I recently wrote a short tutorial titled “The Best ISO Setting”. Whilst you can of course read it by following the link, it comes down to this, the best ISO to use is the one that lets you capture a sharp image. It’s much better to suffer a little ISO noise than have a shaky image. You can also correct a lot of the noise but camera shake is very difficult if not impossible to correct well.
Despite this sound advice, I still find myself trying to shoot at low ISO’s and achieving poor results. The other problem I sometimes have is that I want Pixels, lots of pixels and the ability to print large. I therefore tend to reach for my Olympus EM5 when I should really be picking up a compact camera such as the Panasonic LX7 or Canon G16. Typically I have made this mistake yet again quite recently.
A few years back I visited Wells Cathedral which is a super location for photographers. Yes you need to pay for a photographers pass but it’s not very much and it will allow you to walk around taking photos all day. At the time I was shooting with an LX5 and a Canon 5D MKII. The results from the Canon were pretty poor with many images being soft and noisy. I also had problems with depth of field as the Canon was full frame and I was typically needing to use the lenses wide open. The LX5 by contrast was also being used wide open but the images had much better depth of field thanks to the small sensor. The images were also nice and crisp if not a little noisy. I realised – much too late – that the LX5 was the better camera for the location.
Roll on to a couple of weeks back and I was driving back from Cornwall. I decided it was time for a detour and pulled off at Wells to visit the Cathedral again. This time I took the EM5 and made the mistake of leaving behind the G16. The results are good from the EM5 but I still struggled a little at times with depth of field. I found myself not being able to use the aperture that I wanted without slowing the shutter speed too far. I would probably have been better off with a compact camera but for some reason I just didn’t put one in my pocket.
The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t always follow popular wisdom but check what really is the best tool for the job.