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November 26, 2011


How low I'll go really depends a lot upon the situation and what I'm willing to accept. Here's a shot (link below) I took last month at a Taiwan train station at night. It's ISO 100 and 0.8s. Though it was handheld I was seated at the time and that does help. It's definitely not as sharp as it would have been with a tripod, but I decided not to take one with me during this vacation. It's an acceptable vacation snapshot though for me.


An excellent question and food for thought.

Personally I don't give much thought to a picture taken by myself at slow shutter speeds. I often shoot at 1/4 sec. and down to 1 sec. almost wide open (f2.8) if the occasion requires it. As long as I capture the moment (for me) I don't care much for sharpness or DOF. My typical ISO is 400 or 100 with a 50mm or 28mm lens. For whatever reason I don't care for the 35mm FL lens as I find it visually boring. As far as reliably sharp is concerned that's not a consideration to me as film grain, digital noise and paper surface if all used properly gives the viewer's eye enough candy for visual tooth. That alone in most cases more than makes up for photo sharpness.

It's always been my personal opinion that an emotional experience should be conveyed to the viewer.

Technique, process and gear is less than zero.

I just take the pictures, and if there's not enough light I simply use a flashbulb.


How low one goes depends on how desperate one is to get the picture.
If the subject is important and the occasion is important a picture by any means is vital. The possibility of unsharpness or camera shake or grains or bad composition does not come in the way of getting that picture.
Once in a life time shot of one's child or mother is worth preserving with all the technical inadequacies it might have.
There are two ways of inducing a "WOW" in a picture.

One, by the sheer technical quality. The equipment is the king there.
When one does not have the ability to produce an aesthetically pleasing picture one resorts to technical excellence, something that is to a great extend dependent on cash available to buy the glass and the hardware.

Secondly by the importance of the moment. Subject or the moment is the king there.
There is no such thing as the lowest or the fastest there. Getting the picture by any means is the dictum. Never mind the sharpness or focus or camera shake.

In other words how low one goes depends on the situation.
Ranjit Grover, India. rkg1944@gmail.com

My standard low-light situation is the typical "people indoors," and I'm almost always using a Oly micro-4/3 body with the 20 mm f/1.7 lens. I'll use the max aperture without worry, since it's still really sharp, but it does make focus an issue. I'll usually set for an ISO of 800, but my recent acquisition of Nik Dfine, which seems to provide much better noise reduction than Lightroom, gives me somewhat more confidence in using ISO 1600 for pictures that I don't plan to print big. Shutter speed is the real killer in this situation, since my most common subject is a toddler and they aren't known for sitting still. So, 1/60th is my usual floor, and often that's too slow to freeze the action; I end up taking a lot of "spray and pray" bursts.

If I'm taking photos of inanimate objects, things change a lot. ISO 800 becomes a hard cap (if I'm shooting inanimate stuff, I probably have a 12"x12" print in mind), but now I can get some use out of the IS. Unless I'm going for a blurred background (not common, for me), I'll pick the smallest aperture that will give me a hand-holdable shutter speed. On my 20 mm, 1/15 is completely reliable, and 1/8 works often enough that a burst of three shots will almost always have a sharp one; 1/4 is pushing it. On the wide end of my 9-18 mm zoom, however, 1/4 is easy, and I've gotten 1/2 to work sometimes. The Oly in-body IS seems to work less well on the tele end, but early noodling with the 45 mm suggest that I can get away with 1/30 pretty reliably, while 1/15 is much more hit-or-miss.

I do have one very sharp shot taken at 100 mm (with the 40-150 zoom) at 1/8, but I'm just going to go ahead and call that blind luck.

I like to take waterfal pictures, but sometimes too lazy to bring or setup a tripod. I've found I can handhold wide lenses down to about 1/4 of a second with acceptable sharpness (and with the bit of water blur that 1/4 second gives.)

Typicall, this would be a Pentax K-5 with the da* 16-50, so that's with the in body image stabilization.

As to how high of ISO, that depends. The K-5 definitly upped that from my K-20. I'll use ISO3200 with no worries, though usually 1600 is my comfort zone.

Maybe you hate that (non)answer, but it depends.
So I will just talk about my personal photography, for pleasure and/or art. In this domain there is almost no limit. I used Tmax 3200 with no problem, 1/30s with a 28 resp. 40 lens and a Leica M6 and got constantly sharp (enough) images.
But lately I almost always stay with ISO 400 no matter what the light is. It is liberating. And then I embrace motion blur. Sometimes I pan the camera, using speeds up to 1 second.
The following I discovered for shooting where I want to avoid blur:
There is a dangerous region of shutter speeds which can lead to ugly unintended blur: if you blur the shot with 1/125th (which can happen) it is ugly. That holds true till 1/8th or so, and then gets better again. Even more interesting is that if you photograph a fairly static subject, the situation gets better from 2 seconds on. The erratic motion blur seems to cancel itself out somehow and leave a relatively defined center around edges. This can produce quite an interesting look. And you never know what you will get at these speeds.
As an example, if you like, you can look here at my site: http://tinyurl.com/cjm8yoq. For the first picture of the 2 musicians, I exposed about 15 secs in total, at ISO 1600, f8. The performers 2 secs, then panned the camera upwards to the ceiling where this grid was shining very very weakly in the almost dark, and held the camera there for a little more then 10 secs. I like the result very much and this reinforces me to embrace the conditions, and continue shooting for my pleasure ;-)

I love low light. Almost all low light settings involve multiple, softer light sources. People tend to be relaxed, you just get such natural looking images.

I get a reasonable number of acceptably sharp pictures at around 1/10th for my 50mm/1.4 on the 5DmkII. People just move too much for longer shutter times.

I also have some interesting images taken by tracking people in the dark (disco) at a lengthy 1/4 second exposure. After some practice, a 1/4th tracked person has sharper focus points than someone sitting idle at 1/8th. We're quite good at motion prediction, apparently. Nothing very repeatable, of course :)

With my D7000 and trusty 24mm f/2.8 (36mm-e) I'm very comfortable shooting down to 1/30 of a second and ISOs up to 3200 (with that little light I'm wide open, of course). I generally go wide open on the lens long before I max out ISO or shutter options, since lens softness is rarely the biggest robber of image sharpness in those situations. For other focal lengths, I find that the old "one over the (35mm effective) focal length" rule is a good baseline approximation for a lower bound on the shutter speed.

Of course, if the situation demands it, I'll keep cranking up the dials all the way to ISO 6400 and 1/8 of a second and beyond before I put the camera away. With digital as long as there's something good to shoot there's no reason not to take the shots. (I'm especially fond of end-of-the-party shots at weddings, generally long after the official photographer has left and everyone else has packed their gear away. It's a situation that has been nearly impossible to capture in the past, and is rare enough that you almost never see pictures of it.)

I regularly use an old (Minolta Rokkor) 55mm lens on a Lumix GH2 (2x FoV-equivalence/crop-factor). My style is early-morning forestry whilst walking the dog - before the sun's come over the mountainside, dull dreich days, that kind of thing. It's a fast prime - f/1.8 - but poor wide, becoming tack-sharp at f/4.5.

What matters is the ratio of shutter-speed to (35mm-equiv) focal-length. It's not as though you'll never get a sharp hand-held shot if the speed goes below it, but the retention-ratio will plummet if you do.
With the above lens, if I get a shutter-speed of 1/125th, I'm pretty confident of eliminating camera-shake in my exposure. I can often bring it down a lot though, maybe even to 1/30s or so - the combination of guts, well-balanced camera, taut camera-strap *and* hands limits the camera-shake quite well.

I can easily use it at ISO 800; my normal workflow is a brace of source images shot in burst mode, rawtherapee (profiles per ISO) and enfuse for stacking, which allows me as much image-quality as I like, including 25% upscaling, up to ISO 1600.

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