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[This question assumes JPEG shooting, with minimal post processing.]

In an unavoidable situation, you have to jack up the ISO. High ISO, however, comes with price - noise and washed-out color, among others. Is there a technique that can increase the saturation in high ISO? (I'm asking about "shooting technique", so I'm not interested in changing in-camera settings, such as increasing saturation or using something like "vivid" setting. These settings may be applied on top of a different technique.) Or is desaturated color something you have to live with in high ISO?

  • Just to elaborate, I've seen some posts on the internet that advocate slower shutter speed for high ISO. Does that mean a slower shutter speed with narrower aperture will result in better saturation than faster shutter speed with wider aperture, although the exposure is the same between the two? It doesn't really make sense to me. – Anon Dec 2 '13 at 17:59
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    In camera mechanisms to boost saturation are going to vary from camera model to camera model. It's also still going to boost the amount of noise when you try to boost information that wasn't there in the first place. If the image is low contrast as shot due to low signal to noise levels, then boosting the contrast or saturation is also going to boost the impact of noise and make it more obvious. The solution is to increase the amount of signal relative to the noise, such as using a faster lens or longer shutter. – AJ Henderson Dec 2 '13 at 18:22
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    Use the longer shutter speed but also use the widest aperture. This allows you to increase the S/N ratio and thus reduce the ISO. – Michael C Dec 2 '13 at 19:32
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I can see two possibilities that aren't related to post-processing either in or out of camera.

First, increase the light, either through changing the scene or by using wider aperture and longer shutter — and thereby lowering the required ISO. This doesn't seem exactly in the spirit of your question, though.

So, second: let the darker scenes be themselves. Our night vision depends more on cells in our eyes which don't distinguish between colors, which means that a decrease in saturation as the scene darkens is part of our natural visual language. Why fight that? You may even want to decrease saturation further in post-processing, which also works in your favor with low-light shooting, as chroma noise is usually regarded as uglier than luminosity noise. You might even consider going all monochrome.

That might be not quite what you wanted to hear either, so I'll sneak in a third: buy a better camera or wait til a few years as sensor technology continues to improve. Better high ISO capability continues to be in demand and will be a focus of research for the foreseeable future.

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