Low Light Photography - A Used Perspective

The nights are drawing in and the season of low light photography has begun. With generally drizzly days and darkness falling before most of us leave the office, it is now that we notice whether our cameras perform in low light, or need to blind everyone with full frontal flash.

Since the beginning of the digital era, photographers have strived for cameras that deal with low light situations with the subtle beauty that film was able to achieve. Unfortunately though, in the past, progression in this area had seemed slow and unimpressive compared to the giant leaps being made in the Megapixel and focal length races. However, recently there has been a change of attitude, and it’s really quite exciting.

Shot using a Sony DSC-RX1 - ISO2500, f/2.5, 1/60

Full frame DSLRs have been progressing for some time, making incredible improvements since the release of the ‘Contax N Digital’ back in 2002. 

They pushed all sorts of features important to a whole range of photography styles – this included, buffering speeds, Megapixel count, control customisation, autofocus speed, AF point numbers, output terminals, memory card capabilities, dynamic range, continuous shooting speed, white balance accuracy and, of course, our appropriately for our topic of choice - low light capabilities.  

Gradually, usable ISO’s became higher and the grain that existed was engineered to become more attractive, more film like. Yet, even with these improvements to low light capability, it never seemed to be a camera's main selling point.

This became even truer when mirrorless cameras gained popularity. Cameras were becoming smaller and style was a huge focus. For me, the gear available at the time seemed uninteresting – the photography kept me hooked but the cameras themselves were just slightly cumbersome tools that didn’t do quite what I wanted them to. 

This all changed with the release of the Fujifilm X100.

An APS-C sized CMOS sensor with a fixed 35mm equivalent f/2 lens, manual controls and a dual purpose superb viewfinder - I had to have one. 

The build and total focus on image quality was incredibly refreshing, even if it was slightly quirky in its operation. The combination of sensor and lens created a compact that was superb at dealing with low light situations, arguably the first to do so in such an effective manner.

After this the market seemed to explode with cameras focused on low light capability. There was the Fujifilm X-Pro1, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, the Sony a7, a7S and RX1 to mention just a few. 

Shot using a Sony DSC-RX1 - ISO400, f/5.6, 2.5s

Since then things have continued to race forward, with Sony’s full-frame series giving Canon and Nikon a good run for their money. 

The new Sony a7S II - using the same sensor as its predecessor - still has only 12 megapixels (making for very low noise) and an expandable ISO of 409600! Higher ISO capabilities are being complemented by better on-board stabilisation, making a huge difference to hand held photography in darker conditions.

Admittedly this version is clearly aimed at the video market, but regardless Sony and other brands are forcing the market leaders to work hard for their position.

This competitive brand atmosphere has created a fantastic situation for photographers, not only is the new equipment being released exciting again but the used camera market is booming. 

In fact, because technology is moving so quickly it means that the equipment that is now available used is great value for money. 

Suitable used cameras are moving through our department regularly and the cameras we recommend you to look out for include:

Used Fujifilm - Fujifilm X-Pro1.
Used Canon - Canon EOS 6D, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Used Sony - Sony a7r, Sony a7S, Sony RX1

In our used department, aside from giving our cameras the requisite TLC we also like to test their picture taking abilities - so what better opportunity to exploit the low-light of current times and take out a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and Sony RX1 and experiment with high ISOs.

Below is a sample of shots taken with a variety of settings.

Shot using a Sony DSC-RX1 - ISO1600, f/2,  1/60

Shot using a Sony DSC-RX1 - ISO3200, f/2,  1/125

Shot using a Sony DSC-RX1 - ISO5000, f/16,  1/800

Shot using a Sony DSC-RX1 - ISO1600, f/2,  1/50

Shot using a Fujifilm X-Pro1 - ISO500, f/4,  1/500

Shot using a Fujifilm X-Pro1 - ISO500, f/10,  1/60

Compared to the used market of a couple of years ago the models now available are, in my opinion, exciting and inspiring. Great value kits are now accessible to almost everybody across most parts of the market; whether that is low light photography, studio work or wildlife and sports.

By buying previously owned equipment more and more photographers are able to have access to kit that allows their photographic eye to flourish.

At Park Cameras we maintain a steady flow of used cameras and used camera lenses, so keep your eyes peeled for the latest bargain used equipment! 

More reasons to buy used from Park Cameras:
  • 6 month warranty included
  • All items thoroughly cleaned and rigorously tested.
  • Try before you buy at one of our showrooms (dependent on item location).
  • Product images are of the actual item for sale.
  • Competitive pricing.
  • Advice available from our experienced staff.

Amy Moore
Used Executive
Park Cameras

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