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Best Cameras for Low Light Photography

ISO speeds make or break photography in low light. Many people don’t take advantage of shooting without a flash in low light. Shooting in low light with a flash results in a blown-out image that is unforgiving to the natural light in the frame.

If you’re a night owl and don’t like carrying around a tripod, the best bet for you is to get a more recent dSLR or mirrorless camera. These cameras have much bigger sensors than most point-and-shoots. A point-and-shoot camera or camera phone doesn’t get sharp images when viewed at 100 percent resolution in good light, much less in low-light because their sensors are tiny, considerably smaller those on a dSLR or mirrorless model.

In order to get a sharp shot relatively free of noise on any camera, you have to experiment with your camera, shooting at different ISO speeds. In order to get a good feel for the quality of your shot, you should zoom in when it’s displayed on the LCD screen. If the shot looks soft with indistinguishable edges, your ISO speed is probably too high.

Canon 5D, ISO 800, f/4.5, 1/50 sec

Image by Matthew Bamberg

I shoot with a Canon 5D and find that its worst quality is that it doesn’t shoot sharp, noiseless images without flash beyond ISO 800. This is definitely not a night-shooters camera, that is, unless you use a tripod or set the camera on a sturdy surface. After shooting the above record player a dozen times, this is the only sharp image I got. It was shot at ISO 800 in a dark corner. That ISO speed added a lot of light to the photo. Other camera models fare much better for low-light photography.

If you are a night-shooter with just a camera and don’t like to use flash, your best bet is to buy a newer camera. That camera probably won’t be a Canon because they don’t make the best low-light shooters. Good cameras for low-light shooting include: the high-end Nikon D3x (above), Nikon D700, Sony A850, Nikon D90, Nikon D5000 and the Pentax K-X. The only Canon camera that can compete with these in low-light situations is the Canon Rebel T2i.

A high or middle end camera that shoots well at high ISO speeds will put you back a couple of thousand dollars. Most models carry a full-size sensor. At $ 7,500 the Nikon D3x is pricy, but you get a lot for your money—24 MP, ISO speeds up to 6400. The D700, a mid-priced 12 MP model ($ 2500) that shoots near noiseless photos up to ISO 6400 and shoots at ISO speeds of up to 25,600 (though considerable noise is seen at very high values). The 24 MP Sony A850 ($ 2,225) shoots reasonably well from ISO 200 to 3200 and can go up to 6400.

On the economical end is the D90 ($ 850), a 12 MP and low-noise ISO speeds up to 3200. The Nikon D7000 ($ 1000), a 16 MP camera with ISO nearly noiseless ISO speeds up to 6400, expandable up to ISO 25,000. Finally, there is the Pentax K-X, the cheapest of the bunch at $ 550. It can shoot up to ISO 12,800 with almost noiseless photos up to 6400.

On just about everybody’s wish list for mirrorless cameras is the Sony NEX-7 ($ 1200), the 24 MP camera with ISO speeds up to 16,000. This camera is smaller than a dSLR model because there are no mirrors. The lenses are much smaller too.

Whatever camera you choose for your low-light photography the possibilities for compelling shots in the dark (well, almost) are endless. Sharp photos can be had anytime of the night provided you set your ISO high (but not too high) and shoot, concentrating on not moving your hands or body.

[via Photography Tips » Equipment & Reviews]

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