Sometimes it’s okay to use Auto ISO

Photos of film canisters showing the ISO

In the days of film you had to plan ahead when it came to ISO. You had to bring several rolls of film with different ISO, or film speed as it’s called, in case the lighting conditions changed during your shoot.

But with digital photography you have the convenience of having any ISO film speed available at all times

That feature was one of the most liberating for me when switching to digital over 10 years ago.

But that liberation also introduced a new way of shooting – Using Auto ISO

Initially that really went against the grain of my old film ways of thinking. If you’ve taken any of my courses you know that I’m a real purist when it comes to image quality and getting the camera settings right. And in my mind, ISO was just one of those things you had to learn to set, even if you were working in Program Mode.

Even though I don’t ever use Auto ISO myself, I recently realized that it’s the best solution for some photographers.

Auto ISO is great for the beginner photographer

I recently taught a designer the basics of digital photography. She was starting from ground zero and had purchased a very high end dSLR with a full frame sensor. She needed this high quality camera to capture images that were being used for her design business marketing materials.

My student was overwhelmed with all the menus

There were umpteen things to learn about optics and the camera, so adding ISO to the mix was not an option. So I had to let that lesson go, in favour of giving her the best possible tutoring for her specific needs, and promptly set her camera on Auto ISO.

This taught me a good lesson too. Sometimes people can’t absorb it all, and guess what? It doesn’t matter.

When to use Auto ISO

  • Beginners are always allowed to use Auto ISO
  • If your sensor shows little noise in low light situations. You might need to do an ISO tolerance test to figure this out. More on that in my free e-course.
  • If you don’t mind a little noise in your photos, some people actually like it
  • When you want to just point and shoot, and not worry about too many camera settings
  • When shooting wildlife, many photographers use AUTO ISO so that they can fully control f/stop and shutter speed settings.

When not to use Auto ISO

  • Using cameras with small sensors
  • Using an older digital camera (5+ years old) as sensor technology keeps improving
  • If you can’t tolerate any digital noise from high ISO, then you might want to learn to set your ISO manually
  • If you’re really fussy about image quality
  • For work done for advertising agency clients who may want to enlarge your photo really huge – like on the side of a bus or a billboard – they don’t tolerate noise either
  • For stock photography

If you want to learn more on how to set your camera ISO, sign up for my free e-course on setting up your digital camera. Click here for more details.

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