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Old Oct 20, 2006, 11:56 AM   #1
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I'm hoping to get some direction regarding a dslr that will do well in low light situations where flash isn't an option. I've owned a few different p&s digitals for the last few years, the most recent being a Nikon 5400 and I just purchased an Olympus E500 with the 2 lense kit. I have time to exchange it for a more expensive camera, but I don't want to make the mistake of spending more moneyif the problem is with the user.

My family does a lot of community theater work and I haven't been able to get a good picture in the light available. Recently I sat next to a guy who had a digital rebel xt with the lense that came with it (Costco) and saw his results. He was getting great pictures, no tripod, flash or anything. He didn't even seem to know much about the camera. So, I decided to buy the same camera when I could. While looking at different stores I discovered the E500, read a few reviews, including Steve's, and decided to try it first as it was $200 less than the rebel xti and included 2 lenses rather than one. I also found that the E500 fit my hand much better.

I'm using the 17.5 - 45mm f3.5-5.6 zuiko lens that came with the camera. The problems with the pictures are that they are underexposed, or if not underexposed they are blurred and/or grainy. I am using the lense at full zoom as well. As near as I can tell, I'm not doing anything different from what the guy with the rebel was doing, but I don't really know that to be true. I've tried many different ISO, speed and aperture settings, as well as the full range of exposure settings and modes. I'm hoping that I'm just missing something basic, but I've read the manual and 5 or 6 tutorials on exposure and speed and haven't found anything.

I can still exchange it for another camera, but is it worth another $600 (almost what I paid for the E500 w/2 lenses) for a Nikon D80 or Canon 30D, both with 2 lenses? I'm just wondering if these cameras are that much better or if I just have a longer learning curve than I had hoped.

Thanks for any input you might offer.
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Old Oct 20, 2006, 7:38 PM   #2
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In a theater environment you will have much dakness surrounding a lit up stage. If you leave the camera in matrix metering it will try to balance the dark areas and the better lit areas. Try the spot metering modes with the spot on one of the subjects. The subject will be better exposed and let the shadows go to black.

Pictures that are all blurry are a result of camera shake. Use a tripod or other solid support.

If the backgrounds aren't blurry but the subjects are then your shutter speed isn't fast enough to freeze action. Your lens is f/5.6 at maximum zoom which translates into slow shutter speeds. A faster lens, like f/2.8 at full zoom, will also permit faster shutter speeds. Bumping up the ISO will raise the shutter speed but leads us to the next paragraph!

Grainy photos are probably a result of having the ISO up too high. According to http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympuse500/page17.asp the Digital Rebel does have less noise than the E-500 however you can use software such as NeatImage http://www.neatimage.com/ to remove most of the noise.

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Old Oct 20, 2006, 7:43 PM   #3
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Thanks Bob. I appreciate the help.
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Old Oct 20, 2006, 8:15 PM   #4
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There shouldn't be much difference between any of the recent dslrs. Canon seem to have a slight edge in high ISO performance, which is what you need, but one of the cameras with built in image stabilisation would also be very handy for you.
What you do need is a fast lens. A 50mmf1.8 is very cheap and will give a shutter speed four times as fast as what you are getting now even at the wide (fastest) end of your lens.

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Old Oct 21, 2006, 9:23 PM   #5
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The question was how the guy with XT was getting great shots, handheld and with the kit lens. So suggesting a tripod or a special lens, while they are fine suggestions, doesn't address the question that was asked. I suspect that as the OP suggested it may come down to experience.
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Old Oct 21, 2006, 9:39 PM   #6
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bill.guenthner wrote:
The question was how the guy with XT was getting great shots, handheld and with the kit lens. So suggesting a tripod or a special lens, while they are fine suggestions, doesn't address the question that was asked. I suspect that as the OP suggested it may come down to experience.
Well, if you're judging the results by the LCD image that's not a very good way to judge. Plenty of shots look great on the LCD until you get them on the computer. It also depends on the types of shots. If the subject wasn't moving, they could come out a lot better.

In the end, neither IS NOR a tripod is the best option - you need fast shutter speeds to freeze your subject not a mechanism for keeping the camera steady at low shutter speeds. So, the suggestion of a 1.8 lens is right on the money.

But back to the original comparison - the Olympus has pretty poor high ISO performance - it's one of the week areas of that camera. A nikon d50, Canon 350, 20d, 30d will all do much better at ISO 1600. I still can't say one way or the other about the new Canon 400 or Nikon D80 in low light. They may or may not be as good as the 350 and D50.
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Old Oct 22, 2006, 2:15 PM   #7
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rnc wrote:
I am using the lense at full zoom as well.
That lens is not bright enough to use that way.

It's widest aperture at the long end is f/5.6. That's just not going to be bright enough for indoor use of non stationary subjects without a flash, even if you went to a camera with higher available ISO speeds.

The guy with the Rebel was probably using a brighter lens, and/or not zooming in as much, and probably using higher ISO speeds, too.

There are 3 variables that control how long the shutter needs to stay open for proper exposure, and if you don't let the shutter stay open long enough, you'll get underexposed images (too dark).

* Light (and typical indoor lighting is much dimmer to a camera than it is to the human eye).

* ISO speed - this is how sensitive the sensor is to light. Each time you double the ISO speed, the camera can use shutter speeds twice as fast for the same lighting and aperture

* Aperture - this is how wide the iris opening is that lets light through. It works like the pupils in your eyes, so you open it wider in lower light, and close it to a smaller opening in brighter light. Larger Apertures are represented by smaller f/stop numbers. Aperture as expressed by f/stop is a ratio between the focal length of the lens by the size of the iris opening.

The aperture scale (in one stop increments) goes f/1.0, f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0, f/11, f/16, f/22, etc. With each one stop move to a smaller aperture (represented byhigher f/stop numbers), you will need shutter speeds twice as long for proper exposure.

So, a lens with a larger available aperture (smaller f/stop number) is desired to get fast enough shutter speeds to reduce motion blur (either from camera shake or subject movement) in many lower light conditions.

The kit lens you were using is more than twice as bright on it's wide angle end (least apparent magnification) versus it's telephoto end (most apparent magnification). So, you won't be able to zoom in with it indoors and get usable images of non-stationary subjects without a flash.

For indoor use, your best bet is to use a brighter prime (non-zoom, fixed focal length lens).

For example, with your Olympus, you can get a 50mm f/2.0 Macro lens (about $425 at reputable vendors) that would be 8 times as bright as your 17-45mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens if you were zooming in to the 45mm position with it. f/2.0 is 8 times as bright as f/5.6, allowing shutter speeds 8 times as fast for the same ISO speed and lighting.

Olympus also makes a 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Zoom lens for it that would be about 3 times as bright as your kit lens zoomed in (f/3.5 is approxmately 3 times as bright as f/5.6). It runs about the same price as the 50mm f/2 (B&H has them at $429 right now).

Olympus also has a 35-105mm f/2.0 zoom lens for your camera. It's pricey (B&H is getting $2199 for it), as this is the brightest zoom lens on the market (just as bright as the 50mm f/2.0 Macro).

This would probably be an ideal choice for your camera and the conditions you're trying to use it in if budget permitted (giving you the same angle of view you'd have using a 70-210mm lens on a 35mm camera when using a 35-105mm on an Olympus DSLR). But, it's not a cheap solution.

I can still exchange it for another camera, but is it worth another $600 (almost what I paid for the E500 w/2 lenses) for a Nikon D80 or Canon 30D, both with 2 lenses? I'm just wondering if these cameras are that much better or if I just have a longer learning curve than I had hoped.
Forget the kit lenses for low light use (and indoors is low light to a camera).

They're not bright enough for indoor use without a flash zooming in any with them. Even with a camera model that has higher available ISO speeds, you're going to want a brighter lens.

If you go with another brand (Nikon, Canon, Pentax, KM), you'll be able to use higher ISO speeds with lower noise levels compared to your Olympus (ISO 1600 with most of these will have about the same noise as ISO 800 on most Olympus DSLR models), and bright Autofocus primes will be less expensive compared to the current Olympus offerings.

But, you'll have less apparent magnification using an entry level Nikon, Canon, KM or Pentax DSLR at 50mm compared to using a 50mm lens on an Olympus model. So, you may want to consider a 85mm or 100mm lens instead (f/2 or brighter f/1.8 or f/1.4).

What's your budget?

How flexible are you in how far you can be from the stage? When you were zoomed in all the way to 45mm with your Olympus lens, was that about right for most shots?

If you decide to go with a different camera, I'd probably look at these options, leaning towards the longer 85mm or 100mm lenses for theatre use.

Konica Minolta 5D or 7D
50mm f/1.4 or f/1.7
85mm f/1.4 or 100mm f/2

Note that KM (Konica Minolta) is no longer in the camera business. So, these models are probably not going to be readily available at your popular camera dealers (most vendors sold out months ago).

Sony is providing warranty service (they bought some of KM's assets) and is now selling a DSLR using the same lens mount. But, the new Sony DSLR-A100 model is using a 10MP sensor, and it will have higher noise levels compared to the older 6MP models. So, I'd advise against the newer 10MP model if low light use is a high priority.

Nikon D50 or D70s
50mm f/1.2 or f/1.8
85mm f/1.4 or 85mm f/1.8

The D50 will have lower noise levels with "straight from the camera" JPEG images. If shooting raw, the noise levels between the D50 and D70s will be roughly the same based on photos I've examined (the D50 has better noise reduction algorithms in the image processing pipeline when shooting JPEG).

Canon Rebel XT, EOS-20D, or EOS-30D
50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8
85mm f/1.8 or 100mm f/2

Pentax K100D
50mm f/1.4
77mm f/1.8

If you really need the flexbility of a zoom, you'll want a zoom with f/2.8 available throughout the focal range.

With a zoom lens, you usually see two apertures listed (the largest available aperture at wide angle zoom setting, and the largest available aperture at the full telephoto zoom position). For example, the f/3.5-5.6 rating of your kit lens.

When in between the widest and longest focal length of the lens, the largest available aperture will fall somewhere in between the apertures shown in the specs (and printed on the lens).

A higher quality zoom lens can maintain a constant aperture throughout their zoom range (with f/2.8 being the most common). So, you only see one aperture rating on the lens (usually f/2.8 ).

In a standard focal length zoom, the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 is a popular choice. It can maintain f/2.8 throughout it's focal range. f/2.8 is 4 times as bright as f/5.6 (the brightest your Olympus kit lens would be zoomed in all the way). This lens is around $379 at reputable vendors like http://www.bhphotovideo.com and is available in Canon, Nikon, Minolta and Pentax mount.

In a longer zoom, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX APO lenses are popular choices (around $800 discounted). There are several versions of the lens around (including DG and non-DG; Macro and non-Macro versions). It's also available in Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Minolta mount. The newest one will have both the DG designation (better coatings for digital) and Macro rating. These would not be important considerations to me for your intended use.

Tamron also makes a 28-105mm f/2.8 zoom. But, it's a bit soft at wider apertures compared to most. The older 35-105mm f/2.8 is a little better (it's sharper at f/2.8 compared to the newer Tamron 28-105mm at f/4 at most focal lengths, according to MTF charts used to test lenses). But, it's been discontinued for quite a while and you'd have to go used to find one. I've got a Tamron 35-105mm f/2.8, and Kalypso (another moderator here) has one also. From about 50mm on up, it's not too bad at wide open apertures on a DSLR with an APS-C size sensor (but, a prime is better).

By most reports, the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 is a little better lens compared to either one of them if you can get by with 75mm on the long end (a less ambitious focal range from wide to long usually means less compromises in optical design). Sigma also makes a 24-70mm f/2.8 EX AF lens that is a popular choice in a brighter zoom (and the camera manufacturers have f/2.8 zooms in these approximate focal ranges, too).

But, a prime (non-zoom) lens is a better bet for low light use (since these are brighter, lighter and sharper compared to a zoom at equivalent aperture settings). If light is bright enough, you can get sharper photos at f/2.8 from a brighter prime versus shooting at f/2.8 with an f/2.8 zoom (because most lenses are not as sharp shooting at their widest available apertures).

There are some less expensive choices, too. Using a DSLR with lower noise levels, you could probably get by with f/4 at higher ISO speeds if lighting is good enough, depending on the percentage of acceptable keepers you need without too much motion blur. For example, I recently bought a cheap Vivitar 70-210mm f/2.8-4 for only $79.95 that could be used in a pinch. But, it's not a very high quality zoom and you'd only have f/4 available at longer focal lengths. It can maintain f/3.5 through about 135mm though and the photos are better than expected from it at around f/4 at most focal lengths. Image quality should be better at wider apertures from lenses like the Sigma 70-210mm f/2.8 EX APO line I mentioned.

To be safer, I'd go with an f/2.8 zoom at a minimum for low light use (f/2.8 is exactly twice as bright as f/4), or even better, an f/2 or brighter f/1.8 or f/1.4 fixed focal length (non-zoom) lens.

I like taking snapshots of live music in low light restaurants and clubs in my area, and I rarely use a zoom (they're just not bright enough in the low light conditions I often shoot in, even at ISO 1600 and f/2.8 ). When I do use one, it's usually my 35-105mm f/2.8 (but, it's not as sharp as my primes at f/2.8, and light is sometimes too low to use it).

The lighting in most theatres is going to be better compared to the candle lit clubs around here. But, a prime (fixed focal length versus zoom) would still be my first choice if you can get by without the flexibility of a zoom. If not, I'd get an f/2.8 zoom.

If budget is tight, don't overlook the used market for lenses either. These 3 popular vendors are my favorites for used gear (and I've bought used gear from all of them). KEH usually has the most conservative ratings, followed by B&H.




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Old Oct 22, 2006, 4:29 PM   #8
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Get yourself a nice fast lens. It'll do wonders for you
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Old Oct 22, 2006, 4:33 PM   #9
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My thanks to all. This is great info, I appreciate you're taking the time to reply.
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Old Oct 22, 2006, 4:37 PM   #10
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Please post a sample image if possible.

You will have to resize to about 800x600 in order to be able to use the attachment "browse" button to attach it to a post.

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