Best lens for D50 tripod-less "museum photography"?

Discussion in 'Digital SLR' started by Scott Speck, Jun 10, 2006.

  1. Scott Speck

    Scott Speck Guest

    Hi Everyone,

    I really like my Nikon D50, and I currently own the following lenses: the
    inexpensive 18-55 and 55-200 mm Nikkor lenses that came in the camera kit, a
    Nikkor 60mm micro lens (I've been having lots of fun with "bug"
    photography!), and a recently purchased Nikkor 80-400mm VR lens. Recently,
    on a trip to the Smithsonian, I was told that I couldn't bring either a
    tripod OR a monopod indoors with me, to shoot in lower light environments in
    the museums. So, here's what I need to be able to do: take pictures with
    hand-holding only (no tri/monopod), wide-angle 15-20mm focal lengths, and
    short enough exposure times while still shooting at low ISO to limit
    detector noise. What should I do here? My 18-55 doesn't have VR, and I'm
    hoping to NOT spend a huge amount on a super-fast wide-angle Nikkor.

    Though I haven't done many experiments on my own to see how detector noise
    varies with ISO, and noting that I want nice clean images (minimal noise),
    can I safely up my ISO a bit? I'm assuming that exposure time varies
    linearly with ISO, so upping the ISO from 200 to 400, would, I assume, cut
    my exposure times in half. Also, doesn't exposure time, for a given lens at
    a given focal length, vary inversely as the square of the f-ratio? In other
    words, going from f/4 to f/2 should cut my exposure time by a factor of 4?

    My goal is to get exposure times inside the museum down to 1/100 sec or so
    (or whatever I'd need such that, with a relatively steady hand, I'd get no
    blur). And I realize that lighting conditions can vary immensely inside a
    museum, depending on what I'm focusing on, but currently, I'm getting
    exposure times as long as 1/10 - 1/2 sec at 18mm, with the lens "one stop
    down" from "wide open".

    Is one possible answer a zoom that starts at a very small focal length that
    also has VR, like the Nikkor 18-200mm VR? I see that there's a fixed focal
    length Nikkor at 50mm at f/1.8, and I'm guessing that this would be a fairly
    fast lens, but then the 50mm focal length would really start cropping the
    wings off of aircraft in the air museum.

    Any thoughts here would be most welcome. I'm a relative newbie to
    photography. Oh, one more question -- are focal length specifications for
    lenses ALWAYS done according to 35mm camera specifications, so that I have
    to multiply by roughly 1.5 to determine what the "effective" focal length
    would be on my D50's detector? Thus, wouldn't the 50mm f/1.8 lens behave
    like a 75mm lens on my D50?

    If I've said anything inaccurate/incorrect in my understanding, as outlined
    in the message above, please keep in mind my relative newness to
    photography, and please provide any corrections to my reasoning/thinking as
    you see fit, so that I might learn more.

    Thanks in advance,
    Scott Speck
    Scott Speck, Jun 10, 2006
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  2. Scott Speck

    RichA Guest

    Slow lenses like the 18-200 are not the best choice. A couple of
    primes in the
    24-50mm size would be the best idea. You can use older perhaps less
    manual lenses since fast focusing would not really be a requirement in
    a museum.
    Also, sometimes you can get away with bringing in a monopod. If they
    tell you you
    can't use it, just say you won't and use it when there are no security
    guards around.
    Even if you are seen using it, they are far less obtrusive than a
    tripod and you are likely
    not to get into much trouble, they may even let it pass.
    Also, find out which parts of the museum permit flashes, if any.
    RichA, Jun 10, 2006
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  3. Scott Speck

    Rudy Benner Guest

    There are several programs available that reduce noise in post processing.
    This may not be the best solution, but its better than none.
    My favourite is NeatImage.

    A Nikkor 18-200mm VR like you suggest may be a better solution. Damn thing
    is worth as much as the D-50 body.
    Rudy Benner, Jun 10, 2006
  4. Scott Speck

    Tom Guest

    Shoot RAW. If you don't already have a tool start with *RawShooter*
    essentials *2006 (FREE!) for the very affordable *premium *2006* * from
    Experiment with shooting manual, forcing the shutter to the speed you
    need to stop the blur, and try different ISO values.

    The LCD will show black.

    Once back at at the lab, use RSE to push the exposure compensation, fill
    light and other parameters to "develop" your "negative.

    It will be the difference between tossing all the shots due to shake or
    living with a little grain.

    **My only connection to Pixmantec is as a very happy free customer and
    now a premium customer. 90% of my D50 shooting is RAW.


    Tom, Jun 10, 2006
  5. Scott Speck

    Tom Guest

    Hmmm...Well, OK, but realize most manual choices also mean that you need
    to do your own metering.
    If I was responsible for hundreds of paintings and artifacts, some
    priceless, some just insured for $20M, I think I would prefer my patrons
    play be the rules.
    Tom, Jun 10, 2006
  6. Scott Speck

    HankB Guest

    The 50 f/1.8 was going to be my suggestion. Nikon does make a 12-14 f/4
    zoom. You give up speed in exchange for range. And cost. You can find
    the 50 for a bit more than $100 (in the US) and the 12-14 for a bit
    more than $900. I'm a fan of wide angle lenses, but perhaps you might
    give the 50 a try. For not a lot of money it's a great lens. Perhaps
    you don't need to get that entire plane in a picture, and if you do so
    with a wide angle lens, it will be distorted anyway. Perhaps your
    approach should be "What can I capture with this equipment" rather than
    Focal length is independent of sensor or film size. A 50mm lens on a
    large format camera would still be a 50mm lens on a 35mm or 2/3 frame
    DLSR. But the effect on the large format is wide angle while in the
    DSLR it is mildly long.
    Yes, due to the cropped sensor, the 50mm lens on the D50 will produce
    approximately the same size image as a 75mm lens on a full frame 35mm
    camera. Since a lot of people using DSLRs previously used 35mm film
    SLRs (and probably since many of them use bodies with lens mounts that
    use lenses intended for 35mm film cameras) there is a great tendency to
    express focal length in terms of the 35mm equivalent, even though it is
    really an artificial concept.

    HankB, Jun 10, 2006
  7. Your choices are somewhat limited, as Nikon doesn't yet make a fast
    wide-angle DX (small image circle) lens. And especially if reasonable cost
    is an important factor, then your existing 18-55mm lens may be your best
    bet. It's unfortunate in your case that Nikon digital SLRs don't have a
    nifty feature called Best Shot Selector, which Nikon incorporates in their
    compact digital cameras -- BSS takes up to ten shots in a row, then discards
    all but the sharpest one, so it sort of serves as a "poor man's VR." It
    really is surprisingly effective in getting sharp photos in poor light and
    slow shutter speeds. To some degree you might do the same thing yourself,
    just taking lots of the same shot hand held, but obviously this would be
    more awkward since evaluating and comparing the shots on the spot would be

    You might try finding something to brace yourself and/or the camera against.
    Even a wall, pillar or rail can help a lot and it's possible to get
    acceptably sharp photos at quite slow shutter speeds doing this.

    Correct. Every full stop larger (f/11, f/8, f.5.6, f/4, f/2.8 etc.) passes
    twice as much light and so requires only half the exposure time of the
    previous stop.

    Using the shortest focal lengths, as you would probably be doing most of the
    time, you shouldn't need an exposure as short as 1/100 second. In 35mm
    cameras the rule of thumb is to use a shutter at least as fast as the
    reciprocal of the focal length -- e.g., at least as short as 1/50 sec for a
    50mm lens. Since at your shortest f.l. of 18mm your lens is equivalent to a
    27mm lens on a 35, 1/30 sec should be fast enough if you're reasonably
    steady. If you can find something to brace against you can probably get down
    to 1/8 sec or so.

    Unfortunately, yes.

    In 35mm equivalence, yes. The focal length is what it is, but most of us are
    so used to thinking of focal lengths in 35mm terms, it's the most convenient
    way of describing the coverage of a lens on a digital camera and it's become
    pretty much a standard. Digital camera sensors vary a great deal in size,
    which drastically changes the angle of view for any given focal length, so
    that just giving the actual focal length in millimeters is not as meaningful
    as it is in the case of 35s. This is why camera makers and reviewers usually
    attach more importance to the 35mm equivalence of a lens, rather than its
    actual focal length(s).

    Yes, as far as angle of view is concerned. It would be like a short
    telephoto. Very nice for portraits, not so nice for museums.

    You've got it all just about right.
    John Falstaff, Jun 10, 2006
  8. Scott Speck

    J. Clarke Guest

    From all accounts it's a very nice lens, but with a good deal of distortion
    at the short end. Still it's pretty much the only game in town for a
    wide-angle with IS for the Nikon system.
    Yes, it would.
    Before you do anything else, try shooting wide open and bring the ISO up to
    400, 800, and 1600 and see if you like the results. If you do, problem

    Look for ways to brace the camera--posts, railings, etc are your friend.
    Learn to use the camera strap as a steadying aid--wrap it around both hands
    and press forward against it while you're leaning against a wall (you need
    to adust the length so that you can see the finder), set the self timer for
    2 seconds, take a deep breath, hold, press the shutter, stay very still and
    let the timer do its thing--I've gotten usable images handheld at 400mm and
    1/10 of a second this way and trust me, I'm _shaky_--if it works for me at
    400 it should work fine for you at 20 or less. Screw a 1/4-20 eyebolt
    (should be able to find one at Home Depot, if not then try a real hardware
    store or a marine supply store) into the tripod socket (be careful, you
    don't want it in so hard that it breaks something--might be helpful to
    Loctite a nut onto it so that it tightens before it bottoms) and tie a
    string to it that is long enough for you to step on the end. Drop the
    string, stand on it, pull up the camera against the string tension, and it
    will be surprisingly steady. Use that in combination with the strap.
    Obtain a small beanbag--you can set one on all kinds of surfaces and it
    will deform to hold the camera steady. If you know someone who is
    amenable, take them along--a buddy's shoulder can work remarkably well if
    he or she understands to hold still while you're taking the shot.

    The Nikon 35mm f/2.0 should give you about two stops better than you're
    getting and it is very reasonably priced--this would be more or less the
    equivalent of a 50mm on a 35mm camera.

    If none of this works for you Sigma has f/1.8 20mm, 24mm, and 28mm lenses.
    How good they are I don't know--one test shows the 20 as being pretty bad
    wide open but the tester admitted that it was a defective lens and I'm
    seeing rave reports from others using them--find a store that has them all
    in stock and go try them--before you buy one look carefully at the edge
    sharpness--if one side is perceptibly sharper than the other you've got a
    defective lens.

    Going wider than 20mm you're not going to find much in the way of fast
    lenses, the 20mm Sigma is generally regarded as being an ambitious design.
    J. Clarke, Jun 10, 2006
  9. Scott Speck

    RichA Guest

    They aren't worried about the paintings. Anything worth $20M is going
    to be
    behind about 3" of bulletproof glass. They are worried about lawsuits
    from people
    tripping over the tripods. That comes straight from a curator.
    RichA, Jun 10, 2006
  10. Scott Speck

    Bill Guest

    What about the 17-55 f/2.8...?

    I know it's not cheap, but it fits the description.

    Unless you mean something like a 12-24 f/2.8 which I agree Nikon does
    not make yet. But then neither does Canon, or any third party companies,
    so that's kind of a moot point.
    Bill, Jun 10, 2006
  11. Scott Speck

    DoN. Nichols Guest

    [ ... ]

    There is even a 50mm f1.4 AF lens, which I picked up -- used.
    That gives you even more in low light situations.
    Yes. In particular, go into the menus (assuming that it is in
    the same place as on the D70, which is what I shoot) go into the "CSM
    menu" (the one with an icon of a pencil), and go down to selection 05
    (ISO Auto). Turn this on, and your camera will automatically increase
    the ISO until you can take the photo. Normally, it will use the lowest
    (200), but will boost it it needs to.

    Also go into another entry (21 in the same menu). That one is
    called "Shutter Speed", which is supposed to select which is the lowest
    shutter speed that the camera will automatically select until it turns
    on the flash. I *believe* that it also affects the lowest shutter speed
    before the camera switches to higher ISO settings.
    And make sure that the Loctite sets in the nut, and wipe off any
    in the extended threads *before* you screw it into your camera, or you
    may have this as a permanent accessory. :) Note that the only way to
    release Loctite once it has set is to apply heat, and that would
    probably also affect the mount of the brass bushing in the base of the
    camera, which is, after all, embedded in plastic.
    Perhaps get a long strap instead of a string for this. It is
    easier to grip firmly with your shoe. You could even stitch it into a
    loop for your foot to pass through, so you don't have to worry about it
    slipping under your foot while tightening.
    Also -- examine the way you hold the camera. The best way which
    I have found for most lenses, is to turn the left hand palm up and
    cradle the lens in the thumb and first two fingers. The little finger
    (and sometimes the ring finger) can be folded into the heel of the hand
    and support the camera body while the other fingers and thumb support the
    lens. The first two fingers can be used (with the thumb moving as
    necessary) to adjust the zoom ring and the focus (if you are doing
    manual focus).

    In the meanwhile, tuck your elbow into your stomach, and it
    supports the camera quite well while your right hand is holding the
    camera against your forehead. I've gotten low blur images at
    surprisingly low shutter speeds with this grip.
    Indeed so.
    Good advice.

    Good luck,
    DoN. Nichols, Jun 11, 2006
  12. No don't use locktite or any other thread locker. Use the proper tool. Put
    a nut onto the eyebolt first. Screw the eyebolt into the camera without
    bottoming and then tighten the nut against the bottom of the camera.
    Ed Ruf (REPLY to E-MAIL IN SIG!), Jun 11, 2006
  13. Scott Speck

    J. Clarke Guest

    And how is the result of that different from what I suggested other than
    that my way you don't have to carry a wrench around with you?
    J. Clarke, Jun 11, 2006
  14. You bet. But at the short end, which is probably what he'll care most about
    in the museum situation, it's only two-thirds of a stop faster than the kit
    lens he's got now. And as you say, it's not cheap -- far from it -- and also
    it's not much wider than the lens he already has.

    True. Actually the Nikon 12-24mm f/4 would be mighty good for him to have in
    that situation, but at about $900 my guess is it's pricier than he wants to

    I don't have the 12-24/4 (yet!) myself. What I would use in the museum
    (apart from my 18-70 kit lens) would be the 10.5mm fisheye, which is f/2.8
    and easily transforms to rectilinear with Nikon Capture 4. And I got mine
    for just $539 with free shipping. But then I like fisheyes anyway; he may
    John Falstaff, Jun 11, 2006
  15. It made me reread your reply later after more coffee and being more awake.
    I inadvertently thought what you where suggesting was to locktite the bolt
    and not a nut on it.
    Ed Ruf (REPLY to E-MAIL IN SIG!), Jun 11, 2006
  16. Scott Speck

    J. Clarke Guest

    Been there, done that (the most recent time only about 10 hours ago) <g>.
    Note to self--coffee first, _then_ USENET.
    J. Clarke, Jun 11, 2006
  17. Scott Speck

    RW+/- Guest

    Wrong actually, Olympus makes a 14-54 F2.8-3.5 and a 11-22 F2.8-3.5 with
    some even better lenses either on the way or soon to be at F2.0

    The ED35-100 F2.0 I believe is on the way and it is f 2.0 across the board.
    RW+/-, Jun 12, 2006
  18. Scott Speck

    Toby Guest

    It seems to me that your understanding of things is pretty good. Here are a
    couple of tips:

    General rule of thumb (nor VR lens) is that you can hand-hold reasonably
    steady at the inverse of the focal length. So a 30mm lens should give you
    decent results at 1/30th of a second, a 15mm lens at 1/15th...BUT...this is
    for full frame 35mm. So multiply your denominator by 1.5. Your 30mm lens
    should be hand holdable at 1/45th, your 15mm at 1/20th or thereabouts when
    using a DX body--as you suspect, your 30mm acts like a 45, and the 15 is
    effectively a 22.5 using a DXsensor.

    If possible (and probably not possible in a big museum), brace yourself
    against something. A wall. A pillar. This is very helpful. If you are
    unsupported, plant both feet firmly on the ground at about shoulder width
    and tuck your left elbow into your body. Take a deep breath, and squeeze the
    shutter gently as you exhale. You can get down on one knee if the subject
    permits, sit back on your right heel and brace your left elbow on your left
    thigh. This is a relatively stable platform. Always press the camera firmly
    into your face to provide a good anchor point there.

    If there is somewhere above floor level to rest the camera, bring a beanbag
    and rest the camera on that. Beanbags are great. You can move the camera
    into position by scruntching it down in the right position, and you can
    literally take several-second time exposures if your grip is gentle but
    firm, as the beans will hold the camera very solidly in place.

    Another possibility is to bring a small monopod, but instead of setting the
    foot on the floor tuck it into your belt at waist level in the front of your
    pants (or wear a small belly pack and put the foot in that). That will get
    you at least one extra shutter stop in speed, if not two, at which you can
    successfully hand-hold your shots.


    Toby, Jun 12, 2006
  19. Scott Speck

    Paul Furman Guest

    24mm or 28mm f/2.8 $200-$300
    Paul Furman, Jun 12, 2006
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