Op-Ed: Why Don’t We Have Cameras with Lower ISO Settings?

Lower ISO settings would be something truly revolutionary in the camera world. It could change the industry.

One of the easy answers to this question is it isn’t sexy and marketers don’t know how to market it. High ISOs, details, and measurbations are all sexy, and since they’re done in a lab everyone can talk about and adore them. Then folks who have little else to do can sit there and argue about their results on forums, in Facebook groups, etc. But it’s an organic and real question that I’ve had in my mind for a very long time: why don’t we have cameras with lower ISO settings?

Of course, there are the digital expansions that go down to something like ISO 25 or less, but those are digitally manipulated. I’d love organic settings and capabilities. Then again, what is this comment when cameras have sensors with a base ISO setting?

Let’s take a time warp back to, well, the span of things not too long ago. Film comes in ISO options lower than 100. In my fridge I’ve got a black and white film that is ISO 6. Velvia has an ISO 50 option. CineStill 50D is an ISO 50 daylight film. Come to think of it, these are all modern films and they’re very capable of doing some great things. Digital, in its own ways, is also very capable.

The lowest ISO available on a conventional camera that I can think of at the moment is with the Nikon D850. It can organically go down below ISO 100. This is fantastic for getting more dynamic range, better colors in editing, and most of all it sometimes means you don’t need something an ND filter. There’s serious need for things like a Polarizer or other types of filters, but with a lower ISO setting the camera is capable of doing much more at a given point. To that end, it’s also capable of being able to do anything more than phones can do without any major manipulations.

On top of all this, creating a lower ISO sensor that can render images to look like chrome/slide film would be something photographers would highly praise. Modern Canon sensors in my eyes have this look–one that I haven’t really seen or liked since the older Leica M9. Today, the Leica M9 is sought after because of the Kodak CCD sensor at the heart which gives off that specific look and feel. It, along with many modern Canon sensors, can’t really handle higher ISOs anywhere as well as Sony’s newer sensors. So to that end, I challenge manufacturers to start going to the other end of the dynamic range and give photographers a whole new reason to get inspired and to go shooting in the sun.