This is why ultra-high ISO is important in photography

Jan 27, 2017

Charles Brooks

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This is why ultra-high ISO is important in photography

Jan 27, 2017

Charles Brooks

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Ultra high ISO with lots of noise… There’s a lot of buzz going around about the new Pentax with it’s rumoured ISO of 819200

Every comment I read says ‘what’s the point’?

Well here are two: late night framing and focus

I love taking landscape shots late at night, but that kind of photography comes with difficulties. It’s extremely hard to focus (your autofocus wont work) and sometimes you can’t even see what’s in the frame.

My solution to this is to use ultra high ISO to check your framing and focus before taking the ‘real’ shot. Here’s an example:

I was shooting a Gannet colony in New Zealand at a place called Muriwai. To capture these nesting birds in this light I needed a 60 second exposure at f/3.5, followed by a 60 second cool down time while my camera performed long shutter noise reduction. That meant 2 minutes for every image!… I’m patient but I don’t want to wait 2 minutes to find out that I don’t like the composition or I’m out of focus. So I took 2 shots:

The first, at my GX8′s maximum ISO of 25′600 at 5 seconds just to check that I liked what was in the frame and that the lens was in focus

Once I was happy with that I took the seond image at a much more reasonable ISO 1800 for 60 seconds. This has had some distortion correction and is ready to publish!

About the Author

Charles Brooks is a New Zealand photographer based in Auckland. He is internationally renowned for his commercial, portrait and landscape photos. He is particularly acclaimed for his musician portraits, and his landscapes have been featured in National Geographic and he continuously explores new locations, subjects and styles. If you would like to see more of his work, visit his website, follow him on Instagram and Twitter and like his Facebook page.

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11 responses to “This is why ultra-high ISO is important in photography”

  1. Spudey Avatar
    Spudey

    Interesting use of High-ISO to get focus in the dark, but can the screen not do the same function of showing a live exposure preview well enough to manually focus without taking a shot? Maybe it’s too dark i guess.

    I’d also be interested to know if you see any difference in GX8 files with and without using LENR on a night landscape like this? I was under the impression that sensors had improved to the point where LENR made little difference unless you were doing some serious technical astrophotography, in which case you may have dark frames to subtract in post anyway.

    If you can get away without LENR it then you will almost double the number of useable frames you can shoot in the same time. This also means you don’t miss something that may happen when you camera is doing a NR frame (shooting star, aurora pillar, etc)

    1. Charles Brooks Avatar
      Charles Brooks

      When it’s as dark as this the live view is still completely black. As for LENR on the gx8 I still get a lot of hot pixels on 30 second+ exposures and Lightroom doesn’t always catch them. Id rather leave it on than have to take every frame into photoshop.

  2. JOhn Avatar
    JOhn

    So, you were able to do it with 25,600 therefore we need 819,200?

    1. Charles Brooks Avatar
      Charles Brooks

      At 25600 I still needed 5 seconds and a tripod. Would be much more useful to be able to frame handheld.

      1. JOhn C Avatar
        JOhn C

        I don’t think such an extreme case justifies the hype over some of these ISO speeds. I’m more interested in a ‘clean’ higher ISO setting.

  3. DPJ Avatar
    DPJ

    Surely the simplest of solutions is to take a small torch and focus the lens where the light is thrown? Or am I overthinking this?

    1. Charles Brooks Avatar
      Charles Brooks

      Won’t work for focusing to infinity and in this case it would have disturbed the birds!

      1. veryferry Avatar
        veryferry

        Every landscape photographer should have marked the infinity spot on his lens by now.
        I wonder if photos on such high ISO are truly fit to depend your focus on. It’s a jpg representation of a photo which is already full of noise.

        Also…if this is the only reason for high ISO I hope manufacturers will focus on other things.

  4. THEREAL-PapaSnarf Avatar
    THEREAL-PapaSnarf

    Not going to be happy until my camera can shoot at 9,339,495 iso.

  5. Ahmet Avatar
    Ahmet

    You can’t use a torch to focus. It is just not feasible. The light beam won’t be strong enough to see well through the viewfinder. Torch in one hand, trying to aim, focusing with the other… Actually what happens most of the time, that you accidentally point the light beam on something close to you and the reflection blinds you for a few minutes. Not fun. Definitely no focusing for a quarter of an hour. And this is only focusing. Framing is the real pain. I remember the disappointment when I got back my slides developed (30-40 minute exposures) to realize that there is a wire crossing my star trails. Grrrr!!
    Now it’s just one test shot.
    Also hight ISO is really good to take shorter exposures. Just a few years ago all those wonderful night skies were impossible to photograph unless you did star trails. Now it’s almost boring. If creative people get a better tool they will find a way to use it. Don’t think it’s useless just because you can’t imagine a situation in your armchair.

  6. A_n_S Avatar
    A_n_S

    You can add one more reason: I shoot daytime long exposures (2-15 minutes long at right sunshine), using 10 and 16-stop neutral density filters. Many of the slide-in filter holders don’t seal out light enough and if you use the screw-on filter type, it is very cumbersome to unscrew these every time you need to recompose and focus. Very high ISO lets you actually see and focus through these filters, making composition and focusing a very short activity. The 2-15 minute exposures are taxing my patience enough, no need to add to it. :)