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View Full Version : Noctilux, Summilux, low-light


Roger Hicks
05-25-2008, 10:49
How much (or how little) light do you need to focus? Last night I used a 35/1.4 to photograph musicians inside a 1000 year old castle; today, a 50/1. Today, at ISO 2,500 and 1/12 at f/1, with relatively low-contrast subjects, I was having trouble focusing. Yesterday -- with much more contrast -- I was okay at about the same levels.

Any other thoughts on focusing at very low light levels? What are the real limits? At what point does '100% accurate' focus become meaningless, negated by camera shake as well as focusing difficulty?

Cheers,

Roger

BillP
05-25-2008, 11:00
Hi Roger,

Good, practical question. I don't use a Noctilux - my fastest lenses are a 40mm Nokton and a Canon 1.2, but I understand what you mean.

I think that there are other factors beyond the light level itself, namely contrast and motion. Hitting a moving target in low light is very difficult; more so if that target is low contrast. When I am shooting in low light I tend to aim for areas or points of light in the plane of focus. That's the only way I can do it, and I wouldn't call it easy! The other factor lies in the viewing - the tolerance of the viewer for what constitutes an "acceptable" low light image. One will often get kudos just for getting an image, let alone a sharp one if the lighting conditions are judged to be bad.

Regards,

Bill

D.O'K.
05-25-2008, 12:08
Aside from the constraints of the camera, the "real limits" may also be strongly age related. An opthalmologist friend advises that the amount of light needed for a person to see easily increases significantly with age: e.g. someone of 65 usually needs around 3 times as much light as someone aged 20 to see clearly. Certainly I've noticed--at 46--that I need much more light to read comfortably etc. than only a few years ago.

On a practical level, in the light is too poor for accurate focusing I usually cheat and use the depth of field scale (assuming I can see it...)

Regards,
D.O'K.

BillP
05-25-2008, 12:20
Snip.

Certainly I've noticed--at 46--that I need much more light to read comfortably etc. than only a few years ago.

Snip.


It's not just me then... At 46 I set fire to my first menu a month ago, by holding it too close to the candle... :rolleyes:

Regards,

Bill

Nikon Bob
05-25-2008, 13:35
It's not just me then... At 46 I set fire to my first menu a month ago, by holding it too close to the candle... :rolleyes:

Regards,

Bill

Good one, yeah getting old hurts. I think I will need a searchlight soon to read.

Bob

F456
05-25-2008, 15:57
Just to lend my support to the failing eyesight lamentations:-

I'm finding that one minute I can judge the rangefinder coincidence just so; next minute everything looks dicey and I start to wonder if the mechanism needs readjustment!

But to stick to the main point of the thread, for me flare in the viewfinder's central rectangular patch in normal lighting is more of an enemy than low contrast low light. For some reason I seldom have any trouble with that.

Luckily most of the shots are still coming out far better than focusing angst is preparing me for... I'm 52 and the rot set in somewhere after 45 (only at close range, not at distances).

Tom

Anupam
05-25-2008, 17:18
Focusing and amount of light seem to correlate for ground glass focusing (SLRs, TLRs, view cameras etc). For rangefinders it's mostly the contrast. If I can get a good vertical line on the plane where I want to focus, really low light isn't that much of a problem with a good VF/RF. I have found that most fixed lens cameras are not very good i terms of RF contrast and baselength, so M mount cameras would be my choice.

Anupam
05-25-2008, 18:32
Edit: Funny thing, I always have trouble focussing a RF held vertically, I have to focus with the camera horizontal first.

Exactly the same for me.

Rayt
05-25-2008, 18:58
I have a Noctilux but can't focus it when the light is too low. I still can enjoy its effects at f/1 aperture with fast shutter speeds and slow film so it isn't wasted. For really low light I need something with better dof like a 35/1.4 with film bodies or 28/2 on the M8. My eyes don't function like they do 20 years ago. I wish someone would invent a magnifier that swings out of the way like the ones for the Hasselblad.

urban_alchemist
05-25-2008, 21:49
Focussing on the Noctilux is all down to contrast - light is pretty irrelevant. I'll admit that at 28 my eye-sight is probably still on the 'pretty-damn-good' scale of things, but I don't think it is totally down to that.

Alot of the time, I won't focus on the subject, but instead look for something in the same plane to use instead - such as a light-bulb, or reflective metal. As they are usually exceptionally contrasty, even with bad eye-sight I'd still probably be able to focus...

Roger Hicks
05-26-2008, 01:20
I thought some examples might be of interest. The one with the big shadows is about 1/30 at f/1.4 with the 35mm: easy. The top (empty wall space) has been cropped The second (a complete failure) is about 1/8 at f/1 and the third is cropped (abour 1/5 the whole area) from 1/12 at f/1. The cigarette, complete with 'Leica glow', was bright enough to focus on when she dragged on it, but not otherwise.

On the first night, the concert was inside the donjon: I had the 35/1.4 on the camera by chance (I came upon the concert by accident). On the second, it was outside; the Noctilux wasn't really needed, but I took a few pics inside after rain stopped play.

The problem with the Noctilux is that it makes everything look too bright and contrasty, of course, when really it was very dim indeed. My real point in the original post is that even allowing for loss of sensitivity with age, by the time you're shooting longer than 1/15 at f/1 with ISO 2500, how much does it matter if you can't see to focus?

Cheers,

Roger

D.O'K.
05-27-2008, 03:16
"...by the time you're shooting longer than 1/15 at f/1 with ISO 2500, how much does it matter if you can't see to focus?"

Assuming that you're handholding longer than 1/15, won't camera shake usually render attempts at precise focussing academic?

Nice "big shadows" picture, if I may--slightly redolent of early 17th c. Dutch painting (except the woman looks too cheerful...)

Regards,
D.O'K.

Anupam
05-27-2008, 03:49
The problem with the Noctilux is that it makes everything look too bright and contrasty, of course, when really it was very dim indeed.

If I might ask, why would this be a problem of the lens rather than of metering. (lenses can of add a certain bit of contrast but only so much - also I don't know the Noctilux, but isn't it a low contrast lens?).

I do find, however, that many camera metered night shots - even very carefully shot ones - look unnaturally bright - the scenes never look that way to the eye. The only reliable way to meter at night, I feel, is careful spot metering or if that is impossible, metering by eye. The contrast in night scenes seems to fool most meters into pushing the whole scene up to middle gray - which results in overexposure. I have been shooting on the streets at night a bit, and have tried to avoid the overexposed look in favor of a more natural dark scene that our eyes see. I'd appreciate it if you could take a look and let me know how I am doing on the metering.

Metered by eye - 35mm: TMZ @ EI 2000 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/primelens/1820071031), TriX @ 250 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/primelens/1815428569), TriX @ 250 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/primelens/1804708229)
Some spot metered 4x5 shots here (http://www.flickriver.com/photos/primelens/tags/shenhao4x5)

Thanks,
Anupam

feenej
05-27-2008, 04:39
Lots of times in the dark I go with f4 and a 1/4 to 1 second exposure, that way you don't have to be perfectly focused as you do with wide apertures. Part of it is developing too. This was a half second (or quarter maybe) exposure, 6 hours developing time, 7 mls Rodinal in 1000 mls water. It was in a very dark club.

Roger Hicks
05-27-2008, 06:16
Assuming that you're handholding longer than 1/15, won't camera shake usually render attempts at precise focussing academic?

Nice "big shadows" picture, if I may--slightly redolent of early 17th c. Dutch painting (except the woman looks too cheerful...)


Thanks for the kind words: point taken about less-than-cheery Netherlanders in old paintings!

As for the hand-holding, yes and no. My feeling is that you MIGHT get lucky with a long hand-held pic, so focusing as accurately as possible is a good idea in case you do. If you don't, then as you say, it is unlikely to matter -- except perhaps that (for example) a 'smeared' eye highlight will look different according to how well it was focused in the first place.

Cheers,

Roger

awilder
05-27-2008, 06:53
As you and our readers are well aware, focusing in low light is where RF's excel (especially the Leica M or Zeiss ZM). One trick to aid in focusing is to remain in the low light setting as long as possible in order for the eyes to dark adapt, thus allowing the eyes to discriminate marginal contrast in the lowest of light situations. A good AR coating on spectacles helps as well.

Roger Hicks
05-27-2008, 07:05
If I might ask, why would this be a problem of the lens rather than of metering. (lenses can of add a certain bit of contrast but only so much - also I don't know the Noctilux, but isn't it a low contrast lens?).

I do find, however, that many camera metered night shots - even very carefully shot ones - look unnaturally bright - the scenes never look that way to the eye. The only reliable way to meter at night, I feel, is careful spot metering or if that is impossible, metering by eye. . .


Dear Anupam,

Sorry, I should have made myself clearer. The 'problem' is that so many Noctilux shots don't look like they were shot in poor light, leading to the comment, "Oh, you didn't need a Noctilux for that" when you're shooting at 1/15 at f/1 (better than 1/4 at f/2, hand-held...)

Even after aiming off for the lousy monitor on my internet computer (I keep separate machines for writing, imaging and web), it looks to me as if you may have over-compensated in the 'judged by eye' shots -- but of course this is also very personal, so I can't really say much. All I can say is that I'd have been inclined to give more exposure (or print lighter). The spot metered shots made it much easier for me to judge.

Cheers,

Roger

Roger Hicks
05-27-2008, 07:12
As you and our readers are well aware, focusing in low light is where RF's excel (especially the Leica M or Zeiss ZM). One trick to aid in focusing is to remain in the low light setting as long as possible in order for the eyes to dark adapt, thus allowing the eyes to discriminate marginal contrast in the lowest of light situations. A good AR coating on spectacles helps as well.

Absolutely. The only rider I'd add is that sometimes in ultra-low-light, there are light sources that you can't really avoid looking at while scanning the scene. But if you can avoid them, I agree 100%.

Cheers,

Roger

awilder
05-27-2008, 07:51
Good point Roger. Like plants, humans are heliotropic, i.e drawn towards light. Also applies to critquing photos and removing bright areas that distract from the main subject.

Roger Hicks
05-27-2008, 09:50
. .. and removing bright areas that distract from the main subject.
At the risk of sounding like a mutual admiration society, another good point!

Cheers,

R.

Alex Krasotkin
05-27-2008, 09:59
I like my Summilux 50/1.4 pre-asph. Here is an example of its performance in a low light conditions:

http://www.krasotkin.com/portfolio/?photo=463

awilder
05-27-2008, 12:10
Great shot with lots of potential Alex, but it goes to my previous point. The OOF lights from the signs overwhelm the shot and draw attention from the very interesting main subjects. Try dodging the theater lights and burn in the main subjects to go from a good shot to a great shot.

Rob-F
07-17-2008, 18:29
I got rid of my Noctilux when I realized I couldn't see to focus it in light dim enough to require f/1. I'm 67, so point well taken regarding the effects of aging. An f/1.4 lens is fast enough for me.

35mmdelux
07-17-2008, 19:11
With 3200 ISO even my 28mm f/2.8 can see in available darkness. Factor in my 35mm/1.4 and a little fudge and I am good to go.

thomasw_
07-17-2008, 20:58
With 3200 ISO even my 28mm f/2.8 can see in available darkness. Factor in my 35mm/1.4 and a little fudge and I am good to go.

Well put, Paul.

Roger Hicks
07-17-2008, 23:42
With 3200 ISO even my 28mm f/2.8 can see in available darkness. Factor in my 35mm/1.4 and a little fudge and I am good to go.

A lot depends on what you mean by 'available darkness', and how much shadow detail you want. If it's a bright disembodied face against a black background, wild underexposure is possible and the face may be bright enough to focus on.

But around the bonfire on Bastille Day on Monday I was shooting ISO 2500 (the M8 maximum, and only 1/3 stop less than EI 3200) at f/1 and still getting exposures of 1/15 and longer in some cases. My original point was that I seem simultaneously to run out of (a) enough light to see to focus and (b) enough light to hand hold the camera reliably.

In other words, faster lenses or faster film or both wouldn't be much use, even if I could focus, because I'd need a tripod anyway...

Cheers,

Roger

Krosya
07-18-2008, 00:05
With 3200 ISO even my 28mm f/2.8 can see in available darkness. Factor in my 35mm/1.4 and a little fudge and I am good to go.

How dark is your darkness? ;)
This was shot in a cave with a Nokton 35mm/1.2, wide open. Iso 1600. Dont remember shutter speed, but about 1/15sec or so. Dont know about you, but I dont think I could do better without a tripod:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3231/2592681379_fc793b35df_o.jpg

I absolutely love cv 35/1.2 lens - absolutely great glass - delivers results I like every time!

Pherdinand
07-18-2008, 03:41
Camera shake and wrong focus add up in a weird way...
I prefer having at least one of them right.

In the low contrast low light situation you describe, you might be better off with an active autofocus of the type Konica Hexar AF. Can focus in total darkness just as quick as in "f/16 light" ...

Roger Hicks
07-18-2008, 04:25
Camera shake and wrong focus add up in a weird way...
I prefer having at least one of them right.

In the low contrast low light situation you describe, you might be better off with an active autofocus of the type Konica Hexar AF. Can focus in total darkness just as quick as in "f/16 light" ...

Yes, but at that point you'd need flash, and I'd rather miss the shot. Again, that was part of the point: that what I can focus, and what I can hand-hold without flash, run out surprisingly close together.

As Leicasniper says, some form of support, and maybe even a slower lens, at some point will become a better idea.

Cheers,

R.

ferider
07-18-2008, 06:13
Yes, but at that point you'd need flash, and I'd rather miss the shot. Again, that was part of the point: that what I can focus, and what I can hand-hold without flash, run out surprisingly close together.

As Leicasniper says, some form of support, and maybe even a slower lens, at some point will become a better idea.

Cheers,

R.

Pherdi is right, the Hexar AF is a great low light camera, no flash and support needed - depending on the desired outcome, of course. The 35/2 together with the lens shutter makes it very easy to handhold. This was in on ISO 400, and very dark. Would have been hard to catch the right moment at focus with an M (at least for me):

http://ferider.smugmug.com/photos/252934551_9HW3t-L.jpg

Roland.

furcafe
07-18-2008, 06:27
Your Bastille Day example is pretty typical of many, if not most, of the "available darkness" situations I find myself in. There seems to be a tacit agreement among restaurants & bars everywhere to keep light levels exactly 2 or 3 stops below what I would prefer w/the M8 or ISO 1600 film. :p

Currently (knock wood), my night vision has held up enough that I can still readily see & focus in light levels that would only give me 1/4th or 1/2 sec. @ f/1 & ISO 2500/3200. Since most of my subjects are people, not inanimate objects/landscapes, a tripod (or beerpod) is usually of no help; for shooting people in conversation, for example, the slowest usable shutter speed in my experience is around 1/8th sec. Hence I am among those who dream of a dRF w/the high ISO performance of the current high-end dSLRs.

A lot depends on what you mean by 'available darkness', and how much shadow detail you want. If it's a bright disembodied face against a black background, wild underexposure is possible and the face may be bright enough to focus on.

But around the bonfire on Bastille Day on Monday I was shooting ISO 2500 (the M8 maximum, and only 1/3 stop less than EI 3200) at f/1 and still getting exposures of 1/15 and longer in some cases. My original point was that I seem simultaneously to run out of (a) enough light to see to focus and (b) enough light to hand hold the camera reliably.

In other words, faster lenses or faster film or both wouldn't be much use, even if I could focus, because I'd need a tripod anyway...

Cheers,

Roger

marke
10-17-2008, 12:21
I'm learning a lot reading through this thread. I've been wondering for quite some time, as I've lusted over owning a Noctilux, whether or not it would be more useful to me over my Summilux 50/1.4 pre-asph. Now I'm pretty much decided that I don't have to take out a mortgage for a new lens!

Here's one with my Summilux 50/f1.4 pre-asph, taken with Fuji Natura 1600. Exposed at 800 ISO, f1.4, and (if I remember correctly) about 1/4 second. The lights are L.E.D., part of an installation at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I honestly couldn't even make out the subject's face (my wife). I just focused on her profile and told her to be still. The lens/film could see what I couldn't.

http://www.pbase.com/marke/image/103092783/original.jpg

Roger Hicks
10-17-2008, 12:40
The lens/film could see what I couldn't.


This is indeed the basis of the entire question.

Cheers,

R.