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PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2011 9:52 am 
Hi everybody.

I recently attended a Christmas lights switching-on ceremony in a local village. I brought my 50mm prime on my 550D thinking that it would give me some nice pictures in a low light scenario. I was really disappointed with the results.

In short, when first I attempted to take some hand-held pictures (general shots of the scene, some candid portraits) without flash, I had to push the ISO way up to 3200 to reach a suitably fast shutter speed to eliminate camera shake i.e 1/50, 1/60. This was with the lens wide open and was a much higher ISO than I was expecting.
There was moderate street lighting before the switch-on but my problems persisted even after the addition of a huge number of fluorescent Christmas lights.

I am not a huge fan of using the pop-up flash but decided to use it for some portraits in Av mode and again was forced to use the lens wide open with sometimes ISO 6400 to gain any sort of acceptable results.
This was with me sticking to as slow a shutter speed as I felt I could manage with no IS to help me.

When I reviewed the pictures afterwards I was disappointed with the extent of the noise obviously visible.

I have high ISO noise reduction switched on in custom settings.

I'd like to ask those of you much more experienced than I am if I was doing anything wrong or am I simply expecting too much from my lens?

I realise that significant noise would be visible at such high ISOs but my disappointment is more with the lens performance/capabilities.

This is really bugging me, please help,as I generally get on really well with my nifty fifty.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2011 10:27 am 
It would be worth posting some of the photos here so folks can have a look and see whether the noise is justified by the amount of light available.

Its also worth thinking about how your going to use the images. Screens are quite harsh and show noise very clearly. If your going to print them it could well be it will appear a lot less of a problem.

Last edited by ianganderton on Tue Dec 06, 2011 10:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2011 10:45 am 
You can see some of the photos here:

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2011 10:57 am 
tbh I think they look alright, maybe you could look at tweeking the white balance to get rid of the streetlight orange from folks faces.

Cameras need light and its a choice at the end of the day, to flash or not to flash.

The flash, particularly on camera flash, can make images quite harsh and make the backgrounds really dark but the camera will be able to use a lower ISO and so you'll get less noise.

No flash means the lighting seems a lot more natural but the camera has to compromise to generate an image in line with its exposure algorithms. The lens can let in all the light it can but the shutter speed and ISO also have to be light enhancing as possible.

I've been shooting with my sigma 30mm f1.4 a lot recently and love the non flash photos its getting. Sure there is more noise but thats a fair sacrifice imho for the images I'm really loving.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Dec 07, 2011 5:53 am 
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Joined: Mon Jan 07, 2008 6:50 am
Posts: 425
Location: Sydney Australia
I think they look fine, sure theres a bit of noise but its lowlight

And in all honesty, fluro light and street lights and house lights actually have a small effective radius. And if are more than 3 metres from a streetlight, you might as well have it turned off, as the camera isnt gathering the same amount of light our eyes are gathering in.

From the photos, Im assuming there is light around but not near enough to the camera/subject. I had the same problem in Sydney City in one evening, I was across the street, pointing my camera at a billboard with lightbulbs around it (like a dressing room mirror) and the quickest shutter speed I got at wide open appeture was 2 seconds. It was horrible because the billboard was VERY bright, it lit up half the road.

I guess its just about positioning and light location, light strenth and subjects being lit enough for the camera to register the light. Personally, be thankfull your cam has 6400 ISO... my camera at the time only had 1200.


1) Olympus OM1 [Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8]
2) Pentax MZ-60 [Sigma 28-90 & 100-300]
3) Canon 7D [EF-S 15-85 & 70-200mm f/4 IS & 50mm f1.4]
4) Leica M [50mm Summicron Pre-aspherical - Silver]

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Dec 07, 2011 9:22 am 

Joined: Thu Mar 04, 2010 12:09 am
Posts: 466
Location: North
If that is a first attempt, you are doing a very decent job imo!

You cannot expect much more when you don't have control over the light, however I will say this, don't look to hard on the cameras light meeter when doing very low light like this.
Go manual and set the camera to:
f1.8 (in your case with the nifty fifty)

And look at the result you get on the screen, adjust as you see fit.

Canon 5D MkII -|- Sigma 24mm f/1.8 | Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 | Canon 50mm f/1.4 | Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro | Lensbaby Composer
Canon A-1 -|- Canon 28mm f/2 | Canon 35mm f/2.8 | Canon 50mm f/3.5 Macro

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:46 pm 

Joined: Wed May 23, 2007 8:38 am
Posts: 357
According to the photos you linked to the exif data indicates ISOs of 3200 and 6400 at shutter speeds of between 1/40 to 1/25th and aperture of F/1.8

For reference, if you shot the same scene at ISO 100, you would have needed a shutter speed of between 1 to 2 seconds, that is pretty dark.

To give some perspective the scene you were attempting to photograph is darker than a landscape illuminated by the full moon which would need an equivalent exposure of ISO6400, 1/125 sec, F/1.8.

The upshot is, is that if you are dissatisfied, you might want to try adding flash, usually you want to use nightscene mode or "slow sync" to balance the flash fill light with the ambient light.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Dec 08, 2011 11:18 pm 
Thank you to all of you for the help, tips, and feedback on my shots.

It's reassuring to know that I wasn't forgetting something obvious!!!!!

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