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Thread: DSLR sensors for low light

  1. #1
    jacsul's Avatar
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    DSLR sensors for low light

    Hi all,
    I'm looking to move up to a DSLR, entry level that I can grow with. I'm looking to spend around $1000 US w/a kit lens, new or used. My question is which camera sensors are better suited for low light? Also, has the technoligy in sensors changed much? And are there any new emerging camera bodies to look for?

    Thanks

    Jack

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    Re: DSLR sensors

    Quote Originally Posted by jacsul View Post
    Hi all,
    I'm looking to move up to a DSLR, entry level that I can grow with. I'm looking to spend around $1000 US w/a kit lens, new or used. My question is which camera sensors are better suited for low light? Also, has the technoligy in sensors changed much? And are there any new emerging camera bodies to look for?

    Thanks

    Jack
    Hi Jack,

    Are you meaning low-light as in "hand-held shots for shooting people" or "tripod mounted for low-light landscape"?

    We've recently seen the introduction of cameras with extreme ISO settings, but it's my understanding that the vast magority of the "increased performance" over previous models is more to do with more agressive noise reduction algorithms than it is anything particularly revolutionary in the sensor performance.

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    jacsul's Avatar
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    Re: DSLR sensors

    Well, I work mostly at night outdoors. And I come across some unique landscape and cityscape images. What I own now always leaves alot of noise on my images.
    So to answer your question both. I'm leaning toward a D90, probably refurbished.
    I understand the CMOS is better suited for this... What would you recommend? Also, Should consider lens options?

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    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: DSLR sensors

    I appreciate what you desire in having a lower noise sensor Jack, been there myself.

    However, Davey's work with a Fuji camera of similar spec to your Kodak is always a lesson in how it's the guy with his finger on the button that makes the difference!
    That said, I just spent 10 times what my Fuji cost on a Nikon D5000 and lens, and guess what? - My pictures aren't 10 times better!

    Davey shoots at the lowest possible ISO; don't fall into the 'trap' of winding it up just because it is dark (like I do ).

    BTW I'm still kidding myself the new one is five times more versatile and the pictures are twice as good, so that accounts for the price being 10 times greater!

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    jacsul's Avatar
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    Re: DSLR sensors for low light

    Duly noted...

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    Stay away from kit lenses

    Canon technology has some of the best High ISO performance of any manufacturer. The Canon 40D especially has excellent High ISO performance (some say even better than the 50D or full-frame cameras).

    Adorama has the 40D refurbished for $699 with free shipping.
    http://www.adorama.com/ICA40DR.html?...efurbished+40D

    The kit lenses are O.K. but they don't have apertures fast enough for low light photography. The 18-55mm kit lens has a variable aperture of from 3.5 (at 18mm) and quickly closing down to f/5.6 as you increase the focal length. That is simply not fast enough for low light level shooting.

    You would need a zoom with a constant f/2.8 aperture (which is the fastest aperture in a zoom lens) or even better a prime lens of f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.

    The Tamron 17-55mm f/2.8 lens is a very capable zoom which runs about $460:
    f/2.8 is slower than the f/1.8 or f/1.4 found on the primes but, this is a much more versatile lens by virtue of its 17-50mm focal range. It is a lens which would serve you for years without needing upgrading.
    http://www.adorama.com/TM1750EOS.htm...17-50mm+tamron

    There are several prime lenses which would work I will list them in order of focal length. If I were looking at a single, fixed focal length lens for low light shooting; I would opt for the 30mm Sigma f/1.4 with my second choice as the 28mm Sigma f/1.8.

    28mm f/1.8 Sigma: $379
    Gives about a 44mm equivalent focal length
    http://www.adorama.com/SG2818DEOS.ht...+f%2f1.8+sigma

    28mm f/1.8 Canon: $459
    Same as above but Canon's offering. Is it worth the extra money over Sigma? You make the call.
    http://www.adorama.com/CA2818AFU.htm...n+28mm+f%2f1.8

    30mm f/1.4 Sigma: $439.00
    probably the best and most affordable low light lens - almost a normal angle lens for a 1.6x camera. The f/1.4 aperture is extremely fast.
    http://www.adorama.com/SG3014EOS.htm...o=30mm+f%2f1.4

    35mm f/2 Canon: $300
    Pretty darn good value but somewhat noisy and slower in autofocus
    http://www.adorama.com/CA352AFU.html...non+35mm+f%2f2

    50mm f/1.8 Mark-II: $115
    Nicknamed the "Nifty-Fifty" it is the least expensive of Canon's lens offerings. Fast f/1.8 aperture but focusing isn't all that great. It is a comparative 80mm so is a bit narrow for general use.
    http://www.adorama.com/CA5018AFU.htm...+f%2f1.8+canon

    50mm f/1.4 Canon: $400
    A lot more expensive than the "Nifty-Fifty" but a better all around lens. Sigma has a 50mm f/1.4 which is "supposed" to be even a better product at $500. It still is a narrow 80mm equivalent.
    http://www.adorama.com/CA5014AFU.htm...+f%2f1.4+Canon
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 18th June 2009 at 12:19 AM.

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    Re: Stay away from kit lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    The Canon 40D especially has excellent High ISO performance (some say even better than the 50D or full-frame cameras).
    I've heard some say this, but DxO's data has them as being more of less equal ...

    http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/eng...(brand2)/Canon

    Interestingly though, the 40D does have better colour sensitivity.

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    Re: DSLR sensors for low light

    IMHO, I think Canon is run by marketing guys. Seems like Canon is pushing the megapixel race faster than Canon can keep up. Although the new sensor has gap less microlenses, they don't make up for the smaller pixel sites. At present time, Nikon seems to have tiny little bit of upper hand with sensor technology. But truth is, comparing that little diffrence is useless.

    no matter which camera you end up getting, its education that makes the difference.

    cheers

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    Re: DSLR sensors for low light

    Quote Originally Posted by Raycer View Post
    IMHO, I think Canon is run by marketing guys.
    I've heard "grizzles" from within Canon saying exactly this. If they'd forget about the mega-pixel war (which became a moot point once they went above 8MP), we'd likely have sensors with a far greater dynamic range and colour sensitivity.

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    Re: DSLR sensors

    Quote Originally Posted by jacsul View Post
    Well, I work mostly at night outdoors. And I come across some unique landscape and cityscape images. What I own now always leaves alot of noise on my images.
    I'm not familiar with the intricacies of Nikon camera performance, but from the Canon range of SLRs (even going back as far as the 20D) it's really just a case of tripod - remote release - a warm jacket - and a lot of patience. Some exposures end up being in the 20 to 40 minute bracket.

    Two thoughts come to mind ...

    Get a remote release so that you can use bulb mode and get above the 30 sec exposure maximum, and

    Watch the exposures -- it's easy to under-expose midtones at night because (a) high-intensity highlights (eg street lights) are going to blow anyway (and spike the histogram at the right-hand end of the scale) (so you may just as well get used to the fact), and (b) even an under-exposed shot can still look quite bright on the review screen at night (it's when you try to brighten it up in post-processing that the noise level increases).

    Also, be prepared to push the contrast of your images in post-processing - you'll normally have blown lights anyway (in citiscapes), but you'll often need to push the mid-tones up and be prepared to get agressive with the black clipping point (it'll cut through shadow noise like a hot knife through butter).

    On a final note, be aware that high-ISO performance from the likes of the new Nikons and Canons are due more to agressive noise-reduction when processing in-camera JPEGs than any great advances in sensor design.

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    It's not necessarily the camera

    Although good gear is a joy to work with. It is the eye behind the camera and the finger on the shutter release that really makes the difference.

    Roman Johnson has some wonderful galleries of landscapes of the Western United States. Some of his images are breathtaling to me. In fact; the reason that I decided on the 12-24mm Tokina as my UWA lens is that Roman used this lens (on a Nikon camera) for many of his wonderful images.

    http://www.pbase.com/romansphotos

    Looking through his galleries recently, I was surprised to realize that a number of his great images were shot with a Nikon Coolpix; proving that it is really the photographer that matters more than the camera.

  12. #12

    Re: DSLR sensors for low light

    Quote Originally Posted by jacsul View Post
    Hi all,
    I'm looking to move up to a DSLR, entry level that I can grow with. I'm looking to spend around $1000 US w/a kit lens, new or used. My question is which camera sensors are better suited for low light? Also, has the technoligy in sensors changed much? And are there any new emerging camera bodies to look for?

    Thanks

    Jack
    I have a second hand d70 from Nikon. I love it. I think there is no magic for lowlight. Even some much better prosumer cameras induce noise. If you know how to use-it, you'd like'it. I bought my with about 200$ (body).

    check my images at http://paulpacurar.blogspot.com

  13. #13
    jacsul's Avatar
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    Re: DSLR sensors for low light

    very nice photos

  14. #14

    Re: DSLR sensors

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Hi Jack,

    Are you meaning low-light as in "hand-held shots for shooting people" or "tripod mounted for low-light landscape"?

    We've recently seen the introduction of cameras with extreme ISO settings, but it's my understanding that the vast magority of the "increased performance" over previous models is more to do with more agressive noise reduction algorithms than it is anything particularly revolutionary in the sensor performance.
    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post

    On a final note, be aware that high-ISO performance from the likes of the new Nikons and Canons are due more to agressive noise-reduction when processing in-camera JPEGs than any great advances in sensor design.
    What about the full frame nikon d700/d3? Or medium/large format cameras?

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    Re: DSLR sensors

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Hi Jack,

    We've recently seen the introduction of cameras with extreme ISO settings, but it's my understanding that the vast magority of the "increased performance" over previous models is more to do with more agressive noise reduction algorithms than it is anything particularly revolutionary in the sensor performance.
    Are we talking about JPG or RAW output? Note that the bulk of "aggressive noise reduction" happens in the RAW-to-JPG processing. Compare RAW output from a D80 and D90, as I have on my Website, and you will see that starting at around ISO800, the differences start manifesting themselves, independent of NR because it's RAW.

    Something else that hasn't been noted on this thread but which deserves mentioning with regards to high ISO performance is color accuracy as ISO increases. The D90 does very well up to ISO1600, though I am not entirely sure that is purely a sensor characteristic.

    Finally, lowering ISO and extending exposure times, while a good approach to avoid high ISO noise, brings on problems of its own. If trees or water are moving, they will be blurred, so this isn't always practical, even if you showed great dedication and foresight by lugging your tripod along. Additionally, some sensors (D80's were documented to have this issue at one point) introduce hot pixels and/or (amp) noise. I haven't heard much about this with the latest generation of APS-C DSLRs, so I'm assuming the problem is not as pronounced.
    Last edited by eNo; 28th July 2009 at 10:23 PM.

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