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Night Photography, Better Body or Faster Glass?

IMG_8214I’m starting to rethink the idea of fast glass over body for night photography as the ‘priority’, let me explain.

In general terms we say get the best fast glass you can and don’t worry too much about the body, update that later. I think for night photography its possibly the opposite or neutral. Maybe get a good body first, then faster glass later.

Why? Well I’ve been testing a lot of sensors recently for noise, particularly for long exposure noise and it’s fairly easy to see that the cheaper crop bodies do not stack up against the full frame cameras very well at all, at least if you exposing for minutes at a time.

Based on my testing I can’t see a one stop advantage from F4 to F2.8 in glass out weighing the performance gain going from a crop to a full frame body. I have no doubt that a D610 with an F4 lens is going to perform better than a D7100 and a f2.8 or even f1.4 lens.

Of course in the long run faster glass means lower ISO and shorter exposures which for Aurora shooting is important to capture those beams. Just don’t rule out a body upgrade before a glass upgrade. If you have an older crop body camera I don’t think you can expect faster glass to solve all your problems. Consider your upgrade carefully. 🙂

In the long run the ideal is a good body and fast lens, which does not always need to be expensive, considering you really only need a manual lens for night work.

Should I use a UV Filter?

Yes, I’m going to go there…

In my opinion UV filters are a camera stores best revenue earner, for every lens or camera package they sell there is a better than even chance they can sell the purchaser a UV filter, or 2.

But are they worth it?

Here are a few of the Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  • It may protect the lens from damage if dropped.
  • It may protect the lens for dirt, dust and other marks.
  • It filters out UV light.

Cons:

  • If it breaks the glass shards may damage my front element, or coating, or the ring could get jammed on my lens.
  • It’s another layer of glass, and it may introduce flares and other artifacts into the image.

Well if you use a digital camera you can rule out the UV filtering being a benefit because digital sensors already have a UV filter. The filter has just as much chance of causing damage to a lens than protecting it. Saying “I dropped my lens and the UV filter smashed, thus saving my lens”, is a far call from reality, it most likely would have been fine anyhow. The amount of horror stories I have read about the UV filter causing problems once broken seems to be more of a problem than dropped broken lenses (Glass shards scratching lenses, filters getting stuck and needing to be removed by professionals etc). The UV filter itself offers next to no structural strength to the lens, and then you have the problem of image quality. It’s a known fact that UV filters introduce flares and ghosting (well documented).

For me the introduced artifacts and the probability of the UV filter doing more damage than good makes it not worth it. Sure it may stop the occasional finger print of smudge, but these are easily removed.

So why do it?

Well most people do it because they get sold the idea that it’s an investment to protect their lenses. Some UV filters can retail for as much as a kit lens, the easier solution would be to replace the lens if it did get damaged, which the UV filter would most likely have not protected in the first place.

 

Long Exposures, Tripods and IS (VR).

South Arm Beach by Brendan Davey
South Arm Beach, a photo by Brendan Davey on Flickr.

Should you use your IS (VR) lens on a tripod with the IS turned on to improve your shots? Do I need an IS (VR) lends for tripod long exposure work? Does it help at all?

NO, NO and NO!

“The IS mechanism operates by correcting shake. When there is no shake, or when the level of shake is below the threshold of the system’s detection capability, use of the IS feature may actually *add* unwanted blur to the photograph, therefore you should shut it off in this situation. Remember that the IS lens group is normally locked into place. When the IS function is active, the IS lens group is unlocked so it can be moved by the electromagnetic coil surrounding the elements. When there’s not enough motion for the IS system to detect, the result can sometimes be a sort of electronic ‘feedback loop,’ somewhat analogous to the ringing noise of an audio feedback loop we’re all familiar with. As a result, the IS lens group might move while the lens is on a tripod, unless the IS function is switched off and the IS lens group is locked into place.” -Chuck Westfall (Canon).

It’s true that newer lens will automatically disable the IS if they detect no movement, but the bottom line is to be safe and switch it off for tripod work, and if someone recommends an IS lens for low light tripod work, don’t believe them. This may be why the wide angle lens traditionally used for landscape work still do not have IS (16-35, 17-40, 24mm, 14mm etc).

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