How to Find the Best ISO for Astrophotography: Dynamic Range and Noise

ISO is one of the three major exposure settings in the exposure triangle of a digital camera. Of the three: shutter time, f/number, and ISO, it is ISO that is probably most misunderstood. Even more so than f/number. In fact, it is a common misconception that higher ISO settings will cause images to be noisier. In fact, the opposite is often true. Wait, what?

That’s right, higher ISO settings alone do not increase image noise and higher ISOs can even be beneficial to low-light photography. In this post, I talk about the craziness surrounding ISO settings, how ISO actually affects exposure and how to find the optimal ISO setting on your camera for astrophotography.

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Photographing the Milky Way on Film

I often find myself drooling over news of the latest digital camera gear and lenses. I think we all do it a little. Astrophotography has benefitted greatly by the advancement of digital photographic technology and I’m always on the lookout for gear and techniques that will help increase the quality of my astrophotography. Most of all, astrophotography is more accessible than it has ever been because of newer, more affordable and more advanced technology.

I’ve made it a point to experiment with capturing the night sky on affordable and limited gear like point-and-shoot cameras and even a smartphone. I consistently support the idea that you don’t need the most expensive camera gear to learn how to photograph the night sky. That said, the point-and-shoot cameras and smartphone that I tested still use advanced modern technology to do what they can do. They have modern, back-illuminated CMOS sensor and the latest in miniaturization tech.

What if we instead approach astrophotography by going full retro?

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