How High is High Enough? Today, as high as you need to be to get to where you're going. Last night at GetHip Recordings on Pittsburgh's North Side, I pushed my ISO to a new record high. For the first time, I shot a project at 25,600 using my new Fujifilm XT-3. The Rockabilly Concert was going along just fine until the headliner, The Legendary Hucklebucks, asked for the lights to be turned lower.
I've never been that high. Never thought I would need that extreme. I've shot plenty of jobs between 6400 and 12,800 with great success, as I did throughout performances by the two earlier bands, The Marauders and Braddock Brothers, but 25,600? I always thought I would get nothing but a crumpled file of noise and ugliness. Well, I'm here to say, thank goodness I was wrong. With the new XT-3 that crazy ISO is usable!
Let's not get carried away. Believe me, using that ISO is still a "break glass in case of emergency" circumstance. It is noisy, and you will need some gentle massaging in post-processing to get the most out of the image. But, you can do it.
After my initial test Friday night I decided to change some JPEG settings. Don't get me wrong, the files were outstanding, but I noticed a few minor artifacts here and there when I pixel peeped. I knew Saturday night I would be pushing the ISO limits, so I decreased the noise reduction to -2 and the sharpening to -1. While Fuji's preset is in both cases 0, you have the option of going further. I strongly suggest you run experiments yourself to see where you like your JPEG files. That did the trick, and the JPEGS at the upper reaches of the ISO dial were much better straight out of the camera.
The bands I photographed are not kind to stand, strum, and sing into a mic. Rockabilly done right is raucous. And each group last night, did it right. But when the lead singer of the Legendary Hucklebucks requested the stage lights lowered, then proceeded to sing and vigorously interact with the fans from in front of the stage without even the minor benefit of the weakened stage light, I knew I was in trouble. It was time to break that emergency glass on ISO, 25,600.
Why so high? Because even at 1/125 of a second it was doubtful I could stop the action. Plus, to use that shutter speed I had to set the lens no higher than f/2. The next challenge was how to keep the singer in focus when he rarely slowed down and never stopped moving. I had no choice but to trust the face/eye tracking focus feature. I know it works fantastic for portraits, but could it keep someone continually moving back and forth in sharp focus in extremely dim conditions at f/2? The answer is a resounding YES! It can, and it did. I was blown away by the focus. Frame after frame after frame was dead-on sharp using my 16mm f/1.4.
Bottom line, this camera breaks barriers and delivers images that go beyond the imagination. Fuji rocks as hard as my rockabilly friends.