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2006.03.31

Today, you can pay very little for a digital camera, but there are many reasons to pay more. One of my favorite reasons to pay more is to get a broader range of shutter-speeds. While all recent cameras support shutter-speeds between 1/500s and 1/8s, this range is not sufficient for all types of photography.

Slow shutter-speeds are important for low-light photography, specially for using low-ISO settings which result in lower-image noise and higher quality pictures. It is very important to know that such photography requires a tripod, or another form camera support. Anyone who never supports their camera using a tripod, even with stabilization, can forget about shutter-speeds slower than 1/8s. In this case, there is no value in paying for slower shutter-speeds. For those who are interested in low-light photography, slower shutter-speeds are essential. Numerous entry-level digital cameras only provide exposures up to a few seconds (typically, between 2 and 4). This allows night photography of lit areas such as downtown streets, but not always at low-ISO sensitivities.

For night photography of buildings, skylines and parks, exposures may be needed up to 8s or 15s. Even longer exposures are needed for light-trails, moonlit landscapes and star-trails. This type of photography is time-consuming, so unless someone is interested in in it, they are not likely to try. On the other hand, a camera which does not support such slow shutter-speeds won’t be able to gather enough light in those conditions.

And then there are faster shutter-speeds. At 1/500 some action, such as running and dancing, can be frozen, Faster action like race-cars, speed-boats, wild-animals and insects may need correspondingly faster shutter-speeds. At least 1/2000 is needed to freeze most action. Some cameras, such as the Konica-Minolta Dimage A1, support shutter-speeds as fast as 1/16000s which can theoretically freeze extremely fast action. However, these shutter-speeds are rarely used because an extremely bright seen is needed. Even near noon in full-sun, it is rare to use speeds above 1/2000 at typical ISO sensitivities.

Creative photography involves selecting shutter-speeds for effect as much as for exposure. In terms of slow shutter-speeds, one can use neutral-density filters to lengthen an exposure. For shortening an exposure beyong what high-ISO settings may allow, one must add more light to the subject. This is ostensibly more difficult and not even always possible. For this reason, access to longer-shutter speed tends to be more valuable then access to faster shutter-speeds.

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