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Old Jun 2, 2010, 5:29 AM   #1
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Default Better quality required for general use

I'm currently using my wife's Canon IXUS 950 IS but I'm a bit disappointed with the level of noise under anything but perfect lighting conditions so I'm looking to get something better.

It would be for general use - landscape shots, pictures of the family both indoors and out, evening events often with low light. I'd like a decent macro but don't need a huge zoom. Not bothered about gimicks such as video or GPS. Doesn't need to be too compact but I don't really want to have to change lenses etc. under normal use although being able to later if I have a specific need might be worthwhile. Shooting RAW as a minimum and bracketed exposures would be good.

So, in summary, what will give me nice crisp shots with minimum noise under a range of conditions for around 250?

I'm leaning towards the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35/38 at the moment...
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Old Jun 2, 2010, 6:59 AM   #2
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Well... you could get a Sony A230 with the 18-55mm kit lens (about the same angle of view you'd have using a 27-83mm lens on a 35mm camera) for under 300 from what I can see of UK prices now (for example, amazon.co.uk has it for 275 including shipping, and some of the retailers like Currys show it at 299 now).

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/B002A9JDJ8/

http://www.currys.co.uk/gbuk/alpha-d...88657-pdt.html

I'm not very familiar with European vendors (and I see you desired price was given in Euros), so you may be able to find it for less. You can see more about it here:

http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/...52921665879068

That would give you a camera with a much larger APS-C size sensor compared to what you'd have with a Point and Shoot model, as well as a hotshoe for using an external flash. It's relatively small and light as that type of dSLR goes.

You would not have Live View or Video (and it sounds like you don't care about video anyway), and the bracketing isn't the best for HDR use (3 frames at either 1/3 or 1/2 stop apart). Shooting RAW may help in that area.

That may be an option allowing better results in lower lighting if higher ISO speeds are needed compared to the non dSLR models using much smaller sensors, especially if you shoot RAW, as Sony's latest RAW converter has some nice improvements in the noise reduction algorithms being used. See this post for details:

http://forums.steves-digicams.com/so...-sr-3-2-a.html

Going with a dSLR would also give you the option of using more specialized lenses later. For example, something like a Sony 50mm f/1.8 DT lens for around 135 from what I can see at vendors like Jessops right now (or you could find a used Minolta 50mm f/1.7 AF lens for less, as Sony dSLR models work with Minolta Autofocus Lenses), so you'd have a much brighter lens for low light use.

From what I can see from UK prices (and I'm not very familiar with European vendors), that's about the only option that would keep you in the general ball park from a price perspective for a dSLR body including a lens (a Sony A230 kit including the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT lens for under 300 at some of the UK vendors), if you could live with the same angle of view you'd have using a 27-83mm lens on a 35mm camera (just multiply the focal length of a lens by 1.5x to see how they compare when comparing models using a Sony APS-C size sensor to lenses needed on a 35mm camera to get the same angle of view).

For closeups, that lens has a minimum focus distance of 9.8 inches (25cm), allowing you to fill the frame with a subject roughly 3.4 times the size of the camera's APS-C size sensor when zoomed in all the way to 55mm (typical for that type of lens). For something like shots of flowers, that may be fine. For smaller subjects (insects, etc.) you'll probably want a dedicated macro lens instead.

If you could increase your budget, you'd have more options; and could also find a camera with more features and higher usable ISO speeds (Nikon D5000, EOS-500D, Pentax K-x, Sony A450 or A500, etc.)
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Old Jun 2, 2010, 7:35 AM   #3
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Quote:
It would be for general use - landscape shots, pictures of the family both indoors and out, evening events often with low light.
P.S.

For family shots indoors, an external flash would be a good idea so you could bounce it for more even lighting.

You may also want to give more details on what you mean by "evening events", as you may need a much longer lens, depending on what you're referring to, and longer focal length lenses that are brighter (wider available apertures, represented by lower f/stop numbers) tend to be expensive. Live music in a small restaurant environment is one thing (where something like an inexpensive 50mm f/1.7 would probably be a good bet). But, if you're talking about events on a stage you're shooting from much further away, lens costs can go up dramatically if you want a brighter lens that lets you get faster shutter speeds for a given ISO speed and lighting. With a larger lens, you may find some venues restricting the type of camera you can bring in, too.

I'll let others comment on non dSLR models that may be better at higher ISO speeds compared to your existing camera, as I don't follow them as closely. But, as a general rule, you're going to get better results in lower lighting using a dSLR model, because they have much larger sensors that are able to gather more light (requiring less amplification of the signal generated for equivalent ISO speeds; since amplification of a weak signal increases noise levels).
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Old Jun 3, 2010, 7:32 AM   #4
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By evening events I'm thinking specifically of my sister's wedding later this year. Once the speeches finish and the dancing starts the lights tend to be lowered - not dark but definitely dim. I'm guessing that although a super-zoom has 1 1/2.8 sensor like a typical comapct, the large lens captures more light so a super-zoom would be better than a compact?

I am tempted by the much larger sensor of the Sony but there's a few things I don't like such as no live view and I think the cost of a separate Macro lens would be too much.
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Old Jun 3, 2010, 7:39 AM   #5
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You're going to need a flash in that type of lighting, regardless of the camera type you choose. Otherwise, you're just going to get a lot of blurry and/or noisy images. You need very high ISO speeds *and* a very bright lens to capture images of moving subjects indoors in very good indoor lighting, much less dimmer lighting on a dance floor. ;-)

Plan on using a flash for those photos, and it would be better to budget for a model that can use an external flash for better results. That way, you can use a diffuser and bounce the flash for better results, keeping ISO speeds set lower (which requires a more powerful flash).
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Old Jun 3, 2010, 7:44 AM   #6
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I'm guessing that although a super-zoom has 1 1/2.8 sensor like a typical comapct, the large lens captures more light so a super-zoom would be better than a compact?
Lenses are rated by their widest available aperture settings, with lower f/stops indicating a wider aperture that's able to let in more light.

Aperture as expressed as f/stop as a ratio between the focal length of the lens and the diameter of the aperture iris opening. So, smaller f/stop numbers are larger openings.

With a prime (non zoom) lens, you will see one aperture listed.

With a zoom lens, you usually see two apertures listed (the largest available aperture at wide angle zoom setting, and the largest available aperture at the full telephoto zoom position). When in between the widest and longest focal length of the lens, the largest available aperture will fall somewhere in between the apertures shown.

Some higher quality zoom lenses can maintain a constant aperture throughout their zoom range (with f/2.8 being the most common). A lens that can maintain f/2.8 throughout it's focal range is a must have for some types of shots (i.e., night sports in a stadium under the lights). Otherwise, you're going to get nothing but motion blur, even at higher ISO speeds (think ISO 1600 or 3200) if your subject is moving. To put things into perspective, a lens with f/2.8 available is exactly 4 times as bright as a lens that only has f/5.6 available (which is the widest available aperture with many zoom lenses if you zoom in much).

For many indoor conditions trying to shoot moving subjects without a flash, even f/2.8 may not be bright enough, even at ISO 1600+. Then, you may need to use a brighter prime (fixed focal length versus zoom, since you can find brighter primes versus zooms). In dimmer lighting, even a prime may not be bright enough for moving subjects, even at very high ISO speeds.

When you vary the aperture, you're controlling the iris in the lens (which like a pupil in your eye, can be opened up to let in more light or closed down to let less light in). So, this impacts the shutter speeds you'll need for proper exposure (since more or less light is getting through to the sensor).

The aperture scale in one stop increments (with larger than f/1 apertures possible) goes f/1.0, f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0, f/11, f/16, f/22... With each one stop move to a smaller aperture (represented by higher f/stop numbers), you will need shutter speeds twice as long for proper exposure for the same lighting and ISO speed (only half the light gets through compared to a one stop larger aperture). For example, you'll need shutter speeds twice as long shooting at f/4 instead of f/2.8 for the same lighting and ISO speed. Slower shutter speeds means more motion blur from subject movement if you're not using a flash.

But, in the case of your example (dancing indoors in dim lighting), I'd suggest you plan on using a flash, regardless of the camera and lens you choose. Otherwise, you can expect blurry photos.
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Old Jun 3, 2010, 8:01 AM   #7
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For example, the Panasonic FZ35/FZ38 you're looking at has a 4.8-86.4mm f/2.8-4.4 lens on it.

It just give you the same angle of view as a 27-480mm lens would on a 35mm camera because of it's small sensor. The actual focal length range of the lens it uses is 4.8-86.4mm.

The f/2.8-4.4 part of it's specifications means that it's got a widest available aperture of f/2.8 at it's widest zoom setting (4.8mm), and a widest available aperture of f/4.4 at it's longest zoom setting (86.4mm). When in between the widest and longest zoom setting, the widest available aperture will be somewhere in between f/2.8 and f/4.4.

That's not too bad considering how long that lens is for a model like that (still has f/4.4 available when zoomed in all the way to 86.4mm, which is the same angle of view you'd have using a 480mm lens on a 35mm camera). Most smaller point and shoot models will have lenses that get a lot dimmer as you zoom in much, with f/5.6 being typical. Now, that Panasonic's lens is still more than twice as bright at it's widest zoom setting compared to when it's zoomed in all the way. But, it may not get dimmer as fast as many lenses when zooming in to somewhere between the widest and longest zoom setting.

But, again, plan on using a flash for something like dancing indoors if you don't want blurry photos, even at ISO 1600, and even if you used it at it's widest zoom setting where it's brighter. f/2.8 and ISO 1600 is not bright enough to freeze moving subjects in dim indoor lighting like a typical dance floor would have without a flash, as your shutter speeds won't be fast enough (and you'd have degraded image quality at ISO speeds that high anyway).
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Old Jun 3, 2010, 8:24 AM   #8
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Thanks for all that

I think what I could do is get the FZ38 for my own general use and borrow a better dSLR for the wedding to get a feel for it. I might be prepared to spend a bit more for a really nice dSLR then once I'm sure I can do it justice. No point having crisp photos if the composition isn't up to scratch.
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Old Jun 3, 2010, 8:35 AM   #9
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Even with a dSLR, you're still going to want to use a flash for something like dancing indoors on a dimly lit dance floor. ;-)

Now, if you could borrow a Nikon D3s with a bright lens, you might be able to get away without one, depending on the lighting. But, I'd plan on using a flash for best results.

Also, don't assume you can pick one up and get good photos with it, as it will take some practice to get used to a camera, especially since you'll have a much shallower depth of field for a given aperture and subject framing with a dSLR model compared to a point and shoot model. That's another reason you'll want to use a flash -- you'll need to stop down your aperture more (higher f/stop number) to get more of a scene in focus indoors for some types of shots; and when you do that, you'll limit your ability to take photos without a flash because less light gets through to the camera's sensor.

Regardless of the camera and lens you plan on using, I'd make sure to have an external flash available for taking photos of moving subjects in dimmer lighting indoors; and make sure you've got some practice using the camera (in the same types of conditions) before that type of event if you want a higher percentage of keepers.
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Old Jun 3, 2010, 8:44 AM   #10
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P.S.

Another thing to be aware of is it takes a much higher skill level to get good photos in dim interiors without a flash, especially with lighting coming from different directions where sometimes the faces are lit, and sometimes they're in shadows. So, you have to try and watch how the light is falling on your subjects, carefully timing your shots for best results that way. Using a flash is much easier, even if you did have a camera and lens combo capable of taking the photos without one in that type of lighting (dimly lit dance floor with moving subjects).
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