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Old Feb 26, 2007, 1:20 PM   #1
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I currently have a Canon G6, my first digital camera. I was looking for a camera that would be small enough to carry around for family events and powerful enough to do some of the amatuer photography I liked to do with my film SLR. It was neither...it was too big to slip in a purse (except a BIG purse), and lacked some fo the features I enjoyed with my SLR. I should have listened to the guy in my local camera shop who said, "If you liked using a film SLR, you will not be satisfied with a digital non-SLR."

It works fine, don't get me wrong, but one of the major things I don't like is that I seem to get a lot of noise in low light situations. My husband is in a local rock band and I like to take photos of them when they play. But I'm often dis-satisfied with the results...um...of the photos. With a film camera, I could often shoot with 400 speed film and it was fine.

Because they are sometimes moving, I can't shoot at a really low shutter speed, and if I increase the ISO even to 100, I get quite a bit of noise. The attached photo is one of the better ones I've taken. I am not successful in removing the noise, although that may be due to my inexperience with the software.

I don't want to spend my retirement, but I don't mind spending up to around $1500 for the basic kit. I'm looking at the Nikon D200, but was hoping someone with experience in shooting low light or even band/concert situations could "enlighten" me .

Thanks,

Angie




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Old Feb 26, 2007, 1:40 PM   #2
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I don't think the camera itself is the primary factor in low light shots like the one you took. It's the lens. You can use a Pentax K100d, Nikon D80, and Canon Digital Rebel XTi with bright lenses and get good results with all. Since your husband is in the band, maybe you can get close to the stage. Maybe you can use a prime lens. I had the Pentax *ist DS and with a F1.4 50mm lens, it was dynamite in low light.

For a non-DSLR solution at close range, consider the Fuji F30.
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Old Feb 26, 2007, 2:11 PM   #3
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robbo wrote:
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I don't think the camera itself is the primary factor in low light shots like the one you took. It's the lens. You can use a Pentax K100d, Nikon D80, and Canon Digital Rebel XTi with bright lenses and get good results with all. Since your husband is in the band, maybe you can get close to the stage. Maybe you can use a prime lens. I had the Pentax *ist DS and with a F1.4 50mm lens, it was dynamite in low light.

For a non-DSLR solution at close range, consider the Fuji F30.
I agree with most of what Robbo said except the camera not being important. While any DSLR will be better than the current camera at higher ISO, they are not all equals. The D200 has worse high ISO performance than the D80 or even the D50. So while an excellent camera, this is it's achilles heel. Also, the Olympus and Sony cameras are also poor at higher ISO. I do agree that any of the cameras Robo listed (k100d, d80, XTi) would do well - I'd also throw in the Nikon D50 and Canon 30d for consideration.

But he's spot on with regards to a fast prime lens. Your subject is moving so I'm going to forestall the rush of people claiming anti-shake is the way to go. It isn't. Anti-shake won't stop your subject from moving. The solution needed is fast shutter speeds - the only way to get those is high ISO (think 1600) and fast prime lenses.

Oh, and as I understand it, the Nikon D40 won't autofocus with those good prime lenses -- so I would discount that body from consideration.

You should take a look at the reviews of the cameras above (Nikon D80, D50; Canon 30d, 400D and Pentax 10, 100). Then I would recommend handling the ones that seem like a good match in the store. You may find you like the feel of some and hate the feel of others.

When you have an idea of 2 cameras you like then look at the camera SYSTEMS and see which system supports your long term needs the best (Canon has a huge selection of autofocus lenses, Nikon does as well and has great flash system and generally very good ergonomics (and both Nikon & Canon have a vast array of 3rd party lenses that are available for their mounts and usually in stock - other camera mounts have more out-of-stock and availability issues because the market for them is smaller); Pentax has great feature set for the money and has a great selection of used/manual focus lenses that are very sharp and still quite usable although manual focus - and a decent selection of AF lenses that they are trying to ramp up, they also have anti-shake built in - won't help much for the band shots but will help in other types of photography)

Something like the F30 is a very cost affective alternative but you won't get the same shutter speeds you can get with a DSLR - the ISO 1600 performance is not the same and you don't have a 1.8 or 1.4 lens on the f30 so even if the noise performance WAS on par you would still have much slower sutter speeds. Given your $1500 limit there is no reason why you can't get a quality DSLR with walk-around lens AND a fast prime for your band shots and still be within the $1500 budget
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Old Feb 26, 2007, 3:24 PM   #4
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You've received some good sounding advice here already. The only thing I might add is on the Pentax line, since I'm most familiar with it (I have both the K10 and the K100). Since one of the most important uses for the camera is going to be low light, that you look first at the K100 - my opinion is that its ISO 1600 is better than the K10, and if you don't mind lots of noise (going to be printing no more than 4x6) the K100 has ISO 3200 that can be used in a pinch, the K10 doesn't. Image quality is very similar between these cameras and it doesn't sound like you need the extra mp of the K10 (good for birders who are going to crop a lot) or the weather sealing.

If you want something a bit longer than a 50mm lens, I'd think that the FA 77mm 1.8 Limited lens would a great choice. It's not cheap at $689.95 (B&H pricing, before rebate), but its reputation is excellent (really sharp, top quality). Add in the K100 with kit lens at $539.95 (B&H before rebate) and you are still less than your $1500, you have the kit lens for walking around and a top quality, low light/fast primelens for your husband's band. Or opt for the less expensive FA50mm 1.4 (these are in short supply at the moment - more demand than supply because the cameras have become so popular). All of your lenses with this set-up will be auto focus/auto exposure.
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Old Feb 26, 2007, 3:53 PM   #5
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I'm also wondering whether after you have bought your new camera / lenses that to ensure a sharp image with less interference from noise you shouldn't also consider how to go about the post processing.

If you have shot in Raw and used the live histograms to avoid shooting too much in the 'shadow' levels (those to the far left - which would accentuate the noise issue - just add some exposure compensation to bring the pixels back away from that edge and in the direction of the centre) you can do an awful lot to produce a very printable image - even saving those you thought may not be worth keeping.

Once back home out comes your Raw processor (I use Raw Shooter Essentials 2006 - a very easy to use free program) and then onto a noise reduction program (e.g. Noiseware or Noise Ninja) or even Picasa.

What do you think people, would that give Angie more 'savers' ?

In fact I've just downloaded that small jpeg and cleaned it up with Noiseware - looks better already doesn't it
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Old Feb 26, 2007, 4:31 PM   #6
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If size wasn't an issue, I'd recommend the Pentax K100d as I think it has the edge in low light photography. But since you do want something small, I'd say go with either the Canon XT or XTI paired with a 50mm f/1.4 for about $300. You could even save a couple hundred bucks and go with the 50mm f/1.8 and get almost the same performance, but the 1.4 still keeps you way under budget.

Canon also offers an 85mm f/1.8 for longer reach at about $340, as well as a 100mm f/2 around $390.

I'd also recommend you shoot RAW as much as possible, but if you really want to shoot JPG, Canon has really good auto white balance and in-camera processing as well.
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Old Feb 26, 2007, 5:38 PM   #7
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JohnG wrote:
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But he's spot on with regards to a fast prime lens. Your subject is moving so I'm going to forestall the rush of people claiming anti-shake is the way to go. It isn't. Anti-shake won't stop your subject from moving. The solution needed is fast shutter speeds - the only way to get those is high ISO (think 1600) and fast prime lenses.
I wasn't going to rush in with that suggestion. :-)

But, it really depends on the lighting. It's one thing to have nice overhead lighting for a band.

But, some smaller bands may play in the dimly lit (think a few candles scattered around on tables) lounge areas of restaurants with *no* lighting for the band (and if you're lucky, there might be a candle on a table that's close enough to the band to help out). lol

In one of the nearby restaurants with live music, I've had to shoot at f/2 and ISO 3200, just to get my shutter speeds up to around 1/20 second

There's a little seafood restaurant that's a bit further away, that had a stop lower light than that (underexposing a tad, just to get shutter speeds up to 1/10 second at f/2 and ISO 3200). The only lighting is from the small candles on some of the tables, unless they happen to have a fire in fireplace (which isn't close enough to the performers to help out much anyway). They're basically in the dark.

No, you're not going to get many keepers at shutter speeds that slow, unless you try to time your shots so that you're getting them on the long notes where the performers are relatively still (due to subject movement alone, not to mention blur from camera shake).

But, if you're trying to take the shots from the audience and you can't use a flash or tripod, stabilization can really help out at shutter speeds that slow, and the photos you get are better than no photos at all.



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Old Feb 26, 2007, 8:23 PM   #8
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I'll comment on a couple of things I haven't seen anybody else comment on.

1. Since you already have a film SLR, if you get a dSLR from the same manufacturer, you might be able to use the lenses you already have with the new camera.

2. Since you already know that you'll be shooting in low light, you might consider Anti-Shake/Shake-Reduction/Image-Stabilization/Vibration-Reduction/What-Ever. It will allow you to use a lower shutter speed without having to worry about any motion you might transfer to the camera. Sony and Pentax have AS/SR/IS/VR in the body, while Canon and Nikon have it in the lenses.

My $1/50
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Old Feb 27, 2007, 7:29 AM   #9
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JimC wrote:
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In one of the nearby restaurants with live music, I've had to shoot at f/2 and ISO 3200, just to get my shutter speeds up to around 1/20 second

There's a little seafood restaurant that's a bit further away, that had a stop lower light than that (underexposing a tad, just to get shutter speeds up to 1/10 second at f/2 and ISO 3200). The only lighting is from the small candles on some of the tables, unless they happen to have a fire in fireplace (which isn't close enough to the performers to help out much anyway). They're basically in the dark.



Jim - good point. But I guess it depends on how much you're going to be in those venues. If the majority of your shooting time is going to be ISO 3200 1/20 I would raise the possibility it's not worth investing $1000 plus for the handful of usable photos you'll get. Of course only the OP would know for sure whether the photos are of use to them. For someone like you who already has the equipment - sure it's worth a try. So, AS or no AS that's a lot of money for very few photos.

So, let me throw this out - I think you'll agree. anti-shake is a nice feature to have IF you already have good high ISO performance AND the fast prime lens. Both of those being more important in this situation where there is motion. Andi-shake is nice on top of the other two but not a replacement for the other two.
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Old Feb 27, 2007, 9:27 AM   #10
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John:

I don't disagree with you that a fast lens with higher ISO speeds is the way to go if you need to choose between that and anti-shake.

But, I'd rather "have my cake and eat it, too" with bright lenses, AS and higher ISO speeds available.. :-) That's the reason I bought a Maxxum 5D.

I've taken too many shots where I felt the AS was super helpful. Hardly a week goes by that I'm not surprised by it.

I was just browing through some shots of my great niece (my younger sister's daughter's daughter, now in the terrible 2s) taken at 1/15 second, ISO 1600 and 85mm in very low light that I really like. Yes, I could have used a flash (and I did for some of them taken at the same time). But, I've got the choice not to with Anti-Shake available, too. If you can catch the subjects when they are still (natural pauses when they're looking at something, etc.), you can squeexe off some keepers at shutter speeds that slow if you're careful.

For another thing, it allows me to stop down my aperture a bit more for greater depth of field.

I take a lot of low light photos (churches, clubs, home environments, etc.), and I've got a number of shots that I don't think I could have taken without it (and still gotten shots as good).

I was looking through some shots taken over the XMAS holidays, and noticed one acceptable shot that was taken at 1/20 second at 210mm (315mm equivalent angle of view if on a 35mm camera) of a singer in a choir. Of course, Canon and Nikon have stabilized lens that long, but not for what I paid for some of my lenses on the used market. lol I did a lot of lens pricing before I decided to go with a KM solution (but, lenses were cheaper then).

Of course, that's an extreme example, and I had to be very careful with how I was "squeezing" the shutter button, even with Anti-shake. But, I'm pretty darn sure I could not have done it without the Anti-Shake. I'm not that steady. I've got some more of the same singer at 1/60 second and 210mm (which is still much slower than you'd normally want to use without a tripod). I upped the ISO to 3200 for those and didn't expose as brightly (effective ISO was a bit higher). lol

If you wait until someone is relatively still (as on the long notes with someone singing), you'd be surprised at how slow you can go and still get a shot that's usable (at least at smaller print sizes).

I'll sometimes use ISO 800 with a brighter prime in low conditions versus 1600 or 3200, too. Same principle. If I time my shots well, I can often get entire groups of people reasonably sharp once I get my shutter speeds up to around 1/60 second when they're not moving (and sometimes even slower). Faster is better, but there are tradeoffs (like DOF and noise).

Shooting sports is one thing, where you have rapidly moving subjects, especially if you're trying to fill the frame (where blur is going to be more obvious at a given print size), and of course, yelling "everybody freeze" is not a good solution. :-)

But, for may other types of photos, it's great.

I will often sacrifice shutter speed for a bit of depth of field in a low light environment if the subjects are not parallel to the lens. I've got some shots of a Christmas skit over the holidays where I did just that. I took the shots at anywhere from f/2 through f4), and preferred the f4 shots (because I couldn't get both the closer and further away people acceptably sharp at f/2 from where I was shooting with my 100mm). I knew that was going to happen from past experience, which is why I took them more than one way. They were sitting down for the skit, and DOF was pretty shallow the way I wanted to frame it, shooting from one side.

It also allows me to use a lighter (and less expensive) zoom, when I may not want to lug a heavier lens around, and still get some shots when the subjects are relatively still.

Ditto for brighter light conditions. I'll often take photos in very early AM on the river banks, and want to use a smaller aperture. Yes, I could lug a tripod along (and I usually do have one in the car). But, with Anti-shake I really don't have to if my shutter speeds drop a bit because I want greater DOF.

The problem with the current choices is that each one is a compromise in one area or another.

You can't get short to mid bright primes with stabilization built in with a Canon or Nikon solution (at least not yet). But, with a solution like Pentax, lens choice is more limited if you want AF (demand is a bit high versus supply right now). With the new Sony DSLR-A100, noise is too high.

If budget was not an issue, I'd probably grab an EOS-5D for low light conditions of bands, etc.. It's got a good stop better performance compared to most other DSLR models from a noise perspective (easily pushed to ISO 6400 with noise levels more like ISO 1600-3200 from most competing models). I've seen enough shots from wedding photographers at higher ISO speeds to be jealous of it's noise levels. lol That would help make up for the lack of stabilization in the body, and give me faster shutter speeds to reduce blur from subject movement.

If I *had* to buy a current model right now for low light use on a tight budget, I'm not sure which way I'd go out of the models currently available.

The example the OP posted was about a stop underexposed at f/3 and 1/125 second. I didn't try to deciphter the ISO speed (grrrrrr.. I wish Canon would not try to hide it in the maker notes in Auto ISO). My guess is that it was probably ISO 320 (typical for Auto ISO in that type of camera), which was probably closer to ISO 400 (since Canon uses more conservative ratings).

I don't know if the OP tried to brighten it or not. So, just about any current DSLR model would be able to get acceptable shots in that lighting, even using an f/2.8 zoom at higher ISO speeds. But, is lighting always that good where her husband plays?. If that was one of the better shots, then lighting may be much worse at some venues. Only the OP knows for sure.

I tagged along with my brother-in-law for a Mother's Finest Concert a while back with decent overhead stage lighting (compared to the lounges with live music around here), and took just about all of the shots at ISO 1600, f/4, 1/125 second with a very cheap lens (a 70-210mm f/2.8-4 Vivitar Series I APO Autofocus Lens that I got for $79.95, brand new in the box with warranty). lol It was the first time I'd used it (at all), and I wanted to see how well it could do in that environment. I pulled it out of the box, mounted it on the camera, made sure it would actually AF and fire, and left the rest of my lenses at home. One of my snapshots with this el-cheapo lens was actually published. lol

Did I really need AS at 1/125 second? Probably not, since a lot of the shots were one the wide end of the lens. But, I don't think it hurts to have it, and if I had turned it off, I suspect that some would have ended up with more blur from shake. Just about any current DSLR model would do fine in those kinds of conditions. You can get a high enough percentage of keepers at 1/125 second as long as you're not printing real large (although you'll get your share of images with motion blur, too) But, in the lower light venues, having a better solution is more desirable, especially if on a tight budget for lenses.

I'd make sure I could buy a decent 50mm prime (f/1.8 or faster) for any solution. That gives you more flexbility if the light gets real low, and if budget permitted, a longer bright prime as well.

I tend to use my 28mm f/2 or 100mm f/2 more often in low light (I usually want a wider shot or a more tightly framed shot at the typical distances I shoot at). But, I've got a 50mm f/1.7 if I need it (as well as a 35-105mm f/2.8 zoom), and have Anti-shake and ISO 3200 available with all of them on my KM 5D. If I didn't have the others, I'd probably use the 50mm more often (and would feel comfortable having it as my only option in most low light conditions I'd shoot in). I've got a bit longer 135mm f/2.8 that also works pretty well wide open (and if I win the lottery, I may buy a Sony Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 for it, even though I don't use a longer lens that often). lol



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