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Old Oct 30, 2008, 7:04 PM   #1
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I go to regular events at clubs and have become the designated photographer with my sad little Fuji F30. The Fuji actually takes OK pictures without the flash when the venue isn't too dark, but it's certainly not optimal. I want to get a real camera. Here are my thoughts:

I think I can get away with something the size of a Rebel and a lens that isn't too humongous, but I want it to be as convenient as possible.

I don't want to have to use the flash. Built-in flashes make things look terrible, and carrying better lighting is impractical. Also, these are mostly candid shots. A flash constantly going off would be obnoxious.

I don't want to use a tripod. This is where I start to feel like I'm asking the impossible -- hand-holding shots in a dark club with no flash.

I assume image stabilization would be be useful. Are there any good fast lenses out there with stabilization? The only stabilized lenses I've seen are zoom lenses. So I'm thinking that in-body stabilization would be better than nothing. The Sony Alphas and Olympus E-520 have stabilization.

I'm usually taking fairly close-in shots, so a normal lens would be nice. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 looks the only fast normal lens under $500. There are a few more options at 50mm f/1.4, but I don't think I want to go to 50mm.

The Sony a350 and Sigma lens will run me about $1050, and I'd sure like to go cheaper. Going with an a300 would save about $150, and I doubt I'd notice much difference except not having live view. If a Rebel and a $200 lens would work just as well I'd prefer that, but when you combine the stabilization and the fact that the Sony has decent looking ISO 3200 performance, I think I would notice.

I really don't like Sony that much, but as long as I'm not forced to buy Memory Stick media I'm OK with them.
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Old Oct 30, 2008, 8:33 PM   #2
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Your Fuji F30 has a zoom lens with a focal length of 8-24mm, equivalent to 36-108mm on a 35mm film camera. For what you want to do, you'll need a large aperture, fixed focal length lens, and they aren't cheap. So I think you should confirm the focal length you need before you spend a lot of money. Check some of your favorite photos to see what focal lengths they were shot with, then apply the crop factor of the dSLRs you're considering, to see what focal length lens you should get.

That is, if many of your favorite photos were shot at a focal length of 14mm on your F30 (35mm equivalent of 56mm), on a Nikon, Pentax or Sony, you'd need a 37mm lens, on a Canon you'd need a 35mm lens, and on an Olympus, you'd need a 28mm lens.

Canon has the best selection of large aperture, fixed focal length lenses, including a 50mm f/1.2(!), but they aren't stabilized, and they can be very expensive. Nikon's selection isn't as good, and most won't autofocus on Nikon's entry level dSLRs. And they're not stabilized.

Olympus, Pentax and Sony all have sensor shift image stabilization in the camera body, and Iagree thatstabilization is something you should try to get.

Olympus makes the smallest, lightest dSLRs available, and their E-520 has image stabilization, 'Live View' (something else I thinkyou should try to get) (and it can autofocus using 'Live View', unlike it's predecessor, the E-510), and when paired with the Sigma 30mmf/1.4 ($490) or 24mm f/1.8 ($390)or the Panasonic (Leica)25mm f/1.4 ($800), it might fulfill your requirements nicely.

Pentax has the 10MP K200D and 14MP K20D, both of which are stabilized but only the K20D has 'Live View'. Pentax offersa 31mm f/1.8 ($835), a 43mm f/1.9 ($440) and a 50mm f/1.4 ($200), oryou can usethe Sigma 20mm ($460), 24mm($390), or 28mm ($300)f/1.8, or the 30mm ($440)or 50mm ($500)f/1.4 lenses.

Sony has the 10MP A300 and the 14MP A350, both of which have image stabilization and 'Live View' (The 10MP A200 has stabilization, but doesn't have 'Live View'.) You can use the Sony 35mm f/1.4 ($1300)or 50mm f/1.4 ($350), and you can also use the same Sigma lenses I already listed for the Pentax.

Pentax and Sony also benefit from a large and dynamic market of used lenses. For instance, the Sonys can also use the many older Minolta 50mm f/1.7 lenses that are available for around $100.

Among the choices here, the Olympus dSLRs probably have the worst high ISO performance. I would put the Pentaxes and Sonys about even in that respect, but I'd rate the 14MP models lower than the 10MP models. Since the 10MP Pentax K200D doesn't have 'Live View' while the 10MP SonyA300 does, I'd say the Sony A300 is your best choice.

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Old Oct 30, 2008, 10:34 PM   #3
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That's about what I was thinking. It just bothers me to see comments like these:


http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/So..._images.shtml:
Quote:
Ultimately the A300 does deliver slightly lower noise than the A350 at higher sensitivities, but like the A200 and A100, it was already performing worse than some rival models.

...

The Canon EOS 400D / XTi and Nikon D80 for example deliver lower noise at higher sensitivities than the A300.

From a review of the Sigma 30mm f/1.4:
Quote:
I bought this lens to complement a 18-250mm zoom on my new Sony A300. It was a good move because I find that even with the Sony's steadi-shot image stabilisation, getting good indoor and night-time shots at f4 is hard!
As expected from Sigma's "EX" badge, the auto-focus on this lens is fast and sure. And of course as far as image quality goes this lens is not the limiting factor (the A300's noise performance is what's letting me down I think).

So what I'm wondering is the extra little bit I can hold the exposure with the Sony's IS will make up for it having a noisier sensor, or if I should just get a Canon/Nikon. Either way I would probably be upset if a Canon/Nikon with IS came out, so maybe I should just wait for that.
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Old Oct 31, 2008, 12:17 AM   #4
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You may be waiting for a while. Nikon and Canon both make lots of money selling image stabilized lenses.
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Old Oct 31, 2008, 8:53 AM   #5
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First, yes, the Sony does not compete well in the area of high ISO image quality, until you get to the A700 ($1300).

Second, yes, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 needs to be stopped down to get reasonably good edge sharpness (See SLRGear.com's tests). But for your application, you are selecting lenses based more on their maximum aperture than on anything else.

And that's important. Your subjects will not be well lit. Your subjects will be moving (as will you.)

You need:
  • a large aperture to let in as much light as possible,[/*]
  • a fast shutter speed to prevent motion blur due to subject movement, and[/*]
  • a high ISO setting to get proper exposure andcompensate for the shortcomings of the selected aperture and shutter speed.
[/*]
In addition, you would probably benefit from:
  • 'Live View' because composing a shot in a dimly lit venue through the optical viewfinder will be difficult, and [/*]
  • stabilization to reduce image blur due to your own movement.
[/*]
For your chosen subject, you are not going to be stopping down to f/4. I think it would be more appropriate for you to worry about edge sharpness once you've considered all those other factors.

The largest apertures are:
  1. f/1.2: Canon's 50mm f/1.2L.[/*]
  2. f/1.4: (Everybody except Olympushas a 50mm f/1.4 lens, plus) Canon's 24mm & 35mm. Sigma's 30mm and 50mm (for any dSLR.) Panasonic (Leica) 25mm (for Olympus.)[/*]
  3. f/1.8: Canon's 28mm & 50mm. Nikon's 50mm. Sony can use the used Minolta 50mm f/1.7. Pentax 31mm & 43mm. Sigma's 24mm (for any dSLR), and 20mm and 28mm (for any dSLR except Olympus.)[/*]
  4. f/2.0: (This is a full f-stop slower than f/1.4, and so requires exposure times that are twice as long or ISO sttings that are twice as high.) Canon's 35mm, Nikon's 35mm.
[/*]
Sony and Pentax are probably a full f-stop behind Canon and Nikon as far as high ISO performance is concerned, and Olympus is probably two f-stops behind.

To be sure, Canon has the best selection of lenses that will do what you want, Canon has very good high ISO performance, and many Canon dSLRs have 'Live View'.

What Canon doesn't have is stabilization.

While your Fuji F30 has "Picture Stabilization", that is actually just a setting that increases the ISO to shorten the exposure time.

Perhaps you could post some examples of shots you've taken, so we can better understand what photographic conditions you're talking about.
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Old Oct 31, 2008, 10:28 AM   #6
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Tostada wrote:
Quote:
The Sony a350 and Sigma lens will run me about $1050, and I'd sure like to go cheaper. Going with an a300 would save about $150, and I doubt I'd notice much difference except not having live view.
Both the A300 (10 Megapixels) and A350 (14 Megapixels) have live view .

In the Sony lineup, if budget doesn't permit the A700, I'd probably get the A200 instead. The A200 does not have live view. But, it's got a larger optical viewfinder compared to the A300 and A350. That's because Sony had to make the viewfinder smaller in the live view models in order to make room for the dedicated live view sensor.

From my perspective, you'd be better off using the optical viewfinder for shooting events in low light, especially considering that you can introduce more camera shake trying to hold a heavy camera away from you to use live view (versus a steadier platform if you're holding the camera to your face using the optical viewfinder).

Just how low is the light there (have you got some samples without a flash from your Fuji that we could see the EXIF in)?

In some of the dimly lit clubs around here, it's not uncommon for me to shoot at ISO 3200 and f/2, just to get my shutter speeds up to around 1/30 second.

You really don't want to use ISO 3200 unless you have to, and only if you plan on keeping viewing or print sizes relatively small.

A better choice would be the A700. It does better at higher ISO speeds compared to the A200.

You may also want to consider a model like the Canon EOS-30D or 40D if the A700 is over budget. These have an ISO 3200 setting (missing on the entry level Canon models like the XS, XSi, and XTi), and you could find one at a lower price point compared to the A700. You wouldn't have stabilization with a bright prime like that Sigma though. But, you may be able to get good photos without it if you have a smooth trigger finger and stick to a wider focal length.

In the Nikon lineup, I'd look at the new D90. Like the Sony A700, the new Nikon D90 uses a Sony 12MP CMOS Sensor that does a bit better at higher ISO speeds compared to models using a Sony 10MP CCD. Again, you wouldn't get the stabilization you'd have using a bright prime like you get with the Sony models (since it's built into the Sony bodies and works with any lens).

The hardest part is going to be timing your shots so that you're capturing people when they're moving less, so that you don't get lots of photos with motion blur.

If you can post a downsized sample or two from your F30, that would help give us an idea of how low the light is.

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Old Nov 5, 2008, 10:10 PM   #7
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I don't currently have access to 99% of my pictures, and I haven't taken many because I recently moved and didn't find the charger to my F30 until Halloween, but here are some crappy pictures from Halloween:

http://picasaweb.google.com/brettlan...28511985399778

The "more info" button on the right shows the EXIF data.



I tend to leave my F30 at its widest angle, which would equate to about 24mm on an APS-C. A normal 30-35mm lens would be fine, but I certainly don't want a 50mm lens.

The difference between f/1.4 and f/1.8 is 2/3 of a stop which should make a big difference, so I'd really like to go with a f/1.4 lens. The Canon 24mm f/1.4 is over $1000, so that leaves me thinking that the $400 Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is the best idea even if I did get a Canon.

If I was going to spend much over $1000, I'd probably be looking towards the Sony A700 or Canon 40D, but I really can't afford that (or justify it as my first SLR), and I'd prefer something more portable.

What I'm seeing from reputable places is:
Sony A200 kit = $469, 18.8oz, 2.5" LCD, no live view
Sony A300 kit = $545, 20.5oz, 2.7" LCD
Canon XS kit = $485, 15.9oz, 2.5" LCD, crappy grip
Canon XSi body = $555, 16.8oz, 3.0" LCD

I do think Live View would be worth the extra $76 on the Sony. I can compose a shot holding the camera a little higher or lower without needing the screen to tilt, and I would probably be more annoyed than helped by the flimsy-looking screen that sticks out the back of the A300. The XSi has enough little improvements that I'd probably get it over the XS. I would prefer to have a Canon, and I like the smaller size. I already have a SDHC reader for my PC, and my laptop has a slot that reads them, so that'd be a nice benefit to the Canon.

But in the end none of that matters all that much to me. I just want the best quality pictures. So the real question is: Does the Sony's stabilization make up for the Canon's better sensor when it comes to low light shooting?

I would think that if Sony's SteadyShot is good for about 3 stops like they say, that would totally overshadow any advantage the Canon has. Even one extra stop would probably do it.

Why are there no stabilized fast normal primes? Plenty people like available light pictures. Does stabilization not work as well for wide shots?
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Old Nov 5, 2008, 10:37 PM   #8
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Tough call.

12MP Canon XSi for it's better high ISO performance, or Sony A300 for it's image stabilization.

The Canon would let you use a faster shutter speed than the Sony, but the Sony would let you use a slower shutter speed than the Canon.

At some point, you have to start worrying about motion blur from subject movement.

In your situation, I think I'd go with the Canon.
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Old Nov 6, 2008, 12:40 AM   #9
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It'd be nice to test the two, but I guess that's not going to happen.

One other thing I just thought of:

I take a lot of shots where it's dark enough for the AF-assist light to come on on my F30. It doesn't look like the Sony/Canon even have an AF light. All the Nikons do. Is this something I should worry about? Do the Sony/Canons have problems focusing when it's pretty dark? Will it automatically pop up the flash and start firing it to try to focus?

I found this:
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/st-e2.shtml

which implies that the Canon might suck for focusing in low light. Any opinions on that?

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Old Nov 6, 2008, 1:31 PM   #10
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The entry level Sony models can use their built in flash for Autofocus Assist . You have to manually raise the flash (it doesn't automatically pop up on Sony models).

Personally, I turn that feature (AF assist using the flash) off. It's irritating.

The Sony A700 and A900 have an AF Assist Lamp built in (no need to use the flash).

But, I've found that I can lock focus just fine in very low light using my Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D without any AF assist from the flash (and the Sony entry level models like the A100, A200, A300 and A350 use the same 9 point AF sensor assembly, only their algorithms and focus motor speed have improved with newer models).

You just need to make sure you're using fast (brighter) glass for best AF performance, since a brighter lens helps the AF sensors to "see" better.

I typically use one of my primes for shooting in very low light (Minolta 28mm f/2, 50mm f/1.7, 100mm f/2, 135mm f/2.8 )

You can see a few shots using my Sony A700 with a Minolta 100mm f/2 AF lens in this thread. It sounds like this is probably the type of lighting you'll want to shoot in.

Sony DSLR-A700 at ISO 3200 in low light

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