This is part two of a series of articles I’m writing about digital photography, as I learn more about it. You can find links to the other articles at the bottom of this one.
I bet your new Digital camera has a setting for “Film Speed” on it… and if you’re like most amateurs (totally including myself here), you remember using different film speeds when you were a kid, and you actually bought film.
But I bet you always bought ISO 400 (or maybe it said ASA instead of ISO) because you never knew if you were going to take a photo inside or outside, and the clerk behind the counter (back when clerks actually knew something about what they sold) told you to go with ISO 400, because it was a good all around film speed.
Guess what? That clerk was right… but in today’s day of digital cameras, you don’t have to stick with ISO 400, because you can change film speed on the fly with your new digital camera. You don’t have to shoot a whole roll of 24 exposures, or waste the rest of those shots just to change speed.
So, like myself, you need to know what film speed to use when.
Here’s a little guide. I’ve read about 40 articles on the subject and am firmly of the mind that every photographer has their own opinion about exactly what film speed to use when and where, but, the generalities of this guide should fit most of the situations you find yourself in.
What does film speed mean?
Film speed is generally denoted as an ISO number: ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, and up…
Film speed is a measurement that indicates a film’s sensitivity to light. The higher the film speed, the faster or more sensitive it is to light
Which translates to:
Higher Film Speed -> less light needed, or faster shutter speed for action
Lower Film Speed -> bright daylight shots, static subjects, longer shutter time
Quick Guide to Film Speeds
- ISO 100: “Slow” film, good for sunny, outdoor conditions
- ISO 200: “Slow” film, good for overcast outdoor conditions
- ISO 400: “Fast” film, good compromise for indoor/outdoor use
- ISO 800 & up: “Fast” film, good for indoor use, low light conditions, or action shots
I’ve read recommendations to use ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 films (if you’re camera supports those) for extremely low-light situations when you just can’t use a flash… I’ll have to experiment more with those myself to see what I find useful.
The funny thing is that I’ve been taking photos for about 3 weeks with my “new to me” D60 completely backwards… now that I know the right way to pick a film speed, we’ll see what I get with my shots 😉
Other articles in this series:
And you can browse the rest of the Photography + Video category on this site for more links to relevant content.