effect at 1 fstop (makes it about like shooting at ISO 400) and only becomes significant at more than 2 fstop (similar to higher than ISO 800). But overexposing is deadly no matter what the ISO!

    Hence it is good advice to shoot at the lowest possible ISO, and to be very careful about correct exposure and in particular do not over expose at all.

    I rarely make prints larger than the 13x19" printer I have.
    Another good point that might be too subtle. The type of work each of us does makes a lot of difference in what is acceptable. I shoot at ISO 10000 with a D3S, but I don't expect to make 30"x40" prints either. When possible I keep the ISO down in that lower range of ISO values that all produce about the same results, just so that if I want to make a poster sized print later on it won't be either impossible or an awful lot of work.

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    With my 50D and 5D Mark II, I will use lowest ISO setting the camera has when using a tripod. Being that I mostly shoot landscape, this is a common practice for me. When hand holding, I will use 400-800 without thinking twice. Beyond that range, I have not used ISO enough to have a strong opinion.
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    Another concept that might be worth bringing up is the use of Auto ISO, where the camera sets the ISO (and may or may not set shutter or aperture).

    I haven't explored all uses for that mode, but have changed from my long habit of switching between Manual mode used when the light stays constant and only switcing to an Auto Exposure mode when the light is changing between every shot (making Manual too slow for the action).

    Now I usually leave Manual mode on, and switch Auto ISO on and off. It works out a little different in that before it was full Manual most of the time, with the Auto Exposure mode less often used. But with Auto ISO it is usually on, and only turned off to force some odd effect from ISO (lower dynamic range and/or noise can be used creatively too, in particular if the intent is a BW image).

    I haven't tried using flash with that yet.

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    If you need to shoot at 1600, your lens ain't fast enough! I try to keep it around 2-400 most of the time; 16's just too ugly. That's more of a "oops I only got my f/5.6 and there's Sasquatch coming out of the trees" ISO for me.
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    Most of my shooting is at weddings and other indoor events, so clean high ISO images are often important to me. The other day I was second shooter to a less experienced photographer who is artistically talented, but technically challenged. We were both using 50D's with good glass, but she refuses to deal with raw images. The ambient lighting was the worst I have ever seen at a wedding; dim, multi-hued, and completely uneven in brightness. The main photographer's images of the ceremony were completely unusable. By shooting f/2 at 3200 in raw I was able to get some redeemable images that, while not perfect, are very acceptable for use in her album.

    The other photographer's solution for the future was to run out and buy a 7D because it's high ISO jpg's are better, and it has a higher ISO range. But I think I'm going to keep the 50D for a while longer since I can get such usable high ISO raw images from it. Considerably better than the 7D's jpgs.

    Of course, if I shot more weddings and made more money shooting them, I would buy a full frame camera and a couple f/1.2 lenses, but that doesn't seem to be an option right now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cdubbin View Post
    If you need to shoot at 1600, your lens ain't fast enough! I try to keep it around 2-400 most of the time; 16's just too ugly. That's more of a "oops I only got my f/5.6 and there's Sasquatch coming out of the trees" ISO for me.
    Ever try to shoot events in a gammar school gymnasium where the light level is down below EV 4?

    Here's a shot taken at the Ipalook Elementary school here in Barrow last December. The light level is EV 3.6, the lens used was a 70-200mm f/2.8G VRII, at 130mm, f/2.8 and 1/160 of a second. The ISO was 10,000 on a Nikon D3S.

    This is what the D3S and the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens were made for, and in all practical terms nothing else competes with it (yet, but that's just around the corner too). A faster lens, say a 135mm f/2, would only gain one fstop, so the ISO could be 5000. To get down below 1600 would require two more stops, so the shutter speed would have to be 1/40th of a second. The depth of field would be very narrow and any movement at all would cause blurring. I suspect this particular shot would survive, but the percentage of keepers drops like a rock!

    I used to shoot these same events with a D2X (and before that with a D1 too!) using a 80-200mm f/2.8 lens, so I've got a very keen sense of just what the difference between being limited to (a not very good at) ISO 1600 camera and one that gets very useful shots with ISO 10000. Even a D3, at ISO 6400 can't hack this work with the ease that a D3S can.


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    Jim,
    What size prints did your client end up with? What was lacking in the prints not to consider them "perfect"? Trying to figure all of this out as almost 100% of my income is from selling prints.
    Goes without saying the higher the ISO the more depth of field I can get (if its warranted) and the higher the shutter speeds to help decrease the hand held blurred images.
    Tennessee

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    Randy, since I was the second shooter, I turned all the images over to the other photographer. I'm not sure what they will end up with, but very few wedding ceremony shots are ever printed larger than 8x10". Most of the large prints are formal poses of the bride or couple, and they are done with more controlled lighting (multiple diffused flash sources) that would allow low ISO images. These 3200 ISO pictures look fine at at 8x10", but I doubt they would look so great at 11x14". The main problem with high ISO is that the necessary noise reduction reduces sharpness and fine detail. You can add sharpness back in, but the detail is still gone.

    The latest Alaska Magazine (September 2010) shows off the winning shots in their photo contest. The grand prize winner, by Mike Kenney (page 32), is an interesting close up shot of seagulls that shows a classic case of excessive noise removal. In truth I don't know why it was used so heavily, it doesn't look like the lighting was all that low, but the picture ends up with almost no fine (or even moderate) detail. Perhaps it was a very low resolution image, I don't know. But there was a lot of sharpness added back in, so it appears sharp, but still has no detail. This is also a classic case of a compelling subject being far more important than technical perfection.

    In any case higher ISO's need more noise reduction, which reduces sharpness and detail. Cameras with larger sensors are usually better at high ISO than small sensors, and some sensor designs and image processors are inherently better than others. Nikon's latest full frame (FX) sensor cameras really are good. Canon's are also very good, but not as good right now. Competition is good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Floyd_Davidson View Post
    Ever try to shoot events in a gammar school gymnasium where the light level is down below EV 4?
    No. That's why I'm posting on a forum called Outdoors Photography
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Strutz View Post
    Most of my shooting is at weddings and other indoor events, so clean high ISO images are often important to me. The other day I was second shooter to a less experienced photographer who is artistically talented, but technically challenged. We were both using 50D's with good glass, but she refuses to deal with raw images. The ambient lighting was the worst I have ever seen at a wedding; dim, multi-hued, and completely uneven in brightness. The main photographer's images of the ceremony were completely unusable. By shooting f/2 at 3200 in raw I was able to get some redeemable images that, while not perfect, are very acceptable for use in her album.

    The other photographer's solution for the future was to run out and buy a 7D because it's high ISO jpg's are better, and it has a higher ISO range. But I think I'm going to keep the 50D for a while longer since I can get such usable high ISO raw images from it. Considerably better than the 7D's jpgs.

    Of course, if I shot more weddings and made more money shooting them, I would buy a full frame camera and a couple f/1.2 lenses, but that doesn't seem to be an option right now.
    Agree with you. Just shoot RAW and a high ISO as needed for a sharp image, using a good lens that has the maximum aperture possible (for indoors photography).

    To the OP: PP the RAW images with CS5, and reduce some of the noise you can see on 100% crops. You can also remove noise with applications, other than Photoshop, that are designed only to reduce noise: Neat Image, Noise Ninja, as well as the digital noise applications of Topaz Labs or Nik Software. To further enhance you images, you can use some of the Nik Software and Topaz plugins for Photoshop, Lithroom, and Apple's Aperture.
    --------
    That said (to the OP), ask yourself this question: how did professional photographers do so well with their original DSLR cameras that a lot of people call "crappy" cameras because they aren't that great with high ISO photography, and at the same time having photographers with top of the line cameras taking crappy pictures?

    For an example of some outstanding work with a "real crappy" camera, and old Canon 30D (I am kidding of course), look at the photos of Tull777 right in this forum, or at his website, and compare those to some of the photos taken with top of the line cameras in this forum. That will provide you with an answer to think about in relation to photography in general.

    I use anywhere from 100 to 800 ISO for my photos, but with enough daylight I keep it around 100. For wedding and nightclub and such with one external flash, around 400. But you can crank it up to 1,600 (and the same flash) just to play games, and it will amaze you. I also set it to M (manual, plus flash), lens opened to perhaps f/2.8 - f/3.5 for one person, and perhaps f/5.6 for a small group, ISO around 400, flash on E-TTL and from +1/3 to 1 flash output over default.

    For landscapes alone, I use 100 ISO, camera on aperture priority (Canon Av), lens close from f/11 to f/22, and camera on a solid tripod. Better still: lock the mirror UP, and use the timer. OR, use LiveView to take the photo since the mirror is locked-up automatically, and focus manually if you like.

    By the way, I am just a "picture taker," not a professional photographer, so take my advise with a grain of salt

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    Managed to take some close ups of a wolf and sheep yesterday at ISO 200 with a hand held Canon 70-200 with the Canon 2X converter on as well. Am impressed how well the image quality is at 200. Will try to post some of the images early next week when I get a chance.
    Gotta love these forums, never would of thought to bump the ISO.
    Tennessee

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    Quote Originally Posted by cdubbin View Post
    No. That's why I'm posting on a forum called Outdoors Photography
    The point is to learn from our own and other's experiences by interpolating knowledge from previous situations to be used in new and different ones. The example was not a precise match, but I thought it was the most suitable in terms of expressing the part that was intended as instructional.

    Here's a different example, except it requires more discussion to demonstrate the same point (and it certainly qualifies for "outdoor" if that distinction causes mental blockage). With relatively bright light, at just over 10 EV in the late evening sun, shooting moving birds and running dogs can be a problem. Using an 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens with the intention of shooting hand held, a shutter speed of at least 1/400 is necessary. But since the subjects will be moving a shutter speed of 1/1500 or higher is highly desirable, and in this case 1/2000 was chosen. The lens was stopped down 1 stop, to f/8 to get the benefit its sharpest aperture.

    The camera determined that ISO 9000 was appropriate. If it had been limited to ISO 1600 that would mean 2-1/2 stops more exposure would be needed. Opening up the aperture would reduce sharpness and DOF unacceptably. Hence the only option would be a slower shutter speed and either panning with the action or choosing optimum timing for shutter release. It's not that such shots cannot be done, but the percentage of exposures that will result in technically acceptable images is greatly reduced. At ISO 9000 virtually every shot was sharp, without motion blur from either the subject or the camera operator.

    This shot is at ISO 2500. Incidentally the camera was set to ISO 800, but since Auto-ISO was on the actual ISO was different.


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    With the XTi, anywhere between 100 and 400. With the 7d, I use auto-mode most the time.


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    Here ya go. ISO 200 to start with. Can't tell any difference between 100, 200 or 400 when reviewing the RAWW files. This one is a smaller jpeg
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