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Old Apr 20, 2010, 12:30 PM   #1
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Default Which camera for a Lighting Designer in Theatre, Opera and live Concerts?

Camera system for a Theatre Lighting Designer

Hello all,

I am trying do decide which camera to buy to archive my work as a theatre lighting designer.

I will be using it in the following manner:

During the dress rehearsals of the show I will have a camera sitting near me on a tripod, focussed to cover the full width of the stage. I need to take a photograph of each lighting cue in the show (normally up to about 300) with the best quality possible for my budget.

I will not be doing tight head and shoulder shots of the performers like most theatre photographers, I need to capture the look of the whole stage. I need to photos to archive the show, so I have a record of each cue for future revivals and also to use as examples of my work.

There is often a huge amount of contrast, for example a soloist in a bright followspot standing in front of dark scenery. Ideally the highlights would not be blown out, but nor would the darker areas and shadows disappear to black.

During the rehearsal I have to concentrate on doing my job, which is lighting the show, not taking photographs, so I need to be able to set something up with a remote shutter release and push the button without having to think about it.

I would find it easiest to look at a live view viewfinder or connect my MacBook to the camera and use it as a viewfinder.

I could probably do basic adjustments like exposure compensation, but I do not have time to fiddle much with the camera settings.

I am generally shooting from a distance of about 10m and need to have a depth of field of about 10m to keep the whole stage in focus.

I have been using a Pentax K10d with the 18-55 kit lens with very little success. Most of the time I am zoomed to about 30-35mm on this lens, so the widest aperture is f4. The fastest shutter speed I can use is normally about 1/20 or 1/30 as going much slower makes the performers blurred. With these settings the camera wants to use an ISO of 1600 and the noise makes the images terrible. At slower shutter speeds they are rarely sharp. Also I really struggle to be able to check the framing through the viewfinder.

Set designers I have worked with are achieving much better images from their mid range Canon or Nikons, but they are able to concentrate on photography during a rehearsal. I am not sure if these brands perform better in theatre lighting conditions or my lack of skill is the problem.

I understand that newer cameras are much better at higher ISOs and I would benefit hugely from using a wider aperture lens. It could be fixed angle, and probably would not even need to autofocus.

I can pay about 500, plus whatever I can get for the Pentax on ebay (about 200?), but could push this up if there is really strong justification for doing so.

I have been looking at Canon 500d or Nikon d5000. I'm also very interested in the Olympus PL1 as the small size is appealing as I travel so much, however I am curious to know if the smaller sensor will be a disadvantage for my kind of work.

I realise that I probably want the impossible, but maybe with your guidance I can find something close.

Thank you

Mr.P
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Old Apr 20, 2010, 12:45 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Mr.P View Post
I have been using a Pentax K10d with the 18-55 kit lens with very little success. Most of the time I am zoomed to about 30-35mm on this lens, so the widest aperture is f4. The fastest shutter speed I can use is normally about 1/20 or 1/30 as going much slower makes the performers blurred. With these settings the camera wants to use an ISO of 1600 and the noise makes the images terrible.
OK... just so I understand this a bit better... Do you need to take photos including performers moving? If so, 1/20 to 1/30 second is really way too slow unless you carefully time your shots so that you're taking them when the performers are virtually motionless.

Going with an f/2.8 or brighter lens could help. But, your shutter speeds would still be too slow to freeze any significant subject movement, and Depth of Field will be shallower with a wider aperture (although with wider shots, that's not as much of an issue).

Do you have any samples of what you're taking like that you could downsize and post here? See this thread for info on how to do that:

http://forums.steves-digicams.com/ge...oto-forum.html

If the photos include the EXIF information, that would help us to see the exact camera settings being used and how the images are being exposed.

As a general rule of thumb, you can usually get shutter speeds of around 1/200 to 1/250 second in typical stage lighting at f/2.8 and ISO 3200 when performers are in the lights. So, you may be overexposing the images about a stop if you're only getting 1/30 at f/4 and ISO 1600 (which is not uncommon if you have a lot of dark areas on a stage, as the ratio of darker to brighter lit areas can throw off the metering, and you may need to use Exposure Compensation to help out with that problem).

The Pentax K-x may be a model to consider that is probably within your budget. It's using a Sony 12MP CMOS Sensor that does better than most cameras using that sensor at higher ISO speeds (like the Nikon D5000 you're considering, which also uses a Sony 12MP CMOS Sensor). The Pentax K-x Dynamic Range (ability to capture a greater range of bright to dark) isn't quite as good as some of it's competition. But, it's noise levels tend to be a bit lower at higher ISO speeds, and in lower lighting like that, I'd tend to lean towards a system providing lower noise levels.
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Old Apr 20, 2010, 12:48 PM   #3
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Hi Mr P and welcome to Steve's.

The Olympus is a great little camera but at higher ISOs you drop to only 7 or less stops of dynamic range which isn't going to help you.

The Nikon does a slightly better job at the ISO range you are talking than the Canon but not by much but without a focus motor the total solution I'm going to suggest wouldn't work with the Nikon as well.

As you are working with 30-35mm all the time and with about 10m to the subjects I would go with a Sigma 30mm f1.4 lens stopped down to f2. This has just given you 2 extra stops of light and good sharpness, so you will get 1/80 - 1/120s shutter speeds working with the same ISO as before. That is going to set you back about 390. You could stick with your current body or go with a Pentax K-m and get better high ISO performance gaining almost a stop of dynamic range at ISO 1600. You could cut to ISO 800, still have double the shutter speed of previously and get even better noise handing and dynamic range. The K-m has live view so you can see what is going on, as for using the laptop I don't know as I shoot Canon.

I hope that sets you off in the right direction.
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Old Apr 20, 2010, 12:51 PM   #4
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Trust Jim to beat me to it!

I would just add that at 10m and f2 on a 30mm lens you get a total depth of field of 11m so you should be fine.
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Old Apr 20, 2010, 1:29 PM   #5
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I think you can get what you want with the camera you have, just by getting an appropriate lens. The Sigma 30mm f.1.4 would be exactly what you need to get reasonable shutter speeds at reasonable ISO settings. It would give you 3 more stops of light, which would be 1/60 at ISO 400 (or 1/125 at ISO 800), based on what you're getting now.

From what you say, I'm guessing that you would want to get a good exposure from whatever part of the stage is illuminated, so you should probably set the exposure to manual. That way, in each and every shot, anything that is lit will be properly exposed and anything that isn't will be underexposed, which is what you're after anyway. I'd also set a custom white balance, so that the AUTO WB didn't constantly adjust to changes in the color of the lighting you happen to be using at the time.
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Old Apr 20, 2010, 4:16 PM   #6
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You can get 3 stops, but to sharpen it up and get the desired dof f2 is ideal, that was my rational.
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Old Apr 20, 2010, 5:25 PM   #7
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Hello Guys, and thank you very much for the speedy advice.

You have confirmed what I suspected about getting a faster lens. I had not considered the Pentax Kx, having been so unhappy with my current Pentax, but I will have a look now.

It sounds like I should first try a fast lens on my camera, and if I still have problems with noise move on from there. The only worry is that this would commit me to the Pentax system, so I had better be sure I like the Kx first.

I think getting the best dynamic range is crucial as there are huge extremes of light levels in any stage picture. I need to learn more about this. How do I find out how good the dynamic range of a camera is?

I'm photographing a rehearsal tomorrow night with my current Pentax and will post some photos after that, as suggested by Jim. All advice would be very welcome.

I am generally torn between getting the ISO down to a less noisy level (400 on my K10 in theatre lighting) and getting a fast enough exposure.

The metering on the camera tends to massively over expose as so much of the image is often quite dark, so I tend to have to do it manually.

Any thoughts on the Nikon D5000 and the Nikon 35mm f2 lens? Looks like it would be a similar cost to the Pentax Kx and the Sigma lens. Are there any good value Canon fit primes out there?

Also, what are your thoughts on getting old manual focus lenses and are there any I should look out for?

Thank you again,

P
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Old Apr 20, 2010, 6:05 PM   #8
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The Nikon f2 version of the 35 won't AF on the D5000 but the 35mm f1.8 AF-S will. However, I don't know the optical quality of either.

I personally don't like manual focus lenses, in your situation however they will work as you can focus using live view, but if you wanted to use them for anything else where you needed faster focus then you are stuck.
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Old Apr 20, 2010, 7:10 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr.P View Post
... How do I find out how good the dynamic range of a camera is?
Here.
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Old Apr 20, 2010, 7:20 PM   #10
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I would look at the pentax k-x or the canon T1i or T2i. All three are very good to 6400iso, and can shoot at 12800. The canon has an advantage over the pentax, as canon has more fast lenses at 1.4 and 1.8 that are not super expensive.
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