Beginners Guide: What exactly is ISO?

What exactly is ISO? Well if you remember back in the days of film, we use to buy film with a ASA rating, such as ASA 100, ASA 400, etc. This expressed the films sensitivity to light, or commonly referred to as the speed of the film. Today's camera do not use film, but use image sensors instead.  ISO is basically a ASA equivalent. The ISO setting denotes how sensitive the image sensor is to the amount of light present. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the image sensor and therefore the possibility to take pictures in low-light situations.

Back in the days of film, you had to physically change the film if you wanted a different ISO, but with todays digital cameras, you can simply set the camera to whatever ISO speed you want. Pretty nice huh... just one of the advantages of the digital world.

Having the ability to change your ISO on the fly helps you always get the shot. Suppose your in a low light situation, and your camera can't obtain a correct exposure, you could use a flash, but what if your in a museum, or concert where flash photography is not permitted. All you need to do is use a higher ISO setting,  this will allow you to obtain a correctly exposed picture.

Another example is, if you find your camera is using a shutter speed that is too slow (1/60 sec. and slower) to handhold the camera steady and shake-free (thus resulting in blurred pictures), and you cannot open up the aperture anymore, and there's no tripod readily available. then you might select a higher ISO which will then allow you to select a faster shutter speed.  

Oh course there's always a price to pay for versatility. Increasing our camera's ISO setting can introduce what is called digital noise. This is a necessary evil, the higher the ISO the more noise. But I wouldn't worry too much, about digital noise, as todays cameras have greatly improved picture quality at higher ISO speeds. Just remember to shoot at the lowest possible ISO setting for the lowest noise and best dynamic range.  

So,  go dig up your cameras owner manual, and read up on how to adjust/set your cameras ISO settings. Having this knowledge means you'll always be able to get that award winning shot..