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!
As long as you’re shooting Canon, the (free) CHDK enhancement has provided 64 second exposure and RAW / DNG for almost a decade, even for the lowest priced Canon p&s models. Recent versions make it simple to install and the user interface is increasingly user-friendly. The G5x is a recent model and doesn’t have a finished version yet.)
Love the post the images are awesome. I totally agree that pro-level gear is not really needed. I recently bought the LG G4 phone after seeing Nasim’s review of it on this site and i have to say that using the manual mode to drop the ISO and do some long exposures even with a camera phone can get excellent results. Also the ability to shoot raw increases the potential quality from a phone as well something i never thought I’d be able to do.
Keep up the good work and interesting articles!
Thank you Andrew! I’m very glad you got some great results. Best wishes for the New Year :)
Your photo essays are always a joy to read and view.
It’s nice to know that these cameras can produce such evocative and emotional images. And isn’t that the point of photography, after all?
Indeed it is, David! Thank you for the kind words. Best wishes for the New Year. :)
Great article. Working with a borrowed camera is great fun. There should be more of it. I always enjoy the opportunity to use other people’s cameras. The images are wonderful.
Thank you Martin. Yep, I imagine I’ll be asking sis to borrow it again at some point in the future :)
Dear Sharif, merry Xmas and a happy new year to you. Good to see you here again! Thanks for yet another inspiring post full of lovely pics. It’s a shame, couple of years back, I stood in the very same places you did and I came back with snapshots! Your’s are in a league of their own. I always look forward to your posts which fly in the face of obvious and ubiquitous gear related articles that subliminally reinforce the message that better gear somehow leads to better photos! Amazing photos with compacts!! Cheers and keep ’em coming!!
Thank you for the kind words, Raghuram. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post and the images. :)
Absolutely love this post. It shows there’s no need to have the pro level gear 99% of the other articles on this site are about to enjoy this passion. I, like many others here I’d imagine, have a wide range of pro gear we work with but for me that’s what that gear is for, work. There’s always been a naughty little compact which calls out to me to go and play and those times have been without a doubt the most enjoyable.
Thank you Sam. When you enjoy something I guess you can make anything work for you :)