Want to buy a new digital camera to replace my Nikon 5700, big problem is museum flash

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by All Things Mopar, Jun 4, 2005.

  1. Hi, All.

    Many of you are aware of the problems I've had getting
    well-exposed, consistent exposed pictures when using
    flash on my Nikon Coolpix 5700 with Sunpak's excellent
    433D external when shooting cars in dark museum
    settings. A few weeks ago, I bought a Nikon 8800 with
    Nikon's SB-800 external, but results were even worse,
    despite my best efforts, help from the camera store and
    help on this NG. So, I returned it for a charge credit.

    In a nutshell, I have no problems whatsoever in
    daylight, but when I shoot car pictures in museums,
    results vary considerably. About 1/3 are OK, another 1/3
    are underexposed by 2 f/stops, while the rest are under
    by 5-6 stops. I really don't want to get into another
    long discussion about why I'm shooting flash and not
    available light on a tripod, suffice that I want to.

    I've long been enamored with EVF cameras because I could
    see instantly if I did or did not get a decent exposure.
    But, I'm being lobbied by the camera store and by others
    that I'll /never/ get good flash with /any/ Nikon EVF
    because their underlying flash exposure systems just
    aren't up to the task. Maybe this is bunk or maybe
    somebody's DSLR really is the best camera for me.

    The camera most often recommended to me right now is
    Canon's Digital Rebel XT with DIGIC II. My local store
    recommends that I also buy Canon's Speedlite 550EX,
    because it has the power I need and is fully adjustable
    for EV. I'm not worried about buing a "pig in a poke"
    because the store manager will give me a 10-day trial,
    as he did with the Nikon 8800.

    I'm looking for a recommendation for a new digital
    camera, flash. 8 mega pixels is more than enough, I'll
    actually be shooting at only 3 or 5 MP. I'm, of course,
    interested in sharpness and low noise, which I would
    normally expect in any camera in the price range of the
    Canon Rebel XT.

    I'm also looking for recommendations for a zoom lens for
    the Rebel (or other EVF or DSLR) longer than the 28-85mm
    equivalent that comes with the Rebel "kit". I'm looking
    for something that is at least 35-150mm, preferably 28-
    200mm equivalent.

    Canon apparently has a wide angle-to-zoom lens to fit my
    needs/wants but is pricey (sorry, I can't remember the
    model number). I don't want to be "penny wise but dollar
    foolish" and buy somebody else's glass, but would like
    to get the best quality I can at a reasonable price (who
    doesn't, right?)

    I'll keep this post short for brevity but will gladly
    answer any questions you may have to help guide me in my
    quest. Thanks so much in advance.
    All Things Mopar, Jun 4, 2005
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  2. I have a 300D and a 550EX and think that the XT + 550EX would be a very good
    combo for you. What the heck; try them for 10 days!
    Look at the Canon 75-300 IS lens. It's a good buy. Here is a shot taken
    with that lens and a 300D at full-zoom and hand-held from a moving tram ride
    in the Florida Everglades:
    Charles Schuler, Jun 4, 2005
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  3. Charles Schuler commented courteously...
    Thanks for the fast reply, Charles! I need to be a
    little circumspect here, though. I want to try to "do my
    homework" before going back to my local store with a
    lame "OK if I take another camera out for a test drive?"
    I assume this is 75-300mm equivalent? What I'm after is
    something that goes to 35mm or better still 28mm
    equivalent at the wide end, and at least 150mm,
    preferably 200mm at the tele end. I really don't want to
    lug lenses with me.

    Is my need/want even feasible?
    Great bird shot, Charles! Do you by chance "know" Ron
    Lacey? He's also a terrific bird photographer.

    Have you had any experience in museum shooting? Doesn't
    necessarily need to be cars, although that's my first
    and nearly only love! Museums are always a challenge
    since the flash gets almost no help from ambient
    lighting and there're plenty of things that can "fool"
    the AE, particularly reflections off shiny car paint,
    the old wide WSW tires, etc.
    All Things Mopar, Jun 4, 2005
  4. No, it's 1.6 x (equivalent) due to the smaller sensor in the 300D/350D/20D.
    I also have an EFS 17-85 (27-135 equivalent) that I can recommend for use
    with the 300D/350D/20D.
    Perhaps not.
    Car museums allow flash photography whereas art museums do not (each, of
    course, sets their own rules). In those that do allow flash, a diffuser or
    the use of bounce flash is worth considering.
    Charles Schuler, Jun 4, 2005
  5. Charles Schuler commented courteously...
    Thanks again, Charles, but a diffuser won't help, as
    what I encounter is /deep/ underexposure. Likewise,
    bounch flash is infeasible as there isn't anything
    overhead to bounch off - ceilings typically 12-15 feet
    above the floor.

    The real question is whether a Canon XT with their flash
    is or is not likely to return well-exposed pictures of
    /anything/ in a museum environment.
    All Things Mopar, Jun 4, 2005
  6. Actually, let me ask first & foremost--why buy an 8 megapixel camera if
    you're only going to be using 3 or 5 megapixels of it? You might as well
    save a lot of money & get a 3-megapixel camera in the first place. (I've
    never understood the point of buying a high-megapixel camera only to not use
    all of it, seems like a waste of money to me.) Think a used Nikon Coolpix
    990 or 995, they have an external flash connector; with proper adaptation,
    you could probably hook up all the Vivitar 283's or 285's you want and you'd
    have plenty of flash power.

    I don't know that EVF cameras would do any differently than D-SLR cameras.
    One thing about Nikon EVFs is that they don't have true TTL flash. They have
    a conventional flash sensor mounted in the built-in flash that does the
    metering, in that aspect they're like the old-time "classic auto" flashes
    where you used "blue" or "red" mode & the corresponding aperture--only with
    the Nikon you can use any aperture you please.

    The Canon Rebel XT would be fine, and the 550EX would have the power. One
    thing, though--the guy said the 550 was fully EV adjustable. Well the
    Digital Rebel XT has flash exposure compensation, so that doesn't matter.
    You could get the 420EX and still have the ability to vary your flash

    One last thing--a D-SLR would be hugely helpful if you shoot without
    flash--I know, you said you want flash, but if you find it too problematic
    getting enough flash power in such a huge setting, you might end up
    resorting to no-flash output. In that case, a D-SLR is hugely advantagoeus
    because of the much higher performance in high-ISO situations.

    Larry R Harrison Jr, Jun 4, 2005
  7. All Things Mopar

    eatmorepies Guest

    My own flash experience is limited, but I do know that the 350D is an
    excellent camera. I have just bought the Canon 580EX flash - and expect to
    get some decent pictures in the right circumstances. I'm not sure that the
    museum environment is the right place for a camera mounted flash. If you
    can't bounce the flash off an adjacent surface then you are going to have
    harsh shadows.

    Try the 350D body with a high specfication wide angle lens. I have bought an
    L series lens and they really are much much better than the cheaper lenses
    (a second is on order). Also. the 350D has a sensor that is capable of using
    high ISO without too much noise. A high spec lens and high ISO may help by
    allowing you to use flash as fill in only.

    eatmorepies, Jun 4, 2005
  8. Larry R Harrison Jr commented courteously...

    Thanks so much for the reply, Larry!

    The answer to your question is easy: I do /not/ want a
    P&S, I want an advanced amateur or "pro-sumer" camera
    with all the photometric bells and whistles, good glass,
    tight sensors, low noise, etc., etc., and have a budget
    of at least $1,400. The fact that I only want to shoot
    (today) at 3-5 MP isn't really the issue. My main
    interest, for the foreseeble future, is getting reliable
    flash exposures of cars in museums as well as excellent
    quality in daylight. The mega pixels I shoot at doesn't
    mean diddly when it comes to exposure capability.

    I know that many will dispute me, but for my purposes -
    screen display and /not/ large prints - more than 3 MP
    is just wasted CF card space. And, I see no need for RAW
    right now, even though I understand why it is

    This is true for the Coolpix 5700, but Nikon presumeably
    redesigned it's TTL for the 8800, calling it iTTL, which
    is why I bought that last month. Alas, it did not come
    close to doing the job!

    I posted a number of queries on this very subject whilst
    I still had the Nikon 8800 under trial. No one could
    explain what was going on, so I simply gave up and
    returned it. I don't know why an EVF vs. a DSLR could
    possibly make any difference, except if my store manager
    is right - and Nikon just can't make a flash TTL/AE
    system that works.
    I asked about the 420EX at my local camera store. I know
    the manager, and I think he is a knowledgeable, reliable
    dude, albeit one with a sales target. It is /he/ that
    says the 420 isn't enough.

    Where, besides dprewview.com, would you suggest I
    investigate the various Canon flashes?
    Definitely! But, again, the problem is /not/ getting
    enough flash power - my Sunpak 433D has GN=120 and the
    Nikon SB-800 I used with the 8800 had GN=100. The
    problem was that the flash pulse was shutting down
    prematurely, underexposing the image.

    For brevity I didn't mention my year-2000 FujiFilm 4900,
    which did an outstanding job being it only had a small
    built-in speedlight. I also tested my wife's Kodak 6330
    ($150) and my daughter's Kokak 7000 ($200) - each
    performed flawlessly in the same museum shoots that both
    my Nikon 5700 and the 8800 failed so miserably at
    (within their flash range, of course).

    That's why I simply refuse to believe that competant
    pro-sumer cameras are incapable of good flash exposures,
    particularly when I set up very detailed, elaborate
    tests varying both camera and flash EV, ISO, metering
    modes, etc., for both my 5700 and 8800, but could /not/
    get good results.

    The camera store guy was willing to take back the 8800
    "no questions asked" because he'd predicted it would
    fail. Now, the $64,000 question is: Why?

    Thanks again for your insights.
    All Things Mopar, Jun 4, 2005
  9. eatmorepies commented courteously...
    John, I agree that museums nor anyplace else are not
    good places to shoot with only one flash mounted atop
    the camera. But, at the risk of sounded like an ingrate
    for refusing your help and advice, the problem /still/
    is underexposure. I have no complaints whatsoever with
    flash glare or any of the other limitations of the way I
    choose to shoot my cars.
    Yes, I will, but I am a "documentary" photographer, not
    an artist. Hence my goal is to capture the car "in all
    its glory" without regard to how "dramatic" or well-
    composed the photos are. Thus, while I don't like harsh
    shadows better than the next person, they don't bother
    me nearly enough to do anything about them.
    I don't understand what you mean by "high
    specificication wide angle lens". What I want is
    something in the range of 35mm-200mm equivalent. The
    long end is for outdoor shooting of both cars and
    general subjects, not the cars in the museums, where
    wide angle-to-normal is normally necessary. I just don't
    want buy nor haul around a bunch of lenses.

    Please explain your take on "fill flash". I understand
    the term and can do it but, again, the /issue/ is a
    given camera's ability to properly expose images
    consistently, /not/ reducing harsh shadows or much
    anything else.

    I apologize again for perhaps being abrupt with you, I
    really don't mean to sound like a twit. It is just that
    I am /so/ frustrated in not being able to explain what I
    need/want without people giving me Photography 101
    lessons. I appreciate that, of course, but it doesn't do
    much for me if I can't get reliable exposures in the
    first place.
    All Things Mopar, Jun 4, 2005
  10. I am stressing to be courteous here, but I am one of those people. Frankly,
    I don't think cameras should give even users the OPTION to shoot at lower
    resolutions. JPEG full-sized or RAW, that's it. If you don't need more than
    3 or 5 megapixels of resolution, it's a total waste of resources to buy that
    much & not use it. Sort of reminds me of those people who buy Corvettes and
    never go above 35 mph. I'm like--WHY!!

    I do apologize if I'm being a hard-one about that. CF card space is cheap,
    so is CD storage on your computer. If your CF card is at least 512
    megabytes, you can get over 150 or so photos even at Large/Fine JPEG.

    You never know what you may use the photo for. It could end up being
    published, or asked to be blown up if you're doing this for a client. In
    that case, 3 megapixels isn't going to cut it. If 5 is enough, then maybe
    the Canon EOS300D (the OLD Digital Rebel) should be considered as it shoots
    at 6 and is a bit cheaper than the new Digital Rebel XT.

    If you really want the SLR experience but no more than 3 megapixels, try
    finding a used Canon EOS D30. That's a 3.5 megpixel D-SLR which you can find
    used for almost nothing, right at $350. It would use any Canon flash like
    the 550 or 420, too.

    One other thing, too--if you go for any of the Canons and shoot in Av mode,
    be prepared--the Canons are weird in that they assume "slow sync flash" in
    Av mode--a characteristic I find peculiar. The other brands have "slow sync"
    as a particular mode you deliberately enter into--otherwise, it keeps the
    shutter speed near X-sync so you don't get blur. The Canons enter "slow
    sync" in Av and it can lead to blur. (Except for the "old" Digital Rebel
    without the Wasia hack, you can override this with a custom function.)

    Larry R Harrison Jr, Jun 5, 2005
  11. All Things Mopar

    Paul Furman Guest


    Did you say you got good results with family's $200 digicams? Heh, why
    not do that then?

    I do think your expectations are unreasonable. Flash is awfully
    difficult to use effectively from what I see around here and doubly so
    for highly reflective subjects. For the kind of particular requirements
    you want, I don't think auto exposures on a small sensor camera with an
    on-camera flash are going to work.

    The advantage of a DSLR is the larger pixel size and ability to shoot in
    low light with high ISO. This is real. Outdoors in full sun you can get
    great shots with a smaller pixel camera but the ISO adjustment can make
    a big difference with a DSLR in low light.

    But don't think a DSLR is going to be easy and you are correct in
    worrying about needing a bunch of lenses for different situations
    because the whole system is bigger, the lenses are bigger & less
    adaptable than a small pixel camera. The kind of subject matter you are
    talking about is very difficult being very reflective you will have
    highlights from the flash blowing out and illumination simply will
    bounce off & be lost.

    Cars being rather large and three dimensional, depth of field is also a
    serious issue. If you got a fast lens you could still only get a narrow
    slice in focus which would only be capable of rather 'artsy' looking
    pictures like the front fender in focus & the rest a blurry mirage.

    I can only relate to folks talking about shooting small model cars &
    similar products like jewelery where it's common to build a tent of
    translucent fabric with big hot lights on all sides in order to get
    suitable illumination for a reflective subject like that. The equivalent
    for flash would be bouncing off the ceiling at relatively low 'fill'
    levels and boosting ISO to make use of the available light in reasonable
    proportions. Something that special is unlikely to work reliably with
    auto metering though so you will still be looking at manual metering and
    careful experimentation.

    I will mention again though if it's at all possible to set up a tripod,
    the museum lighting is probably great and the results could be
    exquisite, just like you see with your naked eye.

    unexpertly yours,
    Paul Furman, Jun 5, 2005
  12. All Things Mopar

    Steven Toney Guest

    You can also get very nice IS (image stabilized) lens that give you more
    stops (latitude) for hand held low light that complements the ability to use
    fast lenses and higher ISOs with reasonably low noise

    I have 3 Olympus P&S that work well for specific environment (hand held -
    low light indoors is not one of them) and will be getting a Canon 20D and
    some good lenses prior to my september vacation - partly to have more lens
    choice, partly due to the aggrevation of shutter lag, partly to use in low
    light environment

    I wonder if you could rent some DSLR combo to test
    Steven Toney, Jun 5, 2005
  13. Paul Furman commented courteously...
    If flash is so unreasonable, why does Nikon get $330 for
    their external and Canon get up to $370? /Somebody/ must
    think this is double plus good!
    I know that! I'm not concerned about flash glare or lost
    highlights nearly as much as I am about severe
    underexposure and inconsistant exposure. Can you please
    stay on-point?
    Not really. For a front 3/4 view of an 18' car using a
    50mm equivalent lens at f/3.5, I can get enough of
    entire car "in focus" by doing the AF lock at the A-
    pillar and taking advantage of the 1/3-2/3 DOF rule. I
    don't at all care about the background, for DOF or
    exposure. It's the car, the car, the car!

    I do appreciate people's attempts to help me, but again,
    it is most frustrating for me to see the talented folks
    to go off into the tall weeds (to my very specific
    needs/wants), and begin telling me I'm all wet. I know
    that, too!

    Now, what I'd /really/ like to hear are what the /best/
    camera/lens/flash combos I should look at in order to
    get the best overall flash /exposures/. I'm sure there
    are experts here on all brands and models of digitals
    and I look forward to some good suggestions on how to
    improve my car pictures.
    All Things Mopar, Jun 5, 2005
  14. All Things Mopar wrote:
    Is it at all possible that the Fuji and Koday cameras had a longer shutter
    opening time, so that areas which were not lit by the flash appeared
    brighter, because the natural illumination had chance to register more
    photons? Perhaps these cameras had the equivalent of what the 5700 calls
    "slow flash" (IIRC)? I know that sometime with the 5700 I would
    deliberately set slow flash to capture both a sharp flash picture together
    with some natural lighting or movement - exposures could be quite slow
    under those circumstances (say 1/10..1/2 second).

    David J Taylor, Jun 5, 2005
  15. Steven Toney commented courteously...
    Thanks, Steven.

    Please stick to my question: what camera/lens/flash
    combo(s) should I be looking at given that I /want/ to
    shoot flash?

    I know I can shoot high ISO at low shutter speeds with
    an IS lens, preferably with a tripod, I just don't want
    to! When I go to a museum, I'm looking to take several
    hundred "documentary" pictures in a few hours. I don't
    have time for a tripod. And, if the place is at all
    busy, setting up a tripod is problematical; in fact, the
    curator may balk since it disrupts his museum for the
    other visitors.
    Possibly. I'm hoping to home in on a "better mouse
    trap" and take advantage of my local store's liberal
    trial buy. The problem I'm having with this thread is
    that everyone is telling my I can't do what I want to do
    for this, that, and the other reason.

    What I would really like to hear is "given that you
    understand the limitations of flash, here's the
    cameras/lenses/flashes you should look at". Then, I
    could read the reviews on dpreview.com and go to my
    local store to see how the various cameras "feel", get
    an idea on total price, etc.

    Can you help me in my quest? Thanks again.
    All Things Mopar, Jun 5, 2005
  16. All Things Mopar

    Skip M Guest

    Lumiquest makes a couple of flash "bouncers," the MiniBounce and the
    PocketBounce. These allow you to bounce flash when not in an environment
    that would normally allow it, like outdoors or with tall ceilings.
    Skip M, Jun 5, 2005
  17. All Things Mopar

    Steven Toney Guest

    Sorry, I can't answer on experience with car museum photography

    I can say that with my 3 Olys - C750, C5050, and new C8080 -- I have had no
    underexposures with the use of their built in flashes on a variety of indoor
    shots, but without trying them in your environment I have no idea if the
    camera would work for you. I have an exteranl flash for the Olys coming to
    try some more fill/bounce techniques for indoors just to learn

    Although I'm buying a Canon 20D by September, I recently picked up a C8080
    at $500 and it is so far a great camera for it's niche

    I moving to dSLRs for variety of reason hand held, lowlight, IS lenses to do
    some tough indoors w/o flash is one use. There are time flashes are not cool

    I'll be retiring from the military in a few years and want to get better
    with a variety of photographic skill, to perhaps supplemental my retirement
    with some income generated by various photography projects, if no income is
    realized, it's a fun hobby anyway
    Steven Toney, Jun 5, 2005
  18. Skip M commented courteously...
    That's very interesting, I'll investigate. In the meantime, what
    do these "bounce" flash aids bounce off if there's nothing above
    the scene? Museumes are bad enough, but outdoors?
    All Things Mopar, Jun 5, 2005
  19. David J Taylor commented courteously...
    No, David, these little P&S cameras are /not/ using long
    shutter speeds. Puleeze! These aren't sophisticated
    machines, I just mentioned them to make my point that
    good flash /is/ possible with even a cheap camera, so
    why not an expensive one?

    And, backgrounds are lit by whatever light there is, it
    makes no difference whatsoever what the camera is used.
    I shot these test shots one-after-the-other in identical
    No. You're doing it again, I'm afraid. Do you really
    think I'd not notice a 1/10 second shutter? Puleeze,
    again! I may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but
    I'm also not an idiot.
    All Things Mopar, Jun 5, 2005
  20. All Things Mopar

    Big Bill Guest

    I don't do cars, but I have had recent experience with museum
    photography as an amateur, and, like you, I'm a "documentary" shooter.
    These were taken in the Air Force Mueum in Dayton, Ohio. This museum's
    director (an AF General) specifically wants the lighting to be
    "dramitic", which means low ambient light, with the planes spotlit.
    This means low light levels, even on the planes. On-camera flash
    leaves most with unsatisfactory pics.
    My camera is a Digital Rebel/300D, with a Sigma EF 500 DG Super flash.
    These pics were shot using the kit lens.

    Ambient light, ISO 800, 1/15 sec, F:3.5, handheld:

    Flash, ISO 100, 1/60 sec, F:3.5:

    In my opinion( considering the fact that I took over 300 pics there),
    ambient light is better. And that means (IMO) a DSLR, fairly

    Now, I don't do cars. But I do do museums. Sometimes the flash (with a
    little quick 'n dirty post processing - in this case, PSP's One Step
    PhotoFix - is pretty good. Not pro quality by any means, but very
    serviceable for my needs.

    From the Carillon Historical Park:

    Using Flash:

    Ambient light, ISO 400, 1/80 sec, F:5.0, handheld:

    The ability to use higher ISO numbers, IMO, lets you shoot ambient
    light with good results, if you're steady enough.
    But flash or no flash, a DSLR is much better than even something like
    the Oly C-8080 for this type of photography.

    And, a hint: shoot at full resolution; get another card or two if
    that's what it takes. You never knowwhat might come along, or if,
    after viewing your pics, you really wish you'd shot *that* pic at full
    res. As well, in the future, you may full well kick yourself for
    shooting at low res when you had hi res available. Your next printer
    may be able to use that resolution.
    Big Bill, Jun 5, 2005
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