Tips And Tricks

Nikon’s Superb ISO Auto

By Darren Gahan,


What is ISO? Simply put, it is the identical rating system Film used to have, called ASA; Sensitivity to light. The higher the number, the higher the sensitivity to light, meaning it will take less time to take a photo. (And can use faster shutter speeds!) You can think of this as the UV index the weather forecasters give in the summer. On a high UV day, stay out less time and get the same tan!

With photography, higher sensitivity means a bit more graininess or speckles in the darker parts of our photos. The aim is to use the lowest ISO possible, without getting a blurry photo due to camera or subject movement. Slower shutter speeds of less than 1/60 sec may start to show motion blur. Auto ISO is good, but not particularly smart. It simply increases the ISO when it senses it is getting darker. The camera may “think” it is bright enough and not raise the ISO!

Nikon cameras do not have the conventional “Auto ISO” when using the Creative Modes (P, S, A, & M)

Want to take action photos? Hockey rink photos? Graduation photos? Gymnastic photos? Kids action photos?

Want to avoid blurry or dark photos in these cases? Dark photos often result when using the Shutter Priority (“S” mode) without noticing the under exposure warning “LO” in the aperture area.

Nikon’s ISO Auto to the rescue! An advanced ISO setting you program and turn on when needed.

Nikon ISO Auto screen

Easy as 1, 2, 3!

  1. Set your base ISO the lowest normal setting.
  2. Program the ISO Auto settings: Set the maximum ISO you want the camera to use. (1600 or 3200 for example). Set the minimum shutter speed you want maintained. (To avoid blurry photos, try 1/125 second)
  3. Turn it on. D60, D80 and earlier models CSM Menu #07 or #10

All newer models, D90 D5000 etc, it is in the Shooting Menu in the ISO section.

Now the camera will automatically raise the ISO any time the shutter speed would normally fall below 1/125 of a second. This will also avoid the dark photos (In most cases) while using the Shutter Speed Priority (“S”) mode.

Taking photos at a Graduation? Set it and forget it! You can even use the “P” mode if you are new to photography,.(To take advantage of Exposure Compensation and White Balance settings, and are also available in the “S” and “A” modes) Relax in the comfort that the camera will raise the ISO only as needed to maintain the shutter speed you set in the menu.

Shooting a hockey or action event? Set the camera to the “S” mode and shutter speed to 1/125 sec and stop worrying about those dark or blurry photos because the camera didn’t understand your need to maintain a faster shutter speed. Point the camera at a darker part of the arena, it raises the ISO. Point the camera at a brighter part of the arena, the camera lowers the ISO, all the while maintaining correct exposure and your set shutter speed of 1/125 of a second!

Like all auto settings, remember to turn it off when not needed. When you are using a tripod, taking a late evening sunset photo, you want the lowest ISO for less graininess.

(Note that when using Manual Exposure mode it is advised to turn off ISO Auto; the exposure may vary, meaning your photo will get brighter or darker, even though you don’t change shutter speed or aperture.)

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