best dslr and lens combination for low light photography

Started Apr 3, 2010 | Discussions
Lee de Paris
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best dslr and lens combination for low light photography
Apr 3, 2010

I like the light quality of natural light, side lighting expecially. Any recommendations on a camera and lens combination for low light? I would like to be able to shoot pictures of dancers at evening dances without flash. I know I need a fast lens, and camera that works well at high ISO.
I'm curious about your experience.

This is taken with LX3 pany by me. A little grainy even with flash.

At 1/30 second, a little better:

Earlier in the day without flash:

Graystar
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Re: best dslr and lens combination for low light photography
In reply to Lee de Paris, Apr 3, 2010

My vote goes for the Nikon D3s + NIKKOR AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED + NIKKOR AF-S 50mm f/1.4G + NIKKOR AF 85mm f/1.4D.

.

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Jim Cockfield
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Nikon D3s
In reply to Lee de Paris, Apr 3, 2010

Best, huh?

I'd look at the Nikon D3s for starters, and get some fast primes to go with it (50mm f/1.4, etc.). You can see it's review here:

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikond3s/

But, in some conditions, you may still need to use a good external flash, since sometimes Depth of Field may be shallower than desired when using wider aperture settings.

You may want to give members a better idea of your budget for camera and lenses.

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Jim Cockfield
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You beat me to it. :-) (nt)
In reply to Graystar, Apr 3, 2010
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Lee de Paris
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Re: Nikon D3s
In reply to Jim Cockfield, Apr 3, 2010

Budget for body only -about $1200. Ideally lens and body for $1200. I am zeroing in on Nikon D90 refurbished ($689 at Adorama) and a fast lens, but am open.

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mike703
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Or...
In reply to Lee de Paris, Apr 3, 2010

Another possibility would be a Pentax K-x which has low-light performance that's as good as you can currently get in APS-C (see review on this site). With your budget you could add any of several very good fast primes and they would all be stabilised - an important consideration for low light shooting.

Best wishes
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Jim Cockfield
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Re: Nikon D3s
In reply to Lee de Paris, Apr 3, 2010

Lee:

Frankly, in typical lighting like that, you're probably going to need a flash for an acceptable number of keepers for a variety of reasons.

Shooting still subjects is one thing. Shooting moving subjects is something else entirely, especially with a dimly lit dance floor.

Also, you're going to have a much shallower depth of field for a given subject framing and aperture using a dSLR model than you're accustomed to with your Panasonic. So, in order to get more of the room in focus (if you want that), you'd need to stop down your aperture considerably (i.e., instead of shooting at f/2, you may need to shoot at f/8 or so). That means much slower shutter speeds for a given lighting and ISO speed.

If you're only trying to isolate one pair of dancers, and don't mind the rest being out of focus, you can get by with wider apertures. Of course, that means you focus point is much more critical than you're accustomed to (because you'll have a shallower depth of field). So, it will take some practice to develop your skill level.

But, with moving subjects in dimmer indoor lighting, it's still going to be very tough to get a high percentage of photos without a lot of blur from subject movement if you can't use a flash, even if you bump up the ISO speeds and shoot at wider apertures and become more accomplished at making sure you are aware of your focus point.

So, I'd budget for an external flash to go with the system you choose. In the Nikon lineup, I'd probably budget for the SB-600.

As for the D90, it's using a Sony 12MP CMOS Sensor (as do models like the Nikon D5000, D300, D300s; Sony A500 and Sony A700). The new Pentax K-x also uses a Sony 12MP CMOS Sensor. Now, there are going to be differences between them (AA filters, A/D conversion, image processing algorithms, noise reduction, etc.), even though the base sensor design is similar. But, they all perform at a reasonable level compared to other models in their class. The Pentax probably has a bit of an edge for noise levels in low light compared to the rest right now. But, chances are, the AF system with the Nikon is going to perform better in dimmer lighting, and the Nikon has a more advanced flash system.

Without photos taken without a flash in that lighting, it's difficult to say what shutter speeds you could expect at a given aperture and ISO speed. But, don't expect miracles just because you're using a dSLR (as they'll have their own limitations and require a higher skill level if you want to try and "push the limits" of what you can get away with in available light. For example, waiting for pauses in movement, changes in direction when subjects are not moving as fast, etc. So, I'd expect to need a flash in many indoor conditions like that trying to shoot dancers on a dance floor.

Note that you don't need to use higher ISO speeds and faster shutter speeds when shooting with a flash. The flash itself can freeze the action, as longer as you're not exposing too bright. For example, if you need 1/30 second at f/2.8 and ISO 400 for proper exposure; the you could shoot at f/8, 1/30 second and ISO 400 and easily free movement.

That's because the subjects would only be properly exposed during the short flash burst (since your settings would result in a photo underexposed by 3 stops without the flash). Since the flash burst is usually 1/1000 second or faster, then it freezes the movement, even when using slower shutter speeds like that. The trick is to use manual exposure on the camera, setting it so that ambient light is not contributing too much (just enough so that your background from ambient light isn't too dark, giving a more natural look to the images).

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mike703
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as a Pentax user I'd say...
In reply to Jim Cockfield, Apr 3, 2010

Jim Cockfield wrote:

The Pentax probably has a bit of an edge for noise levels in low light compared to the rest right now. But, chances are, the AF system with the Nikon is going to perform better in dimmer lighting, and the Nikon has a more advanced flash system.

... that's a pretty fair summary

Best wishes
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chuxter
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Re: Nikon D3s
In reply to Lee de Paris, Apr 3, 2010

Lee de Paris wrote:

Budget for body only -about $1200. Ideally lens and body for $1200.

Oh...so you didn't really want the best after all. It seems you want the cheapest that is sorta OK?

Honestly, you would have gotten better recommendations if you had asked, "What is the least I can spend to get a dSLR that will take really low-light dancing pix, w/o flash?"

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Charlie Davis
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Guidenet
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Re: as a Pentax user I'd say...
In reply to mike703, Apr 3, 2010

Actually, since the Pentax Kx, Nikon D90, D300s and D5000 share the same basic sensor fab from Sony, I would expect them all to be the same in dim light. Now, just because Pentax is buying a somewhat cheaper version of that sensor fab should not mean that it is not as good in dim light. I know for some reason it seems the D90 and D5000 actually are a tiny bit better, but not enough to care about. Maybe the Nikon has a minutely better antialias filter or something. Who knows?

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Cheers, Craig

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Canis_Majoris
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Re: Nikon D3s
In reply to chuxter, Apr 3, 2010

Pentax Kx or Nikon D5000, nice and cheap so you'll have some left for a fast prime.

Both great high ISO performers, and both decent little cameras, although personally I think the D90 is an excellent camera for the money, and would probably last you longer before you felt you needed to upgrade. That moment comes to us all

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neil holmes
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Re: as a Pentax user I'd say...
In reply to Guidenet, Apr 3, 2010

Guidenet wrote:

Actually, since the Pentax Kx, Nikon D90, D300s and D5000 share the same basic sensor fab from Sony, I would expect them all to be the same in dim light. Now, just because Pentax is buying a somewhat cheaper version of that sensor fab should not mean that it is not as good in dim light. I know for some reason it seems the D90 and D5000 actually are a tiny bit better, but not enough to care about. Maybe the Nikon has a minutely better antialias filter or something. Who knows?

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Cheers, Craig

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While i do not want to get into a circular argument on this.

The only place i have seen it said the Pentax has a cheaper version of the sensor is this site and from Bjorn_L.

He never stated where that came from until after many posts (and some time) about it he claimed it was in a Norwegian financial paper. I contacted the publishers agent and tried to buy a copy but I guess they could not find it...whatever, I think the Pentax K-x is the best in low light (in apsc)....and the review here says the same.....at least at this level.

MY K-x works very well in dim light like the OP wants.

The auto focus is slower than in good light but even when it is too dim for me to see what it is focusing on, it works (lens dependant).

I like to use manual focus short primes with the k-x as they are stabilized and I can use the auto focus system to only fire when in focus with them ....or use liveview if using a fast lens like a 50 1.2.

To the OP, I think any of the following with the right lenses will meet your needs...they all have their fore and against.....Does it matter really if one camera is margunally better for something if another works well enough for what you want?

I would look at

Canon 550D possibly the best overall though not quite as good at high iso....and the video is much better than anything else.

Nikon D90 you would be happy with it if you got it most likely.

Sony A500

Nikon D5000 (I would never get it but that is me)

Pentax K-x... Love mine but I also love my Nikon D50 and Pentax IST*D....they all do things a little different. The Nikon is the first camera I would grab for flash.

The last four all use the same or at least a similar sensor.

Try a few, you mifght find something YOU like.

neil
http://www.flickr.com/photos/26884588@N00/

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Lee de Paris
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Re: Nikon D3s
In reply to chuxter, Apr 4, 2010

chuxter wrote:

Lee de Paris wrote:

Budget for body only -about $1200. Ideally lens and body for $1200.

Oh...so you didn't really want the best after all. It seems you want the cheapest that is sorta OK?

Honestly, you would have gotten better recommendations if you had asked, "What is the least I can spend to get a dSLR that will take really low-light dancing pix, w/o flash?"

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Charlie Davis

I didn't say the cheapest, since there might be something better within my budget....

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Guidenet
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Re: as a Pentax user I'd say...
In reply to neil holmes, Apr 4, 2010

I've never said anything ever bad about the Kx, and when I mention cheaper version, that's not even bad. I didn't get that from posts here and I can't even remember where. Might be totally wrong. When I say cheaper, I mean less expensive to produce. I had read that the newer Sony EXMOR sensors that weren't the new R model had a thinner and easier to make fab with a higher success ratio of keepers. This made it less expensive to manufacture. It would have nothing to do with quality at all, but would allow the price of a camera using them to be less expensive.

It's no secret that the non-backlit Sony EXMOR sensors are less expensive now. I'm sure the next entry level Nikon would use that same sensor. If I'm right, that would be a good reason for Pentax to use it in the Kx. Certainly, DXO pretty much bares out that they are the same basic sensors. The only difference being the microlenses, antialias filters and such. It might be the reason the D90 is slightly better than the D5000 and Kx in low light. The latter two are effectively the same within errors of measurement. As far as to the end user, all three would seem to be the same in most any performance measuring tool.

The D300s would also be in there as well. I'd imagine that a K7 replacement will drop the Samsung sensors and go Exmor in the next round.

The only thing I've heard bad about the Kx is the mirror dampening issue and blurred images and around 60th of a second. I am not into it, but it seems it only happens with really lightweight lenses like the pancakes, but I don't know. I would think that it's easy to overcome.
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Lee de Paris
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Re: Nikon D3s
In reply to Jim Cockfield, Apr 4, 2010

Thanks to everyone for insightful responses. I am learning a good bit here. I'm not sure I understood quite clearly how to use a flash where it looks more natural at the end of Jim's post I believe.
Sometimes a little blur adds interest.

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Lee de Paris
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Re: Nikon D3s
In reply to Jim Cockfield, Apr 4, 2010

Note that you don't need to use higher ISO speeds and faster shutter speeds when shooting with a flash. The flash itself can freeze the action, as longer as you're not exposing too bright. For example, if you need 1/30 second at f/2.8 and ISO 400 for proper exposure; the you could shoot at f/8, 1/30 second and ISO 400 and easily free movement.

That's because the subjects would only be properly exposed during the short flash burst (since your settings would result in a photo underexposed by 3 stops without the flash). Since the flash burst is usually 1/1000 second or faster, then it freezes the movement, even when using slower shutter speeds like that. The trick is to use manual exposure on the camera, setting it so that ambient light is not contributing too much (just enough so that your background from ambient light isn't too dark, giving a more natural look to the images) .

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So do you kindof overexpose slightly, so the flash doesn't look too bright? I'm struggling a little with the concept of how to make the flash look more natural, since most of the time in my experience the flash washes out the image

Thanks again.

Matthew Lee de Paris (I was born in Paris France :))

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chuxter
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Re: Nikon D3s
In reply to Lee de Paris, Apr 4, 2010

Lee de Paris wrote:

Note that you don't need to use higher ISO speeds and faster shutter speeds when shooting with a flash. The flash itself can freeze the action, as longer as you're not exposing too bright. For example, if you need 1/30 second at f/2.8 and ISO 400 for proper exposure; the you could shoot at f/8, 1/30 second and ISO 400 and easily free movement.

That's because the subjects would only be properly exposed during the short flash burst (since your settings would result in a photo underexposed by 3 stops without the flash). Since the flash burst is usually 1/1000 second or faster, then it freezes the movement, even when using slower shutter speeds like that. The trick is to use manual exposure on the camera, setting it so that ambient light is not contributing too much (just enough so that your background from ambient light isn't too dark, giving a more natural look to the images) .

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So do you kindof overexpose slightly, so the flash doesn't look too bright? I'm struggling a little with the concept of how to make the flash look more natural, since most of the time in my experience the flash washes out the image

With flash photography, there are two exposures you have to set: 1) the exposure for the background...the part way behind the foreground subject that won't get much light from the flash and is thus illuminated by whatever ambient is in that honky-tonk, and 2) the foreground subject that will be illuminated by the flash. The relationship between these two exposures controls how much of that blurring you get and the brightness of the background relative to the foreground.

Assuming that you keep the exposure time longer than the sync speed for your camera body, then the background exposure is set by that exposure time. The other two variables (the aperture and sensitivity) affect both exposures. Then, the foreground is set by the flash output...now-a-days, it's automatic TTL.

The curve is steep from where you are...
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Charlie Davis
Nikon 5700, Sony R1, Nikon D50, Nikon D300
HomePage: http://www.1derful.info
“We have always known that heedless self-interest was
bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

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