For those of you who don't live in New England (or watch TV news) we had a bit of a blizzard here this past weekend. Considering that nothing (at least nothing I know about yet) blew off my house and the snow was powdery and easy to shovel, it was actually kind of a fun storm. The wind howled mercilessly and at times I thought the entire house was going to get lifted off its foundations and dropped in a snowy Oz. It didn't.
It was too cold and windy to go out shooting the day after the storm, but by that night I was really restless to shoot some pictures. I noticed the little spiral tree on my front lawn looked pretty from my office window (on the second floor), so opened the window and tried to get a shot. There was a small bookcase in the way, so I couldn't get a tripod close enough to the window to frame the shot I wanted. There was also a roof overhang in the way, so I actually had to lean out of the window (keep in mind it was about 15 degrees out and the wind was still howling) to get this shot using a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom on my D90 body. But the only light was from the tree and so, without a tripod to steady the camera (the lens has no image stabilization), I had to use the max ISO of 3200. I have rarely had to use that speed before, so it seemed like a good experiment anyway. But even at that top ISO speed, I had to shoot at a shutter speed of 1/60 second (at f/4). And trust me, steadying the camera on a snowy window sill with the wind hitting me at 40 mph was still an adventure. Luckily I don't think any neighbors were watching in the middle of the night.
I think the quality of the shot is pretty good considering the high ISO. I can see noise pretty obviously in the snow at the bottom of the frame, but it's not a distraction. And the colors in the lights themselves are pretty true to their real colors. So, while I would probably not use such a high speed as my first option, when the situation calls for it, it's nice to know I can go there. Of course, some cameras claim a top ISO of 100,000 these days (for shooting what exactly--bats in a cave at midnight?), but 3,200 did a good job here. The next evening I went outside and shot the same tree (from street level) on a tripod at ISO 200 and that shot is posted below--you can tell me if you see much of a quality difference. (It is better, no question--but the question is: by how much?) I'm going back out tonight to shoot it from the street with a longer lens--I'll play some more then!