Life is unpredictable, and when you are expected to work at ISO 200, you may suddenly find yourself using High ISO.
Do you know your camera enough to know how many ISO you can go to before the “High ISO” becomes “excessive noise”? Knowing your camera capabilities and performance is most important than having the most expensive equipment. We have come to a great conclusion while utilizing the Fuji X at High ISO: they are fantastic!
Back in August, we were lucky enough to fly to Australia to photograph a beautiful wedding. Winter in Gold Coast roughly identifies the same temperature as Londoners call “a good summer” apart for the fact that in Oz there is much more sun! We took off from here dreaming for some amazing photos with the bride and the groom on a white sandy beach, without knowing that we would have found a typical British weather on the wedding day. Fortunately we knew how much we could push the envelope in terms of High ISO with the Fuji X-T1, Fuji x100s, Fuji X-Pro1 and Fuji X-E2.
Shooting in Manual Mode and controlling the High ISO
I am sure certain cameras, in which I include the Fuji X, do a marvelous job at working with automatic settings. Unfortunately, we like our camera in full manual mode. ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed are controlled by us, without allowing the camera to decide our creative view. As I have written in another blog post, Fuji X allows you even more flexibility through the immediate exposure feedback through the EVF.
Controlling High ISO is therefore a thought process. Planned. How much am I going to push the envelope? How much shall I be careful to the Shutter Speed to avoid camera shaking? These are all things we keep into consideration.
Why High ISO shooting a wedding in the Sunshine State?
For those of you who have no idea, Gold Coast is in Queensland, the state of Australia that, on its car plates call itself “The Sunshine State“. Now, talking about sunshine and High ISO seems to be counterintuitive, and by any means you would be right, apart from the tiny little detail that the day of the wedding came down more water that in the previous three months in Gold Coast. The sky was just so dark, that during the few formals, shoot in front of a humongous window, the light was so poor that it was difficult to see the bride and groom just with my eyes!
Now, as a professional photographer, you should always know your gear and their performance at High ISO (as in other fields). No matter if you come from the rainy London or the sunny California.
High ISO performances of the Fuji X
I know that, in case of need, I can push my Fuji x100s up to 6400ISO. The files are going to be grainy, but for a reportage style photo I can live with it, especially in black and white. To have cleaner files, the High ISO I am ready to use are 3200. The grain will be lower and gentler and even the colour images.
In an ideal world, I would love to keep the ISO around 400ISO, to have better files; however, when you are not photographing in a controlled environment, you should be prepared to adapt to any situation you might face. The High ISO capability of your camera is one of those elements you should be familiar with. It will allow you to push your gear to the top, without risking shooting with an excessively slow shutter speed, risking having moved images.
High ISO Performances and Style
The performances of a camera at High ISO is a personal approach, as it is about your style as a photographer. I am not going to discuss how clean the files coming from a Fuji X are in comparison with those shoots at the same High ISO from another camera. I am going to ask you what do you want to see in your photographs.
In our documentary approach, as example, we love to see some grain. This represents our style, what we like to show in our photographs. In case of bright sunny days, we may add some grain in post production, but for us shooting at High ISO, 1600 or 3200 is absolutely fine.
The High ISO performances of a camera are relative to the photographer. They are not universal. Do you want your files to be ultra-sharp? Maybe a documentary style wedding photography is not for you.
Being comfortable with High ISO and the other settings
One of the things that many new photographers struggles with, is limits. They are not sure if a High ISO of 3200 is going to produce a “good enough” file. Fearful of not having quality images, many tend to lower the ISO and use a longer shutter speed.
We did it years ago. And it was a huge mistake!
You need to know which High ISO is inside your comfort zone, and make sure to play inside that area. If you lower the ISO, you need to use a wider aperture or a longer shutter speed. When we photograph weddings, we generally keep the cameras at their wider aperture already, therefore the only thing we can do, is to use a longer shutter speed. Longer shutter speed, especially in dynamic events like a wedding, can bring to moved images, which are not recoverable!
Since we started using the Fuji X, shooting at 1/30 sec is not an issue. The Fuji X is a mirrorless, therefore you do not have shutter shake, which may impact images with longer shutter speed. If I push my luck, trying to steady myself, I can push myself to 1/15 sec or even 1/8 sec, something I would have never dreamed with my old Canon. With it, I tried to follow religiously the rule of “one over the focal length“, so to have a minimum shutter speed of 1/50 when using a 50mm and 1/200 for the 20mm lens.
My area of comfort is in the triangle with limit of f/1.2, 1/30 sec and 3200ISO with my Fuji X. These values allow me to shoot in almost every light condition, and if I need to push it forward, I am confident of what my files will look like at High ISO of 6400 or how steady I have to be to shoot 1/15 or 1/8 sec!
What is your style? What is the maximum High ISO you would use on your camera, to match your style?
And if you have a Fuji X, do you feel comfortable shooting at 3200ISO?