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Camera for storms
Newb here,.

This May I will be going storm chasing through my university for 11 days on the Great Plains. I did this last spring as well, so I kinda have an idea of the shooting conditions, but not really what I need to make the most of them..

Last spring, I went out with my Canon Powershot a540. It did fine for daytime shots, but things get dark under clouds that are nine miles tall, or in waning sunlight. Low-light shots came our poorly. The flash obviously didn't do much good either... It's essentially very specific landscape photography, with the sky as the main point, I guess..

At the time I didn't know increasing the ISO made for grainy shots. I found out when I got home and uploaded them onto my computer. The evening shots were useless, they were so grainy. It was upsetting, as much of the best action kicks in as the sun sets with the strengthening of the Low-Level Jet (but I won't go into meteorological details, this is photography forum afterall.).

There don't seem to be many accessories for my a540. I've found a macro lens and a wide angle lens, both of which also need adapters. The macro-lens isn't my thing, and I don't know if the wide-angle would help with low-lighting. I suppose it could help get more of the storm in one shot, but I kinda like stitching..

To finally get to my point, I've started looking into d-SLRs, but advanced cameras are so foreign to me I hardly know what to look for in one. I've never used a camera that used a detachable lens before, I don't even know what type of lens I would want for my purposes. That's what I'll ask you fine folks:.

What should I look for if I'm shooting 'stormscapes' in potentially low-light conditions? Is a camera with high-ISO noise reduction preferable to a lens that would allow in more light, or vice versa (or both?) Or should I forget the DSLR, and just stick with my powershot and learn to photoshop the grain out?.

All opinions welcome! Storm chasing is a month away, I have to do whatever I'm gonna do soon-ish!..

Comments (10)

Jceratto66 wrote:.

Snip.

Last spring, I went out with my Canon Powershot a540. It did finefor daytime shots, but things get dark under clouds that are ninemiles tall, or in waning sunlight. Low-light shots came our poorly.The flash obviously didn't do much good either... It's essentiallyvery specific landscape photography, with the sky as the main point,I guess..

True. .

Camera-top flash is very weak when used out of doors. The light travels about ten feet, then drops to the ground with a thud! [I guess you didn't hear it happening, what with the noise of the wind and everything. ].

At the time I didn't know increasing the ISO made for grainy shots. Ifound out when I got home and uploaded them onto my computer. Theevening shots were useless, they were so grainy. It was upsetting,as much of the best action kicks in as the sun sets with thestrengthening of the Low-Level Jet (but I won't go intometeorological details, this is photography forum afterall.).

The noisy shots you have may be perfectly recoverable with the use of a good noise reduction program.....Noise Ninja, for instance.... or Helicon Noise Filter, which is free..

These programs do tend to blur detail as the grain/noise is smoothed out. However, your particular subject is the sky which is not likely to have detail sharp enough to be damaged... so you may have the IDEAL subjects for a de-noise-ing treatment..

There don't seem to be many accessories for my a540. I've found amacro lens and a wide angle lens, both of which also need adapters.The macro-lens isn't my thing, and I don't know if the wide-anglewould help with low-lighting..

Wide angle, and super wides, are good for landscape and skies, integrating the two together in a way that other lenses cannot do..

I suppose it could help get more ofthe storm in one shot, but I kinda like stitching..

Stitching is good too, if things are not moving too quickly..

Stitching has the merit of increasing the number of pixels describing the individual details in the scene instead of reducing it by squeezing more detail onto the same number, as happens with conventional wide-angle photography..

To finally get to my point, I've started looking into d-SLRs, butadvanced cameras are so foreign to me I hardly know what to look forin one. I've never used a camera that used a detachable lens before,I don't even know what type of lens I would want for my purposes.That's what I'll ask you fine folks:.

The kit lens that comes with the camera is a good start, so don't panic..

After one week practising you will know if a wider range lens (shorter wide longer tele) is needed. From what you suggest it seems a slightly wider lens will tend to suit you better, especially if you are good at getting close to those storms. On an APSc camera we are talking about f-length 18 mm or so at the shorter end..

What should I look for if I'm shooting 'stormscapes' in potentiallylow-light conditions? Is a camera with high-ISO noise reductionpreferable to a lens that would allow in more light, or vice versa(or both?) Or should I forget the DSLR, and just stick with mypowershot and learn to photoshop the grain out?.

A recent dSLR camera will have MUCH greater low-light low-noise capability than you are used to, so don't worry about it. The problem will simply go away.. unless you insist on winding up the contrast in your shots in post processing. Whilst this ploy adds drama, it also makes any noise much worse..

Having said that, a nice wide aperture lens of around f/1.8, maybe a fixed focal length one that's not too expensive (f-length around 35mm) is very pleasant to use for candid shooting indoors without flash..

All opinions welcome! Storm chasing is a month away, I have to dowhatever I'm gonna do soon-ish!.

Hope this helps.Regards,Baz..

Comment #1

I have no experince with storm chasing. The only close thing is my girl's science project with clouds (including dark ones) and she did it with my penatax and the kit lenses...

Back on the subject, the main problem would seem to be the essence of time. Dslr is a tool more complicated and you would need time to play with it so as to enable you to be comfortable operating it in a hurry and maybe even in the dark. So the most imprtant advise would be to get what you want asap and start playing with it..

Your observation about high iso performance is right on the money. For usable picture in low light, A dslr (at least for now and for a reasonable amount) is part of the solution. The info I have is only for Pentax and Nikon and that is ONLY because I have both system. So that do not mean other system is no good. It is just that I don't have them and know little about their soecific cameras so could not advise you on that..

The question is do you need weather protection? For a relatively cheaper system (only relatively) pentax K20D with it's 16-50 f2.8 zoom would be perfect. As both the body and lenses are weather protected and the higher (only higher for the best right now would be the nikon D3 but that is a lot of money) Iso performance. This combination should be fine..

Nikon D300 would also fit the bill and the focusing is really quick in low light condition. The body is also weather protected. As for the lens, you have to go to their web site and check..

If weather protection is not required, then most of dslr with a 2.8 wide to low tele zoom ie 16 to 70( or anything in that range with maybe F3.5 to 5.6)should be OK. The thing is whatever you want, get it asap and start playing with it..

No doubt other more experience member would give you better idea...

Comment #2

Just to add to the helpful comments already posted... the low-light performance of any DSLR will blow your A540 out of the water. The sensor is 10x bigger (roughly) so collects 10x more photons for a given exposure, hence a much better signal-to-noise ratio..

From an image quality point of view, any DSLR will do. You will be able to shoot at ISO1600 with confidence that you can get good 10x8 prints, especially if you learn how to lower the noise further in post-processing (see Barry's post). Don't overdo it or you smear out detail too much.

There are no bad DSLRs on the market, just lots of slightly different ones, so go and have a play in a camera shop and see what feels comfortable. Important criteria are likely to be.

1. Price. They start at less than 300 (UK) with a standard zoom 'kit' lens. These lenses go to quite wide angle so you're covered for landscapes. The maximum aperture of the lens is likely to be f/3.5 at the wide end, which should be fine for outdoor shooting even in poor light (at ISO 1600!). You could get a 'faster' (even wider aperture) lens but you can pay a lot more for an extra f-stop...

The Sigma 30m f/1.4 costs the same as many entry-level DSLRs. A cheaper alternative is a 50mm f/1.8, although that may be too telephoto for your landscape work. I'd stick with the kit lens until you know you need something else, at which point it will be clear what to get..

2. Weathersealing. If you are likely to get heavily rained on, consider a weathersealed camera. This takes the price up as weathersealing is a feature only available on the higher semi-pro offerings, not the entry-level camera. The pentax K10D is weathersealed and now quite cheap as it is near the end of it's shelf life (being replace by the K20D). As the poster above points out, weathersealed lenses are also available - but they ain't cheap (the Pentax DA* 16-50 costs more than many cameras)..

A much cheaper alternative is to get a non-weathersealed camera, and wrap it in a plastic bag so that only the front lens element shows, and use lots of rubber hands to hold the baggies in place....

The fact that you have been using a Canon compact suggests that weathersealing is not an important issue for you, so you have loads of choice: Nikon D40/D60, Canon EOS400D (a.k.a. Rebel XTi), Pentax K200D... they'll all work well for you..

Best wishesMike..

Comment #3

Thank so much for your help so far. I'm almost certain to get a D-SLR, I just have to figure out which one. From what it seems, any D-SLR would suit my needs, relative to my powershot, in terms of low light shooting. Being a college student though, there is a price factor involved. If I could get a little more help in picking out a camera, that'd be awesome. If I had to pin down a budget figure, I'd guess ~700(?) for body/lens, plus extra for a case and memory card.



I should note that despite the inherent proximity to storms, we rarely stop to take pictures in the rain.. or hail, or dust clouds. So weatherproofing isn't as important as it might seem. (Though it couldn't hurt, thanks for the tip on Pentax!) Anyway, onto questions:.

-Megapixels, do I need them? For example, would there really be a huge advantage to having the Nikon D40X over the D40 (~10 mp vs ~6 mp)?.

-It was mentioned that a kit lens would do fine. That's another choice I'm trying figure out. Should I buy the kit version of whichever camera I get, or buy a body, and then a lens that would suit me best?.

-Speaking of lenses, does anyone have a not-so-technical link or explanation of lenses? I think I get the idea of f/stops, but I'm not sure what the two numbers on a lens (the ones in mm) mean. Does a certain ratio between the two determine if it's a 'macro' vs 'telephoto' vs 'wide angle' or are those defined some other way?.

-Is there any one company that has betteroptions of lenses than another, or better prices for the same thing? (lower prices = ).

-Is there any advantage to CF chips or SD chips, or are they the same thing in different shapes? I do have a reader for both, so that's not an issue...

Comment #4

I was about to suggest that your minimum cost option would be a tripod to put under your A540 so you could use low shutter speeds. And that would be a solution, but is it practical if things are blowing around a whole lot: clouds, stuff on the ground, limbs of plants and trees? Let's see ....

If you were able to take shots, albeit noisy, with the A540's max ISO of 800, it suggests all you need is three stops slower shutter speed to get the same result at ISO 100 and avoid the noise. That means you were presumably able to hand-hold the camera for those noisy shots, which suggests your shutter speed must've been on the order of 1/30 sec or more. Which means, in turn, that at ISO 100, your shutter speed would not need to be any slower 1/4 sec..

That might be tolerable; how far can a cloud move in 1/4 sec? Well, 36 feet, if it's moving at 100 mph. Do you think you would notice it in an image if a cloud moved 36 feet while the shutter was open, given how far away it is and the fact that it has soft edges anyway?.

In any event, a DSLR is a fine idea if you don't mind spending the money. And a tripod is a good idea too, even if you get yourself a DSLR.http://www.pbase.com/morepix..

Comment #5

Jceratto66 wrote:.

Thank so much for your help so far. I'm almost certain to get aD-SLR, I just have to figure out which one. From what it seems, anyD-SLR would suit my needs, relative to my powershot, in terms of lowlight shooting. Being a college student though, there is a pricefactor involved. If I could get a little more help in picking out acamera, that'd be awesome. If I had to pin down a budget figure, I'dguess ~700(?) for body/lens, plus extra for a case and memory card.(Do refurbished cameras tend to be good?).

Is that $US 700?.

Nikon D40, Canon Rebel XT or XTi, Pentax K100D super if you can still find one. Many stores offer 'refurbs' - no problem as they come with a guarantee..

I should note that despite the inherent proximity to storms, werarely stop to take pictures in the rain.. or hail, or dust clouds.So weatherproofing isn't as important as it might seem. (Though itcouldn't hurt, thanks for the tip on Pentax!) Anyway, onto questions:.

-Megapixels, do I need them? For example, would there really be ahuge advantage to having the Nikon D40X over the D40 (~10 mp vs ~6mp)?.

Virtually irrelevant. How big do you plan to make prints? A 6MP camera (3000 x 2000 pixels) will do a 10 x 7 inch print at 300 dpi which is a higher resolution than the eye can see, even close up. In practice I make A4 prints from my 6MP camera at about 250 dpi and they look fine. In practice the quality of the lens is often the limiting factor..

-It was mentioned that a kit lens would do fine. That's anotherchoice I'm trying figure out. Should I buy the kit version ofwhichever camera I get, or buy a body, and then a lens that wouldsuit me best?.

The kit lenses are pretty good (and very cheap for what you get, available for a few extra $ over the body only price). In contrast if you get a separate lens you may doube the price of your gear for a difference in image quality that is only apparent in a lab with a microscope. the Pentax and Olympus kit lenses have a very good reputation..

-Speaking of lenses, does anyone have a not-so-technical link orexplanation of lenses? I think I get the idea of f/stops, but I'mnot sure what the two numbers on a lens (the ones in mm) mean. Doesa certain ratio between the two determine if it's a 'macro' vs'telephoto' vs 'wide angle' or are those defined some other way?.

These are the focal length limits. Smaller number = wider field of view; larger number = telephoto. On most DSLRs a focal length of about 30mm corresponds to a field of view comparable to your eye. So a standard 18-55 lens covers the range form reasonable wide-angle (18mm) to modest telephoto (55 mm), fine for most common uses..

'Macro' is different - the ability to focus very close so you can get biiiig pictures of bugs etc..

-Is there any one company that has betteroptions of lenses thananother, or better prices for the same thing? (lower prices = ).

Not really. They all make lots, and third-party manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma make loads of lenses at all prices for most cameras too..

-Is there any advantage to CF chips or SD chips, or are they the samething in different shapes? I do have a reader for both, so that'snot an issue..

Not much of an issue..

To conclude - go to a shop and see what deals they have on entry level or refurb DSLRs. Don't worry about which brand, they are all fine. For $700 there should be several choices. What do you like the feel of, what is a particularly good deal on the day? In the first instance just get the kit lens - excellent value - and see how you get on with it. It should be fine for landscapes in poor outdoor light..

Don;t forget a memory card (or two) a case (with room for a spare lens in the future) and possibly a spare battery..

Best wishes.

Mike..

Comment #6

Having lived in okla for over twenty years I know how dark it can get in a storm and how quick it can happen. you may be getting a once in a lifetime opportunity. if it were me I would go with a fast 2.8 small zoom lens. a little more money but could be used for you photo ops without any lens changing involved,which you aren't going to have time for. good luck and stay safe.swampers..

Comment #7

Jceratto66 wrote:.

-Megapixels, do I need them? For example, would there really be ahuge advantage to having the Nikon D40X over the D40 (~10 mp vs ~6mp)?.

Get the D40. Your subject is devoid of detail. Your issue is low light sensitivity and the D40 is a bit better than the D40x. It's also cheaper. .

-It was mentioned that a kit lens would do fine. That's anotherchoice I'm trying figure out. Should I buy the kit version ofwhichever camera I get, or buy a body, and then a lens that wouldsuit me best?.

I doubt you can get the D40 w/o a kit lens. .

-Speaking of lenses, does anyone have a not-so-technical link orexplanation of lenses? I think I get the idea of f/stops, but I'mnot sure what the two numbers on a lens (the ones in mm) mean..

On zoom lenses, the cheap ones do not have a constant aperture. Thus the f-stop at the full WA setting is different than the f-stop at the full tele position. You'll typically see something like, "18-70mm @ f4-5.6", That means the aperture is f4 @ 18mm and f5.6 @ 70mm..

Doesa certain ratio between the two determine if it's a 'macro' vs'telephoto' vs 'wide angle' or are those defined some other way?.

No. Yes..

WA and tele are simply generic terms to describe short-FL and long-FL lenses, respectively. Macro is a term that implies the lens can focus on subjects close to the lens, thus magnify them highly (regardless of the FL)...but the "macro" term is often abused..

-Is there any one company that has betteroptions of lenses thananother, or better prices for the same thing? (lower prices = ).

Yes. But having a better selection of lenses doesn't translate into low cost! All manufacturers have quite satisfactory lenses for your application. The way to save money on lenses is to buy them used (try watching Craig's List). Also, 50mm lenses are fast and cheap...the 50mm f1.8 from several manufacturers costs about $100 new..

-Is there any advantage to CF chips or SD chips, or are they the samething in different shapes? I do have a reader for both, so that'snot an issue..

SD is smaller (easier to loose). CF is bigger and if you want a high performance version, more likely to find it (like there is no equivalent to the SanDisk Extreme Ducatti CF in an SD that I'm aware of). But mostly, this doesn't matter much..

Charlie DavisNikon 5700, Sony R1, Nikon D300HomePage: http://www.1derful.infoBridge Blog: http://www.here-ugo.com/BridgeBlog/'Experience: Discovering that a claw hammer will bend nails.Epiphany: Discovering that a claw hammer is two tools...'..

Comment #8

SD is smaller (easier to loose). CF is bigger and if you want a highperformance version, more likely to find it (like there is noequivalent to the SanDisk Extreme Ducatti CF in an SD that I'm awareof). But mostly, this doesn't matter much..

There IS an SD Ducatti (with built-in USB connection). I just ordered one. It looks flimsy as all getout, but it comes with a lifetime warranty..

Stephen..

Comment #9

I am now informed. Thanks....

Sr383 wrote:.

SD is smaller (easier to loose). CF is bigger and if you want a highperformance version, more likely to find it (like there is noequivalent to the SanDisk Extreme Ducatti CF in an SD that I'm awareof). But mostly, this doesn't matter much..

There IS an SD Ducatti (with built-in USB connection). I just orderedone. It looks flimsy as all getout, but it comes with a lifetimewarranty..

Stephen.

Charlie DavisNikon 5700, Sony R1, Nikon D300HomePage: http://www.1derful.infoBridge Blog: http://www.here-ugo.com/BridgeBlog/'Experience: Discovering that a claw hammer will bend nails.Epiphany: Discovering that a claw hammer is two tools...'..

Comment #10

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This question was taken from a support group/message board and re-posted here so others can learn from it.

 

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