In digital photography, the equivalent of film speed is ISO speed. The ISO number measures how sensitive the camera is to light, and a photographer’s chosen ISO settings can significantly change the brightness of a photo.
My name is Caleb, and I have four years of photography experience. My specialty is sports photography, where I’ve shot games at semi-pro and college games.
In this article, I’ll talk about ISO and how it compares to film speed, its analog counterpart. If you’re moving from film to digital photography, or if you’re just curious, make sure to keep reading for the details.
The Equivalent of Film Speed in Digital Cameras
ISO speed is the digital equivalent to film speed. You measure it as a number; the model of camera you have determines your minimum and maximum ISO values.
Higher-end cameras have wider ISO ranges, allowing them to perform well across several lighting conditions.
Basically, ISO measures how sensitive your camera is to light. A lower ISO value means your camera will pick up less light, while a higher setting has the opposite effect.
Lower ISO settings are useful for shooting in bright conditions. For example, on a sunny day outdoors, you don’t need much light sensitivity to take a well-lit photo.
Higher ISO settings are often required to avoid underexposed photos when shooting in the shade, at night, or indoors.
That’s not to say higher ISO settings don’t have a drawback. While having a high ISO allows you to shoot in low-light conditions, it also creates more grain. Therefore, it’s usually a good idea to use the lowest ISO you can without the photo coming out too dark.
How Does ISO Speed Compare to Film Speed?
Digital photographers have it a bit easier than film photographers in this area. An obvious advantage of ISO speed compared to film speed is that it’s easier to change on the fly.
A digital photographer can quickly adjust their ISO speed with a couple of button presses, and many modern cameras have wide ISO ranges.
For example, the midrange Canon EOS 80D has an ISO range of 100-16,000. The high-end Canon EOS R6 mirrorless camera has an ISO range of 100-102,400, which you can expand in the settings to 204,800.
Now, compare that to film, which has a more limited range, which the photographer needs to swap if they want to switch from a low to high-speed film or vice versa. It’s clear why digital cameras are easier to use in this regard.
Of course, film photography has its own charms, and it’s hard for digital cameras to replicate the nostalgic look that has helped bring film photography back into the limelight in recent years.
But when it comes to light sensitivity settings and the ability to shoot in various lighting conditions, digital cameras are more flexible by far and allow their users to switch settings much quicker.
Here are some other frequently asked questions about ISO and film speed.
Is Film Speed The Same As Shutter Speed?
Film speed is not the same thing as shutter speed. Film speed has to do with light sensitivity, while shutter speed has more to do with controlling the sharpness and clarity of the image.
What Is The Best ISO To Use?
The best ISO to use is usually the lowest one you can manage while still getting the amount of brightness you want in your photo. This is because higher ISO settings create more grain in your image.
If you ever hear the terms film speed and ISO being thrown around, you don’t have to be confused. They more or less mean the same thing, and they are both used to measure light sensitivity.
Do you prefer digital or film photography? If you prefer the latter, what speed film do you use the most? Let us know in the comments.