Tools Matter

For the past two days, I photographed a lot of this:

The national championships were held in Toronto in the Grand Ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel. And the photo may not show it, but grand ballrooms are dark, lit by rather dim tungsten light chandeliers.

How dark?

With my 1Dx and 70-200 f/2.8IS lens I had to shoot this morning at:

  • f/2.8
  • 10,000 ISO
  • 1/160th second

Yes, that is 10,000 ISO. Think of 1600, then add one stop (3200), then one more stop (6400), then two thirds of a stop (now you are at 10,000). Almost three stops more than I was comfortable with just a year ago. And I needed this to get to 1/160th second – I would have liked much faster, in fact.

Is there anything you could have done if you were using an “ordinary camera”? Many shooters came up to me to ask. Poor people with Rebels and 60Ds and D3100s and f/3.5-5.6 lenses. Think about it:

  1. If you have an f/5.6 lens you need two stops more ISO than I had at f/2.8 (the lens lets in less light).
  2. So if you want a fast enough shutter speed, like mine, you would need 40,000 ISO.
  3. But you can only use, perhaps, 1600 or -pushing it- 3200 ISO while maintaining good quality.

Is there a solution?

Well, yes. Use a 50mm prime lens on your camera, which gives you an 80mm equivalent lens, say at f/1.8. Now you are better than my zoom, one and one third stops better, so you can go to a lower ISO (around 4,000; or perhaps 3200 ISO at 1bout 1/125th second). One shooter, an intelligent young woman, got it, and pulled out her 50mm f/1.8. Saved!

And yes, you need those fast shutter speeds. Even at 1/160th second, if anything moves, it shows:

The moral of this story: equipment matters. I saw many people with simple cameras and kit lenses who expect to be able to do the same work I do. It doesn’t work like that, I am afraid. You buy modern cameras and fast lenses (low “f-numbers”) for a reason, and today illustrated that reason well.




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