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What Is ISO?

Learn How to Set ISO Properly on Your Camera


Digital cameras tend to have quite a few more manual control settings today than they did even a few years ago. These settings allow you to adjust the automatic settings for a scene, giving you a better chance to end up with a properly exposed and focused image.

Even on today’s point-and-shoot models, you’re going to at least have a few options for controlling the most basic aspects of shooting photos. One of those settings you can control is the ISO. However, this isn’t the easiest setting to understand.

ISO sensitivity in a digital camera essentially is equal to the measurement of film speed in a 35mm film camera. With higher ISO sensitivities (represented by a higher number), less light is required to create the image, which allows for faster shutter speeds.

Essentially, a higher ISO means that the camera’s image sensor is going to be more sensitive to light, which allows it to create usable photos when the exterior light is low. The tradeoff is that photos taken at higher ISO settings result in more “grainy” photos, which is called noise. You end up with some pixels in the image that are misrepresented by the camera’s image sensor.

However, if you’re in a low light situation where you cannot use a flash or where the subjects are moving, having the option of bumping up the camera’s ISO is good. It can be the difference between a below average photo and having no photo at all.

If you choose to tackle the process of trying to set the ISO with your camera, continue reading to find some tips for learning more about how to set the ISO on your digital camera.

  • Most point-and-shoot cameras can accept ISOs between 100 and 3200. Advanced cameras, both fixed lens models and interchangeable lens models, can shoot at ISOs of 12800 and higher.

  • To change the ISO setting on most cameras, you’ll have to be shooting in a manual control or Program mode. Most DSLR cameras allow you to set ISO pretty easily, but with most point and shoot cameras, you have to go through a few on-screen menus to set the ISO.

  • With most cameras, the ISO setting is displayed on the LCD, along with other shooting settings. If you don’t see the ISO setting or the other shooting settings, you might need to press your camera’s Info button.

  • If you don’t have an Info button or you can’t find the ISO setting, you may be able to set the ISO through the camera’s menus.

  • With some DSLR cameras, you can go beyond the maximum and minimum ISO sensitivity settings using the EV settings. For example, “Lo 0.3 EV” can drop the lowest ISO setting from ISO 200 to about ISO 160. An ISO setting of “Hi 0.7 EV” would raise the maximum ISO setting from about ISO 3200 to about ISO 5000. The specific ISO numbers with each camera’s EV settings are a little different, so be sure to look through your camera’s user guide for the specifics.

  • Finally, if you find that adjusting the ISO settings manually is taking up more of your time than you’d like, you always can have the camera shoot at an Auto ISO setting. Just choose Auto from the ISO sensitivity menu.
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