We are looking to upgrade an old (ancient? 2006 Nikon D80) camera that is used for taking pictures at a conference (mostly for website). It is not mission critical photography, so value for money is very important. Which means I need to know what parameters to prioritize the selection on.

My initial thinking is that with conferences, high-ISO tolerance might be the most important thing for available-light shooting. Often, it is not possible to get close enough to the panel to use flash and even when it is, too many flashes will annoy people.

The second parameter, I guess, would be high enough megapixel count that would allow to take pictures from further away and then crop them after the fact for better composition.

Tripod and/or long composition set-up is not really an option.

It would also be good if the camera could take videos in a pinch. In that case, tripod could be fine. Portability is fairly important as conferences happen all over the world and overly heavy configuration could be a transportation/storage issue.

So, given this requirements, can I just pick up any recent camera and lens (e.g. anything is much better than D80) or is there specific comparison approach I should take?

The lens we have is AF-S Nikkor DX 18-200 1:3.5-5.6 G ED VR. Or the same bunch of symbols in other order :-). Basically a good zoom lens with image stabilization and reasonable aperture values.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered buying a faster lens for the D80? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2012 at 22:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ What lens(es) do you have for the D80? \$\endgroup\$
    – Edd
    Aug 3, 2012 at 8:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I added lens info in the original question. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3, 2012 at 15:54

3 Answers 3


The main is issue is light as you seem to understand. There are two ways to get around it:

  • High ISO which all modern DSLRs do. Most cropped-sensor models perform very closely, so the real question is if you can afford to go full-frame which is more expensive and more heavy. Otherwise among cropped-sensor DSLRs, the difference in high-ISO between an entry-level and advanced model is actually quite small.
  • Bright apertures is a property of the lens. This is where things get costly quickly. Since people do not tend to move much in conferences, you can go with a set of prime lenses with F/2 or larger maximum apertures. Something like a 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 100mm for APS-C DSLR. The weights adds up obviously, so the other option which lets you react quickly is a 24-70mm F/2.8 or 17-55mm F/2.8 if you need wider field of view. These work really well in low light.

Ideally you should get both. Bright lenses have the advantage of focusing faster too because they let more light in. You can go one stop down with a 24-120mm F/4 or similar. It has more range and does not dim as much as most bundled lenses which go down to F/5.6 at the long end.

So the answer is that any DSLR can do and leave a good budget for your lens. If you pay more for the camera you will generally get better autofocus speed but it is probably not needed in a conference environment when you can predict where people will be easily.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If I use RAW format, does that help with light? My understanding is that RAW captures more light then makes it into JPEG. E.g. Could I underexpose the shot and then add exposure in Lightroom to compensate for slower lens? I would love to get away with single zoom lens and not have to switch. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2012 at 17:49
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Not exactly but it can help if your shots get underexposed because RAW has more details to work with, particularly in the lower stops. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Aug 2, 2012 at 17:59
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd be tempted to grab faster glass as well, but mostly as a photographer convenience (low DoF/big bokeh would be an occasional thing at your average conference, since the environment is important, and having 3-4 more stops of usable ISO for web/newsletter shooting is huge). Looking through an f/5.6-6.3 lens and an APS-C screen indoors—the longer end of kit zooms—even under "bright" lighting, requires a lot of adjustment time (especially as the photographer gets older) and may lead to missing the shot too often. Having a viewfinder image 4-5 times as bright helps an awful lot. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Aug 2, 2012 at 23:17

If staying with Nikon the 16.2 mp D5100 does very well on high ISO for an APSC camera.
See DXOMark ISO scores here
DPReview review Up to 1080p30 video

The new rather cheaper 24 mp D3200 scores almost the same. D3200 DPReview review Up to 1080p30 video.

Existing lenses without in-lens focus motors will only manually focus with either D5100 or D3200

Fast lenses are good for low light BUT depth of field is limited at large apertures and a group photo with a 3D component may be less sharp at the extremes if using eg f/1.8 aperture. So good high ISO performance is desirable.

If you can do the video separately, the camera that you will never regret buying is a D700 (used or new). Review. The D700 is a significant step up from the APSC cameras but is "only" 12 mp. Given a zoom of modest range that is not a major problem.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This may just be how I read your answer, but the D5100 also has no in-body AF motor. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2012 at 18:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ It should also be noted that Nikon is not the only brand that offers high ISO capabilities. Canon, Sony, etc. also offer cameras with high ISO. Unlike lower ISO's, higher ISO's differ very little between brands as noise due to the random nature of light dominates electronic noise. You might experience as much as a 1/3rd stop difference in low-light sensitivity and noise at high ISO's, but don't assume that only Nikon is capable of high ISO performance. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Aug 2, 2012 at 19:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ All the Nikon references are probably because I mentioned having one currently (and therefore keeping the lens). But it is a good reminder in general. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2012 at 20:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanWolfgang - thanks - missed the D5100 AF motors lack. Not a Nikon user (yet). \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3, 2012 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not a 'Nikon shill' :-) - My "If staying with Nikon" was meant to apply if he was staying with Nikon. That said, giving Nikon's best only 1/3rd stop advantage over the best of the comparable opposition in the class liable to be of interest does seem to be rather generous. [I use neither Nikon or Canon at present.] \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3, 2012 at 5:47

As has been pointed out, high ISO is most important. It is often hard to believe how dark interiors are for cameras.

Depending on how professional the setup should be, you might want to have two offside flashes on stands. If you do use flash, make sure the flash is either bounced (off the ceiling or an umbrella) or sent through a diffuser to take away the harshness of the light.

My first thought was full frame... however a smaller sensor a la APS-C is beneficial for a reduced depth of field effect at the same aperture. I.e. a 50mm f1.8 lens will seem to have a greater depth of field on a crop sensor when compare to full frame.

I would personally not really worry that much about resolution at the start. Anything above 10MP should be fine unless you need to really severely crop in which case a better lens would be a more worthwhile investment. I think partially the best answer is "just try". Arrange a meal with some colleagues and try shooting them under realistic conditions to get an idea of local conditions.

A word on Video: If you want to record video, a decent microphone is a must have. I would suggest the Roede Videomic Stereo for meetings as it allows you to capture all noise - i.e. all talking, but I suggest you research it in detail if you decide to get a microphone.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think I will have ability to setup the offside flashes (especially if there are many rooms), but the microphone hint is very appreciated. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5, 2012 at 4:46

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