people walking near road beside buildings during night time
Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

In the Photo Equipment war, there is always someone that will outdo the other brands out there right now. One company in particular, with their new flagship camera has just introduced a camera with an ISO of 1,600,000 !!! That’s right! That is a high number, and along with their new chip design, the photos coming out of this new camera are amazing. That is the new Pentax K3-III .

This camera brings up just a few questions for sure:

1- What do I do with an ISO setting that high? Is there practical photography for a setting this high?

Well, let’s look into this a bit:

Ten years ago, these fears were justified. Raising your ISO to 1600 or 3200 was a no-go for the majority of cameras.

But no longer. Things are changing. These days, it often makes sense to boost your ISO to get better images. In fact, the improvements in camera technology have been such that you can now comfortably photograph at ISO 1600, 3200, and even 6400 with most DSLRs, Micro Four Thirds cameras, and mirrorless cameras, and of course now with the introduction from Pentax with an ISO of 1,600,000, the question would now be: What can’t I shoot with a high ISO?

Newly developed for the PENTAX K-3 Mark III, the Fine Sharpness II mode faithfully reproduces delicate outlines just like the Extra Sharpness mode, but it also minimizes the generation and emphasis of unwanted noise, while reproducing fine textures and subtle gradations in the subject with greater accuracy. In fact, at PENTAX we see this mode as depicting subject texture at a level close to perfection. Created by integrating the Fine Sharpness and Extra Sharpness modes, this new mode is incorporated into the PENTAX K-3 Mark III — and will be in future PENTAX SLR models — as the default setting.

With the introduction of a camera that can shoot ISO of 1,600,000, it brings up and interesting advantage. If you can make your photo look good, say even at 240,000ISO, what kind of sharpness would I get when I shoot at a lower ISO?

Thanks to all these advanced features, you will realize the great improvement in image resolution and reproduction of subject texture in the low-sensitivity range when you capture image with the PENTAX K-3 Mark III.

You begin using your imagination the moment you see a subject, then release the shutter and anticipate the resulting image. I believe that’s the best way to enjoy the entire process of photography. You can make image quality look better, at least on the surface, by boosting numerical specifications. To step more deeply into a world of image description that can’t just be summed up in numbers, PENTAX stresses the importance of sensibility evaluations, which factor in the feelings and opinions of our designers in our pursuit of more beautiful, more truthful images. When you look at the picture above and realize the small square in the inset photo, is what was enlarged, you can now create the sharpest photos ever yet, by having a camera with a high ISO, as long as they worked on the image sensor to create this amazing fete.

When you look at how much the image has improved in going from the previous model (the Mark II), to the Mark III, you can see that the new K3 Mark III is a camera not to be ignored.

Here are 3 options of using a high ISO:

1. When you’re photographing indoors or at night

If you take your camera indoors, or you shoot at night, you’ll quickly run into a problem:

Your images will be dark and lacking detail.

In such situations, you have three solutions:

First, you can widen your aperture. Often, this can help (and it’s the reason why many night photographers and event photographers work with an ultra-low f-stop). But it’s rarely enough.

Second, you can drop your shutter speed. But unless your subject is completely still and you’re shooting with a tripod, you’ll end up with lots of blur. Not ideal, right?

Which brings me to the third solution:

You can raise your ISO.

when to use a high ISO in photography concert

Will it introduce some noise? Yes. But the noise produced by modern cameras at high ISOs just isn’t that bad; as I mentioned above, you can comfortably boost your ISO to ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 without much loss of quality.

And by raising the ISO, you’ll end up with much brighter images, even indoors and even at night.

2. When you’re photographing fast-moving subjects

The faster your subject, the faster the shutter speed required to render it with zero blur.

For instance, if you’re photographing a runner, you might need a shutter speed of 1/500s. If you’re photographing a moving car, 1/1000s might be more appropriate. And if you’re photographing a diving falcon, 1/3200s is a safe bet.

Unfortunately, even in relatively good light, boosting your shutter speed to 1/3200s will result in a too-dark exposure – unless you raise the ISO, that is.

After all, better to end up with a slightly noisy image than a completely blurry one, right?

So don’t be afraid to increase your ISO when faced with a fast-moving subject.

when to use a high ISO in photography people walking at night

3. When you’re using a long lens

The longer your lens, the easier it is to end up with blur – because subject movement and camera movement are magnified. So with a long lens, you need a fast shutter speed, just the same as if you were shooting a moving subject.

That’s why boosting your ISO is so essential when working with telephoto lenses; it allows you to boost the shutter speed, too, and capture a sharp image.

Sure, when the light is bright, you can keep the ISO at 100 or 200 and end up with sharp, well-exposed images.

But as the light begins to drop, you’ll need to raise your ISO with confidence. That way, you can capture bright and clear photos at 300mm, 400mm, and beyond.

when to use a high ISO shadowy man with briefcase
Canon 5D Mark II | 135mm | f/6.3 | ISO 1600
The high ISO allowed for a 1/320s shutter speed; this accounted for both the motion in the scene and for the longer focal length used.

But doesn’t a lower ISO give better image quality?

Well, yes – and no.

Yes, if you are setting up a studio shot and controlling the lighting. Yes, if you are using a tripod, if you are a landscape photographer, or if there is very strong natural light. Yes, if you don’t have to compromise your shutter speed or aperture settings to expose the shot correctly. A photo taken at ISO 100 will always be significantly sharper and cleaner than a photo taken at ISO 1600, assuming the aperture and shutter speed are the same, and you have complete control over the subject and the lighting.

In every other case, however, the answer is no; a lower ISO will not give better image quality.

Raising your ISO will help you capture a higher quality photograph in many situations. Why? Because it lets you use a faster shutter speed and a smaller aperture to get a sharper result. When creating a technically great photograph – one with minimal blur and proper exposure – getting the aperture and shutter speed settings correct is much more important than using a low ISO.

If you want to know how great event photographers consistently create such bright and beautiful images, it’s not only because they use fast lenses and flashes. It’s because they are not afraid to raise the ISO.

Plus, the look of grain at high ISOs in digital cameras has become more pleasing. The newer camera models have not only reduced the strength of grain (noise) at high ISOs, but they have also created noise that looks more artistic.

ISO has now become a luxury instead of an obstacle. We can photograph in dark areas while handholding the camera when we need to.

crop of the man with a briefcase
Cropped version of the above (ISO 1600) shot. Note the minimal, pleasing grain.
when to use a high ISO in photography street at night

The best thing to try now, if you don’t have the new Pentax K3 Mark III, is to see how good your camera will do at a high ISO setting. Try it at it’s max, and then see if you like it. Does it make you want to buy a new camera? This is what has happened to camera makers lately, is that the image quality has gotten significantly better than before, especially doing the higher ISO settings.

Ready to go shooting in the dark? It’s a whole new era of photography now, so, let’s do it!

This article was written by: Lanny Cottrell (123PhotoGo), and help from: James Maher (Digital Photography School), and also: Shigeru Wakashiro, in charge of planning and development for PENTAX digital SLR cameras


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