Camera/Lens Advice - Candid Low Light Bar Shots

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by robotfist, Dec 3, 2007.

  1. robotfist

    robotfist TPF Noob!

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    Hello. I am a filmmaker jumping into photography (which is kind of backwards) and I am embarking on a project where I will be photographing portraits inside smokey, dimly lit bars.

    THE QUESTON:
    What camera/lens combo would you suggest for this application? The bars I will be shooting in are very, very dark and I do not want to bother people with a flash and a focus light. I want to just sit in the background, invisible to my subjects, so I can grab genuine, honest facial expressions. My budget is around 900 bucks.

    Currently I have a consumer SLR. It is a Nikon D40 with two kit lenses (the 18-50mm and the 50-200mm). I was thinking of selling the kit lenses and getting the 18-200mm Nikon VR lens or the 70 - 300mm to shoot close ups from a distance. But then I thought it might be better to sell my D40 (and my Canon elph) and grab a used Canon 20D on ebay since 20d's are supposed to have low noise and perform well in low, ambient light.

    *For the record... I will not be doing using this equipment for illegal purposes. I will be notifying all of my subjects that they are being photographed and release forms will be presented.


    -Derek
     
  2. soylentgreen

    soylentgreen TPF Noob!

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    I was sort of in the same situation a while back and posted a similar thread. Anyway, even the fastest lens will have difficulty in that low of light. Think f/1.4 and faster. The two you mentioned are too slow. Even f/2.8 has a hard time. Good luck trying to manual focus through the viewfinder. Hard to say the least. They are small and very dim compared to other bodies. Go for a fast prime lens. in teh 28 to 85 mm range depending on the zoom you require. I am saving up for a 35 f/1.4 L.
     
  3. soylentgreen

    soylentgreen TPF Noob!

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    An added note, if you use the lens that wide open, DOF will be paper thin. Just something to consider.
     
  4. johnmh

    johnmh TPF Noob!

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    Warning - the D40 is limited to AF-S lenses, no screw drive for auto-focus like other Nikons. The 18-200 isn't going to work well in the conditions you're describing.

    The limitations of the D40 will preclude you from using AF on a good number of lenses suitable for lower light conditions - you'll be stuck with manual focus. Not aware of any zoom lenses that will give you a wider aperture than 2.8 and the zooms with a fixed 2.8 are pretty expensive.

    I suspect even f/2.8 isn't going to work in the conditions you describe - I've taken shots in low light with the 50 f/1.8 but a 1.4 would've been better ...... and this was on a D200 at a high ISO (slow shutter speed on some meant blurred shots). I've also used the 105 f/2.8 VR (pricey) to shoot low light indoors but with better light than you'll have in most bars. Also used the old 24-85 2.8-4.0, again with better light I suspect.

    Of note - Nikon made a faster 'nocturnal' lens - 58 mm manual focus f/1.2 - I believe specifically for night shots - VERY expensive, hard to find.

    BTW - There's still a 50mm f/1.2 - manual focus, but it may be a special order.
    http://www.adorama.com/NK5012.html
     
  5. monkeykoder

    monkeykoder TPF Noob!

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    Not to get too far off topic but I was under the impression that as long as someone is in a public place they have no reasonable expectation of privacy and no release is actually needed. It would be nice to ask for permission to use the photo but not technically legally necessary. Correct me if I am wrong.
     
  6. robotfist

    robotfist TPF Noob!

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    I've got a 50mm 1.8 prime that works pretty good. But I want something longer and a bit more versatile. Manual focusing the lens isn't a problem because I imagine the autofocus will have a hard time grabbing onto dark subjects without an assist light.

    As for cameras, I've done a lot of research and do not want to open up another pointless Nikon-Canon-Coke-Pepsi debate, so I'm not asking which brand to get. Really, the lens is the main focus for me. I just heard the 20Ds were great in low light and a used one now falls under my budget.

    As for legally shooting people in a public place, it all depends on what you're going to use the image for. If they're going to be stuck in an ad for erectile dysfunction and then plastered onto every billboard in the city, then yeah, release forms are extremely necessary. I'm just shooting these subjects for artistic purposes, and want to let my subjects know that I've taken their picture in case I capture that once-in-lifetime shot. Not sure if it's necessary, but it's certainly polite.
     
  7. soylentgreen

    soylentgreen TPF Noob!

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    Well I had a 20D, and it performed well. Noise control at higher ISO's were better than the Nikon equivalent but still too grainy for my taste. ISO 1200 is really stretching the usefullness range for me on the 40D. Really depends on the qulaity of photo resolution you want. A FF body will have much better noise control at high ISO, than any crop sensor practically. They are not cheap though. As glass goes, there is a 85 f/1.8 from Canon that is good. Should target the f/1.8 and larger aperatures for your situation. There is a 85 f/1.2 but it's like $1700.
     
  8. skieur

    skieur TPF Noob!

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    For artistic purposes a release is legally not necessary when the subject is in a place accessible to by the general public. In letting your subjects know, you may view it as polite,...I view it as somewhat risky considering bars are used for all kinds of rendezvous, not all of them "legitimate" that the participants may want to be kept totally private.

    skieur
     
  9. photelle

    photelle TPF Noob!

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    The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 works on your camera and would give you more light to work with than what you have. The 20d it alright for noise, the key is getting your exposure right - if it's underexposed you'll really see the noise.
     
  10. aperture monologue

    aperture monologue TPF Noob!

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    I use a Pentax k10d with an old 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens. Thanks to the wide aperture of the lens and the stabilizer on my k10, I can get good shots in bars. The only problem is that the minimal depht of field at f1.2 makes manual focusing quite challenging, especially in low light conditions when it's hard to make out the edges of a target.
    Another thing that you should keep in mind is that whipping out an SLR in public and pointing it at people will draw attention and make people tense up. In a perfect wold you'd stumble upon a huge load of cash and get yourself something great but unobtrusive, like an M-series Leica with a f1.4 glass. To an untrained eye it just looks like a slightly bulky point&shoot.
     
  11. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I own the Sigma 30mm F/1.4. It is very good in low light, but if you watch your ratio of distance to subject, you can increase DOF by stepping back a little more (if conditions permit) and gain a little DOF. I find it a very sharp little lens.

    ...but yes, in a facial portrait up close, at F/1.4, it is rediculously easy to focus on the eyes and have the nose, cheeks and chin clearly out of focus. That is very normal behaviour for any lens with that large an aperture.
     

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