Auto ISO: Why I Don’t Like It

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

In a previous post my pal Mark Toal wrote aboutWhy I—meaning Mark—Like Shooting Auto ISO. One of the nice things about this blog is that we don’t always have to agree with one another and in the spirit of a friendly rivalry, I’d like to present an opposing viewpoint—Why I Don’t Like Auto ISO.

As I may have said a time or two, Mirrorless Photo Tips is and never has been a “my way or the highway” blog. There are lots of ways to use mirrorless cameras and today’s post is just my opinion. There is no one way to accomplish anything, including exposure, in photography.

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Like most of you, I’m not the same photographer I was when I got my first “good” camera—a Minolta SR-1. We all change and grow over time, at least I hope so, otherwise we’d end up shooting the same stuff year after year, while having what you might call 20 year’s experience but is really only one year’s experience twenty times.

I used to be a shoot-and-scoot kind of photographer, blasting through many shot as quickly as possible trying to cover everything in front of me but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more deliberate and often find myself bringing the camera to my eye, getting ready to shoot and then deciding, “nope, I’m not going to make that shot.” I am, as you might say, shooting less but enjoying it more. Part of that is a shift away from shooting in various exposure modes and using the camera’s exposure compensation controls to home on the right exposure and tweaking to get the exposure that suits the mood pf the photograph.

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I was never a fan of Auto ISO because, in my experience the typical camera’s Auto ISO algorithm seems biased to favor higher ISOs (and more noise) in order to get shutter speed’s higher and more handholdable. I guess in my mature years I’ve become even more of a control freak and hate noise, as much as I used to love film grain. Go figure. And don’t get me started about how camera’s like my Lumix GH4 is pretty noiseless at what would have been considered nosebleed ISO’s just a few short years ago.

When these preferences—and that’s what these are—are combined with a slower more deliberate shooting pace that lets me handhold slow shutter speeds, sometimes aided and abetted by in-body or in-lens image stabilization, I prefer to make more and more exposure decisions myself. And yes, in case you wondered, I often use Manual exposure mode more than I did in the past too.

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Joe Farace and Barry Staver are the authors of the now, out-of-print book Better Available Light Digital Photography that is available at bargain prices used but lots more for e-book or new from Amazon.