Why I’m Not a Fan of Auto ISO

by | Aug 2, 2018

Today’s Rant by Joe Farace

This blog has never been a “my way or the highway” forum. I’ve always believed that there are lots of ways to accomplish anything, including obtaining proper exposure, in photography and today’s post just reflects my opinion.

Like most of you, I’m not the same photographer I was when I bought my first “good” camera—a used Minolta SR-1—oh so many years ago. 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 some might call twenty year’s experience but really is one year’s experience twenty times.

I used to be a shoot-and-scoot kind of photographer, blasting through many shots as quickly as possible trying to cover everything that was 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 click the shutter and then deciding, “nope, I’m not going to make that shot.” I am, as you might say, shooting less but enjoying it more.

For me, part of this change of process means shifting away from shooting in Program mode (OK gasp, I confess) and using the camera’s exposure compensation control to home in on the right exposure leading me to pick other modes, more often than not Aperture Preferred and then maybe tweaking that with exposure compensation.

Take Auto ISO, for example. I have never been a fan of Auto ISO because based on my experience the camera’s built-in program seems to favor higher ISO settings with accompanying more noise in order to provide higher and more handholdable shutter speeds. I guess in my mature years I’ve become (even more of) a control freak but I hate noise, as much as I used to love film grain. Go figure. And don’t get me started about how cameras like the Pentax K-1 Mark II that I recently tested for Shutterbug are pretty noiseless at what would have been considered nosebleed ISO’s just a few short years ago.

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

Update: While many of social media agreed with me, some did not completely agree. A Denver photographer told me, via Twitter, that he agreed with my assessment of Auto ISO problems especially when shooting HDR brackets but “but I do use it in action situations when I just want the shot.”



Along with photographer Barry Staver, I’m co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s available from Amazon for $21.88 prices with used copies selling for giveaway prices—less than four bucks, as I write this.