good lens for night photography?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by brian_keyashian, Aug 6, 2006.

  1. Hey everyone, I would like some help picking a good lens for night photography.
    I'm currently using a canon rebel xt with a sigma 17-70 f2.8-4.5 lens. Would it
    be possible, with the right lens, to not have to use a tripod? I generally take
    pictures of cities and stuff so there is some ambient light, and I don't really
    want to have to carry a tripod around all day or miss some shots because it
    takes too long to set up a tripod.

    I opted for this lens over the canon 17-85 f4-5.6 IS because at the time I
    thought the wider aperture of the sigma would make up for the lack of
    IS...haha...was I wrong? I was also hoping the wider aperture would be more
    useful indoors in dimly lit rooms (eg during a party or other social event).

  2. You can do the math: for every extra stop in aperture, you can halve the exposure time. Once the exposure time is less than about 1.5 times the focal length (for your DSLR) the effects of camera shake will probably be small enough.
    In truth, however, it's unlikely that you will be able to shorten exposures enough with a lens and high iso for picture quality to become acceptable -- to you.
    As for good lenses for night photography: the biggest optical problem in night photography is usually lens flare (because of the high contrast of lights vs. a dark background). The best lenses to deal with that are the simples ones, with the lowest number of elements. That means primes, preferably normal lenses (50mm), and usually not the fastest lenses. And don't use UV filters: their two parallel air-glass interfaces are just perfect for introducing ghosting and unusual flare.
  3. That question again, by the way only f/1.8 or bigger would be recommended for low light w/ out IS.

    The 17-85mm is your only other option, if you want IS, for general pupose and indoor light use.
  4. sorry...has someone else asked this question before? my search came up you which forum it was asked in?
  5. The Sigma is kinda slow, especially at the long end. For shots in relatively well lit outdoor
    a fast prime such as an EF 50 1.8 or 35 2.0 is hand holdable (bump up ISO to 800). For dim
    areas, you gotta use a tripod, even with an EF 50 1.0L USM.
  6. I doubt that photographing cities you can live with shallow depth of field that large apertures (like 1.4 for instance) will give you. That tells me that you will not avoid a tripod. Keep your lenses and buy a tripod - that would be my advice - sorry to disappoint.
  7. some of the best time for cityscape photo requires several seconds of exposure times. Can't get around the need for a tripod if you are serious.
  8. thanks for the help everyone. I'd rather have to carry a tripod that forgo taking some really cool pictures.
  9. Have you considered a mini-tripod? They're not nearly as useful as a regular tripod, but I've gotten some good results with one.
  10. A friend of mine uses a Digital Rebel, and we investigated this very question this weekend. We tried mounting my old FD-mount 58/1.2 lens, but it didn't seem to want to attach. Too bad, it would have been a nice lens for night work (though its images are a bit on the soft side).

  11. It depends on what you mean by night photography.

    If you mean cityscapes, etc... then, you'll need to shoot with enough DOF which makes the speed of the lens a moot point...and you WILL need a tripod.

    If you mean candid/ps style, street pictures of people then, the 50 f/1.4 will give you much LESS grief than any f/1.2 MANUAL focus lens (have you ever tried focusing manually at night?).

    If you mean MOSTLY dimly lit rooms (interiors) the FASTEST wide (other than 35 & 24 f/1.4 primes) would be the 24-70 and 16-35 zooms (both excellent) which have a fixed aperture of f/2.8

    Because of the crop I'd go with the 16-35 or the Canon EF 17-55 f/2.8 IS
  12. For night outdoor, your best bet is to stay away from zooms; any zoom. Since you don't want to lug a tripod around, then your best best is a fast prime.

    Get an F1.4 prime in the focal length you require...Forget about IS....better to get a very fast prime. And if your subject is big, like a building, and you're sufficiently far from the subject, even F1.4 may often provide you the depth-of-field you need.

    I've shot hundreds of hand held night time shots using a 5D with a Canon 35mm F1.4L and the images came out very good; very usable.

    Set your camera body to Tv, and the shutter to 1/x where x is the focal length of your prime.

    Then let the camera set the aperture f-stop automatically....then go out and shoot away. If you do this with a fast prime, you'll often find great shots....this is better then using any and all zooms with IS.
  13. For night cityscapes, F2.8 is pitifully too slow without a tripod.

    Giampi, I disagree...even with no tripod, if one has a fast F1.4 prime, sets the camera to Tv, and shutter speed to 1/x, where x=lens focal length, and is sufficiently distanced from the subject one can get great night shots. I know...I have hundreds from the Miami area, downtown on the wharf at night, and they turned out awesome. With noise-removal software one can result in magnificient images....but be prepared to loose some detail.
  14. If money permits :

    EF-s 17-55 f2.8 USM IS

    Is quite fast AND has IS
  15. Andy, F2.8 is too slow for most night photography.
  16. I'd agree that f2.8 is too slow without a tripod...even at ISO 1600 there was noticable camera shake in the majority of my pictures. but if its not too dark and you take a bunch of pictures of the same scene, one might turn out acceptable.
  17. Brian,

    In my opinion there is no substitute for a tripod. If you use mirror lock up, and there is no wind, even a fairly flimsy compact tripod (Velbon 343E for example) will be huge help (especially if you don't use all the leg segments and don't raise the center column).

    Here is a link to tripod advice for the tripod hater:

    A wadded up jacket can be useful for utilizing a tree as a makeshift tripod. Such a makeshift suppport plus IS allows multisecond exposures with ease.

    Check out Michael Reichmann's 20D review to see some night time shots with a 20D and 17-85/4-5.6 to see what IS is capable of.

    Of course both lenses, 35/1.4 and 17-55/2.8 IS, under previous discussion are very expensive. The 17-55/2.8 IS is clearly much more flexible. The Canon 35/1.4 is possibly one of Canon's greatest ever lenses (which I don't own and don't ever expect to own).

    I shoot fast primes for low light portraiture precisely because subject motion is a problem. However, if your subject is static then f2.8 + IS is superior to f1.4; you get greater DOF and f2.8 + IS is definitely more handholdable than f1.4. The 3 stop claim of IS (on the 17-55/2.8 and the 24-105/4) is actually pretty reliable and pushing the envelope you will still get the occasional sharp shots (in my experience more so than without IS since it just means you have managed to hold the camera for a long time without any large magnitude shakes - whereas without IS you are required to hold the camera without any shaking).

    I don't know how the 17-55/2.8 handles flare/ghosting. My 17-40/4L has no problem with long exposure night shots though of course I don't use a filter. I don't think you should rule out zooms for night shooting.

    Subject motion blur is common in many night shots even candids.


    There are surprisingly few absolutes in this world though some of the laws of physics look OK for now ;)
  18. Alistair, the original poster does not want to use a tripod, and it is within that situation that I posted my response. I'm not anti-tripod, nor anti-IS for the record.

    So with no use of a tripod, then it is my experience that the best way to go is a fast prime. If he used the fastest zooms availale I doubt it would work well, as F2.8 is too slow.

    The world is full of many shades of gray, but sometimes there are some absolutes, even if it is rare. ;-)
  19. I agree that if you want a motion stopping shutter speed then a fast prime is the way to go (I shoot with the 35/2, 50/1.8, and 85/1.8). I got the 85/1.8 because my 90/2.8 lens was too slow. I get motion from musician hands shooting wide open but can usually freeze their heads but I simply couldn't get sharp shots from the 90/2.8 due to camera shake. I would switch to the 50/1.4 (since 50mm is my most widely used focal length) but a number of my fellow extreme low light shooters have complained that it simply does not autofocus as reliably as the 50/1.8 in very low light (sometimes it is better to be a tortoise than a hare).

    However if you just want to handhold either because there is no subject motion or because you want to capture the subject's motion, then the 17-55/2.8 is better in terms of depth of field, handholdability, and (according to Photozone - on a 1.6x camera, which is the only place it makes sense to compare these lenses) sharpness than the 24/1.4, 35/1.4, or the 50/1.4 when comparing the lenses wide open. Plus that lens is more flexible than any of them. For architecture, cityscapes, road shots etc this could be the ideal $1000 way of avoiding carrying a $70 tripod.

    The tripod comment was aimed at the original poster and I know you have a 70-200/2.8 IS.
  20. "the ideal $1000 way of avoiding carrying a $70 tripod"

    HAHA...when you put it that way it seems like a giant waste of money to not carry the tripod.

    thanks for all the input everyone...I think i'm just going to suck it up and carry the tripod rather than spend a small fortune on a lens that won't be able to do everything I want it to anyway.
  21. Actually, $1,000 is worth NOT dragging a tripod around....however there are shots that just cannot be done with out a tripod.

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