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Old Jan 3, 2004, 11:05 PM   #1
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Default auto focus... low light king?

I don't know that much about cameras... I've enjoyed my digital camera in the past mainly because of the immediate satisfaction of seeing the shot.

I'm now ready to purchase a new camera to achieve clearer pictures. I'm mainly taking children's photos in indoor environments. Willing to pay up to $1000 IF it makes a difference in picture quality and easy of use.

1. What camera is considered king in digital low light focusing?

I'm trying a Sony PSC-P10 and am not satisfied. I took 4 small group pictures at Christmas in a home environment... all were fuzzy. Even had a more experienced photographer take a couple at the same time... and his were fuzzy too. Took a couple of distance photos at a basketball game... the were terrible. I believe this Sony is king of red eye reduction.

I had tried the Canon A80 and returned it due to the red eye problem... but now I'm wondering if that was a mistake. I CAN fix the red eye... but I CAN'T fix the fuzzy.

2. Do I have to leave the digital world to get a camera that will easily auto focus in a variety of situations? Does anyone have a suggestion here? Where do I look for reviews? A friend has a SLR taking great pictures... it is big and aggrevating to deal with the developing... but what great pictures!

Guess I'm kinda of frustrated. Time moves on... I wanted those memories to be clear.

Thanks for your help.
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Old Jan 3, 2004, 11:28 PM   #2
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In your price range and fitting your very specific needs(low light conditions), I can only recommend the Canon 300D. YEs, a DSLR, sorry. It is simply the best option in that price range, functionally, that meets your purposes/needs.

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Old Jan 3, 2004, 11:38 PM   #3
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Yes, the canon Digital Rebel (300D) is your best bet. And since it's digital, no worries about developing.
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Old Jan 4, 2004, 7:03 AM   #4
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Yes, the advice is correct. If you want to be more certain of focus on a non dslr cam, I can only suggest you look at manual focus features - particularly for lower light indoor shots. This is not so easy. A lcd or electronic viewfinder will not always resolve sharply for focusing. An electronic pre-shot magnify helps, but may be poor in low light.

I'm coming round to thinking that if you've got no choice, make sure in manual focus you get a focus distance readout on the lcd you can preset. Although my pocket cam changes it back to 1m on re powering! Provided you don't keep changing zoom, the depth of field at wide for most digital compacts should be as good as a film compact. One can wonder why if a camera can display a focus distance measure, why this isn't always on the lcd or EVF in auto focus modes.

I've always thought it strange that most digicams that fail to acquire focus, seem to go to 1-2m rather than infinity. In fact the default when focus goes wrong always seems to be at these ridiculous short distances you hardly ever shoot at. If cam manufacturers did some statistics on where focus was for most shots - I bet it would be 3m to Infinity!

Most compacts will give redeye probs so the A80 is not alone, it's just the A80 didn't have an external flash shoe or sync, so you couldn't get round it!. I rather liked the focus zone box that came up on the lcd - at least it told you which part of the scene it had used to acquire focus. But there will be times when the AF lacks 'intelligence' and you really need to know the instant the shutter is pressed, where focus is. VOX
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Old Jan 4, 2004, 8:11 AM   #5
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I returned an A80 for the same reason. The red eye was really too much for me to live with. I thought it was a GREAT camera otherwise. I think it is the best camera in that class. Has almost everything an S45 or G3 has.

I also tried a P10 and had red eye issues with it as well. I didn't like the camera in general. Didn't like the ergonomics, the flimsy little door that covered the connections, the slow memory stick. Just didn't like it. I'd take the A80 over it in a heartbeat. It went back too.

I tried a friends Olympus C4000 and it also produces red eye. Its a little better that the others, but not good enough.

So, what to do? I realize that any compact camera with a built in flash will have this problem. Its time to move up to a model with a hot shoe.

I bought Canon S400 for its small size and good image quality. This is my bang around "pocket" camera. Take it on vacation, skiing, to the beach etc. And yes, it has red eye issues as well.

I still need to buy camera # 2. This will be the one with a hot shoe and an external flash. The 300D is one I am considering. Another idea is the G3 or G5 or similar I may wait for the new models to come out and see if there is anything new that would work for me. I'd rather have a smaller/lighter camera than a DSLR. The G3/5 is even kind of big. I'd like to stick with CF since I have a lot of it and 3 other cameras that use it.
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Old Jan 4, 2004, 8:23 AM   #6
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Well -- I did own a Sony DSC-P10 briefly, but was extremely dissapointed in it, so I returned if for a different camera. I now own a Konica KD-510z (a.k.a., Minolta DiMAGE G500), and find it to be a much better indoor camera.

However, it's still not going to be suitable for many indoor environments, and does not have a focus assist system.

The best non-DSLR focusing cameras are going to be the Sony DSC-F717, and Sony DSC-V1 (with their Laser Assisted Hologram Focus Systems). However, the range of these systems is still limited.

However, your problem may not be focus. You are most likely seeing blur from too slow of a shutter speed in some of your photos (your basketball game example).

What's bright to the human eye, is not to a camera's lens.

For indoor sports, I would not consider anything without a very fast lens (i.e., F2.0), and a larger sensor.

I'd personally want something like the Sony DSC-F717 as a minimum camera for indoor sports (F2.0/F2.4 lens) -- with the understanding that I may have a high percentage of borderline photos, with limited print sizes.

In order to get fast enough shutter speeds to prevent motion blur, you'll need to shoot at pretty wide apertures, and higher ISO speeds.

Even some Sony DSC-F717 users have a hard time getting good action photos of some indoor sports - either because of too much noise trying to shoot at ISO 800, or motion blur trying to shoot at ISO 400.

As a general rule, you'll want to use a Digital SLR with a Fast (able to gather more light) Lens for best results. Chances are, the lens alone would exceed the desired budget.

The problem is that you need to use higher ISO speeds so that the camera can use a fast enough shutter speed to prevent motion blur. This increases the sensitivity of the signal coming from the camera's sensor, but the downside is increased noise (similiar to film grain using higher speed ASA 400 or ASA 800 Film), only it can be much worse.

A Digital SLR has a much larger sensor, and can shoot at higher ISO Speeds with lower noise in low light conditions. You'll also want a lens with better than average Optical Zoom, to get closer to the action. The faster the lens, the more expensive - especially in longer focal lengths (more zoom).

A zoom lens is rated by the light gathering ability of the lens at both full wide angle, and at full zoom. You'll see a rating that looks something like F2.8/F4.0. The first number is the light gathering capability of the lens at full wide angle, and the second number is the light gathering capability of the lens at full zoom. Less light can reach the sensor through the lens when using zoom with most cameras.

Aperture (indicated by F-Stop) is exponential. The lower the number the better.

F2.0 is twice as bright as F2.8; 4 times as bright as F4.0; 8 times as bright as F5.6.

Lower F-Stop number = Larger Aperture = Faster Shutter Speeds Required for Proper Exposure

Higher F-Stop number = Smaller Aperture = Slower Shutter Speeds Required for Proper Exposure

As a general rule, for a stationary subject, you want to use a shutter speed of 1/focal length. For example: at a focal range (zoom amount) equivalent to 200mm, you want a shutter speed of 1/200 second. For 300mm focal length, you want a shutter speed of 1/300 second. Using a tripod can help, as can the use of a Stabilized Zoom lens.

Here is a table that may help you to see how the Lens Rating, and lighting conditions impact shutter speeds you'll need to use:


Indoor Sports in usually have an EV Value of around 6. This table is based on ISO 100.

ISO speed is linear. ISO 200 is twice as sensitive as ISO 100; so you can double the shutter speeds used. ISO 400 is 4 times as sensitive as ISO 100, so you can use shutter speeds 4 times as fast.

The best Consumer Camera for attempting Sports Photos indoors would probably be the Sony DSC-F717. It's lens only "stops down" to F2.4 at full 190mm Zoom. At ISO 400, this would allow shutter speeds to be somewhere around 1/200 second in a gym. This should be fast enough to reduce most blur from camera shake (but not necessarily blur from subject movement). The photos will have more noise, so print sizes may be limited.

Shutter lag (time is takes for the camera to focus after pressing the shutter button will be much longer than in a film camera; so some practice will be needed. You can use manual focus to reduce this lag time.

You can find a Sony DSC-F717 at online vendors for around $700.00. It's 190mm Zoom Equivalent is more than most of the less expensive models, but still may not be enough to get as close to the action as desired.

This model uses a 5MP 2/3" Sensor, and has less noise than competing models at higher ISO speeds. Some of the newer, more compact 5MP models (like the P10) use smaller 1/1.8" (.556") sensors, that have higher noise levels in these conditions.

A MUCH better solution would be a camera like the Nikon D100 or Canon EOS-10D, using a fast lens. However, these cameras runs around $1,500.00 (not counting the cost of the lens). These cameras perform much better at higher ISO speeds, because their sensors are much larger than the other models I mentioned -- and can shoot at higher ISO speeds with lower noise. The also focus very fast, helping to reduce shutter lag.

There is a newer, low cost model -- the Canon EOS-300D (a.k.a. Digital Rebel). It's available for $899.99 for the body only (but a fast lens would probably cost you much more than your budget for the cameras you have already tried).

If you are willing to forget about the Indoor Basketball games, and only want a compact camera for shooting the kids around the house with flash, then I'd look at a camera like the Sony DSC-V1. It's laser assisted hologram focus system works very well at most indoor ranges, and it's shutter lag is much lower than most other non-DSLR cameras.
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Old Jan 4, 2004, 8:30 AM   #7
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1000words, I bought the 300D in November, in large part due to Steve's review, and I couldn't be happier with it. I wasn't looking to get this large of a camera. I settled on the DRebel because of its versatility and the relibility that was reported. Not to mention, it just felt good in my hands. The camera itself is well constructed and for most circumstances that I have come across the kit lens is more than adequate. It's not that heave and when hanging from the strap, does not really cause any discomfort or get in the way. The only drawback, from your original post, would be that you would need to buy an external flash. I ust the Canon 420EX and am well pleased with it. Good luck.
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Old Jan 4, 2004, 9:31 AM   #8
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Good info guys! I think I will wind up going 300D myself. It would be nice if the prices dropped a little. They seem to still be stuck at the $900/$1000 body only/body w lens list price.
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Old Jan 4, 2004, 9:47 AM   #9
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While the Canon DRebel does outperform compact cameras overall, recommending it on a$1000 limit is not good. The DRebel with the kit lens isn't going to satisfy most peoples desires. Unless you're only taking pictures with the wide angle mode out or nearby objects, you're going to want to buy more lenses and the price will go up accordingly. Also, the DRebel, like ANY other camera that has the flash close to the lens is going to give redeye. Only way to avoid redeye is to get the flash away from the same plane as the lens and this means buying another accessory. All said and done, you're typically spending upward of $1500 and more. So, before you go out and buy a DRebel (which is a great camera), recognize that you're stepping into a SLR system and will be spending more money than the initial purchase.
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Old Jan 4, 2004, 10:03 AM   #10
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The red eye thing is of particular interest to me. I have an EOS Rebel G film SLR with a pop up flash. This camera never once gave me any issue with red eye. The 300D has a similar pop up flash design. Why would it have a red eye problem that the film camera with a similar design doesn't?
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