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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Breaking The ISO Barrier

Forget the megapixel race. The real digital revolution is in low-noise/high-ISO digital capture.


“I have just recently started shooting with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II,” he continues, “specifically because of the high ISO—1600 on the 5D? It’s like 400—even better. I would say 3200 would equate to 500 before. It’s huge. I jokingly say these cameras see in the dark. Sometimes you see shadow detail in an image that even your eye didn’t discover in a fleeting moment.”

Wherever you look, the benefits of low-noise/high-ISO photography are filling up the portfolios of the pros. Frans Lanting, for example, cites high-ISO digital capture as making recent images in his albatross project possible. An iconic image from the series shows a nesting bird just inches from the camera, with a flying albatross far off in the distance. The entire image is sharp, from inches to infinity, which required the combination of a minimum aperture and a fast shutter speed—the perfect place for a high ISO.

Lanting also relies on high ISOs for fast shooting with long telephoto lenses, as he did when photographing albatrosses flying in a violent storm.

“That was made in a Force 10 gale,” Lanting says of the shot. “Technically, it was very challenging because the spray was flying everywhere. Just holding the camera steady was a real chore. Increased ISO was very helpful; to be able to shoot at 4000th of a second keeps the camera much steadier. In film days, that would not have been possible.”

Whether it’s the ability to balance dim ambient light with strobe or to stop fast action and maximize depth of field, the current state of the art is allowing photographers to do things they never thought possible before. Who knows how much room for advancement remains in the signal-to- noise ratio of digital sensors. The revolution may have been these first major leaps, but even minor improvements will be enthusiastically welcomed.

“I’ll be first in line for every new generation of high-ISO camera as soon as it’s available,” says Stableford, “no matter what the cost. I see a huge increase in my shooting success with the increased ISO range.”



 

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