Buyers Guide Questions
What is Low Light Photography?
Photography is about capturing moments with stunning detail, true-to-life colors, and amazing artistic flair. But unfortunately, not every moment is going to happen in optimal light. Besides that, sometimes the most stunning visuals can occur in dark scenes. Low-light photography is the practice of capturing photos of the moments that happen in these less than ideal lighting conditions. If you dont think youre ever going to have the need to take photos in poor lighting, think again.
There are countless situations where this will be called for including taking photos in your home, at sporting events, in theaters, at your childs recital, or capturing an amazing nighttime landscape or street scene. Luckily, with a little work, a camera with the right specs, and a little experience, producing great photos in low-light conditions is actually pretty easy.
Cameras that perform well in dark environments offer wide ISO ranges, solid image stabilization, aperture settings that capture the maximum amount of light possible, large image sensors, and powerful processors which enables fast and accurate autofocusing.
Mirrorless vs DSLR
Before mirrorless cameras entered the marketplace back in 2009, the undisputed champion of photography was the DSLR. And for a few years, this continued to be the case. But as mirrorless cameras have evolved and improved thanks to innovations in photographic technology, theyve grown into true rivals to the DSLR. While mirrorless options and DSLRs both have incredibly enthusiastic supporters, the best way to decide which model is right for you is to look at the similarities and differences between these two styles of products.
DSLR means digital single-lens reflex. These cameras are a digital version of the older film SLR format and use a digital imaging sensor to take images. When light comes in through the lens, it bounces off of a mirror in the devices body into the viewfinder. Once the user hits the shutter button, the mirror is flipped, revealing the digital sensor that takes in the light and produces the photograph. Mirrorless cameras dont have the built-in mirror that DSLRs have. DSLRs are a lot heavier, so some people tend to have DSLR Shoulder rigs (click for guide).
This means that there isnt a way for the image to be previewed through the viewfinder naturally. Though many models now send a miniature version of what is shown on the devices LCD screen to an electronic viewfinder as a work-around to this limitation. The benefit of this simplistic design is that, with less complicated internal components, mirrorless cameras can be lighter, more compact, and far more portable than bulkier DSLRs.
While this might seem like a step back in technology, its actually quite an advancement. Film cameras have utilized the flipping mirror for years and DSLRs basically adopted this mechanism into a digital format. Modern advances in technology have allowed cameras to now capture images without the flipping of the mirror and this feature has been built into various photographic devices.
In fact, even smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras are versions of mirrorless camera. For budget point-and-shoot cameras click here. With an understanding of how these two operate differently, lets take a look at how they compare when it comes to some of the most important specs and features.
Size and Weight
One of the biggest selling points for mirrorless models is that they are significantly lighter and more portable than DSLRs. This is because a DSLR has more components including the mirror, a pentaprism, and a secondary autofocus mirror. This is a major advantage if you find yourself taking photos on the go. One thing to keep in mind though is that if you purchase a mirrorless device that offers interchangeable lenses, most mirrorless lenses weigh about the same as DSLR ones.
This can lead to a little imbalance since the body is relatively light while the lens in rather heavy. Since DSLRs are heavier, they tend to feel more balanced even with a heavy lens attached. Still, if having a lightweight, compact device is a priority, a mirrorless model is a great purchase.
If having the largest possible selection of lenses at your disposal is important, DSLRs are the perfect model for you. Since theyve been on the market longer, theres simply a wider assortment of options available. This doesnt mean that there are no lenses available for mirrorless cameras. There is still a decent amount of quality glassware on the market. And as mirrorless models continue to advance and gain a foothold on the market, manufacturers are offering more and more lenses that are compatible with these devices. There are many different lens sizes available such as 50mm lenses and so on.
Plus, mirrorless models offering Micro Four Thirds technology such as some amazing models made by Panasonic and Olympus have a wide-assortment of lenses already available. And if you are insistent on using DSLR lenses, there are adapters on the market which allow them to be mounted to a mirrorless device, though this can have a negative effect on things like zooming quality and autofocusing. Weighing both models out, with a larger collection of lenses already available, the DSLR takes a slight edge in this category.
Image and Video Quality
Both mirrorless and DSLR models can produce amazing still images. And since sensor size is a critical factor when it comes to image quality, this is especially when looking at the impressive full-frame sensor models that are on the market in both classes. While other factors like AF, low-light capability, stability, and resolution also play a role in image quality, neither style of camera has an edge here since these specs are fairly similar when looking at comparable models in each class.
Taking photos with a DSLR or mirrorless model with the same size sensor, whether APS-C, full-frame, or Micro Four Thirds, will yield results that are almost identical, giving neither format a leg up in this category. But as far as video quality is concerned, mirrorless models tend to have the advantage over their DSLR rivals. This is because only DSLRs on the higher end of the market tend to be capable of recording at stunning 4K levels.
Compare this to many affordable mirrorless models, which offers 4K recording at a fraction of the price, and its clear that mirrorless options are the better choice for videographers unless they are willing to invest in a rather expensive, professional-grade DSLR.
When mirrorless models didnt offer electronic viewfinders, the DSLR clearly had the advantage. But since many mirrorless devices now offer these electronic viewfinders, which format is better is now a matter of personal preference. Since DSLR cameras reflect the light and image from the mirror to the viewfinder, users get an accurate view of what they are shooting. Whatever your device is pointing at will be shown precisely in your viewfinder.
Since mirrorless models create this image electronically, they actually offer an added benefit to users. Exposure adjustments such as changes to ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are taken into account when you look at your shot through an electronic viewfinder. This offers users a true what you see is what you get style of shooting.
Autofocus and Low Light Shooting
Only a few years ago, the DSLR was the clear victor in these two categories. But as advancements have been made in mirrorless models, there are some truly impressive options out there. The Sony A6300, for example, now offers the worlds fastest autofocus speed at 0.05 seconds. And models like Sonys a7S, is a true low-light powerhouse with a staggering ISO range and the capability of producing amazing clear images in virtual darkness.
Depending on the models you are looking at, comparable models in each format will deliver around the same results, making this category a draw. The only time that there is a clear winner is if you intend to be taking plenty of fast-paced shots, such as those required for wildlife or sport photography. In that case, DSLRs tend to be more capable of locking onto fast-moving subjects, giving them the advantage.
For a lot of people, it can come down to price. If you are looking for the best bang for your buck, the DSLR is the perfect option for you. Mid and entry-level DSLRs are fairly affordable and offer impressive specs, great performance, and countless useful features. Meanwhile, if you are looking for a similarly-priced, affordable mirrorless model, you will likely have to sacrifice something in terms of resolution, lack of an electronic viewfinder, or battery life.
This discrepancy really only presents itself in the entry and mid-level models though. Once you wander into the professional-grade, more expensive models, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras will cost you roughly the same amount of money and both formats will deliver impressive performance and power.
While both mirrorless and DSLR models can deliver truly stunning image quality and performance, deciding which format is better comes down to a personal preference. DSLRs offer more lens options and a performance edge in the entry to mid-level categories compared similarly-priced mirrorless models.
But mirrorless cameras are significantly more compact and portable, offer faster continuous shooting speeds, and provide superior video quality, even in lower-priced models. While both are fantastic options for photographers of any level, which you prefer ultimately comes down to which features are most important to you.
Best ISO Camera Settings for low Light?
One of the most important settings that you need to adjust when taking photographs in poor lighting is your cameras ISO. But since most cameras now allow this setting to be adjusted manually and with some models offering staggering native ISO ranges, choosing the optimum setting can be tough. Especially since, as you progress up the ISO spectrum, youll tend to introduce effects like noise or blur into your work, which will drag down the quality of your image.
So lets take a look at how to find the right ISO setting for your needs. When shooting in dark conditions that require high ISO performance, youll often have to compromise a bit on image quality. This is because as you crank up the ISO, you are bringing your device further away from its optimum performance settings. This means that when shooting at the upper end of the ISO range, youre going to have to choose between one of two exposure issues: noise or blur.
The reason for this choice is that you basically have two options when shooting in dim lighting. The first option is to use a lower ISO but with a lower shutter speed that allows as much light to reach the sensor as possible. The problem here is that images tend to come out with a blurry effect. The other choice is to operate at a higher ISO and a faster shutter speed. The problem here is that this means you will likely introduce some digital noise or graininess into your images.
While this can be a tough decision, the recommendation is usually to work at the higher ISO range since a slight amount of noise is almost always favorable to a blurry image that loses detail and sharpness. Unless you are want a blur in your photo due to an artistic preference, a small amount of noise is far more preferable to any photography. And since, unlike blur which cant ever be fixed, noise can often be edited post-processing by using tools like Photoshop, risking a bit of noise is usually the safest bet.
Most professionals recommend shooting at an ISO range between 1600 to 3200, while ranges up to 6400 can still come out remarkably clear with a solid low-light performer. At these ISO settings, the camera is sensitive enough to capture great image quality in most dark conditions while introducing a minimal amount of noise that can usually be edited out in post. The reason for this range instead of a specific number is because every setting is different and places different demands on your device.
The smartest advice is to test your camera at these different ISO levels and see what the results are. Working in a set environment with poor lighting, take a still image at 1600 and gradually work your way up the spectrum, increasing a step or so each time. Then compare your results. By being able to judge what each setting will render in different lighting settings, youll be able to quickly adjust your ISO setting to a number that will produce the most impressive results.
How to Take Low Light Photos?
When youre shooting in a dim location, you have 2 options. You can either physically create more light or you can adjust the settings of your device so that it reacts differently to whatever lighting is available. Lets take a look at how to optimize your camera to deliver impressive results in low-light situations. When it comes to adjusting the exposure of your camera, you basically have three settings that you can change: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
Aperture is simply the hole through which light passes to your devices lens. The wider you make the aperture, the more that the available light can come in. Aperture is measured in f-numbers. The only trick here is that aperture numbers are actually in reverse. This means that the lower the f-number, the wider the aperture. While adjusting the aperture is normally the first step youd take in taking photos in poor lighting, its normally not too useful if youre using a standard kit lens.
This is because most of these pieces of glass will only have a maximum aperture of about f/3.5 and that isnt large enough to do the job. For a well-exposed low-light photo, you should purchase a lens that offers a maximum aperture of around f/1.8. While it will produce a more shallow depth of field, it is capable of letting in 4 times the light that a lens set at f/3.5 will.
Shutter speed is the next step to take to control your exposure when taking photos in poor lighting. Basically, the slower your shutter speed, the more light can enter. While this sounds like the perfect solution, if you arent shooting with a tripod, you cant adjust your shutter speed too low because you will end up with blurry images. The general guideline is that, for sharp images without blur, you can set a full-frame model to a fraction of the focal length of the lens.
This means that for a 30mm lens, you can adjust your speed down to 1/30 of a second. Crop sensor cameras are better suited to speeds around 1/45 of a second. This will prevent blur from occurring on occasions when you dont have a moving subject.
ISO is the final step that you can take to perfect your exposure to lighting conditions that are less than ideal. The only thing to keep in mind is that, as you raise the ISO, more digital noise will be introduced into your image. This means that, for most cameras, capturing photos at very high ISO can render stills with very poor image quality.
But if youve adjusted your shutter speed and aperture and still cant capture the quality of photo that youre looking for, your next move will be to raise your ISO. ISO works by stops. This means that when you double your ISO, you are doubling the amount of lighting that your camera can detect.
In order to avoid excessive noise in your images, the suggestion is to only raise your ISO to around 1600 or 3200, though in some situations a value up to 6400 can still achieve impressive results.
By combining these 3 techniques you can capture truly impressive photos even in the lowest lighting conditions. Simply adjust your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to values that are more receptive to light and experiment with the different settings until you are comfortable with how your device performs.
What is the Best Aperture for low Light?
If youre shooting in a dim setting, you need your cameras lens opening to be wide enough to allow as much light as possible into your device. Photographers use the word aperture to refer to the size of this opening. Cameras measure aperture in a value called an f-stop. Some of the most common values are f/8, f/11, and f/16. The only tricky thing to remember is that the larger the number of the f-stop, the smaller the aperture or opening. So, an f-stop of f/3 is much larger than an aperture of f/11.
In poor lighting, you want to set your device to low f-stop numbers which will allow as much lighting as possible to enter your camera. An f-stop of f/4 is adequate but if you plan on spending a considerable amount of time taking photographs in dimly-lit areas, you might want to invest in a lens that has a wide maximum aperture that can go somewhere around f/2 to f/1.4. You dont want to go much wider than this when adjusting your aperture. Instead, youll use this adjustment in conjunction with adjustments to your shutter speed and ISO.
This is because increasing the aperture does present some disadvantages. The wider the lens opening, the smaller the area of focus, or depth of field, will be in your photo. If you only have one subject in your shot, a low depth of field is fine since your sole subject will be in focus while everything else will be out of focus.
But if you have several subjects in your image that are scattered at different points or distances in your frame, youll have to choose which objects are held in focus and which ones are blurred. Because of this, its not advised to go much wider than an aperture in the suggested range, with a solid starting point for test shots being around f/1.8.