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Old May 20, 2007, 2:39 PM   #1
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Some time ago I had purchased a Fujifilm S-5000 based on positive comments and remarkable sample images that were produced with the S-601Z at music concerts. The S-5000 worked fairly well with no flash, low light, and action. But then I recently cratered the captured memories of my daughters graduation from Nursing School by opting to take along a Canon SD-800 IS that is used at my office. Nevermore will convenience rule!

It's time to move on and I'd appreciate opinions on current dSLR cams with lens that zoom out to 200-300 mm (or possibly even newer superzoom P&S DCs) in the under $1,500 category to replace the S-5000 with. Samples of my typical low light output with the S-5000 can be seen at http://www.pbase.com/critterdoc/a_day_at_the_circus and http://www.pbase.com/critterdoc/thanksgiving_2004

I have a basic understanding of IS technologies, but have never understood how competing sensors/processors crack up to each other in the low light environment. How significant would the difference be with something like the Sony Alpha A100K with Sony's standard 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Zoom Lens in a low light environment such as existed at the circus? If I were able to test both cams side-by-side in their most automatic modes at the circus, could I expect to see dramatically less blurring and image clarity with the Sony or some other alternative brand/model?

Advice on cam selection would be greatly appreciated.

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Old May 20, 2007, 5:25 PM   #2
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There's an interesting article just posted today at dpreview on high ISO shooting:


It deals mostly with compact cameras and why the aren't good at it, but also why DSLRs with their larger sensors are.

Bottom line is it's still only a couple of Fuji digicams which are any good at this outside of DSLRs. So if you were looking for a replacement digicam superzoom for the S5000, the newer Fuji S6000 (uses the same 6MP sensor as the F30 mentioned in the article) would be the only camera that would even likely improve much on it. And, the Fujis unfortunately don't have IS.

But almost any DSLR will be a bigger improvement there.

As for the DSLR sensors, the Canons are probably still the best at high ISO, though the currect Nikon models are very close. The A100 really doesn't seem to so well at ISO 800-1600. It actually has the same sensor as the D80, but somehow falls well short in it's image processing. The Pentax 6MP K100D does very well, and has in body IS. The 10MP K10D is a nicer camera, but apparently noiser at high ISO (even in DSLRs less MP is sometimes better when it comes to low light). Olympus and Panasonic models which use a slightly smaller sensor have traditionally not been as good at higher ISOs, but the newest models coming out this month, the E-410 and E-510, have a new sensor which seems to compete very well. At least the E-410 samples I've seen look as good to me as the Nikon and Canon models, but I'd be a bit sceptical until there are some more controlled tests out there. But the E-510, with IS in body, might be attractive if everything works as advertised.

Within your budget, you might find something in any of those systems. All have pluses and minuses. Canon and Nikon have IS only in the lens, which is often more effective, but also more expensive. One of the more attractive options overall though might be the new Nikon D40x two lens kit, which includes a good 55-200 f4-5.6 VR lens (VR being vibration reduction, Nikon's version of IS), which gives you a 300mm equivalent (with the 1.5x sensor "crop factor") all for just under $1000.

Another option might be to do without the IS but go with brighter lenses (say wth f2.8 maximum apperture).

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Old May 20, 2007, 8:16 PM   #3
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Ken's post is right on the money. I'd just like to address one sub-topic that might be relevant:

IS vs. shutter speed.

Image stabilization (IS or VR or AS depending on manufacturer) can be very helpful when your subject is still or relatively so. In such cases, hand-holding a 300mm lens at 1/60. In that case, IS helps by reducing or removing the blur from YOUR movement of the camera.

But when subjects are moving you need fast shutter speeds to stop the blur of the subject. IS does nothing in that instance.

Now, Ken mentioned high ISO - which helps your shutter speed. But by itself, it isn't enough to stop motion blur of moving subjects. For that you need lenses with wide apertures (typically 2.8, 2.0, 1.8 or 1.4). Those aren't going to be found in kit lenses or superzoom lenses. 2.8 zoom lenses are very expensive (usually $800 or more) and prime lenses with wide apertures can be costly too - plus they are fixed focal length.

I don't mean to imply you shouldn't get a DSLR or that you need to spend $$$ on expensive lenses. I just want you to have the full picture - that ISO alone won't eliminate motion blur and IS won't do a thing to eliminate it. So in some of the circus shots where subjects are moving - you'd have less blur than your current photos but you'd still have some. For shots like the pumpkin carving, it's not as much of an issue as there isn't fast movement. Just something else to consider before you jump feet first into the DSLR realm. Good luck in your hunt!
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Old May 24, 2007, 10:59 PM   #4
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John makes a good point about the need for bright lenses to stop motion in low light. In those shots of the horses running around the ring, for example, where you were at about 1/25s at ISO 200, you would still have had blur if you were at 1/100s at ISO 800. But most of the other shots you have there, which sdidn't have as much motion, would have looked pretty good at 1/100s.

However, it will be tought to match the f2.8-f3.1 zoom on your current camera. How would the Sony 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 measure up? Well at 200mm it would be a 300mm equivalent (due to the sensor size). But at f6.3 it would be only 1/4th as bright as your Fuji. So you would have to shoot at ISO 800 to get about the same shot you are getting now at ISO 200. Assuming you get a lens that's a bit better, and can shoot at f4-4.4 at ISO 1600; now you have that 1/100s shutter. Make it an f2.8 lens and you have a 1/200s shutter at ISO 1600. But you also have a more expensive, heavier lens.

If you are interested in trying this you might start with your current camera. I realize that model isn't going to be good at ISO 400 or 800, but if you havent tried noise redution software yet to test the limits you probably should.
Something like noise ninja my really only get you one more useable stop (say getting ISO 400 to look as good as ISO 200), but that will likely be the cheapest extra stop you can buy.

One additional comment on the natural light family pics. Most of those were shot with the light coming from a window in the rear. You will get much better results in natural light shots if the light is on your subject. If it's coming from behind like that, you are really better off using fill flash (that's true whether indoors or outdoors).

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