If you were into photography at all during the film days (yes, technically the film days are not over, but come on… it’s a niche at best these days), you are probably familiar with ISO, the standardized measurement of film speed. ISO 100, 200, and 400 were all rather common, but film realistically topped out around ISO 16oo. There were some 3200 and 6400 films, but for the average user, 1600 was the limit.
As we venture further down the path with digital photography, the ISO system is coming with us. It’s now rather common for a low-end camera to be perfectly usable at ISO 6400. And if you look to what is happening on the high-end, it’s getting crazy. We saw the 110K mark cracked in 2009 with the Canon 1D Mark IV and Nikon D3s both hitting ISO 102,400. In 2011, Canon’s 1D X took it to ISO 204,800. And now, Nikon’s latest, the D4s, has a staggering ISO 409,600.
Granted, you are not getting a great photo at ISO 409,600. But you are getting a readable image. You can see an example of just what ISO 409,600 looks like at Fro Knows Photo. While it is really cool that 400K even exists, the interesting takeaway from that post is in the ISO 25,600 photo. That’s perfectly usable, and has us looking at a realistic four stop gain over comparable film cameras. It’s cool living in the future.