Best lens for low light/night city/street photography

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by StefanKruse, Feb 26, 2015.

  1. StefanKruse

    StefanKruse Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 28, 2015

    I have a trip to New York coming up and I want to shot around the clock. I however strugle a bit with low light and night photography and was wondering what people would recommend for lens choice?

    I have the Pana 20mm and I love it, but the AF is challenging in lowlight at times.

    Also I struggle to avoid blownout highlights which I assume is not lens specific? Any advise on how to handle this best in night shot in New York which I assume will have a lot contrast at night.

    Last edited: Feb 27, 2015
  2. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator; Photon Wrangler Subscribing Member

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    The Oly 17mm f1.8 is very good at focusing even in low light.

    However, if there were a faster AF lens in 12-20mm, I would be interested... It's still a bit hard to keep the ISO down and shutter speeds up for moving people at night.

    Highlights: shoot raw on a body with at least 12bits of DR.
    Keep an eye on the histogram or blinkies.
    Don't worry about lights blowing out unless you're trying to capture neon signs, etc.
    Consider HDR, even handheld.

    • Useful Useful x 1
  3. Qiou87

    Qiou87 Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 15, 2013
    Paris, France
    I guess you might miss a wider option if you plan on shooting NYC at night. There's plenty of tall buildings/structures that are much nicer with night lights than during daytime.

    Take your time to AF with the 20mm at night, try to prefocus if you're trying to shoot moving (human) subjects. When you find a scene you like, prefocus where you subject is going to be then fire when the subject is where you'd like it to be.

    About blown-out highlights: when we say a certain camera has "12 stops of DR" it is only true at base ISO (200 for MFT). When you raise the ISO, which you usually have to at night, that dynamic range is dramatically reduced. What this means is that you have to be much more careful about your exposure at night because your possibilities of "recovery in post-production" will be reduced. Be aware of your cameras strengths ; for cameras equipped with Sony sensors (E-M10, E-M5, E-P(L)5) they handle shadows better than highlights, which means you should rather underexpose (and recover in post) than overexpose (because you cannot recover so much highlights in post). For still subjects HDR is a valid point, especially at night since the contrast can be too much to handle for any digital camera (very bright neon lights vs. dark sky for example).
    • Informative Informative x 2
    • Useful Useful x 1
  4. val

    val Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Dec 19, 2013
    What body do you have? Should be fine with Oly's 5 axis IBIS and the 17mm f1.8
  5. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    14-35mm f2
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Funny Funny x 1
  6. StefanKruse

    StefanKruse Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 28, 2015
    Thanks what max ISO setting would you recommend? I have the E-PL5 and will definately experiment with HDR as well as underexposing before going. How many stops should I consider underexposing any rules of thumb?
  7. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    If I had an e-pL5 and the Lumix 20mm I wouldn't be hunting for a better nighttime lens, I'd maybe go for one of the more stabilised bodies,
    but if I had some kind of lens fever the PanaLeica25mmF1.4 or that really bright 15mm?

    Max ISO is personal preference based on what's possible with post-processing but I'm happy with 6400 in this sensor.
  8. soundsun

    soundsun Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Sep 7, 2014
    Los Angeles
    I'll agree with you regarding the P20 and how slow it is to AF in low light; though I do still love that lens.

    For me, a big revelation was using Auto ISO and letting it go up to 6400. That combined with the O17 f1.8 increased my 'keeper' ratio of night shots considerably. Using Auto ISO is one more thing I don't have to thing about when street shooting. I'd rather 'get the shot' and deal with some noise.

    Still, I am surprise at how many of the night city shots I have that the auto ISO decided to set the ISO to 200 - don't underestimate how bright the big city lights are!
    • Useful Useful x 1
  9. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    When I was in Manhattan I used the Sigma 30mm a lot of the time, and in retrospect I needed something much wider. The 17mm FOV is a good one, something like the Panasonic 14mm or the Olympus 12mm would be even better. Especially if you're going out at night, you'll want to capture the atmosphere of the cityscape, so wide, wide wide!
    • Useful Useful x 1
  10. MadMarco

    MadMarco Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 30, 2014
    Guildford, England
    The 17mm f/1.8 is my go-to low light lens.

    It's wide enough for indoors/parties/pubs and is a lovely thing to use with very fast and reliable AF, the manual focus clutch is a really useful feature. Put a 10mm extension ring on it and it makes a very nice near macro 1:1.3 close-up lens.
    • Useful Useful x 1
  11. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    Keeping it rather generic, which is this:

    Something fast in the f/1.x range in a field of view and focal length you like.
  12. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    What focussing method do you use with the 20mm/1.7? On my Panasonic bodies, if I use the touchscreen single area focus mode and select a high contrast edge on the area I want to focus, it actually focuses very quickly - certainly less than 1 second, even in low light.

    If I let the camera pick its own focus point, it definitely hunts and is slow.

    I have heard Oly bodies have slower focussing with the 20mm generally, though, so maybe it's just worth it to try the 17mm/1.8 (or 25mm/1.4, if you really to maximize your low-light quality).
  13. StefanKruse

    StefanKruse Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 28, 2015
    Thanks for the advice ill try that.

    I love the 20mm and would not opt to replace it, but if there was some superior lens out there for night shoots and low light I might add it.

    Appreciate all the feedback, Thanks
  14. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator; Photon Wrangler Subscribing Member

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    On my E-M1, at night I normally use auto-ISO with a max of 3200.
    I've used 5000 before but there was too much noise, imho. I don't have any advanced NR software though (other than what's in RawTherapee).
    If I'm not shooting moving people, or I don't care about blur, I'll go down to ISO200 @f1.8.

  15. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    My particular 20mm is excellent in low-light focus, but I only ever use single point (centreish) focus and recompose, and wide-open.
    My Olympii focus about the same speed as my Lumix with this lens...
  16. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Since you already have the 20mm f1.7, what about the Oly 12mm f2 or Pana 15mm f1.7? That would widen your range options.
    • Useful Useful x 1
  17. walter_j

    walter_j Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Sep 10, 2013
    Hagwilget, B.C., Canada
    f/0.95 Voightlander 17.5 or 25mm and zone focusing.
  18. EarthQuake

    EarthQuake Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 30, 2013
    Olympus 17/1.8 or 12/2. I went to NYC a year or so ago and got a lot of use out of my 12/2, for city street shooting that extra width is really great, and the 2.0 aperture means you can keep the iso relatively low even at night.

    Panasonic 15/1.7 would likely be a good choice as well, but I haven't used it myself.

    The 12 would make a good counterpoint to your 20, while the 17 and to a lesser extent the 15 will offer a similar field of view so really I would consider those more than replacements for the 20 rather than complimentary.
    • Useful Useful x 1
  19. Benzy

    Benzy Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 18, 2014
    I've spent a week with the new Panasonic-Leica 15mm 1.7 and can't say enough good things about it coming from the 20mm. It focuses lightening fast, has great color and contrast, and is as sharp as the 20mm with my eyes. Build quality, the aperture ring and the hood/rubber lens cap just make it a perfect lens for walking around a metro area. Go for it!
    • Like Like x 1
    • Useful Useful x 1
  20. arch stanton

    arch stanton Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 25, 2012
    • Like Like x 2