How to Change ISO on a Nikon D3500

A practical guide on how to change ISO on a Nikon D3400, including manual and Auto ISO options.

Nikon D3500 DSLR
Nikon D3500 DSLR
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There are several ways to change the ISO on a Nikon D3500. You can manually assign a specific ISO setting. You can use Auto ISO to let the camera choose the best ISO. And you can even customize the behavior of the Auto ISO to assign upper and lower limits of the auto range as well as choose a minimum shutter speed.

Since they’re not all necessarily self-evident if you’re new to the Nikon D3500, I thought it might be useful to put together this guide to the various ISO options and how to use them.

Why Change the ISO, Anyway?

ISO is one of the three settings that is part of the crucial exposure triangle in photography. The other two—shutter speed and aperture—control how much light hits the sensor. Shutter speed does it by controlling the time that the sensor is exposed to light. Lens aperture controls how large the opening is—a larger opening lets more light in. ISO refers to something a bit different: how sensitive the sensor is to light.

Back in film days, you’d buy a roll a film that had a specific ISO rating (or ASA rating, if you really want to go way back). The most common for everyday consumer films was ISO 100, which was good for general-purpose photography and people photos. If you were shooting sports or street photos you might have used ISO 400 or 800 or faster. If you were shooting the iconic Kodachrome film, there was a good chance you were using ISO 64 film. Basically, the lower the number the less sensitive it is, and vice versa. So ISO 800 film was far more sensitive to light than ISO 64 film.

Those ISO ratings have been transferred across to digital cameras. A default with many cameras is ISO 100 or 200. But advances in the technology of digital sensors has also opened up opportunities for very high ISOs that are extremely sensitive to light. The D3500, for instance, can go all the way up to ISO 25600, which is much higher than any standard consumer film was.

So the higher the ISO sensitivity is set, the faster the shutterspeed you can use and the smaller the aperture. (Counterintuitively, a smaller aperture corresponds to a higher number. That is, ƒ/22 is a much smaller aperture than ƒ/4.)

The catch is that there’s a price to pay for using higher ISOs, and the price gets steeper the further up the ISO range you go. The photo can become grainy (film) or noisy (digital), detracting from the sharpness of edges and smoothness of tones in the photos. The dynamic range also decreases, so the depth of the colors and tones decreases. So it’s a matter of finding the best compromise combination of ISO, shutterspeed and aperture to get a decently exposed photo while minimizing noise and maximizing dynamic range.

How to Adjust ISO on the Nikon D3500 Manually

When you first take the Nikon D3500 out of the box, it has Auto ISO enabled by default. And for most users, that’s a great place to start.

But you can also se the ISO manually. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, though, you’ll need to turn off the Auto ISO feature. To do that, go to:

Shooting Menu (the camera icon at left) > ISO Sensitivity Settings > Auto ISO Sensitivity Control > Off

One method to change the ISO manually is to use the main menu system. You can find the setting under:

Shooting Menu (the camera icon) > ISO Sensitivity Settings > Auto ISO Sensitivity Control > ISO Sensitivity

Nikon d3500 change iso manually

Nikon d3500 auto iso off

Using the back screen isn’t the most convenient method if you’re trying to frame a shot through the viewfinder. But unfortunately, that’s the only option on the D3500. Nikon has taken away the Fn button that could be used for a shortcut on the D3400.

Another method available, which still requires you to move back from the viewfinder and use the back screen, is to use the quick menu. On the back of the camera, just above the main utility ring, you’ll see an i button. Press that to bring up the quick menu. You can then use the dial on the back to move across to the ISO box.

Nikon d3500 change iso with quick menu 1

Press OK to edit it, and then choose from the available options. Don’t forget to press the OK button to make the selection—if you just push the i button again to break out of the quick menu it won’t save your selection.

Nikon d3500 change iso with quick menu 2

What is Auto ISO?

Auto ISO is one of the innovations made possible with digital photography. It makes the ISO calculation available to the camera’s automatic exposure calculations so that it can be adjusted automatically from shot to shot.

Back in film days, you were pretty much stuck with a single ISO until you finished the roll.1 So if you put in a roll of ISO 100 film and then headed out to shoot in the evening, you were very limited in what you could capture. Or if you put in a roll of ISO 1600 for some low-light street photography, it wasn’t ideal for the brighter lights and bolder colors the next morning.

But the sensors of digital cameras work very differently in many ways. And one of those is that its sensitivity can be adjusted on a per-photo basis. So you can take ISO 100 and ISO 25600 photos consecutively within a fraction of a second. And letting the camera adjust the ISO on the fly is a feature I find incredibly useful.

One key to understanding how this works in practice is to know that the camera’s auto-exposure algorithm will always prefer the lowest ISO it can get away with. It will only increase the ISO if it has already reached the minimum shutter speed or maximum aperture available.

With Auto ISO enabled, if you’re shooting in manual mode (M), ISO will be the only part of the exposure triangle that the camera adjusts on the fly. If you’re shooting in aperture-priority mode (A), you’ve manually selected the aperture, so it will adjust shutter speed and ISO on the fly. If you’re shooting in shutter-priority mode, you’ve manually set the shutter speed, so it will adjust aperture and ISO on the fly. And if you’re shooting in P, it will find a balance between all three.

How Does Auto ISO Work on the D3500?

Auto ISO is available on the Nikon D3500. It’s enabled by default. On some of the informational displays on the camera it’s denoted by ISO-A.

Nikon d3500 iso auto on information display

But you have more control than just turning Auto ISO on or off. Here’s a rundown of the options and how to use them.

Setting Auto ISO’s Maximum Limit

By default, the Auto ISO uses the entire ISO range of the D3500. That means it can use anything from ISO 100 up to the camera’s maximum of ISO 25600.

But there are times you might want to restrict that. That’s especially useful if you’re trying to maximize image quality, because as you get higher in the range, the image quality suffers from more image noise (grain), reduced dynamic range, and less accurate colors. You generally wouldn’t use ISO 25600 for flattering portraits, for example.

So what you can do is to tell the Auto ISO feature not to go above whatever threshold meets with your needs and tastes. It might be ISO 3200, for example. Or it might be ISO 6400. Or for particularly fine work in controlled conditions, perhaps ISO 400.

Nikon d3500 auto iso maximum sensitivity setting

Nikon d3500 auto iso maximum sensitivity

There’s no right answer on what to use. Every photographer is going to have their own personal tolerance for high-ISO image degradation, and some subjects are more forgiving of it than others.

Setting Auto ISO’s Minimum Limit

With the previous model, the D3400, you could also select a minimum shutter speed to be used in the Auto ISO calculation. This might be useful if you’re shooting in aperture-priority mode and want to encourage the camera to stick to higher shutter speeds.

The Nikon D3500 doesn’t have that option. The minimum ISO is fixed at 100.

Setting the Minimum Shutter Speed

And there’s one more neat feature: you can set the minimum shutter speed to its own Auto setting. This applies to the A and P shooting modes; it’s not relevant to the S and M shooting modes because you specify the shutter speed in those.

Why is this under the ISO options rather than somewhere else? It’s because the shutter speed is one of the three crucial factors in calculating the exposure. If there’s no limit to how long the shutter stays open, then the ISO rating becomes irrelevant. You could keep it set to ISO 100 and keep the shutter open for minutes to let me light in, if you wanted.

But long shutter speeds cause problems, especially if you’re shooting without a tripod. Even the tiniest shaking can blur the photo. And that effect is magnified with longer focal lengths of zoom and telephoto lenses. A useful general rule of thumb is that when doing hand-held shooting you probably want the shutter speed to be at least around the focal length number. What I mean by that is that if you’re shooting with a 50mm lens, you probably don’t want shutter speed to be around 1/50 of a second or faster. With a 100mm lens you probably want it to be at least 1/100th of a second or faster. That by no means a hard-and-fast rule; with modern lenses with vibration reduction you can often get away with slower than normal shutter speeds, or you might need even faster if you’re shooting with cold hands or windy or bumpy conditions. But it’s a reasonable place to start.

So the D3500 has a neat trick that helps with this: it will detect the focal length being used on many modern lenses and automatically use that in adjusting the minimum shutter speed. If you’re using the 18-55mm kit lens, as an example, when you zoom out as wide as it will go, the minimum shutter speed will be 1/30 sec. If you zoom in as close as you can go the minimum shutter speed will automatically change to 1/100 sec. And there’s a sliding scale in between.

Nikon d3500 auto iso minimum shutter speed

For general shooting, the Auto setting is an excellent starting point. But you can also manually override it to set a specific, fixed minimum shutter speed. This can be very useful for fine-tuning the behavior. One scenario is if the default is too slow to avoid camera shake. Shooting in cold or windy conditions, or from a boat or moving vehicle, are all recipes for exacerbating camera shake. You can also base it on the subject. If you’re shooting sports, for instance, 1/30 second is often going to be too slow. So you might want to set a minimum of 1/250 second. Or if you’re shooting a night-time city scene using a tripod, 1/30 might be too fast, and you can get away with something much slower—perhaps even 30 seconds.

Nikon d3500 iso sensitivity minimum shutter speed manual override

This is a very handy feature, because it greatly reduces the chances of blurred photos from camera shake.

Again, there’s no right answer. Unless you have reason not to, it’s worth starting with Auto. If you find that you’re getting too much camera shake or motion blur, bump it up to, say, 1/125 or faster.

Things Worth Knowing About Adjusting the ISO on the Nikon D3500

Auto ISO works in M, A, S, and P shooting modes. The Auto minimum shutter speed setting works only in the A and P modes.

It also works in the special scene modes such as portrait or landscape, but each of those has its own hard-coded maximum ISO. In these scene modes, the Auto ISO setting in the camera’s menu is grayed out and you can’t adjust it. With the portrait mode, for example, it only goes up to ISO 400 to preserve maximum image quality and natural colors.

These are the maximum limits for those special modes:

  • Auto: ISO 12800
  • Portrait: ISO 1600
  • Sports: ISO 3200
  • Close up: ISO 3200
  • Night Portraits: ISO 1600

When Not to Use Automatic ISO

The Auto ISO setting can be really useful, and it’s something I leave on much of the time for general shooting. But there are still times when you might not want to use it.

When minimum noise is critical. The D3500 has excellent low-light performance for its class and is practically noise free up to reasonably high ISOs. But in situations where you want as little noise as possible, you’ll want to keep the ISO setting at the bottom of the range (that is, around ISO 100 or so).

There are two ways to accomplish this. One is to turn off the Auto ISO setting and set the ISO manually to something like 100. The other is to keep using Auto ISO but set the maximum to something like ISO 200 or 400.

When using a tripod. There’s nothing inherent about using a tripod that means you can’t or shouldn’t user Auto ISO—if you want to, knock yourself out. But if you’re using a tripod you have vastly more leeway to use longer shutter speeds and can therefore adjust that while keeping the ISO at the lowest possible setting.

As always with photography, there are of course exceptions. When shooting this photo of stars on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, for instance, I was using a tripod but still want to keep the shutter speed relatively brief to keep each star as a small point, so I still used a relatively high ISO setting of ISO 1600 (30 seconds at f/1.8). A lower ISO and smaller aperture would have meant a longer shutter speed, which would have created slight motion trails in the stars and make them less distinct. A similar principle might apply if you’re shooting traffic or city lights.

When shooting panoramas. When you’re shooting panoramas, you generally want each of the tiles to use exactly the same exposure settings if possible. Variations between frames can lead to some ugly joins between the tiles.

Again, there are a couple of ways to do this. One is to turn off Auto ISO and set the ISO manually. The other is to lock the exposure using the AE-L/AF-L button on the back of the camera. I have a detailed guide to shooting panoramas on the D3400 that goes into more detail; it’s the same process on the D3500.

When using flash. Auto ISO and using flash is a recipe for confusion and compatibility issues. I haven’t used flash with the D3500 much, and not at all with Auto ISO engaged, so I can’t speak to its specific behavior. But you can find a little more about it in the manual on pages 196 and 276.

  1. It’s technically possible on cameras with a manual film advance to switch out film rolls midway, but it’s cumbersome, slow, and somewhat risky. 

Nikon D3500 Accessories

Looking for replacements or spares? These are some of the core Nikon D3500 accessories.

Battery & Charger for Nikon D3500

Spare batteries are very handy in your camera bag. Unlike the old mechanical SLRs that didn't need a battery to keep shooting, with the D3500 and other digital cameras, you're high and dry if your battery runs out of juice.

If you're looking for a replacement or spare battery for your D3500, the model number is EN-EL14a. It's a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that's also used by many other Nikon DSLRs (7.2V, 1230mAh). You can also find very good aftermarket versions, like this one from Watson or these from PowerExtra that provide more cost-effective alternatives.

Powerextra 2 x EN-EL14 EN-EL14a Battery & Dual LCD Charger Compatible with...
  • ✔ Battery Specs:Capacity: 1500mAh / Battery Type: Lithium-ion / Voltage: 7.4V / Come with CE...
  • ✔ Standard Compatible with Nikon EN-EL14 EN-EL14a:Ideal Replacement Battery for Nikon Coolpix P7000,...

You can’t charge the battery while it’s in the camera, so you’ll need a separate charger. The camera comes with one. If you’re after a spare or replacement, the model number is MH-24. It's an AC quick charger that plugs directly into the wall socket. Unlike many other cameras, you can't charge the Nikon D3500's battery in the camera. Some of the aftermarket batteries come with a dock charger, which can be a cheaper way to solve the problem.

Memory Cards

There's no official SD card for the D3500, but some cards will work better than others in this camera. And there's no point splurging on a super-fast SD card when the camera can't take advantage of it.

I've put together more detailed SD card recommendations for the Nikon D3500. But if you're just after some quick recommendations, any of these make for a good choice and are reasonably priced:

Camera Strap for the Nikon D3500

You don't have to stock with the original Nikon strap with the D3500--any camera strap will work. But if you want to replace the original (the black one with the gold/yellow Nikon branding), its model number is AN-DC3.

There's also a huge variety of other good alternatives. My personal favorites are the ones by Peak Design, which come in especially handy if you're going back and forth between multiple cameras because they come with a quick-release system. And they're very strong.

Lenses for Nikon D3500

One of the great things about DSLRs--and especially ones that use a long-standing mounting system like Nikon's F-mount--is that there's a huge variety of lenses that you can use with it. So there's no "right" lens to use--it depends on what you're aiming for and how much you want to spend.

But for the D3500, in general, you want to look for lenses that have Nikon's F-mount system and that are designed for DX camera bodies (that's the cropped sensor size of the D3500). And you'll probably want one that has autofocus. These are not hard-and-fast rules, but sticking to those basics will make things easier if you're looking to expand your lens collection.

The D3500 typically comes with a basic 18-55mm zoom lens. There's nothing wrong with it as an entry-level lens. It works just fine, it's inexpensive, and, most importantly, you can still take great photos with it. But it's very much a starter lens. If you're after some recommendations on lenses to get for the D3500 to step beyond the kit lens, here are some ideas. These are sensibly priced, are logical additions to a D3500, and go beyond what the kit lens can do.

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3G ED VR zoom lens. If you had to choose just one lens to take with your traveling, this is a great choice. It has a very wide zoom range. At 18mm (equivalent to 27mm on a full-frame body), it's great for interiors or landscapes. At 300mm (equivalent to 450mm on a full-frame body), there's plenty of reach for wildlife, sports, or dramatic sunsets. It has vibration reduction, is compact and portable, and is competitively priced. Sigma also makes a good version that's a bit cheaper but great quality. They're both high-quality, extremely versatile, and surprisingly affordable.

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens...
  • Maximum magnification of 032x
  • Angle of view from 76 degree to 5 degree 20'. Focal length range: 18 300 millimeter, minimum focus...

Nikon AF-S 50mm ƒ/1.8G lens. It's hard to go past a 50mm prime lens for versatility, fun, and learning the fundamentals of photography. They're fast, which means they're good in low-light as well as give you that nice blurry background while keeping the subject sharp. They're inexpensive. They're often very sharp. And they're small and highly portable. This is the ƒ/1.8 version. Nikon also makes a B&H Photofaster ƒ/1.4 version, but it's about double the price. because the D3500 has a cropped DX sensor, the 50mm lens will become a slight telephoto perspective, equivalent to a 75mm lens on a full-frame camera (i.e., 35mm equivalent). Which makes it all the more useful as a portrait lens, whether you're taking formal portraits or candids of the family. And if you want a more traditional "true" 50mm perspective, you can put the 35mm ƒ/1.8G on the D3500 instead.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens
  • Fast, upgraded f/1.8, compact FX format prime lens. The picture angle with 35 millimeter (135) format is...
  • Focal length 50 millimeter, minimum focus distance 1.48 feet (0.45 meter)

Nikon D3500 Body Cap

If you're storing or transporting your D3500 camera body without a lens attached, you'll want to put on a body cap. It goes over the opening where the lens goes and prevents dust and moisture from getting inside and wreaking havoc (and pesky dust bunnies on your photos).

The camera comes with one, but they're easy to misplace. The model number for the replacement part is BF-1B. It's the same cap used for all Nikon F-mount camera bodies. And this is a great opportunity to save a few dollars with an aftermarket version--it's just a piece of plastic, after all. They're often sold paired with a rear lens cap, since you often need both of those things when removing a lens.

Nikon D3500 Rubber Eyecup

If the rubber eyecup has been knocked off the viewfinder when you take out of your camera bag, the replacement part model number is DK-25. There are also slightly cheaper aftermarket versions, such as the ones by Vello or JJC.

2 Pack JJC Eyecup Eyepiece Eye Cup Viewfinder for Nikon D3400 D3500 D3200...
  • Made from soft and durable silicone + high quality ABS
  • Provide cushioning around the camera's eyepiece, and are especially useful to eyeglass wearers

Battery Dummy for Nikon D3500

A battery dummy is used for longer-term power supply to the camera. They're especially useful for things like time lapse photography, astrophotography, or using your D3500 as a webcam.

It's an accessory that fits into your camera's battery compartment. By itself, it doesn't provide any power, but it's attached to a cable that you can then attach to different power sources such as AC power or a larger battery pack.

Nikon's official model is EP-5A. You can also pick up aftermarket versions. Some include only the dummy battery part; others come bundled with AC adapters.

TKDY EH-5 AC Adapter EP-5A DC Coupler Power Supply EN-EL14A Dummy Battery...
  • [COMPATIBLE WITH MODEL:] EP-5A DC coupler (Connector) replace EN-EL14/EN-EL14a Battery, work for Nikon...
  • [STEPS FOR USAGE:] Remove the original battery, Replace with virtual battery, and cover the battery...

FAQs & Tips

I've put together a number of resources related to the Nikon D3500.

Good places to start are with the Nikon D3500 Q&As and recommended SD cards for the Nikon D3500.

Where Can I Find the Nikon D3500 Manual?

You can find the Nikon D3500 manuals here. There are several different versions. The Reference Manual is the most detailed and most complete. The User Manual is basically a quick start guide. There are also versions designed for different parts of the world.

The Reference Manual is available as both a downloadable PDF and as on online HTML version.

Where Can I Find the Nikon D3500 Latest Firmware?

Nikon releases firmware updates on their website.

So far, there haven't been any firmware updates issued for the D3500.

Where to Buy a Nikon D3500 DSLR

The D3500 is an excellent entry-point camera for getting started with DSLR photography.

You can find them at Amazon and B&H Photo.

You can also find them used at major used camera gear sellers such as KEH (which is where I often buy when I'm looking for used gear).

Nikon D3500 FAQs

Is Nikon D3500 full frame?

The Nikon D3500 is in Nikon's DX format series of DSLRs, which means it has an APS-C sensor. These sensors are sized smaller than a full-frame sensor but larger than most smartphone and compact camera sensors.

The Nikon D3500's sensor measures 23.5 mm x 15.6 mm and produces images that are up to 24 megapixels (6000 x 4000 pixels). The sensor has a native ISO sensitivity of ISO 100 to ISO 25,600.

What year was the Nikon D3500 released?

The Nikon D3500 was released in 2018. It replaced the Nikon D3400.

What is the weight of the Nikon D3500?

The camera body itself (i.e., without a lens attached) weighs approximately 12.9 oz. (365 g).

Does the Nikon D3500 have a built-in flash?

Yes, the Nikon D3500 has a built-in flash that uses i-TTL.

Does the Nikon D3500 have wireless connectivity?

Yes, the D3500 has Bluetooth connectivity, although that connectivity is limited to use with Nikon's SnapBridge app.

3 thoughts on “How to Change ISO on a Nikon D3500”

  1. Excellent article, well written and answered my question – I have now turned auto ISO to off – and at last feel fully in control when in the manual modes.
    Many thanks!


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