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Entry level dslr low light autofocus
Hi,.

Is anyone able to tell me how well the different entry level dslrs handle focusing in low light conditions? Especially at social events.Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Canon, Sony - I'm interested in all of these..

Thanks,Jakob..

Comments (29)

It depends on the lens as well as the camera body - your question can't easily be answered as it stands.Best wishesMike..

Comment #1

All cameras, DSLR's included, do not do well in low light situitations. The camera's AF sensors require a certain level of contrast to be able to focus quickly. As the light level drops, the contrast also drops and the AF systems will have a problem..

To give the AF as much advantage as possible you can do two things: 1: use an AF assist light and 2: use fast (even very fast) lenses..

The greatest of mankind's criminals are those who delude themselves into thinking they have done 'the right thing.'- Rayna Butler..

Comment #2

It really is best to use a 'fast' lens, i.e. 1.4,1.8,2.8 etc. Most kit lenses that come with dlsr's are NOT fast. Typically F3.5-5.6. Do not be mislead by this, however. Take the 18-135mm kit lens that comes with the D80.

As soon as you start zooming, even to as low a zoom as, say, 70mm, you are already running on F5.6 - a real struggle for the lens to properly autofocus in low light situations. This isn't 'exact', but it is a rough guide to how a zoom lens behaves:18mm - F3.525mm - F3.550mm - F470-135mm - F5.6.

So you can see, even at 18mm, this still isn't a fast lens, and once you start zooming and the lens starts moving into F5.6, you can forget low-light shooting.Best buy a fast lens. Hope this helps.Nikon D80http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenwright67..

Comment #3

Thanks to all of you. That makes sense..

Right now I'm torn between an Olympus E-420 double kit + the pancake and a Nikon D40 with the 18-135, wishing that they would make an AF-S version of the 50mm f/1.8D AF.....

Comment #4

Even with slow kit lens, you'll find a DSLR focuses a lot faster more accurately and at lower light levels than P&S. When you look at the camera specs, the lowest light levels the camera body will focus at is stated. Faster lens are more expensive and typically require more expensive camera bodies to make full use of them..

But, my experience with Canon and limited experience with Nikon and Sony lower end models, I think the entry stuff in general does OK. I honestly wouldn't make low light AF using the kit lens a distinguishing criteria in selecting which brand to go with..

Also, there's the focus assist lamps that can help focus when it's just too dark to focus quickly/accurately. On the Canon bodies you get the annoying strobe effect using the pop up flash. That's one reason I use an external flash with a red AF assist lamp (external flashes are REALLY handy for bounce and fill flash use). Never looked at the other camera brands to see what they use...

Comment #5

I am a little surprised by the other answers to this thread because I have almost never had any problem focussing with my Canon 20D in any light, with or without a flash and with slow and fast lenses. The only times that I have had focussing difficulties has been with low contrast subjects, and that is normally only a question of moving the focus point slightly. At a social event I would expect that there would always be enough light to focus with any DSLR..

I am sure that there are situations where there isn't enough light to focus, e.g. wildlife photography at night, but I don't think that they are ones that you meet very often..

I would be interested if other people's experience is different.Chris R..

Comment #6

The Nikon D40 has an autofocus assist lamp on the body. This eliminates the need to have the flash up in low light where assist is required. The other nice thing is that the 6mp sensor has larger photosites so it typically has better dynamic range and less noise in low light situations. It was my low light camera or choice until I added the Nikon D3 to my mix. As light falls off, auto focus slows down on all of the DSLRs out there. Typically Nikon and Canon perform the best but are closely followed by the rest.

The only exception to this is Sigma makes the DP1, a "Point and Shoot" with a DX size sensor..

The other consideration is image stabilization. This allows a 2-3 stop advantage over a non stabilized system. Sony, Oly and Pentax have built in IS and will give you that advantage with any lens. So on a Pentax K10D with it's kit lens at 18mm f/3.5 you end up with an effective light gathering similar to a 1.8 lens because you can slow down your shutter speed without introducing blur. The down side is that this is of little help when the kids are moving as it wont stop motion. Only a faster shutter speed will stop the kids motion...

Comment #7

Stephen67 wrote:.

This isn't'exact', but it is a rough guide to how a zoom lens behaves:18mm - F3.525mm - F3.550mm - F470-135mm - F5.6So you can see, even at 18mm, this still isn't a fast lens, and onceyou start zooming and the lens starts moving into F5.6, you canforget low-light shooting.Best buy a fast lens. Hope this helps..

Close, but I would trust Thom Hogan's figures to be more accurate:18mm f/3.524mm f/435mm f/4.550mm f/570mm and higher f/5.6http://www.bythom.com/18135lens.htm.

PatcoA photograph is more than a bunch of pixels..

Comment #8

ZJLM wrote:.

Hi,Is anyone able to tell me how well the different entry level dslrshandle focusing in low light conditions? Especially at social events.Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Canon, Sony - I'm interested in all of these..

Thanks,Jakob.

For low light you need to consider iso, metering, lens speed as well as focusing..

None of the entry level cameras are brilliant as far as AUTO focusing goes.The cameras all have there strengths and weaknesses..

Oly make great cameras but low light is not their strong suit (still good though)..

Nikon...the D40 IS a great low light camera, it is just that there are very few lenses for it as yet.The sony A100 was not the best for low light the newere Sonys are better..

The 6mp Pentax cameras (what I use) are great for low light...AUTO focus is just ok at low light but the thing is the camera still does autofocus in light low...depends on the lens...the af will hunt unless it can find an edge to focus on at around iso 3200 1/6 at f2.8 (may work at lower levels..my f1.2 and f1.8 and f2 lenses are all manual focus and with them I never worry about how low the light is)..

The K100d will get you a hand held photo at iso 3200 and say 1/10 comfortable at around 50mm at f 1.2 (I can hand hold much slower, other not so slow, others still slower....works differently for different people)...at that light level af is not gunna work except maybe the latest pro camera...

Bottom line is all cameras are great these days and which is best will depend on your individual needs...me I need a good low light camera that does not have to machine gun or have lightning af but will work in really low light without worrying about camera shake...and is not too expensive..

I perssoanlly do not like the newer 10mp entry cameras but I guess the next generation will be better...the sensors are getting better and so is the associated circuitry.. If money where no object a Nikon D3 is the way to go but at entry level I believe the Pentax K100d super is the winner (in low light)....

If Nikon is your choice I would go for a D50 or D70 but thats me....the d40 does take great shots and in good light maybe a little better than the K100d (same sensor) and if the lens list for it meets your needs go that way..

They are all good..

Neil..

Comment #9

Neil holmes wrote:.

Nikon...the D40 IS a great low light camera, it is just that there.

Are very few lenses for it as yet..

Yes only 50 or so last time I counted!.

This list is moderately accurate:.

Http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikond60/page3.asp.

Chris Elliott.

*Nikon* D Eighty + Fifty - Other equipment in Profile.

Http://PlacidoD.Zenfolio.com/..

Comment #10

Chris Elliott wrote:.

Neil holmes wrote:.

Nikon...the D40 IS a great low light camera, it is just that there.

Are very few lenses for it as yet..

Yes only 50 or so last time I counted!.

How many of those would you consider to be "low light" lenses, aside fromthe Sigma 30mm f/1.4?I don't think many would argue there are *many* more low light lenses,complete with af, for every other Nikon body..

PatcoA photograph is more than a bunch of pixels..

Comment #11

ALL my lenses work well in low light, even with an ISO of just 100. I simply set my Canon 350D on my tripod and start shootin'..

Jerryhttp://jchoate.zenfolio.com/..

Comment #12

Jchoate wrote:.

ALL my lenses work well in low light, even with an ISO of just 100.I simply set my Canon 350D on my tripod and start shootin'..

And if your subject is not still life??.

PatcoA photograph is more than a bunch of pixels..

Comment #13

The museum for which I serve as director currently is hosting an exhibition of northern lights photos by photographer Duane Clausen. The photos were taken in full darkness and, of course, northern lights move across the sky. I can't wait to ask him how he took them. Seehttp://www.fhsu.edu/sternberg/traveling.shtml for an example..

Jerryhttp://jchoate.zenfolio.com/..

Comment #14

If you are interested, there is a large and beautiful sampling of aurora borealis here:http://northernlightsnome.homestead.com/.

Jchoate wrote:.

The museum for which I serve as director currently is hosting anexhibition of northern lights photos by photographer Duane Clausen.The photos were taken in full darkness and, of course, northernlights move across the sky. I can't wait to ask him how he tookthem. Seehttp://www.fhsu.edu/sternberg/traveling.shtml for an example..

Jerryhttp://jchoate.zenfolio.com/.

PatcoA photograph is more than a bunch of pixels..

Comment #15

Patco:.

Thanks for the link. It looks like he used a variety of time exposures ranging up to about a quarter minute, although his best shots (IMHO) looked to be 2-6 seconds. We seldom see northern lights this far south, so I have never had an opportunity to try to photograph them..

Jerryhttp://jchoate.zenfolio.com/..

Comment #16

I've always wanted to take a crack at it, too, but the rare times they shouldbe visible around Montreal, there is just too much light polution to see them.I have seen them a couple of times driving on dark highways between cities,but of course had no camera with me .

Jchoate wrote:.

Patco:.

Thanks for the link. It looks like he used a variety of timeexposures ranging up to about a quarter minute, although his bestshots (IMHO) looked to be 2-6 seconds. We seldom see northern lightsthis far south, so I have never had an opportunity to try tophotograph them..

Jerryhttp://jchoate.zenfolio.com/.

PatcoA photograph is more than a bunch of pixels..

Comment #17

Thanks to all of you So to sum up:- All of the entry level dslrs will do ok - some maybe a bit better than others.- Get a fast lens.- Manual focus ftw.

Is this somewhat accurate?..

Comment #18

Seems like the D40 is a very good choice. Still wish they would make an AF-S version of the 50mm f/1.8D AF though..

Comment #19

But, my experience with Canon and limited experience with Nikon andSony lower end models, I think the entry stuff in general does OK. Ihonestly wouldn't make low light AF using the kit lens adistinguishing criteria in selecting which brand to go with..

Yeah, you are right. My problem is that I wouldn't be able to afford both a kit and an extra lens right away. But hey - then I could get to know the camera before I try shooting under more difficult circumstances ..

Comment #20

ZJLM wrote:.

Thanks to all of you So to sum up:- All of the entry level dslrs will do ok - some maybe a bit betterthan others.- Get a fast lens.- Manual focus ftw.

Is this somewhat accurate?.

Yes, buy the one that is the most comfortable in your hand AND that you find the easiest to use. At the end of the day, it is nothing more than a tool that should get our of your eyes way and capture the moment...

Comment #21

ZJLM wrote:.

Yeah, you are right. My problem is that I wouldn't be able to affordboth a kit and an extra lens right away. But hey - then I could getto know the camera before I try shooting under more difficultcircumstances .

You've stated the most important budget constraint. Go buy a kit lens and shoot lots of pictures..

Part of the fun with photography is to maximize the use of the gear you happen to have with you. Every complains how awful kit lens are. But, when you study the lens performance charts, you'll notice that they typically do pretty good stopped down a bit. So you should consider doing more shooting in aperture priority when you want maximum sharpness..

If you do go Canon, I repeat that you should strongly consider buying the new 18-55 IS instead of the kit lens, 18-55 non-IS. The 18-55 IS has notably better image quality as well as good IS vs. the 18-55 non-IS. It's worth the extra $80 or so buying the 350D or 400D body-only plus 18-55 IS vs. a DSLR/lens kit...

Comment #22

Part of the fun with photography is to maximize the use of the gearyou happen to have with you. Every complains how awful kit lens are..

Exactly - I've seen great photos made with lousy equipment.

If you do go Canon, I repeat that you should strongly consider buyingthe new 18-55 IS instead of the kit lens, 18-55 non-IS. The 18-55 IShas notably better image quality as well as good IS vs. the 18-55non-IS. It's worth the extra $80 or so buying the 350D or 400Dbody-only plus 18-55 IS vs. a DSLR/lens kit..

I've heard some very nice things about that lens. Which only makes my choice harder - so many nice cameras out there each with their own strengths and weaknesses..

Suppose I'll just wait till May when I have the money and then make my decision .

Thanks for your advice.....

Comment #23

So to sum up:- All of the entry level dslrs will do ok - some maybe a bit betterthan others.- Get a fast lens.- Manual focus ftw.

Is this somewhat accurate?.

Yes, buy the one that is the most comfortable in your hand AND thatyou find the easiest to use. At the end of the day, it is nothingmore than a tool that should get our of your eyes way and capture themoment..

Yup - of the ones I've tried handling so far the D40 and the E-4xx really stand out...

Comment #24

Neil holmes wrote:.

The 6mp Pentax cameras (what I use) are great for low light....

I've actually got a soft spot for Pentax. My first slr was the Auto 110 I really loved it .

If they made a smallish Pentax K1000d with 6 mp I would buy it immediatly! I'd get the Sigma 18-125 and a pancake and never look back!..

Comment #25

A friend of mine works in Aasiaat in Greenland at the moment. I'll get mad at him if he doesn't bring home som nice shots of aurora borealis....

Http://www.knr.gl/.../DalagerTittu_Aasiaat/singles/Arsarnerit%20okt%202005%20(4).jpg..

Comment #26

Patco wrote:.

Chris Elliott wrote:.

Neil holmes wrote:.

Nikon...the D40 IS a great low light camera, it is just that there.

Are very few lenses for it as yet..

Yes only 50 or so last time I counted!.

How many of those would you consider to be "low light" lenses, asidefrom the Sigma 30mm f/1.4?I don't think many would argue there are *many* more low light lenses,complete with af, for every other Nikon body..

No contest but the post I replied to said "very few lenses" not "very few low light lenses" and even if it did say the latter many people would regard an f/2.8 zoom as a low light lens. A completely accurate answer would be "very few low light wide angle and short telephoto primes and a limited range of low light zooms". More simply the post could have said "but the range of usable lenses is more limited than for many other Nikon bodies" I am simply after accuracy of description..

Chris Elliott.

*Nikon* D Eighty + Fifty - Other equipment in Profile.

Http://PlacidoD.Zenfolio.com/..

Comment #27

Chris Elliott wrote:.

Patco wrote:.

Chris Elliott wrote:.

Neil holmes wrote:.

Nikon...the D40 IS a great low light camera, it is just that there.

Are very few lenses for it as yet..

Yes only 50 or so last time I counted!.

How many of those would you consider to be "low light" lenses, asidefrom the Sigma 30mm f/1.4?I don't think many would argue there are *many* more low light lenses,complete with af, for every other Nikon body..

No contest but the post I replied to said "very few lenses" not "veryfew low light lenses" and even if it did say the latter many peoplewould regard an f/2.8 zoom as a low light lens. A completely accurateanswer would be "very few low light wide angle and short telephotoprimes and a limited range of low light zooms". More simply the postcould have said "but the range of usable lenses is more limited thanfor many other Nikon bodies" I am simply after accuracy ofdescription..

Chris Elliott.

*Nikon* D Eighty + Fifty - Other equipment in Profile.

Http://PlacidoD.Zenfolio.com/.

Hi.

Sorry.

Given the subject of my post was Low light and that was the point of my post and all...well sorry yes, maybe I should have said...for low light...as I did the camera above and below in my post..this would have then read.

"Nikon...the D40 IS a great low light camera, it is just that there are very few lenses for it as yet" FOR LOW LIGHT..

To be truly accurate though, when you say many exactly how many is that?.

Neil..

Comment #28

Neil holmes wrote:.

Chris Elliott wrote:.

Patco wrote:.

Chris Elliott wrote:.

Neil holmes wrote:.

Nikon...the D40 IS a great low light camera, it is just that there.

Are very few lenses for it as yet..

Yes only 50 or so last time I counted!.

How many of those would you consider to be "low light" lenses, asidefrom the Sigma 30mm f/1.4?I don't think many would argue there are *many* more low light lenses,complete with af, for every other Nikon body..

No contest but the post I replied to said "very few lenses" not "veryfew low light lenses" and even if it did say the latter many peoplewould regard an f/2.8 zoom as a low light lens. A completely accurateanswer would be "very few low light wide angle and short telephotoprimes and a limited range of low light zooms". More simply the postcould have said "but the range of usable lenses is more limited thanfor many other Nikon bodies" I am simply after accuracy ofdescription..

Chris Elliott.

*Nikon* D Eighty + Fifty - Other equipment in Profile.

Http://PlacidoD.Zenfolio.com/.

Hi.

Sorry.

Given the subject of my post was Low light and that was the point ofmy post and all...well sorry yes, maybe I should have said...for lowlight...as I did the camera above and below in my post..this would have then read"Nikon...the D40 IS a great low light camera, it is just that thereare very few lenses for it as yet" FOR LOW LIGHT..

To be truly accurate though, when you say many exactly how many is that?.

No worries, Neil. I think context in which you used the phrase, "very few lenses" was clear to everyone else..

PatcoA photograph is more than a bunch of pixels..

Comment #29

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