Most compact camera users may fear that you can only achieve long exposure images at night with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. But an advanced compact camera with manual controls can achieve some pretty decent results, as I found using the Canon G5X.
Yes, it’s my sister’s camera but she had just returned from the Christmas markets in Paris and Stuttgart and I ‘borrowed’ it to test its long exposure capabilities. I had intended to photograph the Christmas lights in London but they didn’t impress me any more than previous years so I stuck to shooting familiar scenes around the South Bank and Trafalgar Square.
I mounted the camera onto a small but sturdy Velbon tripod that I had knocking around (not sure why – never used it before). The articulated screen meant I could fold it out and look down at the result rather than, for some exposures, crouching awkwardly behind the camera.
I shot either in Manual Mode or Shutter Speed Priority, using a shutter speed of between 15 and 30 seconds. The G5X’s maximum shutter speed is 30 seconds. There is also a bulb option but that requires keeping the shutter depressed with your finger for the requisite time or using a remote. The former didn’t appeal to me and the latter didn’t interest me. And for my purposes I didn’t need more than 30 seconds.
All the long exposures were shot RAW at ISO 125 as I wanted to keep noise to a minimum. Aperture values depended on the shutter speed; I adjusted them to keep a neutral or slightly over-exposed image. The minimum aperture available was F/11, which may not be such a bad thing as I imagine diffraction may play a part sooner with a smaller sensor. The camera’s built in ND-filter came in handy for slowing down the shutter speed. Unfortunately, my preferred dusk blue light evaporated pretty quickly.
As for the images themselves, these have been processed in Lightroom and reduced in size for display here. Yes, there are some blown highlights, but when you expose a light source for 15 seconds or more it tends to be blown out. I tend to view the image as a whole, myself, rather than picking out individual imperfections. I wanted to achieve stillness to the water to get my reflections, and also a blur to the spinning London Eye. I personally like the lights a little bright (life in the big city); perhaps they have a touch of Thomas Kincaid if not quite as saccharine.
Anyway, I was fairly impressed by the results. Yes, at the pixel level the images won’t beat those from a DSLR, but good luck trying to get to me to worry about pixels. This post wasn’t so much a technical tutorial but hopefully some reassurance to those of you that want to use an advanced compact camera to shoot long exposures at night. Well, now that I’ve shot these images I have to sneak the G5X back to my sister’s place.
Hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year, and remember that a great way to work off that seasonal excess is to go out and shoot!