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Old Jul 13, 2009, 10:19 AM   #21
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I just wanted to jump in and reiterate: TRIPOD AND REMOTE. Like Mark, I do manual bracketing when I do tripod work becase I LIKE seeing the actual photo on the LCD and determining what increments I want to use. Using the camera's bracketing is good if you're hand-held. But if night time photography is your goal then tripod is going to do more for your success than the body OR lens. Yes, pro lenses are very nice (I have 5 pro grade lenses) but having the patience to use a proper support will provide greater bang-for-the-buck. But, if you'e going to buy a tripod - buy a GOOD one (think minimum $200 for legs/head). A good tripod/head can easily last 20 years - a cheap one will be replaced very quickly if you're doing low light work and have a critical eye.

If your photography will involve people then external flash is the most important tool (again, in my experience trumping lens and tripod). And when you're doing flash work, bracketing becomes less useful.
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Old Jul 13, 2009, 10:37 AM   #22
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Hi JohnG-

Thanks for hitting on some very excellent and important points regarding a good tripod and manual bracketing while on the tripod for night photos using HDR software.

That being the case, then the Canon XSi might do as well as the Nikon D-5000, by using manual bracketing on a tripod. What do you think? It could save the OP $(US) 100.00 at least.

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Old Jul 13, 2009, 11:13 AM   #23
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There are lots of ways to approach it. One popular method is simply using a remote cable with Bulb mode and timing your exposures yourself.

I've seen home made remote controls designed to let you program in the desired exposure times that make use of a camera's bulb mode.

You can buy specialized products to do the same thing. Here's one example:


A lot would depend on how long you need the exposures to be for the solution that works best if you wanted to experiment with bracketing and HDR software.

If you take the photos closer to sunset (i.e., within around 30 minutes after sunset), that tends to let you use a bit faster shutter speeds with more light left in the sky and less in the way of DR issues (since the already set sun is still providing some light). The last time I took some nights shots along the waterfront in Savannah, I had to stop down my aperture to f/9 just to get shutter speeds as slow as 1 second at ISO 200, taking photos of buildings with lights across the River . But, if you wait until a bit later at night, a bit slower shutter speeds are needed for the same effect.
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Old Jul 13, 2009, 11:23 AM   #24
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I have almost posted several times now. The examples of the images that are desired are not the usual city nightscape, but a much narrower field of view, which means less available light. There was originally a lot of high ISO discussion, and then lenses, bracketing/HDR, with tripods a few times along the way - all very important points, especially for night shooting.

I just do not see hand held, even in the evening - working out very well, and thus high ISO needs would tend to diminish, especially when high image quality is desired. Just my 2 cents thrown in (especially - because you have had a great deal of wonderful and priceless expertise comment along the way). So in my view it comes down to - with somewhat of an order to it:

Stability - as JohnG and others have pointed out, a tripod - and they do not come cheap, with a head that will hold the camera and lens that your using. You will be very surprised at how much tripods can run, but the $200 area I think is reasonable.

Camera System - I might as well combine lens with a body here. I think your going to want some selection of lenses, even though your budget starts out low - if you keep up with this area of interest, your "investment" will grow over time. Given that you are probably going to be using a tripod, and your budget is limited, start out with a kit lens and see where it takes you. 18-55mm I think covers the initial range for a lot of the pictures that were provided as examples.

Extras - not having a remote is not an option here. You can start off simple with a wired release, however over time your exposures may go over 30 seconds and then a more capable remote would be in order. Right now you have to start off simple.

I would ask if you plan to print and if so, how large? I am thinking that just about any entry level dSLR with a kit lens would be very adequate to start out (maybe even an older 6MP body will do very well, and certainly a 10MP current entry level body - the 6MP are very good at holding down noise). As you determine what exactly interest you, with a good system base - Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Olympus... would be very serviceable. The problem is - with a limited budget, you are hampered by starting with a very good lens, because of the cost of a body and the tripod. By going with an entry level body and a kit lens initially, you can use the package price to get started rather inexpensively. As you determine your needs, then you can add quality lenses (even on an entry level body - your quality will increase a great deal). The question at this point is which one - you do not know, so its better to go with a kit. The image stabilization body/lens would pop up here. In that you want to use this for general photography too, I would think that light levels will creep in here. My preference is body based stabilization - why, because I like wide angle and neither Nikon or Canon have IS wide angle lenses. So I have selected Pentax. A similar argument can be made for any of the major camera makes.

What it comes down to is that, you can only spend your money once (- well you can sell and repurchase). You can spiral down the rabbit hole on any of these individual technical topics forever. However, at your current budget - I think that your really looking for a high quality entry level package with a tripod and remote (that works with the selected body). If you go with either a higher end body or lens (or both), you budget is essentially consumed without a tripod (which is essentially 15% to 20% of your entire budget). There is no reason to go with a high end body and an entry level lens. Its better to go with an entry level body and a better quality lens, but then you run the potential of exhausing the budget with out the stable base to hold it all together. Essentially your looking to design a 3 part system, each of which is critical to your desired outcome. Usually, its just a 2 part system (body and lens) and that brings out a lot of discussion.

So I'll toss out a suggestion. The Pentax K2000 kit (body and 18-55 kit lens) for $500, with a $200 tripod, and a $20 wired release. Then save the rest for a better lens your type of photography leads you to after a year. I choose Pentax because I am most familiar with their line/prices, and I would think it would work well. However, any other make has similiar combinations available - and well crafted arguments can be made for each.

hope that helps.....
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Old Jul 13, 2009, 11:48 AM   #25
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Well done, InterestedObserver-

Thanks for a very detailed and comprehensive reply.

Sarah Joyce
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Old Jul 13, 2009, 9:35 PM   #26
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Wow, that was a good summary of this entire thread. Thank you.

Yeah, I've came to realization that lenses are more important than the actual performance of the camera because a quality lens does bring out the full potential of the camera. I think I've made a terrible mistake that most newbies make for any kind of gadgets, "new is better". A rookie mistake.

Also, I think regardless of the brand, each brand has lenses that are comparable to each other, just branded differently. I'm sure someone will argue that one brand has specific lenses that are better than the other but, in my opinion, I think you can find what you need in each set of lenses.

Anyways, ever since this thread started, I've added a tripod to my shopping list. To be honest, I was quite surprised by the cost of a tripod but, it seems to be a must-have to achieve what I'm hoping to achieve in the end.

As for the remote, I've shopped around few stores for them but the selections were very limited. I think I'm gonna have to dig more.

It seems that my first dslr will be one of the entry level cameras.
Thank you for the great amount of responses and sharing your thoughts. Also, after seeing those long exposure pictures, I'm very excited to try the long exposures and HDR bracketing.
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Old Jul 14, 2009, 1:13 AM   #27
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Well, I had to run off to work this morning, as I posted. But I had a couple of additional ideas. I am thinking that maybe propose a couple of examples for each of the capabilities, e.g., a tripod, camera/lens and necessary utilities. Not so much to say this is the set that you need to get, but more in the line of something like this, and the reasoning as to why. I also wanted to say, that now is an interesting time in cameras. There are a number of model changes that either are coming out or have come out, which makes for close out specials. Also, Ritz el al are closing all of their retail locations, and if your are close to one, there might be some targets of opportunity - if you know what your looking for and have an overall idea of some of the various makes and models.

Stability - Actually, I am looking for a tripod / head combination right now. I have a very specific collapsed measurement to meet (my carry-on suitcase). So, as an example (and I am no tripod expert, but my 4 year old plastic/aluminum one bit the dust) - I am considering this one - A Beno 4 section TRA168 Tripod with a ball head. It is rated at holding 8.8# (my camera/lens is 2,75# so I have margin). It's collapsed length will fit in my luggage (a heck of a requirement - but have to start somewhere). Its also weight 3#. Some will say its too light, and a bit too small, but I just can't lug a monster across country. Its $160 US.

Camera System - Make no mistake about it, you are buying a system, that to some extent locks you into a future path - be it Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony.... (you can change, but that can entail additional cost - selling your current setup and getting another). Also, there is no perfect camera - they all will have something you do not like about them, that you will find in the course of time. Technically, you really can not make a bad choice - they will all take great pictures and essentially do what you want a camera to do. In many ways it comes down to your personal preference. The camera is not always going to be on a tripod, so try to go out and handle everything that you are considering. Weight, size, can you look through the viewfinder, how the menu systems work, how you like the body controls (buttons, wheels, etc.). This is more important that it may sound. I am going to use Pentax as an example, because I am most familiar with their model line.

I tossed out an example this morning using the K2000 kit (body, lens and flash) for $500.


Now, I am going to go against what I indicated this morning about going with an entry level camera system. I classify this as a target of opportunity example. Pentax just came out with a brand new K7 model (top of the line), so they are clearing out their old top of the line model the K20D (its 18 months old and not discontinued yet). It was Pentax's most advanced model. Body and kit lens (the improved II version) for $700 + free shipping (this time last year just the body was well over $1K). If you buy and register before 7/31 you get a 3 year warranty. After 4 years using a K100 I upgraded to this 2 months ago. The link has the feature list in it, so I will not repeat it here. I will say that the camera controls are wonderful - with some unique features that I think would appeal to you. I will also say that the live view is weak. So this is a very good example of some deals that are currently available.


Utilities - With the tripod, you need a shutter release, so that you will not induce any vibration. They run from a few dollars to hundreds. Here are two. A simple one, and a more advanced one.

here is a simple one for $20

here is a more advanced one for $80 - this will externally set the shutter for exposures longer than 30 seconds, and for long duration time lapse imagery.
(note opteka has this for just about every make of camera for the same price)

So far we have spent $160 + $700 + $20 = $880 for a pretty advanced capability
or $160 + $500 + $20 = $680 for an entry level (plus you get a flash unit)

Now JohnG, Jim, Sarah, Peripatetic, TCav, dwig and Mark are experts at this, and very knowledgeable across Canon, Nikon, Sony and Olympus. So I would go back through the thread here - you have the D5000, along with the Xsi and the Sony A200 and A300. Sony is in the middle of introducing the new A350, so there are deals around on the A200 and 300.

So for the Sony A300 - you have the camera and kit lens for $600 (IS in body)

For the Nikon D5000 - camera and lens (kit VR) for $905 (non VR lens would be less)

For the Canon XSi - camera and lens - $640 (with kit IS lens)

Now I did not select the absolute lowest retailer, just tried to pick a low price from a known good retailer.

So what does that tell us - well you can keep your budget intact for just about all the selections.

So for a camera system (with IS/VR etc.) and then about another 200 for a tripod and a shutter release, here is the approximate damage.
Canon - $640 + $200 = $840
Nikon - $905 + $200 = $1105
Sony - $600 + $200 = $800
Pentax - $500 + $200 = $700 or $700 + $200 = $900

I know, I cheated and gave you a two price range on Pentax, but I wanted to illustrate some of the deals currently available.

So it looks like you can fit just about any make with in your budget and have all three parts to the system.

All of the camera system have at least 10mp of resolution so if your going to print large images, beyond 10x12 you should be fine.

Each camera system will emphasis a different value. Some will be better at high ISO that others. Some will have additional features that others do not have, that may matter. Some will have back monitors that articulate and better live view for composing on a tripod. Some will have 3 frame bracketing while others will have 5 frame bracketing. Some will have 2EV while others will have 3EV range in bracketing. In this list the Pentax and Sony are body stabilized while Nikon and Canon are lens stabilized. That is a decision that you are going to have to make...

I know that I did not get all the appropriate camera models, but what you are looking for can be found with some diligence and analysis. However, bottom line, is that it is going to have to take some work from you. You are going to have to decide, what appeals to you, what makes sense to you. There are a lot of folks that will take issue with the tripod, others have used cheap plastic tripods for years and swear by them.

What I have not touched on here are better lenses. As indicated this morning, starting out with a kit lens and the progressing to where your interests take you is my opinion. It may work for you and it may not, but it is an approach that you can consider. Selecting a better lens for each camera body for consideration would be a lot more work, and would take some guessing as to the focal length you want to work with - also the question of zoom or prime lens, etc.

I will leave it to others to suggest the relative merits and trade offs between the various makes and models.

Well I hope I have not confused you too much.... and hope it helps - somewhat.

Last edited by interested_observer; Jul 14, 2009 at 1:25 AM.
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Old Jul 14, 2009, 2:40 AM   #28
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Remember that digital cameras have a lifespan of 2-5 years, AF lenses usually last for 5-10 years, but a good tripod will probably last you your whole life. So it's worth spending a bit extra on a good one, if you buy cheap you will buy twice.

I suggest you start with the Manfrotto or Benbo ranges. Choose a good set of legs, rated up to the kind of weight you are going to need. Then choose a good head. A 3-way head is cheapest, but a good ball-head is very convenient. I would suggest you budget at least $150 for the head and $150-$250 for the legs.

Last edited by peripatetic; Jul 14, 2009 at 2:46 AM.
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Old Jul 14, 2009, 9:21 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by mtclimber View Post

Based on this thread's info thus far. IMO a Nikon D-5000 or D-90 might be a good choice for you. I would suggest purchasing the body only and adding the lenses that you need as you become accustomed to the camera.

Sarah Joyce
The kit lenses are such a good value that it really doesn't make any sense to buy just the body, especially when one doesn't own any lenses (I assume the OP doesn't own any lenses). It's tough to get used to the camera body without a lens to go with it. The 18-105 (the kit lens for the D90) or even the 18-55 (the D5000 kit lens) are both credible performers and will be useful as walk around lenses/general photography. Buying these lenses separately would ultimately cost you more money.
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Old Jul 14, 2009, 7:27 PM   #30
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I just read in a review of the Pentax K-7 that the K-7 can do in camera HDR photos by combining three different photos.

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