Default camera ISO setting

In those early days, when all I had was an analog SLR, I had to make choices up-front. Do I buy an ISO 100 film for daytime shooting? (It’s cheaper, besides.) Do I go in for the expensive ISO 1600 film for my fancy night shots? Do I lug around the tripod? Do I use the flash? Do I even bother taking indoor shots? etc.

With my new digital camera, at least the ISO choice vanishes. The ISO range varies from 64 to 1600. And so, I don’t need flash or a tripod most of the time.

But once in a while, I get into a tricky situation.

Having a digital camera lets me take pictures a lot faster. Suppose I spot a boat speeding by when strolling along the Thames. The time it takes from the instant I see it to the instant I click the shutter is about 5 seconds. 2 seconds to pull out the camera, 1.5 seconds for the camera to start up, and about 1.5 seconds for me to aim and shoot.

I love being able to do this kind of a thing.

Except, it’s still a bit tricky managing the ISO. It takes me about 10 seconds to change the ISO settings. No, not because the menus are complex… that accounts for only about 3 seconds or so. The bulk of it is because I have to think about what ISO setting to use — especially given that I like to overexpose digital camera images a bit.

So, when I’m going indoors, I have to remember to set the ISO to something like 400 or 800, and back again when I get out. It may sound like I’m going a too far, but the thing is, since I don’t keep my tripod always attached, and don’t ever turn on the flash, I’ve spoiled a fair number of impulsive indoor and night shots because I’ve had the wrong ISO setting at the wrong time.

Being digital images, many of these problems can be fixed.

If I use a high ISO setting (say ISO 800), I get a fair bit of digital noise. But NeatImage does a decent job of reducing noise (thanks, Dhar!), so the result is not too bad.

If I use a low ISO setting (say ISO 100), I get clean images in bright light, but blurred images in low light (no tripod, no flash, you see). I haven’t found anything that can recover from a blurred image.

I decided, on the balance, to have a slightly higher ISO setting by default. I get slightly noisier images, but that’s less of a worry.

So I leave the camera in ISO 400. I can quickly shoot indoors. If I have the time and need, I shift to ISO 100, or use a tripod if required. Then I set it back to ISO 400 when done.

  1. Sumit Dhar says:

    I believe you too have a Fuji FinePix S5600. I have realized Fuji has a lot of noise problems. At the same ISO setting, I have seen Canon / Nikon produce crystal clear images.
    I have stopped going beyond ISO 200. Further more, if you shoot in Raw mode, you can often correct underexposed images.
    But you are right. Overall, in Fuji, it is a big pain to change the settings. For instance, in the manual mode, changing the aperture setting is sheer torture. Given this state, I am now seriously thinking of investing in Canon EOS 350D. :))

  2. Veerasundar says:

    Do you have a photo blog !?

  3. Sai says:

    Anand, Sent you a message on gmail. Not sure if you”ve seen it yet. Would love to hear your opinions on the questions asked. Many Thanks!

  4. Ravi says:

    Is it subject motion or camera motion you”re trying to recover from? If the latter you should be able to use a deconvolution filter. The former”s tricky of course.

  5. Shree says:

    IFF problem is camera shake and not subject motion a simple solution is to use the timer.. Assuming your digicam allows you to setup a timer in a couple of secs…. Setup camera, get into a comfortable pose/ support from a fixed object under your hand/ elbow (eg railings, postbox), setup timer (say 3 secs), breathe in, click, breathe out a bit and hold till the snap is taken… Much faster than setting up a tripod.. Helps if you have steady hands….

  6. Adam Parker says:

    Here are a few thoughts. Keep your camera on ISO 400, that’s a good middle-ground ISO that is the most flexible ISO. The sensor is key for getting good shots at those higher ISO values, with better sensors, you can keep it on ISO 800 or up and still be happy with your shots.

    One thing that may help is shooting in RAW mode if you are ever able. One of the big flexibilities RAW allows is exposure compensation after the shot. That helps you shoot at a lower ISO and lighten the shot greatly after the fact without the additional noise. More on that here:

    I posted some more ISO information here: