How prevalent is high-ISO photography?

Low light performance is one of the most important factors I consider when buying a camera. At one point I did an expensive switch from the Canon system to Nikon, when the D3 came out, for its amazing high-ISO performance (I returned to Canon when the 5DmkII came out).

On a popular forum for users of Micro Four Thirds cameras (which struggle beyond ISO 800), a poster recently questioned the rationale for high ISO performance, stating 99% of users will never shoot beyond ISO 800. I quickly looked at my statistics in Lightroom, and found over 54% of the photos I took in 2011 (to date) are at higher than ISO 800.

That begs the question: who is more representative, him or me? Flickr.com publishes statistics on popular camera models, but apparently not on other interesting EXIF metadata. I whipped up a quick and dirty Python script to sample recently uploaded photos from Flickr and collect the ISO speed from their EXIF tags, when available.

Of 3020 photos I sampled, fully 399 were shot at ISO higher than 800, or 13% (the 95% confidence interval is 12% to 14.4%). Thus significantly less than my proportion, but far higher than 1%.

Interesting factoids

Harper’s Magazine, a left-leaning (by American standards) literary gazette, is fairly insipid, but it publishes amusing tidbits in each issue known as Harper’s Index. In a similar vein, here are some surprising bits I have read recently.

  • All 9 members of China’s Politburo are engineers. Source: IEEE Spectrum
  • Western Europe has a population and GDP comparable to the United States, but it has 42% of the world’s WiFi hotspots, compared to 26% in the US. Source: Informa Telecoms and Media.
  • Medical Doctors’ median income in the US is $200,000. Often maligned, median malpractice insurance premiums are only $11,000. Source: Paul von Hippel, Ohio State University.
  • “Administrative costs” represent 19% to 24% of the cost of health care in the US, compared to about 10% in most OECD countries. Source: University of Maine.
  • The French universal medical coverage, despite being rife with abuse and fraud by people who would flunk the means-test for state coverage, costs about 1.4 billion euros per year, slightly under 0.1% of GDP, with approximately 5 million people covered, and health care in general represents about 9% of GDP. Of course, as health insurance is mandatory for all salaried workers, only the unemployed lack coverage in the first place, so the cost of universal coverage in the US would be higher as a proportion of GDP. The French medical system was rated first in the world for general health care by the WHO’s last survey in 2000, so it is not a question of skimping on the quality of care as in the UK.
  • The US spends 15% of its GDP on health care, if that were lowered by 10%, by bringing administrative costs in line with Europe or Canada, the savings would easily cover universal insurance for all Americans.
  • The Philippines and India are respectively ranked No. 4 and 5 destinations for international telephone calls from the US. India hardly registered in 1991. Source: Telegeography.