Monday, May 16, 2011

Ma-ma-ma-Mega ISO

I know what you have been told. "Keep your ISO as low as possible to reduce noise." Well that is correct for most shooting situations but why not experiment? I put my ISO to 12,800 also known as Hi2. And was impressed by the results. Below is a crop of that sample shoot, its just my dresser drawer at about 66% of original size(when you click on it).

Nikon D3100 w/ 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 at 50mm f/5.6 ISO 12800

This is some very cool looking grain... I mean "noise". So I have decided to do some more experimentation with it. It gives photos that vintage look, so I decided to shoot some antiques in color and converted to B+W.

Color Performance

First group is straight out of camera.

ISO 100
ISO 12,800

The biggest difference I notice other than noise is the color of the blacks. They have a purpley magenta color which adds to the retro look.

Next up is my retouched versions of the photos. Again we are looking for an old school dirty film look.

ISO 100 Grain added
ISO 12,800 Grain natural

The ISO 100 shot was much harder to manipulate to what I wanted it to be. I also lost some of the warmness in the wood trying to get my purpley blacks. Overall the ISO 12,800 ISO was just easier to manipulate. Which do you prefer?

Black and White Time

Let's switch photos here and look for some differences. This first batch is with minimal editing(crop and white vignette).

ISO 100

ISO 12,800

As you can see there is not much of a difference between the two. So when you go out in the future, intending to do some black and white, don't be afraid to push your ISO more than you normally would in color.

Time to get crazy. Let's see what happens when some Lightroom grain is added, more vignette and proper cropping.

ISO 100

ISO 12,800

There turned out to be minimal difference once the grain was pumped up. I would love to use this style for shooting a Civil War reenactment, burlesque show or a cowboy action shooting event. That's what this article was missing, a handlebar mustache.


If you are willing to deal with a little grain than higher ISOs can be great. Especially if you are thinking you would love to shoot something but there isn't enough light. I would rather capture a great shot with some grain to it than miss out on an opportunity. Remember all of these samples are coming from Nikon's bargain offering, the D3100, and higher end cameras(especially those with non-cropped sensors) can give you better high ISO performance. Now get out and shoot!

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