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Pentax or another digital SLR?
June 22, 2005 11:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a new digital SLR that I can use with my existing lenses, which works well in general and low-light situations...

I do photography of electronic music shows with a 35mm SLR camera (Pentax ZX-10), and there is often little or no light to work with.

I'd like to move to a digital SLR that works well under low light (i.e. pictures have low noise, and the camera can take pictures in this condition without requiring a flash). I'll explain why below. If necessary, I'd like to buy the SLR with a 28-80 range lens that works well under low light (decently "fast" lens?).

I'm a bit of an amateur so bear with me as I describe my problem and what I have been trying to do to solve it with my current gear.

I've tried using a large flash (Pentax AF210T) but what ends up happening is that the subject gets all the light, and the background gets nothing. Not good.

I've also tried using more expensive and faster film, but the grain is noticeably large that often the pictures are very "noisy" when they are used for publication, if they can be used at all. I also tried B+W film to get more contrast and detail, and less offending noise, but its not much of an improvement.

I've also tried going without the flash and living with the long shutter times that are required, but I can't carry around a tripod to these shows, and so I end up with great, interesting compositions (i.e. good reproduction of lighting details) with blurred foreground subjects (i.e. the musician). I also have the problem that my camera simply refuses to take pictures in low light. I don't know enough about how much time I need to leave the shutter open in low light to do things manually.

Many of the photographers I see at these shows use digital cameras and do not need a flash or tripod (or light meter).

Developing film is getting more expensive, and sending images in digital form for publication adds to the cost and hassle. Since I work for free, I need to move to digital before the film dev costs send me to the poorhouse.

I'd like the camera (and optional lens) to not need a flash to take decent pictures, as permission to use flash is occasionally forbidden at the events I visit.

I've been reading reviews about the Pentax "*ist D" and "*ist DS" cameras. They look small, lightweight, and will work with my small lens collection.

I'd like to know if either of these cameras will work well for my needs, as I have three Pentax lenses I bought for use with my ZX-10, a slow, cheap telephoto lens, a macro lens, and a really expensive fisheye lens that I'd prefer not to have to replace. I have a 28-80 lens that came bundled with the ZX-10, as well. I suspect it's not a fast lens.

Failing that, are there other brands of digital SLR cameras in the $1000-$1500 range that are better suited to this, and will be compatible with my Pentax lenses? Or should I sell the old camera and lenses and start over?

Personal usage experiences of these cameras are greatly appreciated, as well as general photography advice for this application.

(I'm skeptical of online reviews, which are either geared to professionals who know the vocabulary that I don't, or the review simply trumps up the quality of the product.)
posted by Rothko to Technology (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
In my opinion, the Nikon D70 is the best digital camera you can buy in that price range. It should be compatible with your Pentax lenses, since Nikon's film SLR cameras are compatible with Pentax lenses.

My 80 mm lens works well under most common light conditions. Given your skepticism of online reviews, feel free to email me for my personal experiences with the camera.
posted by jeffmshaw at 11:46 PM on June 22, 2005


You're asking several different questions here...

There are a few different digital SLRs that will do what you ask. I am partial to the D70 (or the D70s, which just came out) because I am a Nikon guy, but the Canon stuff is just as good. One of the nice things about digital is that you can increase the ISO whenever you want, so in low-light situations, crank it up to 1000 or 1600 and snap away.

But, more to the point, it sounds like you can get passable photos with your current setup. The other photographers you see who don't use flash and get usable photos are probably shooting in shutter-priority mode, maybe 1/15 or 1/30, depending on the light. If you use shutter-priority in conjunction with the flash, it also allows you to control how much of the background is exposed. (It's easier to experiment with this on a digital camera.)

Also, they probably have fast glass, meaning, lenses that have a large minimum aperture that lets in a lot of light. The problem is that these lenses are often more expensive. (The Nikon 80-200 f2.8, for instance, is about $1000) In low-light situations though, they let you get shots you can't get otherwise.

So basically, I'm not familiar with Pentax equipment and what is available for it, but I would suggest experimenting a little more with your current setup before investing money in a new rig. Try shutter-priority mode and see if that gets you the look you want.
posted by Brian James at 11:51 PM on June 22, 2005


If necessary, I'd like to buy the SLR with a 28-80 range lens that works well under low light (decently "fast" lens?).

Keep in mind that most DSLRs have a smaller frame size than your film camera, so the equivalent lens is probably a 17-55mm. Your 28-80mm will be like a 42-120mm.

I also have the problem that my camera simply refuses to take pictures in low light.

It may be because it doesn't have enough light to autofocus. Switching to manual focus might solve the problem. ...or it might just be that there's not enough light to take a picture with the film speed you're using.

I don't know enough about how much time I need to leave the shutter open in low light to do things manually.

Brian James is right about Shutter Priority. Your camera will meter the amount of light available and calculate the aperture it needs to use to get the specified shutter speed with your film speed. One rule of thumb about shutter speeds is that you need about 1/focal length to hand-hold a picture without blurring, so if you're shooting with your 28-80mm lens, you can get away with 1/30 for wide angle shots, but probably need to go faster for the telephotos.

I own a Nikon D70, and am happy with its low light performance, but I'm using a very fast prime (non zoom) lens, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4. The f/1.8 would have been good enough for me, and it's cheap (like $100). But if you're shooting at shows, you probably can't move around enough to make up for the fixed focal length. A really fast zoom is much more expensive (the 17-55mm f/2.8 is $1300, but you might find that the 18-70mm f/3.5-f/5.6 kit lens that is sold with the camera for $300 is good enough to start with). I'm not sure that the D70 will take your Pentax lenses. Even if they fit the mount, they may not have the right electrical connections to make the autofocus and metering features work. I'd take your lenses to a reputable camera shop and ask to try them on a D70 before buying one.

If you decide to replace your gear, you should probably look at the Canon 20D. It is supposed to have better low light performance than the D70. It can shoot with a sensitivity equivalent to 3200 speed film (the D70 only goes up to 1600), and reportedly has less noise in the resulting pictures.
posted by aneel at 1:05 AM on June 23, 2005


Yes, the Pentax DSLRs will work just as well as any other in the price range for your needs. They will work with any Pentax AF mount that you already have, or any earlier Pentax mount lens that has the 'A' setting on the aperture lens (including Pentax A, F, and FA series lenses since the mid-80s and bazillions of third party lenses). If you like wide-angles, the smaller sensor size of the DSLR will probably requirew you to buy a new wide-angle starting with 16-18mm at the widest, to get a 28mm equivalent to 35mm.

The Pentax *ist DS uses the same sensor as the Nikon D70 (made by Sony) and the image properties are indistinguishable for all practical purposes. This sensor has been praised for its low-light qualities, and ceratainly gives very usable results to 1600 ISO. The only way to do better at the moment is to spend the big bucks on a 'full-frame' DSLR (several thousand dollars).

The big win (currently) for low-light with Pentax is the quality of their viewfinders. They're much superior to the equivalent Canon and Nikon versions - much bigger and brighter and even allow easy focusing with manual lenses, in my experience. The viewfinder of the D70 is like looking through a small window at the end of a corridor in comparison.

Pentax have just released a new model, the *ist DL, if you're looking for something (a little) cheaper.

You can get some pleasant fill or suplimentary flash exposures from the *ist DS flash by dragging the shutter in Tv mode, if your subject isn't too distant. Other than that, it's a question of a dedicated gun (the Pentaxes have a good reputation) or the mental gymnastics of a manually controlled flash. Depends on your style, how far away you need to light and your budget.

Finally, if you're looking for a mid-range equivalent zoom, you might want to forego the 'kit' lenses that are often packaged as an extra with the cameras of any of the major brands and check out the latest Tamron XR zooms that are getting pretty glowing reviews at the moment. I can certainly recommend the 17-35mm f/2.8 job, myself.
posted by normy at 2:48 AM on June 23, 2005


I'm also looking to purchase a digital SLR soon, what sites can I go to to learn more about lenses in general? What's good for certain situations, their capabilities, and limitations?
posted by odinsdream at 6:09 AM on June 23, 2005




What's good for certain situations, their capabilities, and limitations?

Right here's a good place.

A lens is like the human eye -- the iris opens and closes to let more/less light in, the lens focuses it onto the optic nerve (or in a camera's case, the film plane).

The more the iris can open, the more light can get in. The more light that can get in, the less exposure time you need to get a picture.

The aperture is represented in f-stops. They're fractions, so the smaller the number, the bigger it opens. f/2.8 is a fairly common "large aperture". The speed of a lens is a subjective term (fast/slow) that relates to exposure speed. In other words, a "fast lens" means that the lens has a large aperture, and thus allows for more light, and thus a shorter exposure time. A "slow lens" doesn't let as much light in, which means you have to open the shutter for longer in order to get a decent exposure.

In general, the faster the lens, the better. I say "in general" because there are situations where you'd want a slower lens. See, the biggest problem with fast lenses is that they're big and have lots of glass inside them. There might be situations where you wouldn't want to carry around 5 lbs. of glass, so you use a slower lens (for example, a f/5.6 lens is your run-of-the-mill "slow" lens). Travel photography, for instance.

The other problem with fast lenses (the biggest problem) is that all that glass is expensive. The difference between a 300mm f/4 and a 300mm f/2.8 is a couple thousand dollars. All for one friggin' stop.

All photography is based on three variables: shutter speed, aperture, and film speed (also called ISO). The cool (easy) thing to remember is that cameras are all designed to use the "stop" system. Each increase in aperture represents a "stop". Each increase in shutter speed is a "stop".

The f/numbers might look arbitrary, but they're calculated to allow you to convert numbers very quickly. f/2.8 is one full stop from f/4. f/4 is one stop from f/5.6. For shutter speed, 1/125 sec. is one "stop" slower than 1/250 sec.

"So what?" you ask. Well, if I know that I can get the correct exposure with my lens set to f/5.6 and my shutter speed set at 1/125 sec. at ISO 100, I can manipulate the values very easily and still maintain the correct exposure (f/4 at 1/250 sec., f/2.8 at 1/500 sec., f/8 at 1/60 sec., etc.). In each case, one stop increase in aperture = one stop decrease in shutter speed.

But wait, that's not all! Film speed works the same way. f/2.8, 1/125 sec. at 100 ISO = f/4, 1/125 sec. at 200 ISO or f/2.8, 1/250 sec. at 200 ISO.

If you want to take low-light pictures and not have them come out blurry, you need a very fast lens, and a very high ISO. The faster your lens, the faster shutter speed you can use. For handheld photography, you generally don't want to have a shutter speed much longer than the reciprocal of the focal length. A 50mm lens shouldn't be handheld at slower than 1/50th sec. shutter speed. A 300mm zoom lens shouldn't be handheld for much slower than 1/300th sec. shutter speed. Etc. There are new-fangled technologies that improve this (notably, Nikon's VR (vibration reduction) system and Canon's IS (image stabilization) system). Third-party manufacturers have their own versions. These lenses cost more.

If you're looking to save money, an alternative solution would be to get the digital camera that allows you to "push" the film speed as fast as possible. The Canon 20d, for example, can produce 1600 ISO shots that are superbly clean. The D70 maxes out at about 800 ISO (it goes higher, but you have to clean the images in software later on). That's one stop of difference right there! Think of all the money you can save on expensive glass!

Unfortunately, you'll probably want to get the expensive glass anyway. The autofocus systems in cameras work far better with large aperture lenses--quite simply, they get more light to the sensors.

The other "big debate" is primes versus zooms. Prime lenses are fixed at a certain focal length, so they don't need as much "stuff" inside them as zoom lenses. Naturally, zoom lenses are far more practical from a composition standpoint. Primes are generally considered to have better optical qualities than zooms, but the differences are in direct proportion to the price. Expensive zooms aren't any worse than their prime counterparts, but cheap zooms can give such soft images that you'll think something's wrong with your focus.

General shooting lens/situation:

Landscape: Wide-angle lens
Architecture: Wide tilt-shift lens
Street: ~50mm
Portraiture: Medium telephoto (approx. 85-120mm)
Swimsuit models: Big telephoto (250-300mm)
Animals: Really big telephoto (500mm+)
Travel: Big change focal length zoom (say, 80-400mm)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:34 AM on June 23, 2005 [16 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient, thank you very much for the explanation!

I really got excited when you started with f-stops and how the numbers work out for easy manipulation, unfortunately, I'm still completely baffled. I'm at a complete loss as to how the algebra of your equivalencies works out, and wouldn't be able to apply it to other situations very easily. Do you know anywhere on the web that has tutorials explaining the conversions, perhaps in a graphical way?

I'm not at all intimidated by the physics of photography, but when you start throwing numbers in there, I just back away slowly without making direct eye contact.

Again, thanks very much!
posted by odinsdream at 8:56 AM on June 23, 2005


Also thanks to Jack Karaoke for the links! I had a great time looking through the reviews on dpreview.com.
posted by odinsdream at 8:59 AM on June 23, 2005


Excellent post C_D.
We all have our own standards for image quality, I haven't seen a digital that can shoot above 800 to my satisfaction. The noise generated by shooting at high ISOs is most apparent in shadows, and so a lot of performance stuff gets blasted with noise, that is perhaps the most pertinent part of my comment. Of course, it's a balancing act, cost/quality, as you mentioned.
20D samples (scroll down to the very bottom.)
posted by Jack Karaoke at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2005


This is why I love AskMe. Thank you all for your insightful answers and comments!
posted by Rothko at 10:20 AM on June 23, 2005


I haven't seen a digital that can shoot above 800 to my satisfaction

Yeah, I really meant to say the Canon 1Ds M2, but that's a few thousand dollars difference from the D70, and kinda negated my argument. :) Here are some 1600 ISO samples (warning: HUGE files).

unfortunately, I'm still completely baffled

Ok, bear with the numbers for a second. They are the same on just about every single 35mm camera (digital or not) in existance:

f-stops: 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8, 11, 16
larger opening ---> smaller opening

shutter: 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250
longer shutter speed ---> shorter shutter speed

ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
less sensitive film ---> more sensitive film

So far so good? These are the only numbers you'll ever really need to use, so take a look at them. The aperture numbers come engraved on the sides of a lot of lenses, for example. They don't change, so REALLY LOOK AT THEM. Once you know them you'll remember them, because you see them all the time.

Now, think about what each of those terms means. F-stop means "how big is the opening inside the lens?" Shutter speed means "how long will the shutter remain open?" Finally, ISO means "how sensitive is the film I'm using?"

Now think about what happens when you change the values. If you turn the aperture to a bigger number, you decrease the amount of light (aperture is a little funny because it's actually a fraction... so f/2.8 actually means 1/2.8, which is bigger than, say, 1/5.6). If you up the shutter speed, you reduce the amount of light that gets to the sensors. If you increase the film speed, you increase its sensitivity to dim light.

So...

Look back at the original 3 lines of numbers. Underline one item from each list (aperture, shutter speed, ISO--I've done an example for you below). It doesn't matter which one. Just choose any aperture, any shutter speed, and any ISO. What you'll get is kind of like an equation... "a certain amount of light gets into the camera for a certain amount of time, and the sensor is a certain sensitivity."

EXAMPLE
f-stops: 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8, 11, 16
shutter: 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250
ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

f/5.6, 1/15 sec. @ 400 ISO. That's your exposure. If your camera automatically picked the numbers you underlined, your camera is saying, "if you plug in these numbers, your picture will come out OK.

Let's say you picked a slow shutter speed... say, 1/15th of a second. Only, when you take the picture, everything is blurry. You need a faster shutter speed to "freeze" the action.

But your camera "says" 1/15th of a second. Well, look at the chart. If you go from 1/15th of a second to 1/125th of a second, that's three moves (or stops). That should be enough to freeze most action.

FASTER SHUTTER SPEED
f-stops: 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8, 11, 16
shutter: 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250
ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

But when you change the shutter speed 3 stops, what happens to your exposure? You have decreased the amount of time the light "hits" the sensors. So you have to make up for it somehow, otherwise you won't get enough light and your picture will come out dark (underexposed)

Simple: if you changed the shutter speed 3 stops, you need to change EITHER the aperture OR the film speed 3 stops to compensate.

FASTER SHUTTER SPEED, with CORRECT EXPOSURE
f-stops: 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8, 11, 16
shutter: 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250
ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

"Ah!" you exclaim. "I don't have three gazillion dollars for a lens that supports f/2!" Well, that's ok. You can change the ISO instead:

FASTER SHUTTER SPEED, SAME F/STOP
f-stops: 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8, 11, 16
shutter: 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250
ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

"Oh, rats. 3200 ISO looks like crap!" No problem! You can mix and match. Let's move the ISO up two stops, and the aperture down one:

MIX 'N MATCH!
f-stops: 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0,5.6, 8, 11, 16
shutter: 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250
ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

Just remember, in this particular case, when we change the shutter speed to a faster speed, we're reducing the amount of light that gets to the sensor, so we need to make up for it somehow... it's up to you to decide how you want to do it.

The nice thing about non-auto-everything cameras is that you have the freedom to compose to your specifications. Most modern SLRs have what's called Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes. What that means is, you compose a shot and tell the camera ONE of the parts of the equation, and it automatically fills in the rest.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:43 AM on June 23, 2005 [20 favorites]


It should be compatible with your Pentax lenses, since Nikon's film SLR cameras are compatible with Pentax lenses.

Unless I've been living a lie, this is wrong wrong wrong. The K-Mount that Pentax 35mm cameras use is different from the F-Mount that Nikons use. They are not compatible unless you're able to find some sort of adapter, and even then you're not going to get aperature readings, autofocus, and lens data back to the camera body.

Also, if you're considering a D70, be aware that only CPU lenses are going to meter. That means that if you pop on your AI-S lens then you're not going to get any metering information into the camera. This makes it hard and cumbersome, but not impossible, to take pictures.

Rothko - I went through this same decision that you're going through now. I had a small selection of Pentax lenses (55 f/1.8, 50/1.4, 28 PC, 18mm Sigma, 135mm) that I used on my ZX-M (it's like a modern K1000). I'd been less than happy with the selection of lenses that Pentax had come up with and the overall quality of the equipment was inferior to the Nikons that I had used in the past.

I took a long hard look at the *ist D and decided it wasn't for me. It's very small but it feels cheap and awkward in my hands. The viewfinder is nice, the lens compatiblity is awesome, and the pictures it takes are lovely, but I just couldn't stomach the feel. The final nail was that it took steps involving menu selections to fiddle with things like white balance and ISO. This is totally unacceptable for me and for my shooting style.

Next I decided to take a look at the Konica-Minolta Maxxum 7D which is entirely on the other end of the size scale. It's freaking huge but it fits very nicely in my hands, and most importantly, you can do nearly all your fiddling with actual physical buttons. The menus are almost never needed. It also has an anti-shake mechanism built into the body so that all your lenses become image-stabilized. The price, the slow startup time, and the lackluster lens selection kept me looking for something else.

The Canon 20D was nearly my new camera, and if I had to do it all over again I'd get this one. It's a lovely lovely camera although I've found that most of the cheaper lenses have a plasticy feel that I'm not crazy about. It's also sort of pricey.

I ended up with a D70 that I love. I'm crazy for the Nikon lenses and I like the additional features that the D70 has (grid lines, easy access to ISO and white balance), but I'm not crazy about Nikon's decision to encrypt white balance data on their new bodies and I'm really really not crazy about their "so what" response to all the hoopla. I love my camera but I'll never buy another Nikon until they start treating their customers better.

The outfit I usually use is the 12-24mm wide angle zoom, the 35mm f/2 prime, a 28-85 discontinued zoom, and soon, a 60mm macro (micro) lens.

Also, this tutorial on photo.net has nearly everything you need to know about how cameras work.
posted by bshort at 11:18 AM on June 23, 2005 [2 favorites]


I disagree with bshort about the speed of changing ISO/White balance on the Pentax, in practice I find it takes only a couple of seconds - my brain works slower than that.

That does raise an important point, though. Personally, I like the handling and feel of the Pentax, but that means nothing important. If you can possibly get to a shop with a good selection of cameras on hand, there's no substitute for going and playing with them all to decide what feels the best to you. There are no bad DSLRs - they can all take wonderful pictures - but your own personal preference when handling a camera can make a big difference to what you do with it.
posted by normy at 12:51 PM on June 23, 2005


normy is totally right - you need to actually hold one of the dslrs in your hand and get the salesdroid to show you how it works. Some are going to make sense to you and some aren't.
posted by bshort at 12:55 PM on June 23, 2005


Immense thanks Civil_Disobedient! I actually get where you're going now, and years of photography have suddenly been brought into clarity.
posted by odinsdream at 4:17 PM on June 24, 2005


Great response Civil Disobedient. Now I know what to do if I run into an SLR camera.
posted by Dean Keaton at 3:15 PM on June 26, 2005


The f-stop numbers look mysterious, but they are derived from dividing the lens aperture (diameter of the opening) into the focal length of the lens (distance at which parallel light rays will focus). The benefit of that ratio is that f8 means the same amount of light will enter whether for a telescope, a box camera, or a 35mm. The f numbers are selected so that each change in f-stop will admit either twice or half the previous amount of light, so when you open the lens eight stops from f22 to f1.4 you are allowing not eight, but 256 times the light into the camera. (Imagine folding a piece of paper in half eight times, then unfolding it.) The shutter speeds and film speeds also jump in increments of double or half the previous amount, so once you have a light reading, you can play one against the other without changing the exposure.

Fast shutter speed, high film speed, and large aperture (f1.4) will freeze action, which is not necessarily the best way to portray action in a picture. A race car may look parked on the track. Panning with the subject at a lower shutter speed may blur the background, giving a better effect.

Small aperture (which you may select if you compensate by decreasing the shutter speed) gives you greater depth of field, or sharpness from near to far, which is desirable for some landscapes, but perhaps not for portraits, where you might want just the eyes in crisp focus without much competition from the background. Depth of field also increases as the distance to your subject increases. Conversely, if you're taking close-ups of bugs, you will have almost zero depth of field.

You can get some incredible effects shooting in very low light conditions with a tripod, when the cones in your eyes are not sensitive enough to see the brilliant colors in the scene that will build up on the film over a time exposure. If you can’t get a light reading, then lie to your camera--set the ASA to 1600—more if you can--and open the lens to maximum aperture (e.g., f1.4). Let’s say you then get a shutter speed reading of one second, but you’re really shooting 400 ASA and you want depth of field. Then 1600 to 800 to 400 is three stops in film speed. You want depth of field, so you choose f11, which is another six stops, for a total of nine stops. So you double that one second reading nine times--2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512 seconds. Your exposure at f11 on 400 ASA film should be 512 seconds—about nine minutes. You just got a light reading from almost no light.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:17 AM on June 27, 2005


Bad math--1600 to 400 ASA is only two stops in film speed. So the total is eight stops, or 256 seconds. It's a good idea to "bracket" exposures anyway--take one overexposed and one under. You won't always choose the middle one.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:23 AM on June 27, 2005


weapons-grade pandemonium: Aha! I was wonder why one might use small aperature + slow shutter vs. large aperature + fast shutter for a non-action shot, cuz in many situations the light-exposure works out the same either way. It's all about the depth of field.

Still, why might one use a high ISO film (or digital setting) with a small aperature (and/or fast shutter) vs. low ISO film with a large aperature (and/or slow shutter)? (The third variable, ISO, is throwing me.)

Just an observation: Digital cameras (with manual controls, of course) are a *great* way to quickly learn the basics of photography (aperature/shutter/ISO/WB), because you get instant feedback for given settings. With traditional film cameras, you would have to log your aperature/shutter/ISO settings, then wait for the film to be developed, by which time you have forgotten half of the setup and circumstances of the shot.
posted by LordSludge at 9:47 AM on July 8, 2005


Yes, LordSludge, it's a trade-off between depth of field and freezing action. Fast film (high ISO) was traditionally used for low light or action shots where a tripod was awkward, or where a telephoto lens limited aperture to f4 or smaller. If you were shooting sports (note shallow depth of field here) with a 400mm lens, high-speed film would be the choice. Traditionally, low ISO films had finer grain and higher resolution, so they were better for scenic shots, or low light photography where you could set up a tripod.

High ISO films have much finer grain these days, and are well suited for something like wedding photography, where you may want telephoto candid photos as well as more formal ones. A pro would carry several cameras or camera backs, with different films for different situations. Incidentally, you can always lower the ISO of your film by using a neutral density filter, which makes the scene darker with no change in color. Why would you want this? A street scene with crisp architecture, but pedestrians and cars blurred, for example.

It's interesting to look at vintage photos, and notice how everyone looks so posed and rigid. This was because the film in the old days wasn't fast enough to capture candid shots, and camera apertures were small to keep aberrations to a minimum. Those who couldn't hold still for several seconds are a blur. I recall a large vintage sepia photo of Florence, Italy, hanging in Raffaello restaurant in Carmel CA. The waiter couldn't figure out why there was a person sitting on a bench in the foreground, but nobody on the streets in the distance. The photo was taken during the day, yet it looked like a ghost town. The exposure was probably several minutes, during which time only those who were not moving registered on the film.

As well as the instant feedback you mention, a great advantage of digital cameras is the freedom to shoot without concern for film cost. Digital photos tend to be more spontaneous, less "arranged" than those on film.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:08 AM on July 10, 2005


What an amazing thread! I'm going to look more closely at the settings on my poor Olympus D3000 just to use some of these tips... Cheers!
posted by starscream at 10:57 PM on December 14, 2005


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