Fine grain with higher ISOs? Humbug!

Even finer grain at lower ISOs is better

Recently, Nikon and Canon introduced high-end DSLRs capable of reaching ISO 102,800. These pro cameras claim amazingly good image quality at ISO 6400 or even more. The Internet was abuzz. But I don't share the enthusiasm.


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Why is this not good news? Sticker shock, for starters: When it comes to time to buy a Nikon D3s or other models (such as those found in our roundup of Best Low Light/High ISO DSLRs), I will be paying more for an innovation I will get little, if any, use from. (Perhaps it's a shocker, but I don't get free cameras from Nikon. I pay for all of my gear.) When will I ever use ISO 6400, 32,000, or 102,800?

Black cat=good luck! I followed this cat around the beautiful island of Santorinni, Greece for some five minutes until he crossed these colorful steps that led to several of the locals' homes. Hand-holding my D300 and 17-55mm lens using ISO 100 and 1/500 second shutter speed preset in anticipation, I got the shot. High ISO? Not necessary here!

I like to shoot in available light, outdoors, during pre-dawn and early morning, and again during the before, during and right after sunset. During that time, I shoot creative exposures, not correct exposures. I am looking for ways to story-tell and isolate. I look for motion-filled scenes and shoot them accordingly; freezing the action or implying the motion.

So, how is shooting ISO of 1600 going to help me isolate that one lone front-lit flower against a distracting background? It won't! In fact it will actually hurt my chances of making that happen. With my aperture set to f/5.6--the aperture needed for sufficiently shallow depth--with an ISO of 1600 my shutter speed needs to be at a whopping 1/12,800 second--yikes! At ISO of 800, I'd need 1/6,400 second and with ISO 400, 1/3,200 second is necessary.

No thanks. I'll take ISO 100 and a more reasonable 1/1200 sec.

If you wish to shoot indoor sports, (gymnastics, basketball and ice hockey for example) then by all means use higher ISO's.

Broken ankle in the making? I chose 1/1000 second and gladly left the camera in Aperture Priority Mode, keeping my eye on the aperture and adjusting it when necessary to make sure my shutter speed was always around a 1/1000 second. I also had my D300 and Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D lens mounted on a monopod. My ISO? You guessed it--100. (The kid's ankle survived intact.)

Bryan Peterson is a widely-published photographer and a successful commercial photographer for over 30 years, and runs the Perfect Picture School of Photography. He has photographed annual reports, corporate brochures and advertising campaigns for a diverse range of clients including Kodak, UPS, Intel, Microsoft, and Citibank. The most recent of his popular series of creativity and exposure books is "Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second." See his work at


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