Beginner ISO- how high is too high?

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Conan
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#1
Hi everyone, I hope you are all OK.

I have been really enjoying using my camera, a Nikon D3500 since I got it, but am wondering if I should leave the max ISO as it is, or if there is a level that is 'better' to not exceed?

So far I haven't noticed any noise in my images when viewing them on my MBP, but I would rather avoid it if I can-however these haven't been near the max ISO of 25600.

Thank you all for your help, Conan.
 
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#3
I've recently been experimenting with manual ISO as I noticed some noise at higher ISO levels and it's certainly made a difference.
 
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Phil
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#4
I've recently been experimenting with manual ISO as I noticed some noise at higher ISO levels and it's certainly made a difference.
Can you explain your working methods, because this answer confuses me (and may confuse the issue for the OP too)
In normal use, I want direct control over the aperture (for my required DoF, have a minimum shutter speed to avoid camera movement ruining my shot, so the last variable in low light is the ISO - better to get the shot than not (as @woof woof posted)
There's never a time when either me or the camera (on auto) would raise the ISO where it could have been lower, I don't feel I have the choice to arbitrarily lower the ISO for a 'cleaner' shot
 
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David
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#5
Hi everyone, I hope you are all OK.

I have been really enjoying using my camera, a Nikon D3500 since I got it, but am wondering if I should leave the max ISO as it is, or if there is a level that is 'better' to not exceed?

So far I haven't noticed any noise in my images when viewing them on my MBP, but I would rather avoid it if I can-however these haven't been near the max ISO of 25600.

Thank you all for your help, Conan.
I let it go as high as it needs (up to the camera maximum).
It will always pick the lowest it can for a given aperture and shutter speed, so rather than compromise one of those (assuming they are already the best I can use depending on mode etc), let the noise ramp up!

So for example, say I am shooting in Aperture priority mode (which I do 99% of the time), I've already chosen the aperture I want (which may not be wide open for example if I need a certain depth of field to cover the subject). The camera will pick the required shutter speed, again based on any parameters I've configured, so for example, if I've asked it to use a minimum speed of say 1/500th of a second to stop some subject movement (not sure what you can set on a Nikon, but this is possible on a Sony), then the only thing the camera can do if it can't go below that is bump up the ISO.

I still get the image using the settings I've chosen, and, yes perhaps there some noise, but I needed those other settings.

Now, I might decide that actually in this instance, I don't need 1/500th to freeze the subject, or I would prefer motion blur to noise, in which case it's up to me to make the necessary changes, but that's a decision only you can make at the time.

For sure though, if you're already at the widest aperture and the slowest shutter speed you can get away with, the only option left if to bump the ISO, and accept the noise. You still get a picture that way.
 
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conanthewarrior
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Conan
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#6
Ok, now you have said it I feel a bit silly- it is better to get an image than no image at all, even if it is a bit noisy!

I will leave the auto ISO settings at their default, and take more photos :).
 
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Mike
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#8
'Noise' isn't a purely function of the ISO. The ISO setting on the camera is like the volume control of a stereo. If the recording is 'bad' it sounds worse the louder you turn it up. The ISO on a camera is much the same, its just the level of 'amplification' given to the sensors output. So... if you have a 'bad' signal on the sensor, so the worse it will be when you turn up the ISO.
The cause of digital 'noise' is that the cameras sensor is taking umpety million brightness readings across the scene, and the computer inside, is then trying to ascribe a number to each one. When the scene is peculiarly dark or lacking in contrast, the out-put signals from the sensor are all peculiarly close together, and that computer then has trouble deciding what number to ascribe to each pixel, and oft gets confused, and that's when you get pixels randomly coloured differently next to each other, and what we 'see' in the image as 'noise'.
There is here, a bit of legacy hang-over from film, where noise is blamed on ISO, in analogy to the way that 'grain' was blamed on Film-Speed ASA, because on film, the higher the ASA, the bigger the halide chrystals tended to be with higher ASA film, but, even there, a lot was still to do with the contrast of the scene, and the fact that the chemical processing of the film, 'amplified' the base scene's contrast and caused 'grain'... but still.
Thing IS, that noise and grain are similar but not analogous, and in either case, its the scene that starts it, not the ISO... its just that in low light, or when pushing shutter-speeds and apertures, you are more likely to want the extra amplification of a higher ISO, and so 'see' it.
So? How high is too high?
Well, when you are getting photo's where 'noise' is more than merely noticeable, but 'intrusive', really.......
Are you getting intrusive noise?
Unless you are pixel peeping, using enormous amounts of on-screen 'zoom', either to look at a picture at the individual pixel level, or to crop down an enormous amount as if you had used a lot more tele-photo lens... I doubt it very much!
And even if you ARE, at display resolution, and actually observing 'noise'.. it's not necessarily the ISO setting that's the reason for it, or that turning down the ISO would be the 'cure'... as said, it has a lot to do with the scene and the light and contrast in that, as well as the ISO amplification on the camera, and its as likely that the situation you are trying to tackle is just beyond what can be captured without inherent 'noise'.
So? Is it a problem?
Rule of thumb is to use as low an ISO setting as you can get away with for the situation... because that means less amplification, and less guess work by the computery stuff... B-U-T? Its entirely circumstance dependent, and high ISO is not inherently bad. If you need it to be able to use the shutter/speed and aperture you want, then you need it! Its all about picking the most effective compromise you can.
Like I say... are you seeing noise? Is it intrusive noise? Is it ruining your photo's?
THEN, its one thing to consider in your compromise, of whether you would be better off using more aperture, or a longer shutter or chucking in some extra light, like a flash.... but until its a problem? Its just not a problem, is it?
 
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Alan
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#9
Ok, now you have said it I feel a bit silly- it is better to get an image than no image at all, even if it is a bit noisy!

I will leave the auto ISO settings at their default, and take more photos :).
Noise can be improved to some extent in PP, but a blurred shot can't be. I'm happy to use up to my cameras maximum and yes, if you view at 100% you'll see the noise.
Yup.

And as well as applying noise reduction you can downsize the picture for final viewing and if at all possible... avoid the temptation to pixel peep at 100% on screen as IMO that'll look far worse than looking at the (very large) whole picture normally.

I have high ISO pictures (ISO 16k-25.6k) which admittedly do look noisy when pixel peeping but as whole pictures viewed normally they're ok. Maybe not 6ft wide in a gallery ok but ok for me and better than no shot at all.
 
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Tony
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#10
I don't go anywhere near the cameras highest ISO setting. The most I ever use is 3200 (and that's pushing it for me)
To my mind, an overly noisy picture lacking detail might just as well be a shot missed.

It's worth bearing in mind that I am aspiring to be an amateur and I prefer lots of crisp detail and smooth colour gradation.
 
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#11
Just to chuck in my own opinion on this (rightly or wrongly), personally I would never define an upper limit. And when using auto ISO I just set the maximum to whatever the camera max is.

My reasons are two-fold. Firstly because, I'd rather compromise on ISO than shutter speed (grain being better than blur), and my aperture is likely maxed out at that point too so if ISO is a big scary number to get the desired exposure, so be it as the only other option is probably not to take the picture at all.

The other reason is that acceptable grain at certain ISO's really depends so much on the available light. A high ISO shot in okay light (maybe to maintain a high shutter speed) will look far cleaner than something shot in some dingy basement where light is at a premium. It's this latter reason that means I'm always baffled when people say I won't go above ISO X on camera Y. Seems totally circumstantial to me, I'd just use what's needed.
 
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#12
Can you explain your working methods, because this answer confuses me (and may confuse the issue for the OP too)
In normal use, I want direct control over the aperture (for my required DoF, have a minimum shutter speed to avoid camera movement ruining my shot, so the last variable in low light is the ISO - better to get the shot than not (as @woof woof posted)
There's never a time when either me or the camera (on auto) would raise the ISO where it could have been lower, I don't feel I have the choice to arbitrarily lower the ISO for a 'cleaner' shot
Sorry, I should have explained in more detail
I normally shoot on bright days where the camera under auto ISO rarely goes above 800.
I was shooting in a forest where the light was not particularly good and although the exposure, shutter speed, DOF were fine, the camera wanted to use ISO 2500.
I find the Tamron 100-400 sweet spot tends to be f/8-f/11 and I use aperture priority for bird on perches so obviously this does not give a high shutter speed.
I decided to experiment with manual ISO at 400,500 and 800 and although this obviously brought the shutter speed down, it was still fine for the shots.
When I checked the photos on the laptop, I found the noise level at 2500 was not as bad as I expected but I was impressed how much cleaner the lower ISO shots were.
I just want as clean shots as possible so it has given me more confidence to experiment rather than leave it up to the camera.
 
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#13
I accept what @Teflon-Mike is saying.

But I'd still choose a max-ISO which is relevant to my camera's typical output in a typical setting, for me that is ISO 6400. At which point I only need apply noise reduction to a few of the possibly grainier photos (Which as suggested varies due to how well the scene was lit and how much I need to push the exposure).

I will burst shoot 400mm at 1/125th and slower if it means keeping the iso down to 6400 (where grainy photos are not acceptable), it'll need to be a fairly stationary subject though.
 
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#14
To my mind, an overly noisy picture lacking detail might just as well be a shot missed.
It's worth bearing in mind that I am aspiring to be an amateur and I prefer lots of crisp detail and smooth colour gradation.
I'm with you on this, everyone has a different approach to photography but as an amateur photographer, I feel happier with nice clean image out of the camera rather than having to reduce noise in post processing.
 
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#15
Quite a few times I've read posts on forums from people stating they don't go above a certain ISO and TBH I can never understand this. What do they do if the shot needs a higher ISO? Do they just put the camera down and stop shooting?

For still / relatively still stuff the shutter speed and ISO will depend on how steady I can hold the kit but for other stuff like people I'll be happier staying away from 1/60 :D and heading towards 1/250 unless I was either accepting or actually going for motion blur and for stuff like squirrels in the park I'd have the shutter speed and ISO rising further.

I read a comment on a well known bloggers site about exposure and blown skies and he said you're judged by your photographs so faced with a possible blown sky he'd turn around and shoot in the other direction. Well, I can understand the view about people judging your images but turning around doesn't get you the shot, it gets you a different shot, and not going above a certain ISO might not get you the shot. So whilst I can imagine people not wanting to take a noisy picture I'd much rather take the shot as it'll probably look good as a whole picture and may even look good printed to A4. The worst case scenario I find myself in is usually when shooting under some artificial light when even ISO 1600 can look terrible but even then I'd rather take the shot and if it's terrible and I can't do anything about it I'll convert it to B&W and at least I'll have something :D
 
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#16
I'm with you on this, everyone has a different approach to photography but as an amateur photographer, I feel happier with nice clean image out of the camera rather than having to reduce noise in post processing.
Everyone is really striving for that regardless of what and why they photo. It's just that you can't have it all so when you're really up against it and have run out of shutter speed and aperture, you really only have one option left.
 
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Tony
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#17
Quite a few times I've read posts on forums from people stating they don't go above a certain ISO and TBH I can never understand this. What do they do if the shot needs a higher ISO? Do they just put the camera down and stop shooting?
As I said, I'm an amateur, and if I can't get what I think is a clean noise free shot, then yes, I'll put my camera away.

If I use high iso settings I know I'll just delete the images when I get home so I might just as well save the effort.
 
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#18
This whole discussion comes down to whether or not you agree with the second point in my signature or not...
 
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#19
I'm with you on this, everyone has a different approach to photography but as an amateur photographer, I feel happier with nice clean image out of the camera rather than having to reduce noise in post processing.
Absolutely my feelings.
I've tried a few noise reduction methods and all of them have reduced the image detail.
Sure the pictures don't look so spotty and blotchy but, when something had hair at the point of taking the picture and then is just smooth after NR, well, what was the point of high ISO.
 
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#20
It depends on the camera, what you need / want the image for and post processing skill / software.

Experiment and have a good look at the photos and mess about with noise reduction and editing
 
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#22
I would say it depends on what you're photographing. If your being a paparazzi and need the photo regardless then go for it. If you're doing astro photography then of course you need to increase that ISO. Everything else I'd say you'd want it as low as possible.

Be careful if you decide to leave the ISO on it's max and let it do it's thing because there's a chance you'll learn everything about your camera except for using light properly which you will end up having to learn later. My opinion would be to leave it as is but try and learn to use ISO effectively. When you've learned it you'll not use auto-ISO as much. The only time I use auto-ISO is on bright days where I know it's not going to go that high and this is only for street photography - even still I'll do it manually if I'm after a desired effect. For landscapes I'm full manual on every setting.
 
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#23
Actually, this thread is quite interesting.
Canon users will doubtless have come across the "high ISO noise reduction" menu, there are a few choices (4 I think)
The only information missing is what canon call High ISO.

Anybody know????
 
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#24
Actually, this thread is quite interesting.
Canon users will doubtless have come across the "high ISO noise reduction" menu, there are a few choices (4 I think)
The only information missing is what canon call High ISO.

Anybody know????
I'm back on Canon. What exactly do you mean 'what canon call High ISO'? As in what value do they consider High ISO or the name for it like extended ISO etc?

I have noise reduction off. I shoot in RAW so will edit that myself to keep all the details.
 
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#25
When you've learned it you'll not use auto-ISO as much.
These days I pretty much shoot all events in shutter priority with auto-ISO, I love auto-ISO :) (and exposure compensation where needed)

It's not so much fun though if your camera doesn't handle ISO 800+ very well though - but when 6400 still looks great, well that's the freedom I crave.
 
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#26
I would say it depends on what you're photographing. If your being a paparazzi and need the photo regardless then go for it. If you're doing astro photography then of course you need to increase that ISO. Everything else I'd say you'd want it as low as possible.
I'd say as low as possible is always the desire no matter what the genre. It's just that certain situations often end up with 'as low as possible' actually being quite a high number. Or at least, nobody ever sets out thinking they want to shoot something at high ISO, it's just that is often what the situation demands. Go high or go home!

I'm arguing over semantics a little here. I realise most on this thread are of the same opinion, it's just that I never really see ISO as anything other than a result of a situation. I never think of it as an input at all. It's basically whatever it needs to be in order to satisfy the criteria that I do care about. I guess landscape can be an exception in that at times low iso comes first and to hell with the shutter speed but even there that is only the case when shutter speed is truly unimportant which isn't always the case.
 
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#27
My humble opinion is the upper limit is whatever the camera allows if it's the only way to get the image. In my case if I'm out landscaping then it's on 100 and just about forgotten for the day on the grounds I will always have time to adjust if it turns out to be nessicary. If I'm crawling around in the undergrowth looking for lowlight wildlife images or fast moving animals then it will be left up around 800 on the grounds I may not get the chance to alter it without missing the image, I can always adjust it up or down if there's time.
 
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#28
I'm back on Canon. What exactly do you mean 'what canon call High ISO'? As in what value do they consider High ISO or the name for it like extended ISO etc?

I have noise reduction off. I shoot in RAW so will edit that myself to keep all the details.
Well the menu says it's possible to enable high iso noise reduction so, canon must have a standard for what high iso is or when they think it will be intrusive on an image.
Is it 100, 200, 400...………………………??????

I have the function switched to off but it would be nice to know a value.
 
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#29
My humble opinion is the upper limit is whatever the camera allows if it's the only way to get the image. In my case if I'm out landscaping then it's on 100 and just about forgotten for the day on the grounds I will always have time to adjust if it turns out to be nessicary. If I'm crawling around in the undergrowth looking for lowlight wildlife images or fast moving animals then it will be left up around 800 on the grounds I may not get the chance to alter it without missing the image, I can always adjust it up or down if there's time.
Just looking at some of the responses to this very interesting thread, your up around 800 is low.
I wish I knew what the baseline was for high or low.
 
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#30
Well the menu says it's possible to enable high iso noise reduction so, canon must have a standard for what high iso is or when they think it will be intrusive on an image.
Is it 100, 200, 400...………………………??????

I have the function switched to off but it would be nice to know a value.
I get ya. That's quite an interesting question. From what I understand from routing around on the triple-w, it will always try to reduce noise regardless of the ISO but of course it might not find any at low-ISO so you don't see much of or any difference; higher-ISO is where it makes a difference. The software will check for pixels that have incorrectly been rendered and then try to fix these. So to answer your question, high-ISO in terms of in-camera noise-correction is the cameras base-ISO.if you go based on when it tries to fix noise.

Of course if you just ask what high-ISO on a particular camera is I would be inclined to say it becomes high when the low-noise ISO figure is reached i.e. before you can see the effects of noise clearly within an image. For my 5D3 that low light ISO figure is 2340.
 
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#31
Just looking at some of the responses to this very interesting thread, your up around 800 is low.
I wish I knew what the baseline was for high or low.
There's no baseline: use as low as you can but as high as you need. There are few benefits to high ISO outside of coping with low light, unless you WANT noise and reduced dynamic range as an effect.

For me, 6400 was the highest I was ok with on a D610, although the limit has gone up at least a stop, possibly 2 with the A7III. On my Sony A58 the max was 1200 before noise was unacceptable, though some might have used theirs higher than that and been happy. To me a picture that sucks = no picture at all.
 
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#32
Quite a few times I've read posts on forums from people stating they don't go above a certain ISO and TBH I can never understand this. What do they do if the shot needs a higher ISO? Do they just put the camera down and stop shooting?
Yes... most of the time. I'm usually photographing for myself, which means I don't have to take any picture. I don't want a picture that is only going to look good at a small size, nor one that is going to require a lot of processing or specialized software to edit well enough. The same is true of bad light, bad background, etc, etc...

Now if there is a picture I have to get or just really want for some reason, then I'll do whatever it takes.
 
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#33
As I said, I'm an amateur, and if I can't get what I think is a clean noise free shot, then yes, I'll put my camera away.

If I use high iso settings I know I'll just delete the images when I get home so I might just as well save the effort.
An interesting point of view.
It does depend on what you're shooting.
If you're shooting a landscape or architecture (or some subject that doesn't change), then you can put your camera away and come back another day when the light is better and take a shot with a lower ISO.
I've kinda done this myself, got to a location, setup for a shot and taken it, but not been happy with it because of the light. It may have been harsh light or poor light (ie mis-timed it, missed the sunset and it's too dark). But if I'm there, I will tend to take a shot anyway as a reference for the future. EG, here's the composition I want, filed for another day when I can go back for better light.

But you can't do that with event photography. It's a one-time thing, you either shoot it or you miss it. You can't go back and re-shoot the bride and groom's first kiss because the church was too dark for you. It's better to get something rather than nothing.
I'm happy using upto ISO 8000 or so on my Canon 6D if its needed, but if I'm in that territory, the grain in the shadows will be horrid particularly if you boost the shadows.
I don't have a set limit for what ISO I'll go up to, I'll be flexible according to the situation.

I have to say though that some cameras (in my experience) are not very clever at working out what ISO to use. On my old Canon 60D, it didn't have the option to set a minimum shutter speed when using auto-ISO so it was a bit unpredictable. If it got too dark, it would slow down the shutter speed, sometimes by too much, to keep the ISO lower but end up giving a blurry shot. That's not what I wanted.
If the camera is not selecting the shutter speed you want with auto-ISO, the next best option is to set the camera to manual, dial in your aperture, set your shutter speed to what you'd like it to be as a minimum and then put ISO on auto, that way you control the aperture AND shutter speed and the camera just works out what ISO to use to get the shot.
All these auto modes rely on the metering mode your camera is set to. IE in spot-metering mode, it'll use the light level of that single spot to determine what shutter speed to use and what ISO to use. So if you're in the dappled light of woodland, this can give you a badly exposed image.
So you do need to work out what metering mode you want to use for the best results.
 
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#34
I occasionally take people shots indoors in low light and if I want anything like a natural rather than posed shot it's going to mean a shutter speed fast enough to keep the motion blur down and with that'll come a higher ISO. Plus sometimes the outdoor natural light is so low, evenings... night time..., that the choices are don't take the shot, use a tripod or raise the ISO. I don't know how many pictures I've taken at higher ISO's but I bet it's into the thousands and if I'd restricted myself to clean noise free pictures I wouldn't have those now.

I don't think that says everything about the camera and nothing about using light because this isn't a mysterious process or Voodoo. It's a combination of aperture and shutter speed and ISO.
 
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#35
Just looking at some of the responses to this very interesting thread, your up around 800 is low.
I wish I knew what the baseline was for high or low.
I agree its low and I can always go higher, its a compromise as a lot of things are and to be fair I could increase that with a more modern sensor and suffer no consequences. But until that happy day arrives 800 will be my option starting point.
 
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#36
Yes... most of the time. I'm usually photographing for myself, which means I don't have to take any picture. I don't want a picture that is only going to look good at a small size, nor one that is going to require a lot of processing or specialized software to edit well enough. The same is true of bad light, bad background, etc, etc...

Now if there is a picture I have to get or really want for some reason, then I'll do whatever it takes.
I'm very much the amateur so I have no worries about someone refusing to pay for a picture because it's noisy.

I suppose a lot hangs on what each of us is willing to accept. I'm willing to accept that my pictures probably aren't going to be printed 2m wide, mounted on a gallery wall and looked at from 6 inches away. My pictures are going to be viewed on a pc, a tablet or on a smartphone or when printed A4 is big for me but I do the occasional A3 too. I've certainly taken pictures at the max ISO my cameras can do and printed to A4 and they look ok to me and no one has ever said "That's noisy Woof Woof, you shouldn't have taken that picture."

It's a moment in time and I want it so I take the picture :D
 
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#38
Oh, the one other thing I forgot to say is that, until now, I NEVER use auto-iso, mostly because I don't trust the camera to get it right in the way I want. And I'm less likely to use auto exposure of any kind in low light either, unless the light is changing rapidly.
 
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#39
Canon users will doubtless have come across the "high ISO noise reduction" menu, there are a few choices (4 I think)
The only information missing is what canon call High ISO.
Well blow me down with a feather, I didn't know about that and I've just had a look on my 80D and found it!
I don't recall that being available on the 450D, 40D and 50D so I presume it's something Canon introduced on later models?
I'll experiment with the settings and see how it goes.
Thanks for the tip :D
 
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#40
I'm willing to accept that my pictures probably aren't going to be printed 2m wide, mounted on a gallery wall and looked at from 6 inches away. My pictures are going to be viewed on a pc, a tablet or on a smartphone or when printed A4 is big for me but I do the occasional A3 too. I've certainly taken pictures at the max ISO my cameras can do and printed to A4 and they look ok to me and no one has ever said "That's noisy Woof Woof, you shouldn't have taken that picture."
I think this is true for a lot of us, I got my first DSLR just before going on a cruise and I used it in jpeg only before realising that with RAW I have more control in pp.
I had one of the photos printed onto a large canvas and it still looked quite good.
However, as I am getting more into bird photography and getting good feedback from people, I've noticed I am becoming more fussy with my photos and I've been thinking more about getting some printed.
 
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