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Nikon D60 and auto ISO

I got to learn about a useful DSLR feature called auto ISO.

A friend brought in his mint Nikon D90 and let me play with it. He had on the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 HSM macro lens and I was really impressed.  It’s not a D700 but for someone like me it’s really good.  Low noise at high ISO (compared to my D60), good color handling, and it’s fast.

We switched lenses for comparison and I was struck how his D90 took better exposed pictures than my D60.  I took pictures of the same things using both the D90 and the D60. Same lens, but the D90’s pictures handled poorly lit subjects better.

The D90 is a more current model but the difference was (wait for it) night and day.  Getting home I found the answer once I cracked open the manual.  His D90 had auto ISO turned on, while my D60 had it turned off.

Auto ISO on the Nikon D60 works like this: You set the maximum ISO sensitivity and the minimum shutter speed.  The minimum shutter speed is what triggers the auto ISO. Right now my maximum sensitivity is set to ISO 1600 and my minimum shutter speed is 1/15th of a second.  Using a flash turns off auto ISO.  I leave my camera set to ISO 200.

Most of my pictures are taken in P mode.  When the lighting works out that the shutter speed takes longer than 1/15 of a second, the camera will automatically raises the ISO from 200 to whatever works out to get the exposure time back down to 1/15 of a second.

Here’s an example using my son (he was the star student today in his class, way to go!) I set the minimum exposure for auto to 1/8 of a second from my usual 1/15.  I did this because my light is poor right now and at 1/15 I was shooting up to ISO 1400.

Both are at f/3.5 and the D60 was in P mode. The picture on the left is with auto ISO turned off, ISO 200 and exposed at 1/2 second.  The one on the right has auto ISO turned on.  This raised the ISO from 200 to 640 and is exposed at 1/8 of a second.  Even with VR 1/2 of a second suffers from hand shake.

It’s not perfect, and if I were using manual mode I would want to turn off all auto settings. But here it reduced the exposure time from 1/2 a second to the minimum 1/8 of a second.

For what I take pictures of it’s very useful; I almost never use the built in flash and don’t yet own a SB-600. As long as my shutter speed remains at or above 1/15 this will not be used.  Lower than 1/15 and I’ll get better pictures.

Tomorrow I’m going to a 4 year old’s birthday party so I’ll see how this works in practice.

Update: The day after I posted this, I went to the New York Hall of Science with Lily and the kids.  We attended a birthday party for a 4 year old and I borrowed my Dad’s SB-600 flash.

Auto ISO did get engaged with the flash on.  I left my camera set to ISO 200 and when the bounce was not enough to get it over the 1/15 second minimum, the ISO was bumped up.  This is one that I was surprise to see it get a small boost to ISO 280:

She sure knows how to pick them

I need to look into this some more.  With the flash, the exposure was dialed down to 1/60th of a second. I’m not complaining but I’d like to firm up my understanding.

Overall I took +300 shots and I liked the results. You can see the 40 pictures I posted with a SB-600 and auto ISO turned on Flickr.

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Jan Dembowski

10 replies

  1. Normal Program Mode only has two parameters, Shutter Speed and Aperture. Auto ISO add’s ISO as a third Parameter.

    Me, I avoid it as it occasionally gets unexpected results, but it is useful.

  2. If you plan out your shots, then auto ISO is not your friend.  A little bit of darkness and the metering will up the ISO.  That will mean that you get grainy pictures.

    On your D80 that might not be an issue.  On the D90, even at ISO 1600 the results are really good.

    I’m hoping I can get one for Christmas…

  3. If you look at your first picture of your “Star Student” (Congrats) the chair and some near background is not blurred. So not hand shake, but more kids can’t keep still for even 1/2 second.

  4. Yep, he got a little jumpy for a while there.

    I’m thinking of patenting a technique for lens. Not VR or OS or IS or even VC: KS.

    Kid Stabilization! Now if I can only figure out how to get that into the lens…


  6. Sid, That’s bizarre. With the SB-600 flash you should be fine.

    For that photo I used the 18-55mm kit lens and bounced the flash off the ceiling. I am pretty sure I had the camera in P mode with Auto ISO turned on.

    But fully automatic with the SB-600 should produce the same picture. You can see the meta data for that photo at this URL

    Jan Dembowski

    PS. You might want to NOT type in call CAPS. It reads like you are YELLING.

  7. oh.. im sorry. didnt mean to put everything on caps. haha actually im having trouble on using the SB-600 as im still new to it. i dont know how to set it to fully automatic. i dont even know how to use P mode in my camera.. ;( can you help me?

  8. Sid,

    Caps lock, not a problem 🙂

    I think the easiest way to see the settings and what they do would be to head over to Ken Rockwell’s D40 configuration page at

    The D40 and D60 are so similar that the settings on the D40 still make sense on the D60.

    This is also a good read, but it takes a few times reading it to fully get it.

    Good luck.

  9. Hi there,

    Thanks for explaining the auto iso mode on the D60.

    I have a question….I”ve got a D40 with a Nikon 18-70 lens.

    What should I set my max ISO to?
    What should I set the minimum shutter speed to?

    I’ve the Ken Rockwell D40 manual and he suggests setting the minimum shutter speed based on the type of lens being used.


  10. James,

    Lately I have been using a flash bounced off of a ceiling (I have a SB-800 flash).

    On my D60 I set the minimum shutter speed to 1/15 of a second and max ISO to 1600.

    Start with those settings, you may get better results with 1/30 of a second shutter speed.