Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

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Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Dec 28, 2010 3:11 am

So my father-in-law got very interested in getting a camera after seeing my brother-in-law's D40 this Christmas, and is thinking of getting a system camera. Looking at the options, I'm tempted to suggest a camera using one of the new Sony EXMOR CMOS sensors for their fantastic shadow noise characteristics compared to most other previous and current-gen APS-C DSLRs, but the problem is finding one in an affordable body. The list of suspects include:

Pentax K-r w/18-55 kit zoom $699
Sony Alpha A33 SLT w/18-55 kit zoom $699
Sony Alpha A560 w/18-55 kit zoom $650
Nikon D7000 w/18-105 zoom $1500

The Nikon D7000 is pretty much off the list because of its price, and it would probably be wasted on someone newly entering photography. He's a big man (6'3", ex-heavyweight boxer) with big meaty hands, so the NEX is definitely out and even the A33 might be pushing it as far as handling goes. That pretty much leaves the Pentax K-r and the Alpha 560. I like the pentax, and I like pentax's lenses, but their range is much more limited than Canon or Nikon's, and it can be hard to find resellers. Then again, it's entirely possible he will never move beyond the kit lens, and the Pentax kit zoom is said to be pretty good. As is the Sony's (using the slightly lower-spec 14 MP sensor from the A33).

What do you guys think? Am I over-rating the importance of low shadow noise? I just look at comparison shots between the D7000 (or K-r) and say, a 60D, and can't think why anyone would put up with that level of shadow noise today. It's definitely going to be a benefit when shooting indoors and in low light, and in the hands of a neophyte, might be the difference between a salvageable shot and a discard. There's still the D3100 ($599), 500D/T1i ($650) and 550D/T2i ($799), but they fare about as well in shadow/read noise as previous gen cameras. On the plus side, Nikon's OOC JPEGs are still better than anyone else's bar Olympus, so a D90 or D3100 might still be an option. And the K-x can be had for a song today, it's not as good as the K-r/D7000, but still the best low light camera of the last generation.

What do you guys think?
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Dec 28, 2010 1:31 pm

What do you guys think? Am I over-rating the importance of low shadow noise?

Not at all; but I do think you've made a mistake about which cameras actually incorporate backlit sensors. Right now, I'm pretty sure that no DSLR actually incorporates one and that they're relegated to compacts. Something about how the smaller photosites on the smaller sensors gets the most benefit.

EDIT:

I'd go for the Pentax K-x (or a D90, which can also be found for pretty cheap). Both have excellent low-light quality per buck, and the smaller/esoteric lens selection in the Pentax line would probably be troubling only for someone looking to go pro. Or maybe even something cheaper with an external flash unit for wall/ceiling bounce, which can potentially permit better quality but come at the expense of being a lot less intuitive to grasp.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Dec 28, 2010 3:02 pm

A good camera body is only half the story. Don't forget about the lens. Something in the f/1.4-f/2.8 range -> http://goo.gl/p2N3X or http://goo.gl/4aVCe (ignore the brand, just look at the specs/price)

Even if you do get a good low light lens you may need still need to use a flash or tripod in low light situations. When I shoot in low light my equipment choices depend on the subject matter. I've shot long exposure night shots with my 12-24mm f/4G on a tripod. For portraits I'll use a 30mm f/1.4 (http://goo.gl/F6Osf) with a SB-800.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Dec 28, 2010 3:15 pm

If his focus is on photography I'd say the K-r/K-x. If he has interest in video, he may be better off with the A33 for it's auto focus ability. I also wouldn't worry about the "limited range" of Pentax lenses. You've got all the standard zoom and a nice assortment of primes available to you. Oh, and don't forgot about all the old Pentax lenses available as well. The big downside is lack new lens availability in B&M stores. If that matters to him, then Pentax may be ruled out.

And Pentax also recently released an affordable fast lens in the 35mm f2.4. Personally, I think something in the 30ish range is more useful than a fast fifty on APS-C.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Dec 28, 2010 4:07 pm

Canon 550D or Nikon D3100 would be my suggestions (i see u did already note these)

If you have a nice fast lense I don't think the shadow noise would be that big of a deal, but im no expert. DSLRs are getting so good these days I think the limiting factor will definitely be the operator, all these cameras are capable of really nice photography.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Dec 28, 2010 8:35 pm

SPOOFE wrote:Not at all; but I do think you've made a mistake about which cameras actually incorporate backlit sensors. Right now, I'm pretty sure that no DSLR actually incorporates one and that they're relegated to compacts. Something about how the smaller photosites on the smaller sensors gets the most benefit.


Maybe I've misnamed the sensor, but the Sony sensor on the D7000/K-5 really does make a big difference.

For example: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikond7000/page17.asp

The difference in the +3 EV recovery is like night and day between the D7000 and the 60D. Unfortunately, the D3100 uses a Renesas (I believe) sensor instead. However, I've also made a mistake, and the K-r uses the same sensor as the K-x (which was no slouch in low light).

I think you have a point about lens selection only being an issue for pros/enthusiasts. For a camera that's going to live with the kit lens on it, it's not a big deal (I happen to like Pentax's lenses, would love a FA 43 or 77m lens).
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Dec 28, 2010 10:20 pm

Be somewhat wary of overfocusing on low-light low-noise capability. Anything you can get these days does a decent job (obviously some better than others, of course), and when not pixel-peeping shadow noise isn't necessarily the end of the world. Certainly keep it in mind, but also keep it in the context of what sort of shooting (and processing workflow!) you anticipate from him. If he's going to be shooting jpegs, he's not going to recover a 3 stop underexposed image, even if the RAW data might offer a chance). Better metering, a good in-camera jpeg engine, accurate autofocus, maybe good auto-iso, and a fast lens (potentially and/or stabilization) could offer quite a bit more value. Getting a good exposure trumps recovery capability, especially for a jpeg shooter. Also, if you anticipate him shooting primarily jpeg and you want to pixel-peep noise characteristics, make sure you're comparing jpeg output rather than processed raws. Also verify shadow detail. If he's not processing RAWs with ACR, take the DPR results with a grain of salt. ("Keep in mind that normalizing"
RAW conversions from differnt cameras can be a bit problematic in general, too. Different cameras' files can respond differently to normalized settings.) Take numerical noise measures with a grain of salt as well - examine test images for final evaluation. Imaging-resource tends to have nice sets of example images you can compare between cameras. I'd check those over to compare what the real differences between cameras under comparison are. I think their normal set of ISO-comparison images are OOC jpegs with various NR settings on/off.

Look at shadow areas for cameras under consideration. Figure out how many stops of real-world difference you might gain from one to the other. A one stop improvement is simultaneously a doubling or performance and not a huge deal, depending on how you look at it. Add in how much the camera will actually be used in low-light, the relative quality of the viewfinders (underrated!), low-light af and metering reliability, etc.

Technical differences between cameras of a given generation (or even sequential generations) are great forum fodder to crow about, but tend to be insignificant relative to the attention paid them. They're easy to compare, easy to attach a quantifiable number to (although making those numbers representative of image quality isn't always straightforward), and something that can be addressed thoroughly and systematically in a review. At the end of the day, they seldom make the big difference between getting a great image or not. The features and capabilities that *do* make a bigger difference tend to be those that are the most difficult to quantify and review - autofocus performance in difficult situations (and in general!), metering performance in difficult situations, WB accuracy, flash system capability - all of the stuff that the complicated and capabable electronics in modern cameras is busy doing to assist in delivering a correctly focused and exposed image. These differ quite a bit from company to company and even from camera to camera, and performance differences are simultaneously important and very difficult to characterize.

Ergonomics are huge. Big hands means avoid the low-end canons, unless they have changed dramatically recently. I haven't handled the newest ones, but the older rebels have (literally for me) painfully small grips. They are uncomfortable for me to use. Nikons, even the d40 et al, are fine. mid-end and above canons are fine. The Minoltas were fine - I haven't handled the lower-end Sony stuff so no idea there. Pentax is fine (but no recent hands-on there either).

Don't chase the "best sensor" in one narrowly-defined way too much, unless you anticipate the camera being dedicated to use in that condition. In general, I rely more on reviews like Thom Hogan's than obsessing over minor differences in noise handling. A new gen sensor + processing tends to give maybe an extra usable stop, and the other differences between cameras tend to matter a lot more.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Dec 28, 2010 11:47 pm

End User wrote:A good camera body is only half the story. Don't forget about the lens. Something in the f/1.4-f/2.8 range -> http://goo.gl/p2N3X or http://goo.gl/4aVCe (ignore the brand, just look at the specs/price)

Even if you do get a good low light lens you may need still need to use a flash or tripod in low light situations. When I shoot in low light my equipment choices depend on the subject matter. I've shot long exposure night shots with my 12-24mm f/4G on a tripod. For portraits I'll use a 30mm f/1.4 (http://goo.gl/F6Osf) with a SB-800.


Good advice, but bear in mind that you lose on depth of field with a large aperture lens - ie, if you're shooting wide open, you might find yourself able to get the eyes, and nothing else, in focus (for example.) The wider open the lens gets, the narrower the depth of field, and hence the less that's in focus - that may be the effect you're after, but it might not. It's a compromise, like everything in optics.

For my money, a good quality flash matters more than wide aperture optics; anything that you can bounce off a ceiling (or get a good diffuser for). I can only really comment on Canon's lineup; in that context, steer a very wide berth away from 220EX, and I'd suggest avoiding the 270EX (you can bounce its light, but only in landscape orientation, not portrait.) Broadly speaking, you want something that will tilt up to 90 degrees, and rotate at least 90 degrees, preferably 270 or 360 degrees or more.

mattsteg wrote:Be somewhat wary of overfocusing on low-light low-noise capability. Anything you can get these days does a decent job (obviously some better than others, of course), and when not pixel-peeping shadow noise isn't necessarily the end of the world.


Everything this guy says makes a hell of a lot of sense. Read it. Thoroughly. On the low end Canon comment, that includes the 60D; the 20D, 30D, 40D and 50D are larger bodies and well worth considering, but the 60D has repositioned the x0D lineup, and it's now much closer in size to the xx0D lineup than it used to be. It's a damn shame, too; means that for larger physical bodies, you're looking at the 7D, 5D II, or 1D series bodies, and they are not cheap. Good value for money, yes, but that's relative to what they offer, and only if you know how to use them; not really cameras I'd suggest for a beginner. Getting the battery grip for a smaller camera may make a difference, but I wouldn't rely on that. Whatever brand and body you end up going with, get your father in law into the shop, and have him play around with the cameras for a good half hour or more; if it's not comfortable, he won't use it, and if he won't use it, why buy it in the first place?
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Dec 28, 2010 11:57 pm

Good advice by mattsteg. Nikon's JPEG colours are still one of my favourites, and the D90 is still a pretty good option despite its age. That and the K-r/K-x are probably my favourites right now. Unfortunately, Nikon's OOC exposures can be a bit hit and miss (except for dedicated flash metering, where they are among the best), so require a bit of hands-on photographic know how to get the best results (then again, all DSLRs do). Canon's OOC JPEGs are pretty abysmal (have a 40D in my drybox), I personally wouldn't recommend them to a JPEG shooter, and the EF-S 18-55 kit zoom is pretty awful as well.

As for ergonomics, I still like Canon the best, I think they and Ricoh have the best ergonomics in general for hands-on shooting (although the lower end canons without the rear dial do compromise usability IMO). I don't like how fiddly it is to get to ISO controls on the Nikons, haven't had much experience with modern Pentaxes (the last Pentax I handled was a Spotmatic :P). Will definitely try to get him into a camera store to handle the cameras in person. Then again, by then he may have completely lost interest and latched on to something else. :P
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Wed Dec 29, 2010 12:15 am

and the D90 is still a pretty good option despite its age.

The D5000 as well. A buddy just got one and it took a moment to get used to the streamlined design, but otherwise it seems like an excellent camera. The biggest caveat seems to be that you have to pay attention to lens choice (less likely to affect an amateur), but it WILL nick you with the 50mm f/1.8's lack of AF-S, which sucks since that lens would otherwise be an awesome pairing (the 35 1.8 is a good choice, but even outside the wider angle its optic characteristics are way different... but, again, not likely to affect a hobbyist/casual photog).
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Wed Dec 29, 2010 1:10 am

Voldenuit wrote:Good advice by mattsteg. Nikon's JPEG colours are still one of my favourites, and the D90 is still a pretty good option despite its age. That and the K-r/K-x are probably my favourites right now. Unfortunately, Nikon's OOC exposures can be a bit hit and miss (except for dedicated flash metering, where they are among the best), so require a bit of hands-on photographic know how to get the best results (then again, all DSLRs do).
Other than the D80 and maybe some of the lower-end Nikons, Nikon matrix metering is generally very reliable and imo a strength of the system. The D80 paid way too much attention to whatever you were focusing on for metering. The D90 still biases exposure toward what it focuses on, depending on focus mode, but not to the extreme that the D80 did. Any details on the specific hit/miss you experience with Nikon? Plenty of people seem to see metering as a strength (including me, but I really don't have enough experience with other systems to compare).
Voldenuit wrote:As for ergonomics, I still like Canon the best, I think they and Ricoh have the best ergonomics in general for hands-on shooting (although the lower end canons without the rear dial do compromise usability IMO). I don't like how fiddly it is to get to ISO controls on the Nikons, haven't had much experience with modern Pentaxes (the last Pentax I handled was a Spotmatic :P). Will definitely try to get him into a camera store to handle the cameras in person. Then again, by then he may have completely lost interest and latched on to something else. :P
The size of the grip on the rebels multiplies the ergonomic compromises many times over for me. The last Pentax I hadnled wasn't super new, maybe the *ist. Ergonomically similar to Nikon is my recollection. ISO on the d90 isn't bad - not a camera to the face adjustment, but still just a button-hold + wheel spin away.

Definitely get him into a shop to fondle some cameras, if he's serious. It sounds like any system should be OK from a needs perspective (i.e. no need for extensive rental/used availability, uncommon lens options, etc.), so there's a lot of flexibility there. At least figure out if any systems don't work for him ergonomically, in the range of bodies under consideration. Going with a camera that's not "the best" ergonomically is fine, but you want to avoid anything that's downright incompatible. This is also a good chance to compare things like viewfinders and overall interface. Small, dim viewfinders don't really stand out as a negative on spec sheets and seldom merit more than a passing mention in reviews, but in handling cameras the difference from one camera to another can be pretty dramatic.

At this point, I really haven't paid much attention to camera reviews in years - what I've got has been sufficient for my needs. I watch mostly what Nikon rolls out in the semi-pro and up product lines - Nikon ergonomics and the Nikon system features work well for me, and there are a few Nikon-specific features that I use. Absent Nikon falling behind in successive generations (or someone else rolling out a new capability that I must have), I have no motivation to switch.

From this perspective, what I find most useful in reviews, beyond the basic image quality stuff to make sure that everyone's in the same ballpark, is information on metering and focus performance, user interface and any changes to it, model (or brand) specific capabilities (i.e. remote flash controller built-in to all mid-range Nikons). Focus and metering performance are probably the most significant performance characteristic (depending on shooting style) that don't get much play in dpreview-style reviews. Brand-focused reviewers (like Thom Hogan) can be helpful within a brand. Cross-brand comparison can get pretty dicy. You can compare specs, but the ways different companies implement AF and metering are different enough that specs are near-meaningless cross-brand.

I guess what I'm saying is that a lot of the most important differences between cameras and systems aren't going to be clear from i.e. dpreview. Ergonomics and user interface, system capabilities (i.e. does this system do everything I anticipate needing it to do now and in the future), a few specific features (remote flash control, mirror luckup), implementation quality of a specific capability (i.e. OOC jpegs), etc. are all things I would lean toward factoring heavily in the decision. It can be fun (or annoying, depending on context) to compare cameras from different manufacturers on paper or in image quality, but the answer to the question "which camera will give me the best images" is normally "whichever one I have with me", with maybe a few required capabilities. The great (and annoying) thing is that there are few bad options and no absolute best option. Get the ergonomics right, and think hard on any specific functionality offered by one camera or system vs another.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Wed Dec 29, 2010 1:26 am

mattsteg wrote:
Voldenuit wrote:Good advice by mattsteg. Nikon's JPEG colours are still one of my favourites, and the D90 is still a pretty good option despite its age. That and the K-r/K-x are probably my favourites right now. Unfortunately, Nikon's OOC exposures can be a bit hit and miss (except for dedicated flash metering, where they are among the best), so require a bit of hands-on photographic know how to get the best results (then again, all DSLRs do).
Other than the D80 and maybe some of the lower-end Nikons, Nikon matrix metering is generally very reliable and imo a strength of the system. The D80 paid way too much attention to whatever you were focusing on for metering. The D90 still biases exposure toward what it focuses on, depending on focus mode, but not to the extreme that the D80 did. Any details on the specific hit/miss you experience with Nikon? Plenty of people seem to see metering as a strength (including me, but I really don't have enough experience with other systems to compare).


DPR recently tested the D7000 and D3100, and both cameras had a tendency to overexpose in high contrast and/or outdoor scenes. With RAW, this is not as big a deal, but when shooting JPEG, can lead to irrecoverably blown highlights. Also, the D3100 has no dedicated ISO button - the only way to access ISO controls directly (without digging into the menu) is to assign it to the Fn button. I believe the D90 does not share this problem, but of course it is a higher end model.

Surprisingly, I've found the most robust metering usually comes in compacts. I guess it makes sense, these devices are usually used 'hands off' in a wide variety of situations, and the metering has to be able to cope. It also helps that they are metering directly off the sensor, so can provide a level of accuracy that DSLRs (with their separate exposure system in the prism housing) have to work hard to match. Also, DSLRs (and system cameras) are meant to be used by enthusiasts, so it is usually more important to have predictable metering rather than a reliable one. I know that my GF1 will overexpose in bright sunlit scenes, and a -1EV compensation is a dial turn away and a habit for me by now. Whereas my Nokia N8 camera is uncanny in its metering, and I rarely ever have to fiddle with it (which is good, because it's a few menu settings away from the home screen).
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Wed Dec 29, 2010 1:43 am

Voldenuit wrote:DPR recently tested the D7000 and D3100, and both cameras had a tendency to overexpose in high contrast and/or outdoor scenes. With RAW, this is not as big a deal, but when shooting JPEG, can lead to irrecoverably blown highlights.
The problem was that they focused on a black object with a bright background in single-area AF mode, which resulted in a boosted exposure. Nikon made the decision to weight the subject under the focus sensor more highly to make sure what you're focusing on is exposed well. Not ideal in this case (and I prefer the metering of my older D200 that doesn't have that enhancement), but predictable, if you know how the system works. The D80 introduced this bias and had it tuned up way too high. With the current cameras, as long as you know the camera is emphasizing where you focus, it should not be difficult to avoid. I believe different AF settings would not have metered the scene that hot. This is why jack-of-all-trades reviewers like dpreview can be a bit less useful than brand-specific reviewers for metering/autofocus information. They're more likely to know the ins and outs of the specific systems they use, and modern systems do bring in a fair bit of complexity!

Thom Hogan wrote: Likewise, the "overexposes" complaints often end up being not liking the change in gamma that the Standard Picture Control imparts coupled with things like Single Point AF (there it is again) telling the matrix meter to put more emphasis on the thing that's being focused on. Unless that's skin tone or brighter, the camera will "overexpose." It's one of the reasons why my books are so well received: I point out these things and what you should do about them.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Wed Dec 29, 2010 7:33 am

Infromative quote from Thom. I think most modern DSLRs do some form of weighting around the AF point when they meter (at least if you're metering in spot or center weighted average), and I do think that a user should know the basics of exposure and metering if they expect to get good shots when they pick up a DSLR. It just seems to me as if Nikon hasn't struck the right balance here, especially for beginners, who are struggling to get the basic concepts down let alone making allowances for how the gear will stray from its normal behaviour to "please" them. The same goes for Nikon's Auto-ISO behaviour, though to be fair, that's not something many competitors get right either (I can't even set minimum shutter speed on my GF1, which is very annoying when I'm shooting manual lenses in low light*, as I can't use S mode).

But yes, I'm nitpicking, and I still think a D90 is a fine choice.

* which is exactly the time I'm most likely to use manual lenses, as the m43 lenses are generally not very fast.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Wed Dec 29, 2010 9:18 pm

I would do a D90 and the 35mm F/1.8 as the first upgrade. Low light will be easy, and the D90 can take used screw-driven motors.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 8:13 pm

I've been quite pleased with my D90. With either the 50 f/1.8 or 35 f/1.8 DX, it's quite competent in very low light, and you can always add in flash if need be (be it straight from camera, ghetto-style notecard bouncing [hey, it works pretty well, actually!], or external flash bouncing), which I've found the D90 to be exceptional at metering. Well, unless I completely blow the exposure with the SB-600. Gotta learn to use that power! :oops:

For what it's worth, I'd say that super-high ISO speeds are becoming largely academic from a point-and-shooter's perspective. The only times I've had to use anything north of 1600 with regularity is shooting indoor basketball with a 70-300 f/4.5-5.6. And yes, I can easily tell which shots were taken with the faster lens and lower ISO. It is cleaner. At the same time, for someone who'll stick with the kit lens (though really, I can't recommend getting either the 50 or the 35 hard enough!), image quality with OOC JPEGs should be fine up to and past 1600. With a good converter (Lightroom 3.3 in my case), you can use all the way up to HI1/ISO 6400. Can, not should. But if you had too, they're usable.

RE: D90 vs D3100/D5000 - Get the D90. It feels far better in the hand, has better manual controls if he should go down that road, can take a battery grip (it's bigger, for good and for bad), and, most importantly, it can use AF-D lenses. If the 50 f/1.8 didn't make the case for that on its own, the used market should, not to mention that Nikon's pace at converting their lineup to AF-S is taking place in geological time.

RE: Overexposure - As has been mentioned earlier, exposure does get biased towards the focus point, which can, in some cases, cause overexposure. On the other hand, let's say that you have a subject that's extremely backlit - people on the beach in the afternoon, for example - the Nikons will tend to bring the people closer to correctly exposed, whereas the background might blow out somewhat. Personally, I don't mind that in matrix, and I think it's probably the better choice for amateurs - usually, after all, the focus point is the subject, and that's what you want in focus. In some situations, though, it can be a bit of an issue. Not too bad to solve, though - change the metering, throw in some fill flash, or use exposure compensation.

I don't have much experience with other brands (heck, I'm not even sure I can remember seeing a Pentax DSLR in person). Every time I've handled a Canon, I've been happy to return to my Nikon. That's probably largely due to growing up on a Nikon, but it's also indicative that they are very different. I'll second what everyone else said about making sure he gets his hands on them. Ergonomics trump almost everything else - if you don't like using the camera, you aren't going to use the camera. The worst camera is one that's sitting at home at the bottom of a closet not being used. The D300s, D90, and D5000, will, for the most part, return the same photos in the same situation. There's a lot of stuff that goes into a good camera that isn't the sensor - AF, Metering, FPS, Buffer, Ergonomics, Compatability, Lens & Accessories ecosystem, etc.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 8:32 pm

What about the better Olympus u4/3 models? With a fast lens like the Panasonic f1.7 20mm pancake they make quite a small system with excellent OOC JPG images (some consider the OOC JPG from Olympus the best there is). Many dSLRs with lens attached are so big and heavy they get left at home. Also the Panasonic's G2 is pretty nice as well. It may not be "the best" at low light, they are still far better than a compact. When paired with a fast lens will make you pretty happy with the results.

The entire u4/3 system can be roughly 1/2 the weight of a similarly equipped Canon/Nikon equivalent with little sacrifice in performance. Example with 14-150mm lens attached, or even better with the 20mm f1.7 pancake. Now with a decent 100mm-300mm IS lens we are firmly in wildlife zone (200mm to 600mm equivalent).

Film would have a tough time keeping up with digital in low light in most of today's larger-sensor cameras.

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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 9:22 pm

liquidsquid wrote:What about the better Olympus u4/3 models? With a fast lens like the Panasonic f1.7 20mm pancake they make quite a small system with excellent OOC JPG images (some consider the OOC JPG from Olympus the best there is). Many dSLRs with lens attached are so big and heavy they get left at home. Also the Panasonic's G2 is pretty nice as well. It may not be "the best" at low light, they are still far better than a compact. When paired with a fast lens will make you pretty happy with the results.

The entire u4/3 system can be roughly 1/2 the weight of a similarly equipped Canon/Nikon equivalent with little sacrifice in performance. Example with 14-150mm lens attached, or even better with the 20mm f1.7 pancake. Now with a decent 100mm-300mm IS lens we are firmly in wildlife zone (200mm to 600mm equivalent).

Film would have a tough time keeping up with digital in low light in most of today's larger-sensor cameras.

-Mark


If low light is the concern, getting a camera with a larger image sensor is a better idea. Due to the size of the sensor, the m4/3 cameras aren't going to compete with an APS-C camera in low-light quality. Nikon (D3100 if you're planning to just buy new lenses, D90 if you're thinking otherwise) or Canon's equivalent (Rebel something or other...) is just going to do a better job with the low light. Then you buy a nice fast lens (the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 is great)...

On the other hand, all of them will be better than a compact, unless you're buying a premium compact with a larger sensor in it.

(In the interests of disclosure, I have a Nikon D40 with a serious hankering to upgrade.)
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 9:26 pm

Voldenuit wrote:It just seems to me as if Nikon hasn't struck the right balance here, especially for beginners, who are struggling to get the basic concepts down let alone making allowances for how the gear will stray from its normal behaviour to "please" them.


I would be curious how many beginners buy a D7000... that's what the D3100 and D5000 are for - they're like gateway drugs, and most people start there and then get into the upgrading habit. I haven't seen similar complaints about those entry-level DSLRs, but then I haven't been looking either, since I'm not in that market any longer.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 10:08 pm

swampfox wrote:If low light is the concern, getting a camera with a larger image sensor is a better idea. Due to the size of the sensor, the m4/3 cameras aren't going to compete with an APS-C camera in low-light quality. Nikon (D3100 if you're planning to just buy new lenses, D90 if you're thinking otherwise) or Canon's equivalent (Rebel something or other...) is just going to do a better job with the low light. Then you buy a nice fast lens (the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 is great)...

On the other hand, all of them will be better than a compact, unless you're buying a premium compact with a larger sensor in it.

(In the interests of disclosure, I have a Nikon D40 with a serious hankering to upgrade.)


Actually that is quite a load of bulls**t now. You, like many others have not been following recent developments (however the new Sony sensor DOES rule when used in the Pentax and Nikon) and are spitting out old info. For instance the new GH2 with its new u4/3 sensor competes quite well with the A55 using Sony's flagship 'C' sensor. There is more to it than sensor size these days.

Bear in mind that if you intend to PRINT your images, pixel-peeping no longer counts since noise becomes binned/lost therefore averaged out. A high resolution 16Mp image sensor in the GH2 will print MUCH better noise-wise than a 10Mp lower-density sensor on the same-sized paper.

The other thing to consider is the GH2 (top-end u4/3) by all accounts focuses faster and more accurately in very low light than any camera to date (all else the same). Having a low light sensor but inability to auto-focus reliably sort of kills the point of taking a picture in the first place. However the GH2 is probably out of the OP's price range.

I have a serious hankering to get the GH2 but I don't give a damn about its amazing video capabilities so 1/2 of the camera would be lost on me.

Honestly I would love to get the Pentax for its incredible dynamic range for landscapes, but cannot justify selling my system for it. I do love shooting primes though, less fuss.

-Mark
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 11:20 pm

liquidsquid wrote:
Actually that is quite a load of bulls**t now. You, like many others have not been following recent developments (however the new Sony sensor DOES rule when used in the Pentax and Nikon) and are spitting out old info. For instance the new GH2 with its new u4/3 sensor competes quite well with the A55 using Sony's flagship 'C' sensor. There is more to it than sensor size these days.

Bear in mind that if you intend to PRINT your images, pixel-peeping no longer counts since noise becomes binned/lost therefore averaged out. A high resolution 16Mp image sensor in the GH2 will print MUCH better noise-wise than a 10Mp lower-density sensor on the same-sized paper.

The other thing to consider is the GH2 (top-end u4/3) by all accounts focuses faster and more accurately in very low light than any camera to date (all else the same). Having a low light sensor but inability to auto-focus reliably sort of kills the point of taking a picture in the first place. However the GH2 is probably out of the OP's price range.
[/quote]

The SLT-A55 is handicapped thanks to its non-moving mirror in this case. I just took a look at a few higher-ISO (1600 and 3200) samples from the GH2. Impressive, yes. But I didn't see anything that would embarrass a D90/5000/300s. Close to that level, though, which is impressive. But Physics don't like the idea of more pixels + less sensor area = less noise. The GH2 is strong, though, I'll admit, considering the sensor size. That said, I don't know of any stupid-fast primes for u4/3s - the fastest I can think of offhand is the f/1.7 pancake.

I can see some of the logic in the downsizing hiding noise. Personally, though, I don't mind grain, at least to a point. Chroma noise is a killer, though, but that's pretty easy to deal with in post if you shoot raw (And if you plan on doing bigger than 8x10 prints, you really should shoot RAW, IMHO).

And... uh... I'll believe it when I see it. Fastest contrast autofocus I can see. But I'd put money on a high-end phase detection winning any day of the week.

To the OP: Just how high are you thinking the ISO has to go, or do you have any idea?
Last edited by bimmerlovere39 on Mon Jan 03, 2011 11:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 11:24 pm

liquidsquid wrote:What about the better Olympus u4/3 models? With a fast lens like the Panasonic f1.7 20mm pancake they make quite a small system with excellent OOC JPG images (some consider the OOC JPG from Olympus the best there is).


I do like Oly's OOC JPEGs, but as I said, he is a big guy, and an E-PL1 would probably get lost in his paws (let alone the fiddly little button controls). Add to that the price premium of m43 gear (proud owner of ME45/2.8 and 7-14/4 here) and I don't think it's the right match for him. And the low light performance of m43 is not great (speaking from experience). Aside from the 20/1.7, it's mostly slow lenses as well, which may not be a big deal for him (I predict the kit lens will never leave the body).

bimmerlovere39 wrote:To the OP: Just how high are you thinking the ISO has to go, or do you have any idea?

I'd just be guessing, but looking at the usage scenarios I envision (indoor family shots, biker bar interiors), maybe ISO3200 or 6400 tops?
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 11:33 pm

Okay, well at least you don't need extreme ISOs. 12800 is quite the feat.

Also, one other thing that's probably mentioning: Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization. Two main camps here: In-Lens and In-Body. Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic are in the former, Sony and Olympus in the latter. No clue where Pentax is.

Upside of in-body: It's in the body. Mount whatever lens you want, it's got vibration reduction.
Upside of in-lens: the viewfinder image is stabilized, too. It sounds trivial, but having spent some time at 300mm on a 1.5x crop body, it's really, really nice. If you don't think he'll see that much telephoto range, that's less of an issue.

I'm not sure how the SLT Sonys and u4/3 Olympuses handle it - is the EVF showing a stabilized view full-time, or does it only kick in when autofocusing (like the in-lens solutions)?
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 11:33 pm

bimmerlovere39 wrote: That said, I don't know of any stupid-fast primes for u4/3s - the fastest I can think of offhand is the f/1.7 pancake.


Not really relevant to this thread, but there's the Panny 20/1.7, 4/3 Panny 25/1.4 (and upcoming m43 version), Voigtlander 25/0.95 (I've used the M-mount CV 50/1.1 on my GF1 and loved it). Still no fast native portrait lens, though (and 4/3 never even got one in 10 years).
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 11:36 pm

bimmerlovere39 wrote:No clue where Pentax is.


Pentax uses IBIS, but their implementation is not very good (1 stop at most)

I'm not sure how the SLT Sonys and u4/3 Olympuses handle it - is the EVF showing a stabilized view full-time, or does it only kick in when autofocusing (like the in-lens solutions)?


For my Panny m43, the IS mode depends on the setting on the lens, and it can be (depending on the lens) set to always on, on shutter release, or to panning mode. If IS is on, you see it in the EVF as well.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Mon Jan 03, 2011 11:42 pm

liquidsquid wrote:Actually that is quite a load of bulls**t now. You, like many others have not been following recent developments (however the new Sony sensor DOES rule when used in the Pentax and Nikon) and are spitting out old info. For instance the new GH2 with its new u4/3 sensor competes quite well with the A55 using Sony's flagship 'C' sensor. There is more to it than sensor size these days.

Bear in mind that if you intend to PRINT your images, pixel-peeping no longer counts since noise becomes binned/lost therefore averaged out. A high resolution 16Mp image sensor in the GH2 will print MUCH better noise-wise than a 10Mp lower-density sensor on the same-sized paper.


Thanks, but I do keep up with photography news. I know that sensor size isn't everything, I'm aware that m4/3 sensors produce nice results. I haven't seen anything that would indicate the basic physics of sensor size and light-gathering capability have been overcome though. Comparing cameras of significantly different pixel counts is obviously going to produce a difference, but comparing cameras where things are relatively equal, the larger sensor is going to be "cleaner" (precisely because the larger sensor creates an advantage in an otherwise equal situation).
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Jan 04, 2011 12:49 am

It really does depend on how much into it your father in law wants to get into the whole digital photography thing. I know a lot of people who have been wowed by DSLR over P&S image quality, but they get their first DSLR with the kit 18-55, add a cheap 50mm 1.8, maybe a flash unit, or a longer zoom, and most of them are pretty contented with what they have and I still don't have any friends who have bought beyond the basic kit. None of my friends shoot RAW, eventhough the benefits have been listed out to them, only because it takes up lots of storage space, requires beefier systems (not everyone is a computer geek), and most people are pretty contented with what they get out of the camera.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Jan 04, 2011 6:33 am

etilena wrote:It really does depend on how much into it your father in law wants to get into the whole digital photography thing.


If you're thinking Nikon and think he might get into it, stepping up to a D90 or D7000 might be a worthwhile consideration, since you get the in body motor and he could buy old lenses. With the D3100, you're stuck only buying new(ish) lenses. Not a big deal if you're just thinking 35mm f/1.8, but a bigger issue if you're father-in-law is the type who might want to pick up some older lenses on ebay or at a local camera shop.
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Re: Affordable low light DSLR dilemna

Postposted on Tue Jan 04, 2011 7:10 am

swampfox wrote:Thanks, but I do keep up with photography news. I know that sensor size isn't everything, I'm aware that m4/3 sensors produce nice results. I haven't seen anything that would indicate the basic physics of sensor size and light-gathering capability have been overcome though. Comparing cameras of significantly different pixel counts is obviously going to produce a difference, but comparing cameras where things are relatively equal, the larger sensor is going to be "cleaner" (precisely because the larger sensor creates an advantage in an otherwise equal situation).


One thing for sure is I doubt u4/3 will ever surpass a larger-sensor cam for noise produced from the sensor, but the electronics such as the A/D converters are having a much larger impact these days since the noise is starting to get down to the lowest few bits of conversion. This is evidenced by the Pentax K5 (Sony Sensor) which decided to use a greater bit depth (14-bits vs normal 12) allowing the incredible DR. In other words they were able to pull more from the 'C' sensor than the other manufacturers chose to use simply because they used better down-stream electronics.

My sincere hope is Panasonic uses the new sensor in the GH2 and makes a dedicated stills camera out of it with better down-stream electronics. Potentially a stills-specific processing stream (slower) with the same sensor could yield more bits, less noise, and better DR.

My main point was the u4/3 while not surpassing the 'C'-size cameras can offer more in other areas such as portability and some other really impressive features which more than make up for the slightly lesser sensor performance. The GH2 is so close to recent 'C' sensors as to make it much easier to shrink the system than it used to be.

If it weren't for the ghosting caused by the fixed mirror in the Sony A55 in very high contrast scenarios, I would have been all over it. Its capability for astronomy would have been perfect since it's IR filter is "longer" than most allowing it to be sensitive to Hydrogen Alpha (Nebula), and no mirror-slap. It has a reasonable body size too.

The recent Nikon with the Sony sensor looks nice, but when you attach a decent Nikon "walk-around zoom" lens the thing is a veritable monster. I don't know about you, but I don't like them pointed in my face. Not so good for candid because they are so obvious that people clam up or stop what they are doing.

Others made a good point: IS will be crucial, but it cannot compensate for subject movement, only camera shake. The Olympus shifts the sensor, which allows you to also use legacy manual focus lenses from any brand and receive free IS on all of them. Many folks like buying really fast glass for very cheap (I have an old Minolta Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4, $35) and getting spectacular results.

And yes, u4/3 native lens line up is limited compared to Nikon/Sony, but surly a one-lens always kind-of guy isn't going to care. I really wish for the Olympus conversion of their amazing 12-60mm 4/3 lens.

-Mark
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