Lens Aperture and Shooting Indoors

If you’re a camera novice, like me, all the numbers around the lens, and in the camera descriptions, are really, really confusing. They were basically meaningless to me, until I needed to shoot photos indoors; and they mattered for online sales on Ebay.

Photos are captured by exposing a sensor in the camera to light. If too little light gets to the sensor, it’s a dark picture. If too much light gets to it, it’s a overexposed or bright white picture. You want just the right amount.

Cameras have two ways to control the quantity of light: aperture and shutter speed. Aperture is how large the shutter opens, and shutter speed is how long it opens.

For indoor photography, you want the maximum aperture to be as large as possible. In the camera (and lens) specs, this is identified by the “f” numbers. These are called the “speed” of the lens, and you want a “fast” lens.

  • f1.8 : this is very large, the max for Fujifilm XF1
  • f2.0 : also large, the max for the Canon S110
  • f2.2 : not so large, but still good
  • f2.8 : typical of expensive “prime” lenses for DLSRs
  • f3.5 : typical of zoom lenses for DSLRs included with camera kits

Typically, you will see the numbers indicated like this: “f1.8-5.6”. That specifies a range, with the lower number being the maximum size aperture, and the higher number being the smallest size aperture. You don’t really care about the higher number.

The other thing that affects lens speed is the amount of “glass” (really, plastic) in the lens. The more lenses you have, and the thicker the lenses, the less light gets through, and the “slower” the lens becomes. That’s why the big DSLR lenses are slow, and why point-and-shoot lenses are faster.

The faster the lens is, the faster you can set the shutter speed.  The faster your shutter speed, the less likely you are to introduce camera shake blurring. The main way to avoid shaking is to use a tripod; the problem with tripods is how they limit the photos you can take. You also need to spend money to get them, and you won’t use them too often.

The faster the lens is, the less time and money you need to spend on artificial light kits. I use a cheap LED lightbulb setup that I got from the hardware store. It’s great for the cameras with fast lenses, but just barely adequate for the DLSR.

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Camera Drama Update

It took a while, but I just got another camera, a Nikon D80, to replace the Fujifilm XF-1 that broke. So far, it’s been a few headaches here and there, but I think this setup works.

Here’s the setup:

  • Nikon D80 body
  • Nikon 18-55mm lens
  • Sensor cleaning kit

The extra lenses I have are the Nikon 28-80mm lens and a Quantary 29-80mm lens. Those came with the camera, and are okay, but they weren’t right for photographing clothing indoors because I needed to be farther away from the subject. I also have a flash that came with a lens.

While this setup feels good to me, if I had my druthers, I’d use another XF-1 or the Canon S110. The problem is the price. The XF-1 is selling for $80 or so, and the S110 is selling for $80 to $180, with Buy It Now in the $150 range. The D80, lenses, flash, and cleaning kit totaled around $190.

The S100 and XF-1 point-and-shoots were good, but they both broke. They were both fixable, of course, but I decided to upgrade each time. This time, I upgraded hoping to get increased lifespan.

What I’ve learned is that the D80 is inferior to the point-and-shoots in some aspects (aperture, clarity, weight), and superior in others (battery life, color). I’ll get into this in later posts.


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