I've never messed around with film that's much different from the consumer standard of about ISO 200-400. I switched to digital around 2004 and not until the recent years I've been wanting to experiment with film again.

Now I'm just trying to select types of film I like the look of to try in some cameras I have, in this case specifically for a balanced general purpose (let's say a mix of outdoors and sometimes in a shade or well-lit room). But sometimes I run into films I like that are as high as ISO 1600 or 3200.

Of course I CAN/COULD use anything, as there's nothing keeping me from doing so. But generally it's said that 400 or lower is useless indoors, and you should go with 800 or up. But since the latter is intended/recommended for such low-light conditions, would that (1600+) be too sensitive to use in daylight?

I'm sure the camera's meter would indicate whether or not it's overexposed, but even if it doesn't, is that kind of film prone to being overexposed? Or maybe it just has aggressive highlights or some such side-effects? - Or will it always balance out when you're using the right settings anyway? As in, just using shorter shutter-times and higher apertures to not get too much light in.

I do have an exposure-adjustment on the particular camera I want to use for it, which I'd already be turning down by one step when I'd be using 3200 at the camera's maximum setting of 1600. - So I'd have another step left if necessary.

Basically the question is whether or not ISO 1600/3200 is overkill when using it in bright natural light.

(Mind you; I do not mean intentionally seeking out TO shoot in bright sunlight with a high ISO film just to be stubborn. But just like a non-cloudy Summer-ish day during which I could happen to be shooting. And again, I suppose I could (guess and) adapt using the exposure-adjustment as conditions change, much like I did on digital cameras. Except in that case I could see the result beforehand, so I'm not sure what the effect is on film.)

  • 2
    consider also using a ND filter with very high ISO film in sunny conditions
    – osullic
    Jul 24, 2017 at 12:10
  • I will. It sounds like I need to keep one handy for exactly this kind of situation. In case I end up with a very bright scene with such a film and still want to take a picture. Thanks.
    – MichaelAH
    Jul 25, 2017 at 4:19

7 Answers 7


Yes, you can use ISO 1600 in bright sunlight. But you will run into issues:

  • You are getting the drawback of high ISO film (grain) without the benefit (high sensitivity).

  • Depending on your camera you might run into shutter speed problems. Many film cameras are limited to 1/1000 sec or even 1/500 sec exposure time; this will not be enough.
    When you are unable or unwilling to close your aperture too much (due to desired depth of field and/or diffraction worries) you have to resort to ND filters to make exposure work.

The first will be bigger problem with small format (you enlarge more, but 1/2000 and faster speeds are common) and the second with medium format (many MF cameras are limited to 1/500 sec).

  • Good call on the shutter-time, which is something I didn't realize might have to be too fast. This particular camera is indeed limited to 1/1000. Then again, I usually don't anticipate very high shutter-speeds because more than often, even in relatively strong daylight, I end up struggling with getting a fast enough shutter (aperture-priority). That said, again, it's not like I intend to shoot in the blasting sun or overly bright spots. More like well-lit to shadier areas. So I don't know if that's still problematic. - Also not picky about the aperture. Thanks for your answer.
    – MichaelAH
    Jul 25, 2017 at 3:28
  • Glad to be of service. In open shade you will be fine. Jul 25, 2017 at 11:37

There's nothing inherently incorrect about using 1600-ish speed film outdoors. The issue you may run into is that your camera might not have the aperture/shutter speed combination to properly expose the film. For example, a compact point and shoot with a maximum aperture of f/16 and shutter speed of 1/500 won't be able to expose 1600 film properly in bright sunshine (roughly two stops over if you use Sunny 16). Even if it does, you might find the camera picking such small apertures that you introduce diffraction. These aren't showstoppers, just things you should be aware of. Most film has the latitude to handle a few stops of overexposure. Still, consider an SLR with a very fast shutter or using filters.

Also, 400 is a good general purpose film. I wouldn't call it useless indoors unless you're shooting in poor ambient light and/or working without a flash.

  • So I suppose I could try it and see how it responds for the scenes I like to use it in, as long as it's not overly bright. I can already tell it would be too sensitive for that. - And yes, this camera goes up to 1/1000. It's an old SLR. And I could consider a filter. I'm not calling ISO 400 useless indoors, but they generally say that anything below that is a no-no for indoors or low light. I'm just copying what even film-manufacturers and camera-manuals try to tell me... Thanks for your input!
    – MichaelAH
    Jul 25, 2017 at 3:32

But generally it's said that 400 or lower is useless indoors, and you should go with 800 or up.

Said by whom? ISO 400 film has long been marketed for indoor use. It's only one stop slower than ISO 800, and two stops faster than ISO 100. If you're looking for a film that you can reasonably use indoors without a flash, but which will also work outdoors in a pinch, go with ISO 400.

Basically the question is whether or not ISO 1600/3200 is overkill when using it in bright natural light.

Yes, it is. ISO 1600 film is not the right choice for shooting on a sunny day. Can you make it work? Yes, of course. Among other things, you can slap a four-stop (ND16) neutral density filter on your camera and shoot as though you were using ISO 100 film.

But most of the time, photography isn't just about recording an image -- the goal is to record the best image you can. Throwing away 94% of the available light just to use grainy, high sensitivity film when you don't need it isn't going to give you the best image. High ISO film typically costs around 50% more than slower film, too. Using ISO 1600 film outdoors, you're paying more money to get less resolution.

  • 1
    Depends on the application. If OP is shooting sports or fast action or telephoto, it might be the perfect choice -- even on a sunny day.
    – bvy
    Jul 24, 2017 at 15:23
  • @bvy No argument there, I just took the OP's nothing keeping me from doing so (and also the fact that he/she is asking the question in the first place) as an indication that there were no extreme requirements.
    – Caleb
    Jul 24, 2017 at 18:25
  • 1
    Could be. Definitely not a good first choice for casual outdoor shooting.
    – bvy
    Jul 24, 2017 at 18:31
  • Like I said; It's not intended as stubbornly shooting high-speed film in bright scenes. It's intended for a more all-round use between somewhat darker and lighter scenes, but I needed to know that at what point such high ISO would be tóó sensitive (in case the sun comes out when outdoors). And also, like I said, I come across films that I like the look of, but then happen to be of a high ISO with no slower versions. So I have to check if it works. My remark of "there's nothing from keeping me" is to deter answers like "There's no wrong answer, get creative.", because that's too arbitrary.
    – MichaelAH
    Jul 25, 2017 at 3:38
  • As for who said 400 or(!) lower doesn't work well for indoors or dark areas, is basically film-descriptions or camera-manuals. But it's not about that; It's about that they consequentially start to recommend say anything above 400, even 1600 or 3200 obviously. Which prompted me to ask "Well, if that's intended for really low light, is it AT ALL usable outdoors or will I run into problems with overexposure even attempting to use it?...". But I suppose what I can take from this is that it could work, trying to keep the exposure as low as possible, expecting some extra grain.
    – MichaelAH
    Jul 25, 2017 at 3:39

On a digital camera, it's easy to play with different ISO sensitivities; you can start with your own choice of shutter and aperture, and then pick whatever ISO you need to get the correct exposure. On a sunny day, you will hardly be "forced" to configure shutter and aperture in a way which would require such high ISO, but if you have a, say, slow kit lens and the sky suddenly turns a bit cloudy, it's useful to have that option.

However, sticking with a 1600 ISO film might turn out to be rather limiting on a sunny day. If your camera's max shutter is limited to (say) 1/1000, and you have a lens with 1/22 minimum aperture, then you can basically only shoot f/22 @ 1/1000, and that's it. Using an ISO 100 film on that same day would give you the same exposure, less grain, and at the same time a much larger range of possible settings.

  • Right. - It's pretty much exactly like you described, a maximum of 1/1000 and f22. But the intent of this camera/film would be mixed scenes. Both "bright indoors" and "general outdoors". Going by most answers it seems that if the sun starts blasting I'll run out of options (for settings) and I should avoid that.
    – MichaelAH
    Jul 25, 2017 at 3:47

Using a high ISO will allow you to use very short shutter speeds (to freeze action) Sports photographers preferred High ISO films for that reason.

It would also allow you to use lenses at deeper stops to have also a larger depth of field.

If you need slower shutter speeds or shallower depth of field simply use ND (Neutral Density) filters.

The biggest problem you will find with NDs, is that if you are using a reflex camera it will get very dark when looking trough the eyepiece and might be a bit harder to focus.

The main advantage with high ISO film compared with digital sensors is that film is not sensitive to Infrared pollution as silicon based sensors. So adding heavy NDs will not affect the color of the images.

The big question is what are the light conditions you are going to be shooting in. To be in a forest under the trees you will find high ISOs very useful. On a cloudless day on open space maybe not as much. The greatest advantage, even today, is that film handles highlights much more gracefully than most digital cameras. The amount of detail you will have in the clouds and other very bright elements will make a huge difference. Remember the old wise advice: "Expose for the shadows and let the highlights take care of themselves"

  • The purpose would be mixed scenes. Clear daylight, outdoor shades, well-lit indoors, is what I'm aiming for. - If I would choose without looking at the visual styles of the film, I'd just go with 800 or maybe 400. But I've seen a few films I like the look of, and those happen to be faster. But you say highlights aren't as problematic on film?... I never knew that and I'm glad if that's the case (always a struggle digitally, even with RAW-flexibility). I'll have a look at ND-filters. Maybe a lighter one for compensation, if there's such a thing. Thanks.
    – MichaelAH
    Jul 25, 2017 at 4:06
  • For such high ISOs you probably want an with a density of 5 or 6 stops. Look also into variable density NDs (very useful for any kind of purpose phtotography)
    – user39557
    Jul 25, 2017 at 4:26
  • Does that mean you'd basically be turning it back down to an equivalent of about 100? - But you suggest that in case of really bright scenes, right? It would probably have to be a variable one when I'm shooting mixed scenes/lighting, so I will look for that.
    – MichaelAH
    Jul 25, 2017 at 4:30
  • An ND (or several) will make your project more manageable. Shooting with a lens at 16, or 22 is not ideal. Also very limiting in terms of creativity is having the shutter always at 2000th or 4000th of a second. It is my opinion that the tools should not determine the way you want to shoot, but the other way around. Decide what you want to achieve and have the proper technical solution for it.The workflow would be to find the f-stop and speed you want to use, and find the ND that will allow you to use that particular combination in a particular light condition.
    – user39557
    Jul 25, 2017 at 4:44

Yes, you can. As the others have noted, the quality of the pictures is not as good as with less sensitive films: more grain and less brilliant colors (for color films).

About 20 years ago, I've often used Kodak Ektachrome 1600 (a diapositive film) as ISO 3200. A typical use case was tele action photos without a tripod. An old 500mm lens requires 1/500s or shorter to make that work.

Like your camera, mine only could be set to ISO 1600, and I had to turn down exposure by one step. I mostly used shutter-priority with a time of 1/500s or 1/1000s.

  • You mention less brilliant colors. - Maybe I should've mentioned that I was looking into B&W films in this case. I don't know if that makes it an extremely different story, because I take it the lighting stays the same principle. - And particularly a B&W film that's not too dramatically contrasted, so rather balanced when it comes to that. Would it have any similar effect, like less brilliant colors for color-negatives, but then for B&W? Perhaps more faded blacks or some such thing?
    – MichaelAH
    Jul 25, 2017 at 3:54
  • B&W film should be less problematic. I've used it only once, and I don't remember any effects besides more grain. But that was a long time ago.
    – user24582
    Jul 25, 2017 at 6:41

Congrats on getting back into film! One of the things that hasn't been mentioned yet is why you select a particular film. Film has a "look" to it and that look can be influenced by developers and whether or not you push or pull the film.

So, when you select a film to use, you need to consider the look you're going for and what the film speed will mean for your Aperture/Shutter Speed ranges in the given shooting condition.

Let's say you've got nothing but Delta 3200 in the bag and it's a bright sunny day. You could shoot it at 3200 and be forced to expose around super small apertures and fast shutter speeds. Or, you could shoot this film at 800 and get more leeway in terms of aperture/shutter range. Got another roll of it heading into the night? Shoot that one at 6400 - or even push it to 12,800.

The same is true in reverse. Personally, I absolutely love the look of Pan F+, a 50 ISO film. This doesn't mean that I can only shoot it in bright situations. I can also shoot it at night - but it does mean that at night, I'm going to need a tripod and some long shutter speeds. And that's perfectly okay.

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