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museum photography (don't know what I need)
I don't really understand all the tech terminologyISO, etcalthough I've gotten along OK because the manual to my old Canon is halfway decent. I've done a lot of experimenting and have learned how to get the best results from it, but they really aren't all that great for my purposes. Half the time the shots don't turn out because my hand jiggles or the light's too low, so it's frustrating and I've decided to splurge for a better camera. Normally I would take a couple of days and do my own research, but an emergency of sorts, which I won't go into here, has caught me flatfooted and unprepared with a travel date to Europe two weeks earlier than I had originally planned. As a result, I'm hoping I can get some quick-and-dirty purchase recommendations..

Here's the deal: I'm an academic who will be taking pictures of art in museums for teaching purposesi.e. I bring the photos back and flash them at students during lectures. Therefore the photos need to be fairly high-quality (I'm not posting them on the web), and I'd prefer the option of saving them in TIFF, not lossy jpg like my current Canon (which has no other option)..

Every museum I've ever shot in insists on (A) no tripod (nor monopod, which I'd hoped I could get away with, but no dice), and (b) no flash. So the camera has to be able to....

*take high-quality color shots*adjust for significant hand jiggling;*do this under inside medium-lighting conditions (sometimes fairly low);*adjust for glare from glass display cases, if possible; and*do it all without flash..

Video utterly unnecessary. Budget ca. $450 or less. The smaller size the better, but that's only icing. Photo quality under described conditions is by far the higher priority..

Thanks much...

Comments (17)

I have an Oly E510 kit now, but I used to shoot a lot of museum stuff with a Canon A-1, 50mm f1.4 FD lens and ISO 800 film. Couldn't use flash or tripods back in the '80s either so I became very adept at noticing all the walls, posts, railings, display cases etc. that I could either lean on, steady the camera against or set it on and holding my breath with the camera prefocused and braced against my body. I also took the camera mounting screw out of an old busted tripod and tied some 225lb test cord to it and to a 2" washer (put the screw in the camera, stand on the washer and use the cord as a soft monopod... the tension of pulling up against the cord helps steady the camera)..

DSLRs are more difficult because they don't have decent manual focus screens and auto-focus doesn't work in some of the gloomier display areas (nor will ultrasonic lenses autofocus through glass display cases). Many Nikons do have a built in IR focus assist light but most other cameras try to strobe their built in flash as a focus assist (which wouldn't be acceptable in your case). Canons have the cleanest high ISO so might be best if there is enough light to see well enough to manual focus through their smaller viewfinder..

You want to keep the cost down too so I'd suggest something like a used Canon 30d with a Katz Eye focusing screen and a fast f1.2 or f1.4 prime lens or maybe a Nikon with the IR focus assist lamp (used D80 maybe?) and fast glass..

Now if you are talking painting or sculpture galleries where there is enough light for auto-focus (or have a camera with an IR focus assist lamp) and halfway decent shutter speeds (rather than some of the twilight catacombs full of artificats) then one of the entry level IS enabled dSLRs with some fast glass should be sufficient..

Try borrowing a dSLR and see what kind of ISO and shutter speeds are required at the places you plan to shoot and buy accordingly...

Comment #1

BTW, you'd probably need a circular polarizing filter for adjusting for glare off the glass, but that is going to make your lens a stop of two slower and require longer exposures or higher ISO (with it's increased noise penalty)...

Comment #2

I took these at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk Va with aNikon D50 and a 50mm f1.8 lens. ISO was between 400 and800 depending on the museum lighting(which could bebright in some areas and dark in other areas).No flash allowed. No tripod was used.I think most entry level DSLRs with a similar lens should beable to get similar results..

I dont recommend using a polarizer filter as it will reduce your light evenmore. Get as close to the glass as possible. You can use shutter speedsof 1/50 or lower if you have a steady hand or something to prop yourselfagainst. If you use higher ISOs you will probably get some noise, but Iwould rather have a photo with some noise than no photo at all.Hope this is helpful..

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Comment #3

Nice shots. I like museums that expect you to be able to see rather than squint into the darkness to glimpse a shadow (have a few slides that took 30sec exposures at ISO 800 with the help of a handy railing... so dim I could barely see to focus on a split prism screen... don't know if they cared about displaying the stuff so much as preventing light damage)..

Agree about the polarizer unless you can't alter your position...

Comment #4

I would suggest picking up one of the DSLR's with built in image stabilization into the camera body (Pentax or Olympus come to mind), then pick up a good fast prime lens for it (Theres a Pentax 50mm f1.4 which I hear is incredible, and quite inexpensive too)..

The goal here is to get good shots without camera shake in low light conditions. To achieve that you want as fast of a shutter speed as possible, and image stabilization..

The camera body will have the stabilization if you get one of the brands I mentioned..

By buying a SLR rather than a compact you can take photo's at a higher ISO (sensitivity) and still have a noise-free picture (which lets you set a higher shutter speed)..

By mounting a very fast lens with a wide aperture (like the 50mm f1.4 I mentioned) you are letting more light into the camera with each shot, thus allowing you to take the shutter speed up even higher..

The combination of all these factors will make hand-held shots in low light situations far easier...

Comment #5

Sometimes it seems like they display things in a closet..

But I guess they may be concerned about damage from lightand electricity can be expensive..

Here are some photos from the tank museum in Danville Va.You are not allowed to use flash here, they are afraid it mightdamage the exhibits. I used a nikon d50(800-1600iso) and 18-70 lens.I tried the 50mm, but I got tired of backing up an bumping into stuff.They will have an extranvaganza weekend this April 26 & 27th and Ilook foward to using my new Tamron 17-50 2.8.

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This is what happens if you get caught using a flash..

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Comment #6

Museum's are easy to shoot in I have been doing my classes for over 15 years in our ROM. No support use a grillapod. As for as exposure set your camera to as high an IOS as you can then extrapolate down to a usuable speed and f/stop. Shoot with as fast a lens as you can get. Just hold your breath and gently squeeze the shutter. Also take a white card to get a good colour balance.

Shoot RAW and do the conversions after...

Comment #7

I agree with everything Wrightstuff and most of the others said. I am the director of a large museum, and I readily admit that the exhibits are too dark for photography unless you use as high an ISO as possible, use a fast lens wide open, lean against something, and hold your breath while shooting. Be sure to set your white balance to compensate for the creative lighting that museum exhibit personnel seem to prefer..

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

Comment #8

Yuzuha wrote:.

DSLRs are more difficult because they don't have decent manual focusscreens and auto-focus doesn't work in some of the gloomier displayareas (nor will ultrasonic lenses autofocus through glass displaycases)..

Why would an ultrasonic lens motor affect whether a lens focuses through glass or not. I think you are confusing the ultrasonic lens with infrared AF, which no DSLR uses (that I know of). Canon & Nikon (the two companies that I know that have ultrasonic lenses) use phase detection AF on their DSLRs. Phase detection is a passive AF system, and will allow you to focus through glass (assuming there is something with contrast perpendicular to the AF sensor behind the glass). The ultrasonic (or Silent Wave for Nikon) part of it is used to describe the focus motor, not the AF system...

Comment #9

Dave_s93 wrote:.

Yuzuha wrote:.

DSLRs are more difficult because they don't have decent manual focusscreens and auto-focus doesn't work in some of the gloomier displayareas (nor will ultrasonic lenses autofocus through glass displaycases)..

Why would an ultrasonic lens motor affect whether a lens focusesthrough glass or not. I think you are confusing the ultrasonic lenswith infrared AF, which no DSLR uses (that I know of). Canon & Nikon(the two companies that I know that have ultrasonic lenses) use phasedetection AF on their DSLRs. Phase detection is a passive AF system,and will allow you to focus through glass (assuming there issomething with contrast perpendicular to the AF sensor behind theglass). The ultrasonic (or Silent Wave for Nikon) part of it is usedto describe the focus motor, not the AF system..

Generation gap! I'm an OF (old f***). You have to remember your history when talking to us OFs since we don't always stay in the same time zone..

I wasn't talking about the vibratory motors you're thinking of (marketing people must love "ultrasonic" because it has that "ultra" in it and "vibratory motor" just doesn't sound sexy. Bet those "silent wave" motors aren't silent either and probably sound like a buzzer to your dog)..

The Polaroid SX-70 and a few Canon FD mount lenses had an ultrasonic rangefinder beam they used for autofocus. Worked fine for most things but in museums they gave people nice sharp pictures of glass. Some of the expensive video cameras had electronic phase detection or contrast detect AF back then but none of the SLRs had autofocus except via special lenses that had IR or ultrasonic range finders built into the lenses themselves...

Comment #10

Rockabilly wrote:.

Sometimes it seems like they display things in a closet..

But I guess they may be concerned about damage from lightand electricity can be expensive..

Here are some photos from the tank museum in Danville Va.You are not allowed to use flash here, they are afraid it mightdamage the exhibits..

Hmmm... the curators may know a lot about the weapons on display, but not much about the effects of light on those artifacts..

In fact, a flash from on-camera will be about 1/1000th as damaging to the exhibits as one second's worth of exposure to daylight. What's more, that's a worse case scenario. It would likely be only 1/4 of tdaylight intensity, or even less, probably, and only on the side facing the camera..

It's depressing how many seriously ignorant people there are in positions that make life awkward for the rest of us, isn't it? Heck! The items you showed were built to stand up to shellfire.... do they really believe they are going to be hastened back to dust by even a couple of dozen MILLION flashlights over the next four centuries? (sigh).

Now, if they were to exclude the contact of AIR with the displays, for instance.... (a gas which is destructively oxidising practically everything on the planet except gold) ........ [????]Regards,Baz..

Comment #11

"Seriously ignorant people?" I think Baz should be a little less critical of persons about whom he obviously knows nothing..

Curators are scientists who are responsible for knowing about collections, but in most museums the actual care of collections is the responsibility of collection managers. These technicians are highly trained in areas such as chemistry and physics, and their role is to ensure that the collections are preserved IN PERPETUITY. Among other things, this means no exposure whatsoever to UV light, even small amounts (every light in a museum is filtered, and every window has a UV film placed on it). We need to remember that many of the things on exhibit or in the research collections are absolutely irreplaceable. And, in fact, certain objects in some of the major museums indeed are in sealed cases from which oxygen has been removed..

Having said that, the natural history museum for which I work allows flash photography of everything except artwork and items leased from other institutions. In fact, one of the fossils in our museum is said to be the most photographed fossil in the world. Why do we allow flash photography? Because fossils (basically, stone) are not affected by UV light. Paintings, photographs, and other more sensitive objects definitely are..

The minor hardship to photographers resulting from scientifically based efforts to preserve the world's heritage is a small price to pay. I have no trouble taking photos in museums so long as I practice good photographic procedures for low-light conditions..

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

Comment #12

Reflections from glass can be a problem..

Get a rubber hood for your lens and put it (almost) against the glass; this'll kill reflections. The larger the object the shorter the focal length you'll want..

I you can't get close enough to the glass, be sure you are wearing black to minimize self reflections - Hmmmm - maybe wear a black hood & cape or raincoat that you can spread to kill reflections? - I'm not completely kidding here, it depends on how foolish or vampire-like you are willing to appear..

If you make a chain type "monopod" use a black chain - many claim chain is better than string as it is much more rigid & folds easily (ball-chain like on electric lights comes in black is very flexible and doesn't tangle when collapsed into a ball.) Any 1/4-20 threaded thingee can be used to attach the chain to the camera...a small eye-bolt comes to mind - or drill a hole in a thumb-screw..

Buy a circular polarizer; sometimes it'll be needed..

Others have recommended reasonable camera equipment...

Comment #13

Jchoate wrote:.

"Seriously ignorant people?" I think Baz should be a little lesscritical of persons about whom he obviously knows nothing..

Yes. Not just ignorant, but unhelpful with it, usually. Indeed, of all the jobs I have learned to love, shooting in museums is NOT one.... (despite the fact that I greatly enjoy museum visits in my spare time)..

I have worked with archivists and curators who earnestly believe that flashlight is more damaging than any other kind of light that might fall on their exhibits. In point of fact it is much less damaging than almost any other light, photographic or otherwise, because it is of such short duration RELATIVELY..

It isn't just that they are wrong, but that they are so ABSOLUTELY wrong! (sigh).

As previously stated the amounts of energy imparted to the molecules of exhibit surfaces by flashlight exposure is a minuscule fraction compared with any other light at all, including the gallery houselights that are irradiating those surfaces for hours and hours (months and months, years and years) at a time..

Good gracious! As if MY piddling 1/1000th of a second is going to make any difference in percentage terms! What is the problem with these guys? Can't they blooming count.... or did they skip arithmetic at school and move straight into an arts course!!??.

And please don't give me any of that UV tosh!. Flash-tubes have been filtered against any great UV emission for a couple of decades, now..

I suppose we can guess why their mistake is made. The brilliance of flash is blinding momentarily, and people mistake that human retinal reaction for something much worse than it is..

[BTW. Electronic flashlight is safe for eyes of newborn babes, too, assuming you are not firing a powerful flash into it's little face from 18" or less.... which would be an unkind act to perpetrate on anyone not prepared.].

Curators are scientists who are responsible for knowing aboutcollections, but in most museums the actual care of collections isthe responsibility of collection managers. These technicians arehighly trained in areas such as chemistry and physics, and their roleis to ensure that the collections are preserved IN PERPETUITY..

No doubt their training is excellent on occasion, but in my experience it falls short of any real understanding of photographic lighting in general, and how it differs from gallery lighting...... and the NON-potential for damage of electronic flash in particular..

I may have been unlucky, but that is my experience. All attempts to help these people to a better understanding fall on deaf ears, I find. What they do discover is the power to be obstructive, which they oftentimes use, for no more reason than sheer cantankerousness..

Amongother things, this means no exposure whatsoever to UV light, evensmall amounts (every light in a museum is filtered, and every windowhas a UV film placed on it)..

Yeah, UV filtered ..... JUST LIKE electronic flash lights have been for ages (see above) which flashlights are on for only 1/1000sec per pop!.

Note: At a conservative estimate I would have to discharge that flash at a single item for 1000 times before it was equivelant in actinic terms to ONE MINUTE of the museum gallery lighting.(Or, put another way, gimme break, perleeese!).

We need to remember that many of thethings on exhibit or in the research collections are absolutelyirreplaceable. And, in fact, certain objects in some of the majormuseums indeed are in sealed cases from which oxygen has been removed..

Quite! But flash light is an inappropriate enemy. It is the constant assault from constant light that is damaging..

Snip..

The minor hardship to photographers resulting from scientificallybased efforts to preserve the world's heritage is a small price topay. I have no trouble taking photos in museums so long as Ipractice good photographic procedures for low-light conditions..

It would be small price if we were allowed to use tripods and therefore use the ambient light that was ALREADY assailing the exhibits, but they are ALSO denied us by these petty people. Naturally the needs of other visitors must be accommodated re tripods, but I have been prevented from using one when there wasn't another soul in the whole place.[They have a rule! They are determined to apply it!].

Look, I'm sure my opinion of curators and archivists must be becoming clear by now.... .

..... not least because the ones I have run into are not only obstructive when, reluctantly, they find themselves obliged to allow photographers into their domain....

... but because, as a breed, they are extremely deprecating [and also very mean about PRICES] when calling those same photographers in to service the photographic requirements of those same museums!!.

PS. Don't ask me about Surrey Records Office. I might get off the fence and tell you what I REALLY think!Regards,Baz..

Comment #14

Wow, man, wow.If I were a curator, I'd just put up a sign that said.

"I don't want to allow flash photos in here because it will ruin the freaking ambience and we don't need to deal with requests from all photographers great and small telling us how 'this flash is the latest and best and won't hurt the paintings and it's the only way I can get another well-exposed photo of a work of art which nobody will look at but me' since most people would rather actually look at the artwork itself rather than a photo of it and also most people would understand if your photo is a bit dark since after all you are in a museum and the point is the exhibits not your photography of them, so too bad!"  .

Now, if one is on an assignment to which the museum has agreed then there ought to be some way they can accommodate your photography of said objects, like perhaps moving them somewhere which has more of the type of light they consider safe....

But if we're just talking about walking through a museum, I say you take what they give you..

Also, I have been told by a doctor and recently-published literature that a more appropriate distance for flash-photog. of a baby is over 3 ft (40 inches was the specific number I read). But in my opinion, just forget the flash with babies and use a fast lens- give the kid a break! (As you can tell, I have similar feelings about flash as yours about curators.)..

Comment #15

JChristian wrote:.

Wow, man, wow.If I were a curator, I'd just put up a sign that said"I don't want to allow flash photos in here because it will ruin thefreaking ambience and we don't need to deal with requests from allphotographers great and small telling us how 'this flash is thelatest and best and won't hurt the paintings and it's the only way Ican get another well-exposed photo of a work of art which nobody willlook at but me' since most people would rather actually look at theartwork itself rather than a photo of it and also most people wouldunderstand if your photo is a bit dark since after all you are in amuseum and the point is the exhibits not your photography of them, sotoo bad!"  .

I don't take photographs in museums for my own enjoyment. I take them by ARRANGEMENT, and because I have been hired to do so, sometimes by the museum itself! However, any enjoyment I *might* have got from the work has long since faded into my professional past, because of the ignorance about flash light which conservators suffer from..

Now, if one is on an assignment to which the museum has agreed thenthere ought to be some way they can accommodate your photography ofsaid objects, like perhaps moving them somewhere which has more ofthe type of light they consider safe...but if we're just talking about walking through a museum, I say youtake what they give you..

Quite. No arguments there, excepting that using the "damage from flashlight" excuse gets my goat, bigtime! As a general rule, moving of exhibits is even more of a no-no than lighting them, I have found... but... (shrugs).

Also, I have been told by a doctor and recently-published literaturethat a more appropriate distance for flash-photog. of a baby is over3 ft (40 inches was the specific number I read)..

Depends on the actual intensity of course, but I would always counsel caution where young and tender eyes are concerned (wouldn't we all?)Regards,Baz..

Comment #16

The "No Flash" rules go back to the early flash bulb days and maybe even earlier to the flash powder times when bulbs could and did explode at times. The hazards of flash powder need no explanation, of course. Later bulbs had a plastic coating to contain the glass shards should they blow, not only for museums, but for subjects..

Even early electronic flash tubes could blow. The UV fade factor is overstated out of foolishness of course but the concern of damage from exploding bulbs was, and is real..

Jack1931..

Comment #17

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