Why this obsession with high ISO?

Started Jan 11, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Why this obsession with high ISO?
Jan 11, 2012

It seems like "High ISO" is the new megapixel race. Every new pro (and some non pro) camera is being touted as being able to push the HISO ceiling to new heights. Now we have offerings from Canon and Nikon that promise ISOs of 204,800!

What the heck are people going to use these incredibly high ISO settings for? The way I see it, there are a few major categories of photographers (I know, this does not cover everyone):

1) Studio - these folks can pretty much control their entire lighting environment, even when shooting models on the beach (thank you, Sports Illustrated) so I don't think ISO is really an issue.

2) Sports - I fall into this category, and I've been shooting USC football games for years without ever going over 1600 ISO, even at night. Most, if not all, sports shooters I know are looking for shallow DOF, so we are shooting at f/2.8 or f/4 the vast majority of the time, making high ISO's less important. I understand, however, that not all venues are as well-lit as the Coliseum, so perhaps high ISO is a bigger concern for people shooting in high school gyms - but how high do they really need to go? Above 6400?

3) Landscapes / Nature - I fall into this category, as well, and ISO is rarely an issue. I (and, I assume, many others) use a tripod for most of my important work, and unless I'm shooting in near darkness, I almost never go over ISO 800 in any event. I understand that some people might be shooting BIF at dusk and need to stop action, but how high are they going in terms of ISO?

4) Weddings - Most wedding shooters I know use a flash setup of some sort, but I suppose there might be a use for high ISOs for natural light situations. But again, is anyone really going over 3200?

5) Photo journalists - This iis where I can see high ISO being most helpful, particularly when you have no control over your light.

I also understand that improvements in ISO performance mean that (at least in theory) we get cleaner images at lower ISOs, so that 6400 today looks like 1600 three years ago. But I still go back to my original question: Who is really shooting at ISOs above 6400, and what the heck are they shooting?

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