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Best camera for low light social photography - to replace / supplement M9??
Old 11-06-2013   #1
SimonPJ
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Best camera for low light social photography - to replace / supplement M9??

In the 25 plus years that I've been using Leicas one of my main uses for them has been documenting social or work events that I'm participating in - usually when I'm sitting amongst the people I'm photographing, and often in very poor light because it's indoors, or late in the day. I know this is a familiar situation for many on RFF.

Until the M8, for me this usually meant a film M loaded with 800 ISO colour neg film, and more often than not a 35 'Lux wide open, or nearly so, shot at 1/30 or even 1/15. This can work fine - as long as you're able to juggle shallow depth of field and shoot when your subjects aren't getting too animated and moving around too much!

The M8 wasn't too much of a step up from film M's in handling these situations - and though the M9 is better, it's still in the same ballpark when it comes to dealing with real low light. You're having to really keep on your toes to make shallow depth of field and low shutter speeds work.

So, I've been wondering whether there are any interesting alternatives to try that would work better - or at least, differently - in these low light social situations.

I know there are plenty of cameras that can do a bit - maybe quite a bit - better than the M9 in low light.

But I know also that lots of them have problems focusing in low light.

So, if I want to try something that might be an interesting alternative to the M9 for this kind of photography, what should I try?

It needs to have significantly better high ISO performance than the M9 to open up the possibility of smaller apertures and faster shutter speeds.

It needs to be able to focus reliably and quickly on people's faces -preferably their eyes - in challengingly low light (all M's do this exceptionally well).

It needs to allow a good view of the subject for quick and responsive composition.

And it needs to be unobtrusive, quiet and easy to hold and pack - to make it easy to keep participating in the social situation.

So, what would this be? Fuji x100s? Any DSLR's? It always seems to me that there isn't anything out there which really nails all of the above features to make it an alternative to the M9. But I'd love to hear that I'm wrong.

Cheers,

Simon
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Old 11-06-2013   #2
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Nikon D3s. Only problem is the "non-obtrusive" factor. But for low light, it can't be beat.
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Old 11-06-2013   #3
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The Canon 6D focuses in almost complete darkness with the center point and has incredible high ISO capability. It also is very quiet and is the smallest and lightest full-frame DSLR, so it's as unobtrusive as you can get in that genre.
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Old 11-06-2013   #4
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OM-D
EM-1

Or the new A7?

etc.

They're all small, solid performers without being large or obstrusive.
The AF on the olympus cameras is great, and the 12mm f2 or 25mm f1.4 are fantastic.
There's actually facial/facial+eye recognition in the af.
The IS on the bodies is also top notch.
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Old 11-06-2013   #5
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I'm interested in what people recommend for this very specific application. But what is "IS"?
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Old 11-06-2013   #6
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If you can live without color- the Monochrom will work. Many DSLRs will meet your performance criteria, but fail the unobtrusive requirement. In my experience being unobtrusive is important. I get very different images when I do an event with my M9 or Monochrom than when I use my D4. The difference is in how subjects react to me and the camera. With my Leicas I am generally ignored and get nice natural expressions. With the D4 I am very much noticed and get a lot of "I'm being photographed" expressions. I have to resort to much longer focal lengths and stand far enough away that I am not noticed. That does not always work.
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Old 11-06-2013   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Luke_Miller View Post
With my Leicas I am generally ignored and get nice natural expressions. With the D4 I am very much noticed and get a lot of "I'm being photographed" expressions. I have to resort to much longer focal lengths and stand far enough away that I am not noticed. That does not always work.
This is the rangefinder's trump card. The fact that you don't totally lose eye contact, and your face isn't obscured.

The Canon 6D sounds interesting, but I'd worry that I would lose the intimacy and spontaneity factor you get with a small rangefinder.
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Old 11-06-2013   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KoNickon View Post
I'm interested in what people recommend for this very specific application. But what is "IS"?
"IS" means image stabilization.

I guess the x100S would be the best choice for low light candid/ with friends indoors, though I don't own one. It has a quiet shutter, esp. compared to interchangeable lens cameras. You would get a similar lens to a 35 summilux, except of course the oof rendition/ depth of field.

For me the X100s is an alternative or replacement for a Leica rangefinder. But otherwise personally I would really enjoy shooting with a compact such as Ricoh GR in a situation like that.

unobstrusive, quick, small
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Old 11-06-2013   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Luke_Miller View Post
If you can live without color- the Monochrom will work. Many DSLRs will meet your performance criteria, but fail the unobtrusive requirement. In my experience being unobtrusive is important. I get very different images when I do an event with my M9 or Monochrom than when I use my D4. The difference is in how subjects react to me and the camera. With my Leicas I am generally ignored and get nice natural expressions. With the D4 I am very much noticed and get a lot of "I'm being photographed" expressions. I have to resort to much longer focal lengths and stand far enough away that I am not noticed. That does not always work.

This. The M(240) may also be an option - I haven't tried one so can't say for sure.

I'm not convinced that the M4/3 are really that far ahead of the M9 in low light, though I could be wrong (and several hundered folks will now, no doubt, set about proving it!)

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Old 11-06-2013   #10
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the correct answer is the x100s. the AF is ok in low light (great at ISO 400, requires a tad of preparation at 6400 and f2), but the manual focus assist makes "ok" turn into "just fine, thank you". it's tiny, unobtrusive and utterly silent, and the 35mm FOV equivalent lens is wide enough and has close-enough focus to make in-crowd photography really fun. high ISO is lovely. at night, in a club or at a party, you can shoot at 6400 with a lot of confidence. i bought the camera for almost precisely the application you described and it's nearly perfect. i still get focus errors (i think the x200 will have better AF if you can wait) but i'm really happy with it.
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Old 11-06-2013   #11
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Oh, IS is good at dealing with camera shake, but has no impact on subject movement - easy to overlook i the excitement of getting a sharp background at 1/10th, then noticing the blurred hands and faces.

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Old 11-06-2013   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by porktaco View Post
at night, in a club or at a party, you can shoot at 6400 with a lot of confidence. i bought the camera for almost precisely the application you described and it's nearly perfect. i still get focus errors (i think the x200 will have better AF if you can wait) but i'm really happy with it.
Club, pub, party sums up the situation pretty well. The X100s sounds interesting - and definitely the right size and rf form factor. I find it hard to imagine how focusing could be as easy and instinctive as with an M - given that with an M you don't need to refocus if you know you're already focused in the right area. But I guess that's just a question that can only be answered by trying one out.
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Old 11-06-2013   #13
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Any Fuji X-series APS-C camera with the most recent firmware installed is a practical option. I just acquired the 23/1.4 XF lens which I strongly recommend. The X100 or X100S will also meet your needs.

There are several other excellent options... such as the NEX cameras as well as the OM m4/3 systems.

The M240 appears to have outstanding SNR performance for your needs.
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Old 11-06-2013   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sojournerphoto View Post
The M(240) may also be an option
It sounds like it probably is. I'd just like to see whether there's something else that may improve on the M9 for these situations, before I make the big commitment to moving up to the M(240)
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Old 11-06-2013   #15
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Ricoh or x100s would be my pick. If I was at a club/pub/party/concert environment, a good point&shoot will probably let me enjoy the moment more rather than focusing too much on getting the absolute best pictures.
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Old 11-06-2013   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SimonPJ View Post
Club, pub, party sums up the situation pretty well. The X100s sounds interesting - and definitely the right size and rf form factor. I find it hard to imagine how focusing could be as easy and instinctive as with an M - given that with an M you don't need to refocus if you know you're already focused in the right area. But I guess that's just a question that can only be answered by trying one out.
you can set the x100s to manual focusing, using the focus ring as with any RF. once you get the focus assist in your head (i prefer focus peaking rather than the split image for low light situations), you're golden. still, the AF isn't bad until you're in Available Darkness situations.
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Old 11-06-2013   #17
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Olympus would be my last choice. It has the worse low light image quality, period. I would thing the Nikon D610. The Sony a7 will struggle in low light focusing.
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Old 11-06-2013   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SimonPJ View Post
Club, pub, party sums up the situation pretty well. The X100s sounds interesting - and definitely the right size and rf form factor. I find it hard to imagine how focusing could be as easy and instinctive as with an M - given that with an M you don't need to refocus if you know you're already focused in the right area. But I guess that's just a question that can only be answered by trying one out.
With the x100s you can manually focus with the ring, as has been mentioned, or just by hitting the AF lock button. Once set it will stay there until you refocus, so it's a lot like an M in that regard.
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Old 11-06-2013   #19
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Olympus would be my last choice. It has the worse low light image quality, period. I would thing the Nikon D610. The Sony a7 will struggle in low light focusing.
I'm curious - Why would the Sony A7 struggle in low light? I haven't seen any thorough reviews of that camera yet. Is there something about the Sony sensor that makes it struggle?
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Old 11-06-2013   #20
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A Ricoh GXR with A12 M mount might fit the bill.
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Old 11-06-2013   #21
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The x100s is the perfect camera for the situations you describe.
Used in manual focus with the optical Viewfinder or Rear LCD for framing you will be unobtrusive in taking your images.
Performance wise you will easily get 3 stops of exposure (clean RAW files not noisy DNG's) and at least 3 times the DOF as compared to the M9 at the same shutter speeds mounted with a 35mm lens.

It's a quite leaf shutter and extremely flexible for a fixed lens camera.

Go try one and see what you think.

Cheers!
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Old 11-06-2013   #22
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Good luck, particularly with that unobtrusive thingy, but also with the focus. I certainly am not an expert on all forms of digital cameras but auto focus in very low light circumstances is usually a bit of a challenge. Every Halloween I keep telling myself autofocus has gotten better and every time I find that I am very glad that I packed my rangefinder along with the dSLR. I don't want to say that autofocus doesn't work, it does. It just doesn't work as well at night and thus far more frustrating.

The other thing that people forget, when using autofocus you are waiting for the camera to do its own thing, with the rangefinder you are fully involved in the process and so your own attention is totally on the focus point. This does make a difference for me, your own mileage may vary.
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Old 11-06-2013   #23
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I am curious, is the GXR faster to focus in low light than the X100S?
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Old 11-06-2013   #24
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As stated, the AF on the 6D is apparently very good, even in low light. 5d3 as well, AFAIK (although I don't now the differences in the two). They are both normal size for pro DSLRs so they're huge. Their ISO performance is excellent though. I would have no qualms about shooting at 3200.

The Sony RX1 has similar ISO performance and is tiny. The caveat is that the AF is abysmal in low light (and even not so great in not excellent light). If you're used to manual focusing lenses. It is helped quite a bit with the AF assist (the orange LED) but that might disrupt the subject. You can focus w/ the LED though, and you can set up the buttons to "quickly" change the focus point. It takes some getting used to. If your subjects are socializing my guess is you'll get most of your shots. If they're walking, dream on. The rapid fire mode in it is almost absurd. 5 FPS... I usually have it turned down to the slower mode, but if you have a moving target it can mean the difference of a keeper and a throw-away.

It might be worth waiting for the R7 and R7 Alphas. They are said to have updated AF systems, but how much is unknown. The launch 35mm is also only 2.8. :-?

I have no clue what goes into an autofocus system size wise, but apparently to be good, they require a large body.
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Old 11-06-2013   #25
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I'd go with a Monochrom. Have heard wonderful things about its low light capabilities, and you already have all the lenses for it.

As long as you can live with Black & White.

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Old 11-06-2013   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by porktaco View Post
the correct answer is the x100s. the AF is ok in low light (great at ISO 400, requires a tad of preparation at 6400 and f2), but the manual focus assist makes "ok" turn into "just fine, thank you". it's tiny, unobtrusive and utterly silent, and the 35mm FOV equivalent lens is wide enough and has close-enough focus to make in-crowd photography really fun. high ISO is lovely. at night, in a club or at a party, you can shoot at 6400 with a lot of confidence. i bought the camera for almost precisely the application you described and it's nearly perfect. i still get focus errors (i think the x200 will have better AF if you can wait) but i'm really happy with it.
ditto. And like he said it is SILENT. Not just quiet. SILENT
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Old 11-06-2013   #27
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Originally Posted by SimonPJ View Post
In the 25 plus years that I've been using Leicas one of my main uses for them has been documenting social or work events that I'm participating in - usually when I'm sitting amongst the people I'm photographing, and often in very poor light because it's indoors, or late in the day. I know this is a familiar situation for many on RFF.
...
So, I've been wondering whether there are any interesting alternatives to try that would work better - or at least, differently - in these low light social situations.
...
Go to a smaller format, like Micro-FourThirds, and a manual lens, for example one of the Voigtländers (17, 25 and 43 mm choices, all f/0.95). Current generation (E-P5, E-M1, E-M5, GX7) sensors are good for up to ISO 6400 and beyond. The smaller format nets you more DoF at even wide lens openings. A manual focus lens will let you focus by zone precisely, and those Voigtländers give you even more light gathering power to work with in a pinch.

With the cameras I mentioned above, you can also use Live View to an articulated LCD so you can shoot at waist level or around corners, while having excellent access to focusing and framing tools.

With all of the cameras above, you can also use AF lenses with face detection. There is a host of fast prime lenses from Panasonic and Olympus, all fully dedicated, that can be used.

Lots of options nowadays.

G

(I have an M9 too, and while it is responsive and works reasonably well in these circumstances, the Olympus E-M1 is far more responsive and can do quite a lot better job of this kind of shooting. It is a very different way of working with the camera, however.)
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Old 11-06-2013   #28
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I would recommend the fuji X100s. I use mine for the type of photography you describe- great in low light, fast focussing, silent. Iso 3200 great, 6400 ok. Probably the best choice given your requirements.
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Old 11-06-2013   #29
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Quote:
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I am curious, is the GXR faster to focus in low light than the X100S?
Darya
Can't answer for the X100s but the GXR a12 mount is for Leica M lenses so manual focus. The a12 50/2.5 is aps-c also, if you wanted auto focus capability. Nice thing about the Ricoh is in auto focus mode there is snap focus, distance is user preset and a full depression of the shutter button bypasses AF. 3200 iso definitely usable.
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Old 11-06-2013   #30
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The most inobtrusive would be be a Windows Nokia 920 or 1020. Don't laugh. They don't come any more inobtrusive, are excellent low-light performers with Zeiss 2.0, 2.4 lenses respectively and mechanical OIS. IQ is surprisingly okay. Why not bring your Leica and a smart phone with good quality low-light capabilities to supplement? This is more practical than bringing two cameras -- or leave a fine camera like your Leica on the shelf.
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Old 11-06-2013   #31
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i use and very much like the gxr m, the epl5 (thus current gen of m4/3 sensor) and an x100. the gxr is both difficult to focus and its results disappointing in low light--1600 is the limit. epl5 focuses faster than the x100, but its shutter is much noisier. at 3200 the results are fine with both, and each is better in b&w. in that regard, of the two the x has better b&w rendition, the oly better color in low light. i would not shoot above 3200 with either.
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Old 11-06-2013   #32
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the good thing with the x100s is that you have 3 valid focusing options for this situation: AF, focus peak and split image. Rare to find someone who didn't make at least one of them work for him, but maybe go to a shop and try for yourself. Also, because the lens is one stop slower than your f1.4 and 12mm wider, you will get maybe 2 stops worth more depth of field which makes manual focusing less demanding.

for shutter speed, compared to your M9+summi you get 1 stop less from the aperture but probably 1 (or slightly more) stops gain from the high ISO ability, so the net result is even or to your favor.
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Old 11-06-2013   #33
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Just a positive vote for the whole idea… I find it incredibly liberating with current digital cameras to shoot in available light, indoors, in the kind of light that fosters social interaction. At the dining table, in the living room, in a moody restaurant. Shooting at ISO 3200 opens all kinds of possibilities.

I shoot with a DSLR, currently a Nikon D600, use single point autofocus, and I take lots of shots. Focus errors and subject movement kill a lot of images.
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Old 11-06-2013   #34
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if you prefer DSLR, dont need high MP count. D700.

x100s is a popular APSC cam, handle low light decently.
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Old 11-06-2013   #35
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Simon-I can speak only to my x100 as excellent for low light, silent and my choice for a digital version of film when I am not using my M6. I also prefer the sensor in the x100 vs. the Xtrans in the 100s to my eye and the most recent Firmware 2.0 has made the biggest difference in manual focusing, AF has always been some what acceptable for me and the 2.0 has helped with AF a tad bit more…… good luck-Daniel.
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Old 11-06-2013   #36
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I am using a D600 to cover what M9 can't do, but finding a good f-mount lens that is as good as a modern Leica asph lens is tough.
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Old 11-06-2013   #37
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I am using a D600 to cover what M9 can't do, but finding a good f-mount lens that is as good as a modern Leica asph lens is tough.
"As Good($)" enough to trade in for a car.... not as easily as Leica..... no.
"As Good" enough to get the image at wide open in low light.... Yes, Nikon has that good.
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Old 11-07-2013   #38
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for social situations, i think the panasonic gm1 with the upcoming leica 15/1.7 would be completely appropriate.
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Old 11-07-2013   #39
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Old 11-07-2013   #40
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You can push the Leica M9 two stops in LR shooting at ISO640. So I too use the 35 Lux at a half stop above f/1.4 as I have the pre-ASPH version so keep from getting lens flare. So far I'm happy with those results. See no need to have another kit.
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