How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?
AuthorTopic: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ? Read 30433 Times
Cameras, Lenses and Shooting Gearon: August 20, 2020 at 10:24 am
How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?
I would like to know, in terms of the principles, how the ISO standard for the ‘sensitivity’ of the sensor of a digital cameras is defined. How is the native ISO of a sensor determined and measured ?</p>
I understand how the ASA/DIN (and later ISO) of films is determined. I understand that the sensor of a digital camera is essentially an analogue electronic device and so electronic norms may be applied as to how the native or base sensitivity of the sensor is determined. But does this standard use the maximum saturation of the sensor as a starting point; or a nominal ‘mid-grey’; or a series of reference points – as with reversal film; or the noise floor; or the signal to noise ratio; or… ?
I have searched the internet and it is telling that I have not yet found one website which explains this, although there are lots of websites “explaining what ISO is” i.e. the sensitivity of the camera (actually they mean the sensor) – along with quite a lot of misinformation.
I am wondering whether one or more of the esteemed members of PhotoPXL might have the answer and would be able to explain it in non-mathematical terms ?
It might be an interesting and illuminating topic for discussion…
Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #1 on: August 21, 2020 at 4:57 am
- This topic was modified 2 years, 1 month ago by Christopher Sanderson. Reason: Removed html formatting. Please do not copy and paste pre- formatted text
Chris, I pasted straight forward unformatted text into my post. For some reason the forum software has recognised it as HTML formatted. I can assure you that it was’t. Perhaps this bears further investigation ? Happy to assist.Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #2 on: August 21, 2020 at 12:47 pmRe: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #3 on: August 22, 2020 at 4:45 am
Thank you, Andrew.Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #4 on: August 25, 2020 at 8:02 am
ISO ratings in digital cameras may be an illusion…
There is no ISO for digital cameras (possibly).
This article explains it pretty well in terms most photographers can understand.
(although it is about much more than the misconceived exposure triangle)
Actually, there is a parallel with sound recording where the effective ISO, or ‘sensitivity’, is the gain control on the recorder. Normalisation, or line-up, is achieved using a tone at pre-defined level.
However, ISO becomes relevant when using a light meter external to the camera; and for those of us using the Zone System.Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #5 on: August 25, 2020 at 8:55 am
Setting ISO speed does not change the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light, like the volume control does not change the sensitivity of a radio, a good analogy previously provided here. In both cases the setting (ISO or volume) controls only the signal processing, while the input stage (sensor, antenna) provides the same input signal. That’s why when ISO setting is raised up, automatic exposure results in more noise. The automatic exposure in this case decreases the exposure (that is, the combination of aperture and shutter speed is set to allow less light captured by the sensor which is the only real example of exposure). Less exposure, less light, which then equals more noise.
Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management" (pluralsight.com)”Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #6 on: August 25, 2020 at 9:35 am
If I understand the article correctly it’s probably a misconception to say that a digital camera has a base sensitivity in much the same way that it is a misconception to say that a sound recorder, digital or analogue, has a base sensitivity.
It would seem, therefore, that the ISO settings on a digital camera are provided just for the convenience of the photographer; but is actually a signal gain device (analogue amplifier and perhaps some digital jiggery pokery).
I now recall that when I worked for BBC TV, the analogue studio cameras were adjusted electronically (aperture and signal level) according to a display of the signal coming from them; and the portable Sony Beta cameras had a notional ISO of 100 but, as a BBC colleague pointed out, this was a only nominal value and not really technically ‘correct’ for an electronic device. But it did enable an incident light meter to be used to balance lighting and determine the lens aperture.
ParticipantPosts: 3Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #7 on: August 29, 2020 at 3:13 pm
What do you consider to be the practical implications for the working photographer when it comes to setting ISO? Is it different for various situations? Studio using strobes or LEDs? Concert photography? Landscapes?Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #8 on: August 29, 2020 at 5:49 pm
John – back in the “old days” when film was used for all photography, the rule of thumb was that one should shoot with the slowest film (low ISO) one could reasonably expect to use. Film speed was largely determined by the size of the silver halide grains in the film’s emulsion. The finer the grain, the the lower the sensitivity with crisper and cleaner results. Faster films had larger grain struction and grainy images were generally not as nice to look at as ones that had very fine grain. Sometimes I would shoot a large grained (fast film) to add grittiness to an image.
The same type of principle applies in the digital photography world. The camera’s sensor at the lowest numeric ISO value will give you the cleanest results; maximum dynamic range, lowest level of digital noise, maximum colour bit depth. As others have said, increasing the ISO does not change the sensor’s ability to capture data, but rather applies gain (amplification) to the signal, all of which results in a level of deterioration of the image output. The closer you are to that base ISO setting, the more limited the “damage” from amplifying the signal. The higher the setting, the higher the negative impact, to the point where the image may be so bad that it is of limited use.
In the studio, I tend to shoot at base ISO as I can blast a very large amount of light at the subject using my studio flash and can generally live with the small lag was the flash capacitors charge up. If I am using continuous light (something I generally only use on inanimate objects), I use a sturdy tripod and the length of exposure is irrelevant.
In landscape work, I generally shoot with a sturdy tripod and I can get away with relatively long exposures using a small enough aperture. If I want to freeze motion of a fast moving object, I will give up a bit of the technical image quality as I can usually clean things up in post (some of the modern noise reduction software is amazing).
Bottom line is, you the photographer are in charge of making the decisions on camera settings that will give you the image you can live with. You have to understand the trade-off you are willing to make between ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I rarely use auto-ISO and generally the first thing I fix is my working ISO, my shutter speed (blur or freeze motion) and aperture selection (determined by depth of field requirements) drive that decision. It’s the photographer’s job to manage these trade-offs.
Mike Nelson Pedde
ParticipantPosts: 641Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #9 on: August 29, 2020 at 6:03 pm
It’s the photographer’s job to manage these trade-offs.
Indeed. To me, this is one of the qualities of being a ‘photographer’. Anyone can take a camera, push a button and take a photo. Birds have done it, monkeys have done it, even crabs have done it. A photographer is someone who makes images, and an important part of that is understanding one’s tools. But we’re getting away from the topic with that.
Mike Nelson Pedde
https://www.wolfnowl.com/Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #10 on: August 29, 2020 at 6:22 pm
Higher ISO can result in LESS noise, the idea that higher ISO always is more noisy is false:
Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management" (pluralsight.com)”Re: How is the native ISO of a digital camera determined ?Reply #11 on: August 29, 2020 at 6:29 pm
Higher ISO captures can produce less noise than lower ISO captures. The concept that higher ISO is always nosier is false.
Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management" (pluralsight.com)”
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