High ISO vs Low ISO: What Is The Difference and How to Use it

October 06

12 min. to read

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ISO is one of the most important parameters when shooting. It is the one that allows you to make the pictures clear and achieve a perfect result.

Let's dive into details, what is the difference between high ISO and low ISO. The information will be useful for beginners and experienced photographers because we will tell not only the theory. We will also explain when to use high ISO, and when not.

The right exposure contains three parameters that experienced photographers know about. ISO starts this list and aperture and shutter speed are also added to it. If you have to take photos under difficult conditions, such as when the second and third parameters cannot be changed, you can set other ISO settings.

What is ISO?

It is a measure of how sensitive a camera's digital sensor is to light. The value decreases in proportion to the decrease in sensitivity. The higher the value, the more sensitive the camera sensor is. If you want to take a perfect picture, you will have to change this setting from time to time.

This parameter controls the amount of light a camera lets in. So, its value affects how light or dark your photos will be. The parameter can be adjusted depending on the technical conditions or artistic intentions.

Choosing the perfect value allows the digital camera to achieve good image quality by letting the right amount of light through to the sensor. In bright light, low values ​​are usually used, while in less bright light, a higher value is needed to compensate.

It is important to remember that the exposure of shots is affected not only by ISO but also by aperture and shutter speed settings. When manipulating these parameters, you can get enough light to create a clear image. So, to compensate for the increase the value, you need to reduce the shutter speed or close the aperture and vice versa.

How Is ISO Measured?

ISO range is usually about 100 to 1600. Like shutter speed and aperture it is measured in stops. For example, 100, ISO 200, 400, etc.

The difference between ISO 800 and 400 is exactly two times or one stop, and between 100 and 1600 is exactly 16 times or 4 stops.

What Does High ISO Mean?

A high ISO means that the camera's sensor is very sensitive to light (for example, 800 or 1600). As the sensor becomes more light-sensitive, it takes less time to scan the image from the lens. So, for example, when shooting at night, it is worth setting a high value to reduce shutter speed and improve image quality. But when using high values ​​​​in the daytime, the noise will appear in the photos, which spoils the quality of the picture. In this case, the image will not be blurry, since the exposure of the photo will be greatly reduced. 

What Does Low ISO Mean?

So, what is low ISO in photography? A lower ISO means that your camera's sensor has a low sensitivity to light. If you are photographing in a well-lit area where enough light can hit the camera's sensor even for a short period, you should choose low values.

ISO Comparisons: From Low to High

High and low ISO pictures have many differences. But even if the difference in value is small, it can greatly affect the quality of the image. Let's look at a few options for using this parameter for comparing high vs low ISO and their effect on picture quality.

100 vs 200

These are low values and are recommended for shooting on a clear, sunny day. The low sensitivity of the matrix in bright light ensures high image quality. Also, 100 and 200 are often suitable for studio shooting.

Although both are low ISO values, they have some differences. 200 provides a brighter image, makes it slightly more detailed, but adds extra noise.

200 vs 400

Values of 200 and 400 are recommended when shooting outdoors in cloudy weather, in the shade, or indoors without supplemental lighting.

200 is a low value and ISO 400 is a medium value. Pictures taken at 400 are brighter (by one stop) but have noise in the shadows. 

640 vs 16000

Selecting 640 and above is high shooting. High light sensitivity is suitable for low light or twilight. Using values up to 800, the photographer can capture details in the shadows without creating a lot of noise. But when the value reaches 16000, the photo becomes less detailed and the noise increases significantly.

You have to work with ISO 16000 in such cases:

  • The dynamic movement of objects — for example, when shooting children on a moving carousel, shooting at sports competitions, etc.

  • Prohibition of flash photography — in museums, theaters, etc.

  • Night shooting.

Values over 1600 are for very low light. It is often not practical to use this value, as there will be too much noise in the pictures.

The noise that occurs at high values can be leveled by choosing the aperture and shutter speed. You can also use a tripod to stabilize the shot.

When Should You Use High ISO?

Once you have figured out what is high ISO, you need to learn how to use this setting in different situations.

A high value is a perfect ISO for low light, and when long exposures can not be used. 800 and above is a good choice when shooting weddings in churches, sports events, and concerts.

The biggest problem when using high values ​​is the deterioration in photo quality. Noise appears in the pictures, the so-called "graininess" is visible. The higher the value, the more intense the noise. Noise can be reduced using software such as Neat Image or Noise Ninja.

In some cases, you don't need to get rid of the noise, for example, if you want to add some creativity to your shot. A little grain is often added to black and white photographs to create a certain mood.

When Should You Use Low ISO?

Low settings are ideal for shooting in good light if your photography style allows long exposures. At low values, the camera sensor becomes less sensitive to light, so it requires less light to create a well-exposed shot. Using a low ISO will allow the photographer to get high-quality images from a technical point of view. There will be little or no noise in the picture. In this case, the brightness and overall contrast of the photo will be better than when using a high value.

Some Tips For Using 

  • When shooting at night and using low values, it is recommended to fix the device with a tripod. This will make the photo look much better.

  • When shooting with flash, you do not need to increase the value.

  • You can use auto ISO. Almost all cameras have this feature. This is useful for beginners when shooting in low light. When using auto settings, you can specify the maximum shutter speed and maximum value. The camera will automatically set the best ISO.

How To Change the settings?

Features of changing camera settings ​​may be different, depending on the model. Some of the most common ways to adjust the ISO:

  • Choose a mode that allows you to set the value yourself. To do this, you need to exit the automatic mode by selecting the "Manual" or "Aperture Priority" mode.

  • If you have a mirrorless or entry-level DSLR, you need to open the menu and find the needed section. Now you can select the desired value.

  • More advanced camera models have a dedicated button. Press the button and turn the wheel to change the settings.

  • There are camera models with a wheel that already has been marked with different values.

Final Words

Here are some conclusions of our low ISO vs high ISO comparison:

  • It is a parameter that determines the camera's light sensitivity.

  • The best shots are taken when the lowest setting is selected.

  • When shooting in low light, the photographer needs to choose whether to use a flash or a high value. If flash is not possible, raise your ISO.

  • When using a low value for night shooting, it is advisable to use a tripod.

  • You can remove noise in a high ISO photo using special software.

  • In photographs printed at a small size, the noise is almost invisible.

  • Sometimes you can add some graininess to photos using a high ISO for creative reasons (for example, when creating black and white photos).

Now you know when to use high ISO, and when to use low one. But in fact, there are no strict rules for setting up. Photography is a creative space, so decide when to choose high ISO vs low ISO, depending on the shooting conditions and your goals.


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