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Best low light dslr (+/- $1K) for theatre/dance?

by mark467--2008 / April 6, 2011 8:25 AM PDT

I need to take photos (and occasionally video) of professional dance and theatre work. The lighting conditions are frequently quite low, so I need a camera that can take action shots (dance is basically sport photography, in highly variable/low lighting) in these conditions without artifacts. Photos are the primary consideration, although I'm attracted to the lenses on dSLRs for a wider range of video work than I'm able to do on a dedicated video camera, so the video function of this dSLR is also a big consideration. Due to friends' recommendations, I'm considering the Canon 60D or the (not-yet-released) Nikon D5100, but would be open to any other suggestions. I'm a relative newbie with dSLRs, so a Nikon D7000 or a higher end Canon seems like overkill -- I need professional quality photos, but a fairly basic pro-sumer camera that can handle low-light, highly dynamic conditions. (I run a professional theatre company, and have been let down by others' photos in the past, so I prefer to be self-reliant -- I'll have a learning curve when I get this camera.) I know I have to pay close to $1K to get a camera (not counting lenses) to do the kind of work I'm looking for and would like to keep the price for the body under 1K so I have some budget left over for lenses. Thank you in advance for any advice or suggestions you may have.

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Lens vs. Body
by PistonCupChampion / April 6, 2011 10:54 AM PDT

IMO, there won't be much difference in the low light capability between sub-$1000 bodies; they will all do pretty well up to ISO 3200 or perhaps even 6400. The other considerations you should think about for the body are the brightness of the viewfinder, the ease and speed of adjusting controls, and frame rate. Right now, I'd say the best buy would be a refurbished 50D body for $703.36 direct from Canon. It has a pentaprism viewfinder, more direct control of critical controls, and shoots at over 6 fps. Another great choice would be the Nikon D90.

A bright lens for low light will be more critical and potentially more expensive than the body; a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is $1000-2500. Prime lenses are cheaper and faster, but not as versatile.

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re: Best low light dslr (+/- $1K) for theatre/dance VIDEO?
by MarkatNite / April 6, 2011 11:51 AM PDT

Hard to know for sure right now since the D5100 is so new, but my guess is that it would be less susceptible to moire than a Canon DSLR; will be able to auto-focus while shooting video, unlike a Canon DSLR; be able to shoot longer takes--20 min vs 12 min--than a Canon DSLR; and cost less than the 60D. (I think the D5100 is targeted to compete with the T3i.) So between those two, the D5100 comes out ahead.

However, before I bought a D5100, I'd want to find out:

1) which lenses will it AF with while shooting video?
2) how fast is the AF?
3) how quiet is the AF?

Because the Panasonic GH2 has already been shown to have less moire than Canon, can AF relatively quickly and quietly with the 14-140mm kit lens while shooting video, can shoot until the memory card is full (i.e. no time limit) (US models only), and is priced competitively (now that's it's finally widely available).

The main shortcomings of the GH2 are:

1) stills/photographs are not as high quality.
2) lack of fast/bright lenses that can AF while shooting video.

Full disclosure: I own a GH2 - Mark

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Thread amend... what would be the best camera for the job?

Thank you to the two replies. In response to the first, I have steered away from older cameras, as the video capabilities are a bit too primitive and figure if I'm going to invest at this point, the camera should be able to handle 1080p. I had been looking at the D90 very closely, but talked myself out of it (because of the video consideration)... you make some excellent points I hadn't thought through, about the other considerations I should be thinking of (like the viewfinder, frame rate, etc.). Thanks for this, and if any other poster has similar advice, I would be grateful for your thoughts. Mark, your reply is also excellent and much appreciated. My friends who shoot have steered me away from the GH2, but I will give it another look.

I am re-posting, however, based on your two replies, to ask: what is the best camera for the job, without regard to the $1K ceiling? I would rather get the right tool for the job, and if this costs more than $1K, I can go higher (but I'm also aware how much a good lens is going to cost). In any case, if the 1K price restriction was off the table, what camera would you recommend for low light, dynamic subjects? (bearing in mind, I am a novice photographer). Or, to put it another way, what is the least expensive camera that will do a great job for the conditions I describe in the original post?

In any reply, I would also appreciate if you could comment on how novice-friendly the camera you recommend is...I should also mention that I'm in Europe, but I have access to the US market, so if there are distinct models in either region, I can probably get hold of them.

Thank you for any help and guidance, and thanks again to the two posters.

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re: without regard to the $1K ceiling?
by MarkatNite / April 7, 2011 12:31 PM PDT

Keep in mind that there are usually compromises with any hybrid stills/video camera. And also that I don't know anyone who has personal experience with the following. But my first thought is the Sony NEX-VG10. But note that it doesn't do 1080p, only 1080i. You'd also need to make sure that the stills/photographs it captures are up to your standards. And that you're comfortable with the lenses available for it, especially if you need AF while shooting video.

Above/beyond that, I'd recommend going with a full-frame DSLR for stills (e.g. Canon 5D Mark II) and a Panasonic AG-AF100 (actually, I think the EU model number is AF101) for video. While I'm sure you'd be happy with the results, the catch is that you'd be looking at ~$8,000 for just the two cameras. (i.e. no lenses) (So why not use the 5D for video, too? See above re: moire, AF and 12 minute limit.)

Or you could try doing something similar to what I did: I own a GH2 and I partnered up with someone who owns a 5D Mark II. So for video, I'm the "A" cam and he's the "B" cam; and that's reversed for stills. This also means you have less of a learning curve since you only have to really learn one camera.

Mark

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