FAQ: Shooting Photos in Low Light
You need light. That means one of two things:
- Make light.
- Let more light into the camera.
You'd generally make light with a flash, or with some kind of studio lighting setup. However, as you mention, this can be bothersome. And in some cases, it kills the mood and makes your subjects scurry like bugs.
Letting more light into the camera is accomplished by a weight combination of several factors:
- The size of the hole in the lens -- the aperture -- and accompanying f-stop settings.
- The amount of time the shutter is open to allow light in -- the shutter speed.
- The sensitivity of the film/sensor to light -- the ISO settings.
Lenses with large apertures (smaller numbers) are the most costly aspect of photography. Lenses often out-price all but the costliest of professional camera bodies. The generally-accepted sweet spot for a large aperture is f/2.8, though some lenses qualify at f/4.
The longer the shutter is open, the more susceptible it is to camera shake, which in turn causes blurry photos. Generally speaking, anything less than 1/60 should be tripod-mounted. The exception is when you're both good at being still, and can find a make-shift brace (tree, handrail, etc). If you're a jittery kind of person, you want to shoot at least 1/125 to 1/250, though still under 1/1000 most times.
The sensitivity of film or CCD/CMOS digital sensors is a tradeoff of noise. The higher the ISO, the noisier the photo.
Several model DSLR cameras take excellent photos with f/4 lenses, at 1/125, ISO 6400-12800. Sports photographers shoot with such setups quite commonly. (Well, technically the shutter would be higher, but sports fields also have a lot more light than a typical home. Those two trade off fairly evenly, so the comparison still works.)
Which Nikon Lens is Best?
The 18-55mm Nikon kit lens
is a rather lousy lens, compared against the pricier professional lenses (both Nikon, and from third parties). It's still better than the Canon kit lens, but it's not exactly high-end glass. The 18-105 is about the same quality in the 18-55 range, but it can get soft in the corners at the 55-105 range. The 18-200 is the same. In fact, I'd entirely avoid the 18-200 because it has a lot of optical flaws that make it nearly unusable at times.
Another thing to understand is that crop-frame DSLR lenses are measured with full-frame numbers. The "effective" mm distance of a lens is 1.5x the listed number. Yes, it's silly, but that's how digital photography evolved over the years. Therefore, an 18mm length gives about a 28mm field of view. A 55mm length is about 80mm view. So a modern "18-55" is not wider/shorter, but rather then same as a traditional film 28-80 lens.
So 18-55 (28-80) is somewhat wide, to just about the length of normal vision. You cannot zoom. If all you want to photograph is what you see, or wider, then that's the perfect lens.
A 70-200 is about 105-300. That's nice if you want distance, but crap if you want the wide end. The other issue is that APS-C (crop bodies) don't use 100% of the lens, but the interior 66% of a lens. Therefore if you lens is shoddy quality, it really shows. That's why so many older 35mm era camera zoom lenses are useless in the high-megapixel digital era -- flaws are obvious.
These days, a typical second lens to the 18-55 is the 55-200.
Full-frame bodies (FF) are expensive because the sensor is larger. And because the only people really demanding FF bodies are professional photographers with a shelf full of prime (non-zoom) lenses. Therefore FF is mostly found in the multi-thousand dollar bodies ($2k minimum, average $3k to $6k).
What's your total budget for camera body, lenses, camera bag, extra batteries, optional tripod, etc?
Give that number, and then we'll help you decide on the perfect gear to meet your needs, at the price you're willing to spend.