Creating beautiful scenes at night can be difficult and sometimes frustrating if you don’t have the experience needed to master your camera settings.
Knowing the correct focus settings, shutter speed, aperture and ISO does take the time to master, so hopefully this article provides you some clear insight into photographing at night or in low light.
Fujifilm X-Pro2 with XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR – ISO 320 – 1/55 second at F2.8
To start with you need to understand what type of camera you are using because all cameras perform differently when capturing the same scene. For instance, is the camera a heavy digital SLR, premium compact camera or lightweight rangefinder?
Based on what type of camera you are using many of the same settings apply, however, there will be variances in shooting technique due to the way the camera performs. An example of this can be found between a digital SLR and a rangefinder like the new Fujifilm X-Pro2.
Fujifilm X-Pro2 with XF10-24mmF4 R OIS – ISO 3200 – 1/210 second at F4
At the Vivid Festival in Sydney, Australia the light instalments attract large crowds and there are plenty of opportunities to photograph in low light. The problem is when there is little light falling on a subject, focusing can become a struggle. This wasn’t the case for the new X-Pro2 rangefinder though. Using one of the advanced features on the X-Pro2 it was easy to overcome the out of focus hurdles that many Digital SLR might have struggled with.
Fujifilm X-Pro2 with XF56mmF1.2 R APD – ISO 320 – 1/250 second at F1.2
Photograph a low light scene from the festival with a shallow depth of field.
To achieve the shallow depth of field in low light shown in this photo above there were a few settings that needed to be set on the camera. The first was changing the camera to aperture priority and selecting F1.2 as the aperture. This would give a shallow depth of field. The second step was to select manual focus on the front of the X-Pro2.
Now that manual focus was selected the attention turned to the rear of the camera to change the manual focus mode. To select the correct mode simply hold down the rear dial and ensure ‘Focus Peak Highlight’ is selected. If you don’t see this mode when you first hold down the rear dial, continue the process to cycle through the other modes until Focus Peak Highlight appears.
Next, select your desired ISO setting based on the amount of light in the scene. Don’t be afraid to use high ISO likes ISO 2000 through to ISO 5000 or even higher as Fujifilm cameras are famous for their low noise at high ISO’s when photographing in low light scenes.
At this stage make sure you are using the electronic viewfinder on the X-Pro2 as this will provide the huge advantage of being able to see in low light. If you are looking through the viewfinder found on a larger Digital SLR you won’t be able to see in the same lighting conditions because the optical viewfinder will not be able to gather enough light. This is one of the biggest advantages of low light photography on a mirrorless camera like the X-Pro2 over a Digital SLR.
The only way around this on a Digital SLR is to utilise the rear LCD screen as the ‘viewscreen’. This shooting setup almost always leads to a higher chance of capturing an out of focus image or a blurry photo due to the camera missing focus and not being as supported next to the photographer’s’ eye like a rangefinder camera would. Plus, you are bound to get a sore back from holding a heavy camera away from your body all the time!
Finally, while looking through the electronic viewfinder adjust the smooth focus ring on the lens and you will be able to see areas within your frame ‘peaking’ (you can’t do this on a Digital SLR). What is peaking?
It means the camera will automatically add a thin white and black line around every object, and at the sharpest point-of-focus, these lines will suddenly ‘peak’. This peaking area equates to the area of sharpest focus in the frame. Therefore, if you nail the peaking on your subject, you will nail your focus every time!
As shown in the video below, you can also change the colour and contrast of the focus peaking lines to see them more clearly. The viewfinder shown in the video is from the Fujifilm X-T1.
Remember, photographing in low light can be a challenge and we encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try a new setting. Practice the new setting when there is plenty of light and then master it before you attempt a low light scene. You should know where all your settings are without having to look at your camera. Master this and you will go far.
6 thoughts on “The Number One Focus Tip When Using a Rangefinder in Low Light”
Have bookmarked this article to check later if my xPro1 and x100s have these focus peak things.
X100S has it. I don’t have an X-Pro1 to check, I guess it has focus peak, even the cheaper X-M1 has it.
Thanks for info.
I understand you like your Fuji. The name of the blog says it all. But … a Fuji X-series camera like the X-T1 with attached lens is about the same weight as my Nikon D5100 with a similar lens attached.
Only not. A APS-C camera with a 35/1.4 is about a standard a kit as you can ask for. It’s the 35mm-equivalent nifty-fifty.
The XT-1 with the 35/1.4 weights around 625g, while the 5100 with the DX35/1.8 (a slower lens) is 760g. That’s about 20% more. Nikon doesn’t have a consumer-level 35/1.4 with autofocus, and the pro-one is, by itself, about as heavy as the whole Fuji kit, though it is designed for FX cameras.
If we go for a 35/2 (both have them), the ratio becomes a bit more skewed in favor of Fuji, and you end up with a weather-sealed camera.
This is all ignoring that the X-T1 and D5100 ain’t really comparable in anything other than megapixels.
I understand your need for tribalism. Fuji vs Nikon vs Canon. It’s all understandable. Some people can’t stand by their own decision without a tribe to make them feel like they made the right decision. It’s all very stupid. I’m not here for that.
Notice my issue was the statement about weight. Notice how you made it about lens quality and weather sealing. I understand. You felt like your tribe was being attacked and you needed to defend it.
A 35mm lens is not the standard kit lens. Check B&H Photo, Adorama, Amazon etc. Kit lenses are typically zoom lenses. For the Fuji, it’s the 18-55mm. For Nikon, it’s the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. Wait? Those are the same focal length. The Fuji with kit lens weighs 750g. The Nikon D5300 (the replacement for the D5100) with kit lens weighs 675g. Wait? What happened to that bulky DSLR?
I hate this stupidity of needing to make things seem better than they are. It’s f**king camera. Not a vindication of your brilliance.
I sincerely doubt that the X-T1 is a success because it’s 120g lighter than a Nikon body that cost half as much. I have rented and used both the X-E1 and X-T1 and had the opportunity to compare to my D5100. I have budgeted for a new camera body this year. And for the first time in 10 years, it won’t’ be a Nikon. I like the X-T1 but since the X-T2 is out I’ll most likely get that body. But my reasons have nothing to do with saving 120g of body weight. It’s because I have instant access to the camera controls — ISO, aperture etc. — without entering a menu system. That’s MY sole reason for wanting one.
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