My Canon Powershot A530 takes terrible pictures at night.
February 21, 2007 1:43 PM   Subscribe

My Canon Powershot A530 takes terrible pictures at night.

All of my night photos are blurry, but not from focus but from hand shake. I have a pretty steady hand but all my darkish indoor photos and all night photos come out terrible. When I take a photo I always half-press the button for the camera to get a good focus and figure out exposure settings and then I take the photo.

I have everything set on auto which works great during the day. In program mode I can adjust the ISO (and I dont know which is best for this). I really would just like it work in a point and shoot mode in the dark without producing blurry photos. The work arounds Ive found that help slightly is to take smaller photos which defeats the purpose of owning a 5megapixel camera. Can a different SD card help? Are there some settings changes I can try? Is this camera defective?
posted by damn dirty ape to Technology (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
turn the ISO to the highest setting. your pictures will have more noise but less blur.
posted by paradroid at 1:50 PM on February 21, 2007

Fundamentally, photos need light. You get blurry photos because the camera decides it needs to keep the shutter open longer to get enough light.

The best way to solve it is to get more light. Either from a flash or from turning on some more lights.
posted by smackfu at 1:54 PM on February 21, 2007

Yeah, use the highest ISO setting.

But this is pretty much a fundamental limit. To take pictures in low light, the camera needs to use long exposure times. You can get a tripod to make such exposures stable, but if your subject is moving, there will still be blurring. You can use a flash, but the tiny little flashes in those mini digital cameras don't produce a very good result, as I'm sure you've already realized.

I've spent a little time taking pictures, and I'm slowly coming to the realization that the lighting is almost more important than the camera. Watch a pro work some time. They put a lot of effort into setting up their lighting.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:00 PM on February 21, 2007

Yep. Either up the ISO and try to edit out the noise in Photoshop, or rely on a tripod for night photos.

Exposure (wiki).
posted by cowbellemoo at 2:00 PM on February 21, 2007

Dark photos with that lens and CCD with <0 .2s shutter speed just wont cut it. br>
I use the same camera:

For night shots, I set mode wheel to M, flash off, ISO 200 or 400, F2.8 (don't zoom, you'll get higher apeture=less light), shutter speed anywhere from 1/8 second (dark, photoshop enhance) to 2 s.

You'll get good results this way, but you need a steady hand. Best result: place said camera's edge on a wall to steady it, or take a picture resting on top of a wall.
posted by lalochezia at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

DDA, I feel for you. I really do. That said:

No Light, No Picture. That's true for all cameras, just about.

Changing SD cards won't help. The card just provides a place to store the sensor data (pictures), and has no effect on the quality of the pix.

Re: ISO. The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive the camera is to light. A setting of 200 ISO is twice as sensitive as a setting of 100. All else being equal, a camera set to ISO 200 will be able to shoot in one-half the light as one set to ISO 100 (this is a simplified explanation, but for our purposes here is good enough.)

SO, the higher the ISO,the lower the light level that the camera is usable in. BUT: there's a tradeoff. The form of payment for high ISO settings comes in the form of noise in the picture, usually appearing as purplish and greenish pixels sprinkled around the photograph in most digital camera.

TANSTAAFL. (There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.) The other problem with consumer digicams is that they have tiny sensors, which translates into tiny pixels. In a perfect world, that's good.... great, even. But the smaller pixels have less.... margin for error, and error in digital photography shows up as noise in low light. Sorry, that's the physics of it.

Whan you see a noisy picture from a six megapixel consumer grade cam, and a gorgeous picture from a DSLR (Think Canon, Nikon, etc semi-pro and pro cameras), remember that the buig camera with the interchangeable lenses has a sensor that has something like *eight times* the area to work with, and the 'pixels' on the sensor are that much bigger, with that much more margin.

So: more ISO gets you a shorter shutter speed at the same f-stop, which may help with hand shake. Picture quality overall will be determined by the sensor size.

Hope this helps. I've gone off tangentially, I know, but wanted to get the background in there.
posted by pjern at 2:04 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can a different SD card help? Are there some settings changes I can try? Is this camera defective?

No, yes, no.

Photography is about getting the right amount of light into the shutter. Too much and the photo will be all white, too little and it will be all dark.

Digital cameras have three controls that manage light: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. The camera's aperture is the opening that lets light in. Smaller numbers counterintuitively let more light in than larger numbers. Your camera is limited by its maximum aperture. Shutter speed determines how long the shutter is open. Longer values let in more light, but they also produce more blur. The rule of thumb is that you should use a shutter speed faster than 1/(the focal length of your lens). If you are shooting at the wide end of your camera's range, you shouldn't go slower than 1/35. At the long end, you shouldn't go slower than 1/140. Finally, "ISO" is the sensitivity of the camera's sensor. Small numbers are less sensitive, but produce less noise. Large numbers are more sensitive, and produce more noise. Try setting the ISO to 400 or 800.

The automatic mode on your camera is already choosing the best combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. You get blurry photos, that means that there just isn't enough light for your camera. You have three options:

1. Get a better camera. Since the maximum aperture at 35mm is 2.6 on your camera, you will have a hard time finding a better P&S camera. Even a dSLR with a fast lens is only going to let 2x to 4x more light in. It will also be very expensive and heavy. The fastest camera+lens is a Leica M8 with the legendary Nocilux lens, costing a total of $10,000.

2. Use a flash. The on-camera flash is fairly week, but it can trigger an external flash. External flashes are expensive, though.

3. Steady the camera or use a tripod. You can get a pocket tripod for ~$20, and should. This is by far the easiest and most cost effective solution.

(on preview, what others have said)
posted by b1tr0t at 2:06 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

[Nocilux should have been Noctilux]

Stanley Kubrick went to extreme efforts to film Barry Lyndon by candle light. You still can't just buy a f/0.7 lens today.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:08 PM on February 21, 2007

Several mefites have recommended the gorillapod as an ideal pocket tripod.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:13 PM on February 21, 2007

b1tr0t - thanks for that link. That was some awesome information. Crazy.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:15 PM on February 21, 2007

A general rule that works well is to keep the shutter speed of any camera above 1/50 of a second if you are hand holding.

Depending on the camera (im not too familiar with yours) it may have a mode labeled M, that will allow you to adjust the cameras exposure settings, in this you will want to adjust (using the directional arrows) the shutter speed to 1/50, and the aperture to its lowest setting (probably something like f2.6) This will cause the camera to take a quick photo, with the lens at its most open to allow in the most amount of light.

The resultant photos will probably still come out dark, however you can adjust the levels of the image in a program like photoshop to compensate (pull the image out of the shadows as it were), the trade off of this is that you will lose image quality, but at least it will be sharp.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 2:17 PM on February 21, 2007

Thanks for the info all. I dont think this is just a light issue. For instance, my girlfriends camera works great in the low light conditions I describe (they come out understandably dark but not blurry at all), but mine produces these blurry photos. On a recent vacation I was trying to take a photo of a semi-dim room (think mood lighting) and all I could produce was these blurry hand-shaking shots. Her Kodak (which I think retailed 80-100 dollars more if that) took the photo just fine.

I mention the SD card because sometimes, almost randomly, it may take 10 seconds for the camera to take the photo and write it to the card. It usually takes 2-3 seconds. If it does this consistantly I just turn down the resolution and this takes care of the problem, but obviously Im no longer taking 5 megapixel shots. I'm curious to know if my SD card might be causing some problems and slowing down the camera, but it seems that this hypothesis might not hold too much water.

I'm starting to think this camera might just be pretty junky. The one person in this thread who owns this model has trouble taking night shots also.

If I cant get this camera to work in somewhat dim lighting (think a restaurant) with a flash then I'd like to know how to buy a camera that works as well as my gf's kodak. Sure, I can buy the same model, but Id like to be able to know what to look for.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:17 PM on February 21, 2007

Does the SD write problem occour when you have taken several photos in a row? If so, what is happening is that the camera has a small on board buffer that it uses to store the just taken photos, as it is faster. The camera then writes this buffer to the card. If the buffer gets filled, it will then take a while to take the next photo. This is a problem on pretty much all the entry level digicams.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 2:26 PM on February 21, 2007

For instance, my girlfriends camera works great in the low light conditions I describe

Most cameras display the exposure on the screen when they take a picture (usually as a fraction of a second, so 1/50 is half the length of 1/25). You'll find your girlfriend's camera is choosing a much shorter exposure. This can be tweaked by changing the ISO setting to a higher number, as explained above.
posted by cillit bang at 2:32 PM on February 21, 2007

Your A530 has a maximum F-stop range of 2.6 to 5.5. I susepct your blurry photos were taken zoomed in (long) rather than zoomed out (wide).

If you want to take good night photos, look for a camera with the following properties:

1. Usable high ISO. Canon generally does really well with high ISO photos. Panasonic generally does terribly.

2. Fast lens. A maximum aperture of 2.8 or 2.0 is about as good as it gets with point and shoot cameras. Better lenses will keep the fast aperture throughout the zoom range, but that is rare or unheard of in the point and shoot marketplace.

3. Image Stabilization. IS will give you another f-stop or two of us.

A camera with good, usable high ISO, a fast lens, and image stabilization will be expensive. Get a $20 pocket tripod first. Then shoot your night shots wide. If that doesn't do it for you, be prepared to spend $500 on a better camera.

The Canon G series used to have F/2.0 lenses, but the current G7 model only does 2.8, slower than your current camera. It should have a larger sensor, which means its high ISO performance should be better. It also has image stabilization.

If you want to spend more money, a Nikon d40*/d50 or the latest Canon Digital Rebel plus a Sigma 30mm 1.4 is about as good as you can get with a dSLR. (*I still don't like the d40, but it appears that you may be able to use pre-AI lenses on it. Not a very useful feature, and I still don't like that it can't AF most nikkor lenses). You should be able to get a nice dSLR and the 30mm sigma for about $1000.

Finally, the Leica M8+Noctilux will set you back about $10k.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:39 PM on February 21, 2007

Ok, I'm going to play with it tonight in manual mode and try different exposure and ISO settings.

Pink Fuzzy Bunny, possibly. I'll take lots of photos and see if I can get it to fill the buffer and replicate the issue. If I can I'll know next time not to turn down the resolution and just let it write.

Thanks for the advice all!
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:41 PM on February 21, 2007

A general rule that works well is to keep the shutter speed of any camera above 1/50 of a second if you are hand holding.

It changes by focal length. The general rule is 1/(focal length), so for a 50mm standard lens it is 1/50th.

I think you should just use a tripod. If you have your heart set on a new camera DaShiv recommends the Fuji F10/F11/F30 series. I am not sure if anything better has come out since then (other than fancier dSLRs of course).
posted by caddis at 2:52 PM on February 21, 2007

Same Picture Quality as a $5,000 Camera

Yes, while I'm sure in very bright light, you can get similar pics between the two (similar at least to an amateur), it's in the low light that the OP mentioned that the $5000 camera (or the $1000 Sigma 30mm1.4 + Canon 400D/NikonD50) will absolutely run circles around any P+S.
posted by alidarbac at 7:31 PM on February 21, 2007

This is beating a dead horse somewhat, but the specific lens Ken Rockwell uses in that example is a f/2.8. As long as you are shooting the A530 at its widest setting, it will actually let more light onto the sensor than the Canon L glass would, since the A530 goes to f/2.6.

However, the Canon 5D body has a much larger full-frame sensor, so it will stomp all over the A530 at high ISO values. He probably also has a 50mm f/1.4, or even the reissued 50mm f/1.2L, either of which will generally outperform the A530 in dim light.

When it is dark enough, the fastest lenses won't let in enough light. Even a Canon 5D with the 50mm 1.2L, or a Leica M8 with the Noctilux will require a tripod in extremely dim light situations. Once you add a tripod into the mix, the A530 becomes competitive again. The Canon 1.2 will probably lose out - it is famous for its speed, but not its image rendition. The Noctilux could win, if you really like the Noctilux feel. The A530 will produce the same solid images it always does.

I'd like to know how to buy a camera that works as well as my gf's kodak

Find out what model camera your girlfriend has. Kodak isn't known for great performance at high ISOs, and the Kodaks I looked up at dpreview all had f/2.8 or slower lenses. I'm surprised that your girlfriend got better results than you get on your Canon.

You owe it to yourself to spend $20 on a pocket tripod.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:36 PM on February 21, 2007

I have a Canon A510 and I keep a mini tripod attached to it at all times.

I disagree with those who say to use the highest ISO setting. With the sensor size on your camera, the product will probably be worse than if it is motion blurred, unless you only want a very small version of the image.

One other thing that might help is to use the 2 second timer, press the shutter, then brace as best you can. Also, avoid using anything but the most zoomed-out setting for the lens when shooting in low light. Anything else will amplify camera shake.
posted by sindark at 1:09 PM on February 24, 2007

damn dirty ape: did you try any of our suggestions? Did they help?
posted by b1tr0t at 1:19 PM on February 24, 2007

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