What Does ISO Stand For?

If you have ever wondered what does ISO stand for or what that ISO option was in your camera menu, then read on… 

Get to Grips with your ISO Settings

Simply put, ISO is a measure of how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. Higher ISO settings allow you to take pictures in lower light without needing long exposures, which would result in blurry photos.

Digital cameras allow you to do something that film never did – to change the ISO setting from shot to shot, according to your needs. It’s important that you don’t use the highest setting all the time. There are a few very good reasons why it’s important to have the option of changing the ISO setting. The first is versatility. High sensitivity means you need very little light to get the right exposure, but sometimes you just don’t want the camera to be that sensitive to light! Examples are when you’re using creative techniques such as limiting depth of field by using a very wide aperture, or when using long exposures to capture motion.

The second reason to be mindful of changing your ISO setting is image quality. The higher your ISO setting, the more ‘noise’ (grain) you get in your image. This means the camera’s processor has to use noise reduction software to smooth things out. Together, noise and noise reduction have an increasingly detrimental effect on image quality as ISO increases.

Most digital cameras have ISO settings ranging from around 80 to 400, with a few going up to ISO 1600. Low ISO settings give the best results, and are perfect for bright, sunny days. High ISO settings let you take pictures in low light without a tripod, or with telephoto lenses and no camera shake – which is why the ability to increase ISO is so important!

Choosing ISO

  • The default setting on most cameras is ‘auto ISO,’ where the camera sets the ISO according to the brightness of the scene. It’s important that you know when to change this setting, so that you, rather than the camera, can make the decision based on what you want to accomplish.
  • On bright days, when you want the best possible quality image, use the lowest ISO setting (in the region of 50 to 80).
  • Use low ISO at night to avoid noise in your images, but make sure that you use a tripod to avoid camera shake. If you don’t have a tripod, increase your ISO.
  • Use high ISO settings (400 and above) for low light shooting without flash, or for capturing fast action where a high shutter speed is essential. 
  • Always aim for the lowest possible setting for quality.

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