Even though I highly recommend learning how to use manual mode and to avoid using any automatic functions, it’s no secret that the majority of beginning photographers prefer using a semi- or fully automatic mode.
Using a semi-automatic mode can be helpful in learning to understand how the fundamental settings work but there are some things you need to be aware of.
In both automatic and semi-automatic modes there are adjustments you need to make; setting a limit in Maximum Auto ISO is one of them, and it’s one that most aren’t aware of. Failing to do so might result in unnecessary grain and noise, and ultimately lower the quality of your image. We don’t want that, right?
Keep reading and I’ll show you how you can easily adjust it and make sure that the quality remains as good as possible.
Why You Need to Set Maximum Auto ISO
If you’re not familiar with how the ISO works I highly recommend reading our Introduction to ISO in Digital Photography before continuing as I won’t go too much into the specifics in this article.
Despite digital cameras constantly becoming smarter and better at choosing the “correct” settings in automatic modes, there’s one important factor they don’t take into consideration: noise.
Your camera chooses the ISO which is most suitable in order to use the optimal shutter speed, regardless of the noise it introduces. It might not be an important factor for the camera but for you and me, it is.
In order to reduce the amount of noise and to maintain optimal image quality, you need to set a maximum auto ISO.
What Should You Set as Maximum Values
The next question to ask is what ISO value you should set as the maximum. The short answer is that there’s not one correct value.
Night photography and daytime photography, for example, benefit from completely different settings. At night you need a higher ISO in order to achieve a shorter shutter speed; in daytime you rarely need an ISO higher than 100 or 200.
For this reason, it’s better to adjust the Maximum Auto ISO value depending on the circumstances.
Keep in mind that there are big differences in ISO performance between cameras. Top-end DSLRs are normally able to shoot at values up to 800 without significant noise while entry-level cameras will struggle. Therefore, the exact values you choose depend on what your camera can handle.
Here are my recommended values:
- Daytime photography: ISO400
- Nighttime Photography: ISO3200 (can be increased if necessary)
How to Adjust the Maximum Auto ISO
The exact steps for adjusting the Maximum Auto ISO depends on your camera brand and model but here are some general steps for various brands:
For Fuji: Menu -> Shooting Setting -> ISO Auto Setting -> Auto 1 -> Max Sensitivity
The ISO Auto Setting is only visible when you’re in an Automatic Mode. You can also choose up to three different Auto Modes, meaning you can save one with a lower maximum ISO and one with a higher, which you can easily switch between in the field. You can also adjust the minimum shutter speed in this setting.
For Nikon: Menu -> Shooting Menu -> ISO Sensitivity Settings -> Auto ISO Sensitivity Control (switch on) -> Maximum Sensitivity
For Canon: Menu -> Shooting Menu -> 2 (second sub-menu “Shoot2”) -> ISO Speed Settings -> Auto Range
In Canon’s menu, you can set both the minimum and maximum ISO. Avoid making adjustments to the minimum ISO and keep it as low as possible (at base ISO or ISO100.)
For more accurate guidance on how you can adjust the Maximum Auto ISO on your camera, I recommend looking in the owner’s manual.