What do I need to know about ISO?

If you need fast shutter speeds in low light, you'll need to master your camera's Iso controls...
hen it comes to making an exposure, there are three key camera settings that determine how bright or dark a picture appears: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. The first two of these control how much light enters the camera, by making the aperture in the lens bigger or smaller, and by controlling how long the imaging sensor is exposed to the light. The ISO setting simply dictates how sensitive to the available light the sensor is, although when we say 'simply', there's obviously a lot more to it than that. The majority of Canon 0 -SLRs have an ISO range of 100-6400, and you can choose a setting manually, or let the camera do it automatically for you. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive to light the sensor becomes. This is because ISO acts a bit like the gain control on a microphone, amplifying the signal that's being received. In the case of a digital camera, the signal from each pixel on the sensor is amplified as you increase the ISO, and the greater this amplification, the less light there needs to be in order to make an exposure; this is why photographers often use higher ISO settings when they're shooting indoors, or at night. There is a trade-off though: as you increase the ISO, you decrease the quality of the image.

W

Pictures taken at higher ISO settings look coarse and grainy- or 'noisy' -although this effect can be mitigated by activating your camera's noise-reduction feature, or applying noise reduction later in software.

Keep it low
So, how do you decide which ISO setting to use? As a rule, you should try to keep the ISO as low as possible. 'Normal' settings are considered to be between ISOlOO and 200, as it's at this end of the ISO range that a camera produces its cleanest, highest quality images. However, these low

sensitivities require more light, and longer exposure times in order to record a picture at a given aperture setting. If there isn't enough light, the shutter speed may become too slow to hold the camera steady or freeze a moving subject. Low light and low ISO =a slow exposure. The result? Blurred photos. You may be able to use a wider aperture to let more light in, but if you 're already shooting at the lens's widest aperture, you'll need to increase the ISO. Every time you double the ISO, you can halve the shutter speed, and this makes exposure times twice as fast. For example,

if you get an exposure reading of 1/ 125 sec at f/ 4 at IS0200, then bumping one 'stop' to IS0400 would give an exposure of 1/ 250 sec at f/4. At IS0800 this would become 1/ 500 sec, while IS01600 gives 1/ 1000 sec, and so on. The overall exposure remains constant. because as you increase one value (ISO) by one stop, you decrease the other (shutter speed) by one stop. Similarly, ISO can be increased to enable you to use narrower apertures for increased depth of field. Let's take the same example of 1/ 125 sec at f/4 at IS0200. Increasing the

ISO to 400 will let you choose 1/ 125 sec at f/ 5.6, IS0800 gives 1/ 125 sec at f/ 8 and IS01600 offers 1/ 125 sec at f/ 11. Here, the shutter speed remains constant. but as the ISO is increased by one stop, the aperture can be closed by one stop, in order to maintain the same overall exposure. If you didn't increase the ISO, the shutter speed would have to become slower each time you made the aperture smaller. in order to keep the overall exposure the same. This may be fine if you're using a tripod to photograph a stationary subject, but again. it can lead ~

11

150 can be

increased, to enable you to use narrower apertures"

STEP BY STEP

How to expand the ISO range on your D-SLR
If light levels are really low, you may need to boost the ISO beyond the basic range. Here's how you do it ...

· ISO speed

6400
AUTO 310 1/SO 100 400 1600 115 500 1000 1&o 640 l'iOO 100 800 3100
1~

)()()() 164 00l .

1000 4000

Upping the ISO

Maxingout

11

Press the ISO button and rotate the main dial- th e ISO w ill change in the viewfinder, and on th e t op LCO. Here, we've reac hed th e maximum 'normal' ISO of 6400 on a Canon 70.

.,_ Pressing Q t o bring up Th e reason you have to & the Quick Control screen, . . activat e ISO expansion we ca n see th at a higher ISO is separately is that th e camera available, thoug h it's greyed out. has to use digital tri ckery to create these higher sensitivities; To use it we need t o enable th e ISO expansion Cust om Function. image quality can deteriorate.

m

ISO Expansion

High point

11

The cam era will display an 'H' where th e ISO number is normally found , to indicate that you're using the highest ISO setting. On the 70, thi s is th e equivalent of IS012800.

Low and behold
Low ISOs give you smooth shots, whereas higher settings produce increasing amounts of noise. Colours can also be less faithful at very high settings, and you may see a drop-off in dynamic range. But while the results may be noisy, it's better to have a sharp, grainy picture than no picture at all. That said, Canon has steadily been improving the quality of its sensors, and it's now possible to capture relatively clean images at IS01600 or higher.

Auto ISO
Select the Auto option in the ISO menu, and the camera will set an ISO that will enable a reasonably fast exposure for the lighting conditions. This is useful if you're moving quickly between outdoor and indoor locations, and don't want to keep having to change the ISO manually. However, the camera may select an ISO that's too high in low light, leading to very noisy pictures: some EOS 0-SLRs, such as the 600 and 70, enable you to set the upper limit for Auto ISO.

When to increase your ISO settings
The main reason to switch to a higher ISO setting is so that you can obtain a faster shutter speed, and there are several situations in which you might want to do this ...

Reducing the chances
of camera shake
The chances of a photo becoming blurred through camera shake increase if the shutter speed drops below 'one over' the focal length being used (so, for example, 1/100 sec for an equivalent 100mm focal length). Dialling in a higher ISO will enable you to use faster shutter speeds.

High ISOs and image-stabilised lenses mean you're not limited by a tripod

Freezing a moving subject
If you're photographing sports or other action with a lens that has a relatively 'slow' maximum aperture (such as f/5.6 or f/6 .3) you might not be able to get a fast enough shutter speed for sharp pictures (eg 1/1000 sec), even in good light, without increasing the ISO.

Press the ISO button and rotate the main dial past ISOlOO to select Auto (A)

You may need wide apertures and high ISOs for action-stopping shutter speeds

Shooting indoors/ in low light
The obvious one- and if you 're not using a tripod, then both the above factors need to be taken into account too. it's important to make a good exposure- if the picture's too dark and you try to brighten it later in software, you'll also emphasise image noise.

Now lightly press the shutter release and the camera will set the ISO for you

Low light can mean long exposure times; shorten them by increasing the ISO

In-camera noise reduction options
Your Canon 0-SLR can apply noise reduction to reduce the grittiness of pictures shot at high ISOs, at the expense of some detail being lost as the camera 'smooths' the image. You can adjust the strength of the effect using the High ISO Noise Reduction function. This gives you four options - Standard, Low, Strong and Disable- and is found either in the Custom Functions (600, 70) or red Shooting menus (6500, 50 Mark Ill). The 6500 also offers a Multi Shot Noise Reduction setting- this captures a burst of four

lil" to blurred pictures if you're holding the
camera, or the subject is moving.

ISO and flash
Being able to adjust the ISO is useful for flash photography, too. When it comes to getting a good flash exposure, the choice of aperture is key, as this controls how much light reaches the sensor. Because the flash fires so quickly, the shutter speed doesn't affect the flash exposure, but it does control how much ambient light is captured. When you 're shooting in low light, the shutter speed

may be so slow that you can't hold the camera steady during the exposure, and you'll capture a blend of sharp areas (lit by the flash) and blurred areas (captured during the long exposure). The solution is to increase the ISO. Set the shutter speed to the flash's fastest sync setting (usually 1/200-1/250 sec), and choose a higher ISO to capture the ambient light during the shorter exposure. The result will be a sharp picture with a good balance between the flash-lit subject and the background. •