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01-26-2014, 02:16 PM   #1
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General Advice about ISO and print sizes

When students new to digital photography inquire about "what is the best ISO to use?" I change the subject around a bit and try to get them to see it a bit differently: in particular, the insight that that on a modern crop-sensor cameras like the K-3, D7100, etc your choice of ISO will primarily affect the maximum print size you can print to. I give the following chart to them, emphasizing that certain types of images can be enlarged much more than others, and further one will have a RANGE of sizes available to use depending on the quality of your gear, your technique, and subject matter. As a trivial example, I give them a macro photo of a flower enlarged many times what it "should be" but it still looks dreamy and lovely. So the following are general guidelines to get started with, nothing more.

General Guidelines for high-quality printing sizes @ various ISO levels
  • ISO 100-200: 16"x24" to 32"x48"
  • ISO 200-400: 14"x21" to 28"x42"
  • ISO 400-800: 12"x18" to 24"x36"
  • ISO 800-1600: 10"x15" to 20"x30"
  • ISO 1600-3200: 8"x12" to 16"x24"
  • ISO 3200-6400: 6"x9" to 12"x18"

(my apologies to those who use the metric system!!)

One of the takeaways from this: if you are never going to print larger than 12"x18" then you can definitely shoot most subject matter at up to ISO 3200 (assuming good gear and technique of course) and never have to worry about it. Just set ISO 3200 as a maximum, use auto-ISO, and forget it. And with really good gear and technique, even ISO 6400 printed at 12"x18" more often than not looks quite good (again, that macro flower can knock your socks off if done right).

Of course, people with a lot more experience might quip with the above, but I find that it is pretty good advise for those just starting out and is easy to "digest" and remember.

YMMV
Michael


Last edited by MJSfoto1956; 01-26-2014 at 03:23 PM.
01-26-2014, 02:39 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by MJSfoto1956 Quote
General Guidelines for high-quality printing sizes @ various ISO levels

ISO 100-200: 16"x24" to 32"x48"
ISO 200-400: 14"x21" to 28"x42"
ISO 400-800: 12"x18" to 24"x36"
ISO 800-1600: 10"x15" to 20"x30"
ISO 1600-3200: 8"x12" to 16"x24"
ISO 3200-6400: 6"x9" to 12"x18"


(my apologies to those who use the metric system!!)
Metric Man to the rescue!
  • ISO 100-200: 40,6cm x 61,0cm to 81,3cm x 121,9cm
  • ISO 200-400: 35,6cm x 53,3cm to 71,1cm x 106,7cm
  • ISO 400-800: 30,5cm x 45,7cm to 61,0cm x 91,4cm
  • ISO 800-1600: 25,4cm x 38,1cm to 50,8cm x 76,2cm
  • ISO 1600-3200: 20,3cm x 30,5cm to 40,6cm x 61,0cm
  • ISO 3200-6400: 15,2cm x 22,9cm to 30,5cm x 45,7cm
01-26-2014, 02:59 PM   #3
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You note only as an aside that the 'acceptability' of prints is very dependent on subject. Add to that genre, customer, and medium. Print quality is very context dependent.

Rock photographers who shoot punk or heavy metal bands in dark bars may prefer grungy, noisy images and will care much less about ISO than landscape photographers, for example, when printing posters. People who print billboard advertisements designed to be seen from 20m away will care less about ISO than curators of photo exhibitions at a museum where images are likely to be seen 1 metre away. People who only use their images on Facebook may care much less about ISO and print quality than the photo editor of an architecture magazine. Etc.
01-26-2014, 03:16 PM - 1 Like   #4
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Are we talking about color or B&W prints? I'm finding the grain of the K-3 to be very good for B&W A3+ sized prints even at 3200.

01-26-2014, 03:20 PM   #5
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I want to say that you can print as big as you want, it depends... Make a test print. Cut a piece of the picture and print it, then deside.

Because if you limit your ISO you will simply not take a picture that may or may not work on print because of to long shutter speed or to slow f-stop.

There are so many variables to why a print works or not. Viewing distance, context of the placement, subject matter etc etc.

My advise would be: Use as low ISO as possible and shoot away.
01-26-2014, 03:35 PM   #6
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Original Poster
I agree on the B&W comment -- K-3 prints real nice as B&W on modern multi-ink printers.

However, I completely disagree with the comment about "print as big as you want" -- I have seen waaaaay too many awful prints being submitted to shows that are printed twice (or even thrice) the size that they should have been. As a 35-year pro, I have to say, the standards of what constitute a "high quality" print have dropped in the past few years. And frankly, it is advice such as "print as big as you want" that wrongly encourages those who should know better. Time to call a spade a spade: most prints being submitted to photography shows these days leave a lot to be desired. Our art form is being subverted by a "whatever floats your boat is just fine" mentality. The guidelines I promote are a great starting point for new photographers to get a decent grounding. Telling them that there are no rules simply is counter productive.

YMMV

Michael
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