How to Change ISO on a Sony a6000 (Easy!)

Diving deeper into the exposure triangle?

Combined with shutter speed and aperture, your ISO setting is the final piece of the puzzle when mastering full manual exposure control.

In this quick and concise article, we’ll be going over how (and why!) to change the ISO on your Sony a6000 series camera.

Let’s jump in!

man photographing the ocean with the sony a6000

The Basics

What is ISO?

So first up, what the heck is ISO?

Although ISO goes back to the film days, it’s quite the simple concept in the modern age. It’s pretty much a standardized metric used to measure the sensitivity of your camera sensor to light.

To put it in an easy way, the lower the ISO, the “darker” the image will be, whereas the higher you push the ISO, the brighter the image will be.

What is digital noise?

The ability to push your camera to “sense more light” may sound like magic. However, higher ISO values introduce a concept called digital noise.

Digital noise is essentially damaged pixels that don’t accurately represent the color or exposure of an image. While newer cameras have become incredibly adept at high ISO shooting, it’s still something to watch out for.

How high can you go?

On the Sony a6000, I’ve found I can shoot up to 1600 ISO with no visual problems. 3200 ISO is when some noise begins to show, but images are still easily salvageable in post processing.

On the a6000, I’d personally say 6400 ISO is the absolute limit for usable images, and it should only be used in the toughest shooting conditions.

noise filled image due to high iso (photo of a street at night)
Notice the digital noise from high ISO (the “grain” in the shadows of the image).

How to change ISO on a Sony a6000?

Now that you know what ISO is, how do you change the setting on your a6000? It’s very easy.

  1. Make sure the camera isn’t in automatic mode
  2. Push the right side of the joystick/dial where it says “ISO”
  3. Spin the wheel to select your desired ISO
  4. Refer to the image below if needed

It’s literally that easy.

Where to find the ISO button on a Sony a6000.

By the way, if you’re looking to just get a handle on ISO and don’t want to worry about the other settings, switching the mode dial to “P” will keep the camera on full auto besides ISO.

city street at night
High ISO can help capture dark environments, but at a cost to image quality.

When should I increase my ISO?

So, when should you increase your ISO? In theory, you should bump it up anytime you need to get more light into the camera sensor.

Except it’s not always that simple.

Avoiding Digital Noise

As stated prior, increasing your ISO introduces digital noise which will degrade the quality of your images.

ISO as a Last Resort

Instead of bumping up your ISO as soon as it gets dark, try to change your shutter speed or open up your aperture.

Generally, I try to only increase my ISO as a last resort. Like, as an example, I’m shooting handheld at night and I’ve already opened up my aperture as much as possible.

Use a Tripod

This is building off of my previous point: use a tripod. If you need to let in more light, consider placing your camera on a tripod before resorting to higher ISO.

Using a tripod (or even stable surface) allows you to bump up your shutter speed. Increasing your shutter speed lets in more light, thus allowing you to keep shooting at a low ISO.

Reasons to Increase ISO

Of course, life isn’t perfect and you’ll run into many situations where you have to bump up your ISO.

So when should you actually push it up?

Handheld in Low Light

Sometimes you’ll be in a low light situation where you can’t (or don’t want to) use a tripod.

Some examples include: indoor events, hiking at sunset/night, or any other situation where a tripod would either be inconvenient or against the rules.

If you’re in a low light environment without a tripod, it’s always worth increasing your ISO so you can get the shot (even if it won’t be perfectly high quality).

Astrophotography

The next reason would be if you’re trying to capture the night sky.

Slowing down your shutter speed is by far the most important part of astrophotography, but ISO also plays a crucial role.

Having to slow of a shutter speed can cause “star trails” (put simply: stretching of stars), thus you need to find the right balance on the exposure triangle to capture sharp points of light without the trails.

Astrophotographers will generally push their ISO as high as it can go without introducing digital noise (so about 1600 ISO for the a6000).

High ISO can often help with capturing the night sky, just don’t push it to far.

Capturing Fast Action

Finally, you may just need to capture fast action.

Consider this example: you’re watching a race as the sun is setting. You’re rapidly losing light and need to keep a fast shutter speed to capture movement.

Placing your camera on a tripod and slowing down your shutter speed would cause motion blur, so your only option is to push your ISO higher.

Conclusion

That’s all there really is to ISO. It may sound complicated in theory, but you’ll quickly get a handle on it. My biggest advice would be to just practice.

Take a variety of photos at various ISO settings and zoom in. Look closely at the digital noise at various levels, and over time you’ll start to understand the best ISO to shoot at in whatever given circumstances.

Once again, ISO is only one part of the exposure triangle. I highly encourage you to read through my a6000-focused guides on shutter speed and aperture to learn more about full manual control over your camera.

Thanks for reading!