What lens do I need to shoot low-light portraits?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Kardashian, Dec 19, 2008.

  1. Kardashian macrumors 68020

    Kardashian

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    #1
    I'm getting a new DSLR set up for Christmas.

    My budget is £400 tops. No more - not even a penny. There is no 'stretching'.

    I've been looking at Jessops' website (I think we'll be buying in-store since Dad's partial to buying my presents on Christmas Eve)

    I'm thinking of getting the Canon EOS 1000D - body only.

    I intend to do a portfolio of low-light portraits. Some idea's of photo's I want to shoot:

    • I'd like to shoot a subject surrounded by candles - and only candles. No flash.
    • Another idea, I want to wrap one of the subjects with 'fairy lights' and have them as the only light source in the image.

    I've been reading the 50mm f/1.4 is the best lens - but couple that with the price of the body, and I think it's out of my price range.

    How would the 50mm f/1.8 serve my needs? I've about 1/3 of the price - so I could afford to get the 1000D with the kit lens and the 50mm f/1.8.

    Thanks a lot for any input. Be gentle, I'm newbie-ish.
     
  2. Edge100 macrumors 68000

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    #2
    See here for a very similar discussion.

    If low light use is your primary concern, the 1.4 is a far better lens; the autofocus on the 1.8 is, in my opinion, quite bad in low light. Good lens in all other respects (image quality is nice, good sharpness and contrast when stopped down a bit), but low light use is not this lens' forte.

    That said, if you can live with manual focus under low light (and with portraits you have the time to get the manual focus just right), the 1.8 produces very nice images.
     
  3. Kardashian thread starter macrumors 68020

    Kardashian

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    #3
    I've just been reading over that thread, FYI, in case someone posts a "Use search!!".

    It didn't touch too much on low light conditions.

    So, would I be better seeing if I could get the body only and just the f/1.4 lens?

    I'll want to shoot other scenario's at some point - and obviously I will buy lenses to accommodate those needs - but for a good 2 months I'll be stuck with this lens.

    Will it limit me to just indoor, low light portraits?
     
  4. Edge100 macrumors 68000

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    I would always recommend getting the body only. The kit lens is ok, but you'll outgrow it. The extra money can be better spent on lenses you'll keep forever, like the 50/1.4.

    The great thing about the 50/1.4 is that it's nice in low light, but also gets very sharp when stopped down for normal use (f/1.4 should be seldom used...no need to shoot wide open in most situations).

    It's a great all-round prime.
     
  5. Kardashian thread starter macrumors 68020

    Kardashian

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    Perfect.

    In that case, I'm getting the 1000D body, the 1.4 lens, and a filter.

    Sound OK?
     
  6. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #6
    How would the 50mm f/1.8 serve my needs? I've about 1/3 of the price - so I could afford to get the 1000D with the kit lens and the 50mm f/1.8.[/QUOTE]

    Given your budget the f/1.8 lens is going to have to work. The difference from f/1.4 less then one stop. Use a tripod. You will really need it. andwith a cooperative subject you will do file. Back in the early 1900's and late 1800's photographers could make the kinds of images with far poorer equipment. They could just tell their subjects not to move or lean them on a solid object. With any f/2.8 or fast lens and a DSLR and tripod you will do fine
     
  7. SimD macrumors regular

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    #7
    To be fair, fast aperture isn't a technological breakthrough of the 2000s. Pro photogs of the past have been use <f/2 for ages and some even went as low as 0.95 (perhaps even more).

    But to answer OPs question, go with the 1.8. As you're starting and I'm guessing shooting on a budget, with the 1.8 attached, you have no worries of damage. Sure, the 1.4 is optically and mechanically superior, but it's also 3x the price. If you damage the 1.8, you've lost less than $100. The cheaper your gear, the more daring you will be to get that odd/dangerous/creative shot, until of course you make money doing what you do and can risk damaging high end gear.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Cheers
     
  8. drlunanerd macrumors 65816

    drlunanerd

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    #8
    If you buy the 1000D kit you get £30 cashback from Canon in the UK.

    Get Jessops to price-match Amazon. Make sure they don't rip you off if you're buying it in-store.
     
  9. Kardashian thread starter macrumors 68020

    Kardashian

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    Thanks so much :)

    I'll probably end up getting the body and kit lenses.

    On second thought, I won't be getting the f/1.4 - It's over £250! I thought it was £180!

    That I could just about do, but there's no way I can afford the camera body at £250, and another £250 for a lens!
     
  10. SpaceMagic macrumors 68000

    SpaceMagic

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    #10
    I got the f/1.8 in November as a cheap second lens. It's really good but definitely requires practice. You can easily fall into the trap of having only a person's nose in focus! Also, in low lights, you are going to need very steady hands or a tripod.
     
  11. duncanapple macrumors 6502

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    I just picked up the 1.8 lens yesterday, and used at an indoor party in the evening. It wasn't bad, but as was just mentioned above, I realized focusing is a little tricky because of the DOF I am guessing. It can single out such a precise area (esp at 1.8) that, for example, I was taking a picture of someone with a hat on (one of those goofy santa hats with the bill on it) and the persons face ended up a little blurry. I figured out upon looking closer that the camera had focused on the end of the bill rather than the subjects face. I did similar things all night but never knew it until I got them home on a larger screen. I learned (at the expense of some otherwise good pictures) to be very careful where you are focusing b/c at the higher f/ (1.8) it will cause blur everywhere except where you are pointing. But pretty happy not having to use the flash when I otherwise would have had to.

    - Chris
     
  12. svndmvn Guest

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    #12
    1.8 vs 1.4, wouldn't the DOF be even shallower on the 1.4? Wouldn't that make the focusing even more of a problem?
     
  13. JNB macrumors 604

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    Yes, at a fully-opened aperture. At a subject distance of 10', a 50mm/1.4 wide open will give a 7.8" in-focus depth. A 1.8 works out to 9.7". A total of under two inches at ten feet.

    At identical f-stops, the DOF is theoretically indistinguishable between the two, the only possible difference coming from any specific construction variables (lenses & groups).

    Go here for a good way to determine the DOF for different stops.

    For on-the-go calculations, go to http://iphone.dofmaster.com on your iPhone or iPod Touch!
     
  14. Edge100 macrumors 68000

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    There are two issues here.

    First, there is a DOF issue. DOF is very shallow at wide apertures; no way of getting around this. This can either work for you or against you. If you're shooting fast and furious, then you're going to get a number of shots thathave the wrong thing in focus because of the narrow DOF. If you're able to stop and compose, then accuracy will improve and you'll benefit from the beautiful shallow DOF.

    The other issue is the actual focusing process. Remember, all lenses focus at their widest aperture, and then quickly stop down when you press the shutter release. The wider the maximum aperture, all other things things being equal, the better the lens will focus because more light is getting in.

    That said, all other things are NOT equal. The AF mechanism plays a role too. And the AF mechanism on the 50/1.8 is not good at focusing in low light, despite the wide maximum aperture. The USM AF in the 50/1.4 is much better. To give another example, even my 17-40 ƒ/4L, with its relatively slow maximum aperture, focuses much better in low light than the 50/1.8. Yes, it hunts a bit, but that is to be expected from the ƒ/4, but the fact that it is still better than the 1.8 tells you a lot about the 1.8.

    So the point is this: both the 1.4 and 1.8 have very shallow DOF that make focusing difficult. The 1.8 makes this doubly difficult because of the poor AF mechanism.
     
  15. JNB macrumors 604

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    #15
    Both of which are true, and neither having anything to do with what I said. Good amplification of the discussion, though. :)
     
  16. Edge100 macrumors 68000

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    Sorry. Didn't mean to single your post out. I agree 100% with what you said.
     
  17. jaduffy108 macrumors 6502a

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    Edge...Why didn't you say it this way in the other thread? ;) Just teasing man.

    OP...i agree with edge. The 1.4 would be much better in this context...but given your budget it's out of consideration. Again..as Edge said...manual focus will be required which I think is great btw.

    I assume a tripod is way outside of budget, but try to borrow one from a friend or rent one. Your images will benefit a LOT from using a *good* tripod.
     
  18. Edge100 macrumors 68000

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    ;)
     
  19. bking1000 macrumors 6502a

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    #19
    That's just what I was thinking -- DOF. What does the OP mean by low-light portraits? One person or two? Regardless the quality of the lens or ability to AF, if you think you're shooting two people with a 1.8 or 1.4 lens well, good luck! If you want a formal portrait of a single person, you'll still get to enjoy that in-focus nose hair while the eyes are out of focus.

    Better to get some light in there and stop down a bit, unless there's a real reason to shoot low light and wide open (e.g. sleeping infant shot).
     

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