I was going through Flickr looking at photos taken with a Canon SL1 and came across a cityscape photo taken at night with a very dark sky. The photo is beautiful. Using the kit lens, the settings were:

  1. f 5.6
  2. 47 mm
  3. 15 sec.
  4. ISO 160

Here is a link to the photo


My question is: Using a Canon G16, can I get close to the same quality of photo by using settings of:

  1. f 1.8

  2. ISO 200 to 400

  3. Timer set at 1 to 5 sec.

    I am just guessing at these settings. Is there a formula to calculate different settings between different sensor sizes

Also, since the sensor in the Canon G16 is quite a bit smaller, is it quite possible I can never get close to the same quality of photo as the Canon SL1 can, no matter what settings I use.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe you should be more specific about what you want to achieve. My understanding was that you were mostly concerned about maximizing image quality (sharpness and low noise), hence my answer. It seems mattdm took your question in a more literal sense, and he assumes you are also (mostly?) concerned about the precise amount on smoothness in the water. Your question is not very clear in this respect. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 17:44
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ One of the most essential components in shooting this type of photos is a tripod. A tripod was almost certainly used. Just thought i would mention it.You will never be able to handhold your camera and get this type of an image. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 2:53

2 Answers 2


There is a formula, it's called the exposure equation. However, I doubt it will be helpful.

In general, you should not try to replicate someone else's settings unless you have exactly the same lighting conditions. I would suggest you simply trust your meter, at least as a starting point. If the exposure as per the meter is not good, then you can apply a manual correction from this basis.

As for getting very clean night shots, I suggest the following:

  • tripod and self timer
  • base ISO
  • diaphragm closed by one or two stops from its full aperture
  • exposure time as long as needed for a proper exposure

So, it depends on what you're trying to replicate, here. The G16 is a small-sensor camera, but a fairly nice one, and you can get good results in good conditions, especially at "web sizes" as shown on photo-sharing sites.

One thing I want to note to start is that the perfectly straight vertical lines strongly suggest that this photo was shot in RAW and had perspective correction applied (an easy thing to do in, e.g. Darktable (see video tutorial)). (In fact, the image tags include "Lightroom", which doesn't prove that the correction module was used, but is strong confirming evidence.)

If you look at a Flickr search for "skyline" photos taken with the G16, you can see some pretty nice examples, including similar night shots; the difference between the average example there and your example isn't the camera — it's the care taken in setting up the shot and some quick work in post-production.

So, on to camera settings. In terms of exposure, the sensor size does not matter. This is because sensor size is just like cropping out the middle of an image, and, obviously, if you take a photo and cut it in half, it doesn't suddenly get darker or brighter. So, from that point of view, the way to replicate f/5.6, 15 seconds, ISO 160 is — f/5.6, 15 seconds, ISO 160.

But the sensor size does have some effect.


When you're comparing depth of field, the ratio between the sensor sizes can be used to get a rough equivalency. That is, the SL1's 26.8mm sensor diagonal divided by the G16's 9.4 gives a ratio of about 2.8:1, so, you will find that you get the same depth of field on your G12 at f/2 as the SL1 gives at f/5.6. If matching DoF was your primary concern, you could take that three stop difference in aperture and decrease the shutter speed by three stops (that is, 2³, or 8× — see shutter speed stops formula/math) to about 1.9 seconds.

But, before you do that: this is really only important if you're trying to match background blur. For landscape/cityscape/skyline photos, generally what you want is more depth of field, so I'd guess it doesn't matter if you actually use a smaller aperture equivalent — it's in your favor, in fact. So, I'd experiment with the sweet spot for your lens — possibly you get the best results wide open, or just stopped down a bit. (But, actually, wait and see below on shutter speed!)


Second, the issue of ISO. There isn't an equivalency here really, but let's go back to the cut-in-half picture. The exposure doesn't change, but it is true (hopefully obviously) that each half has half the total light. As a rule of thumb, that roughly means that every doubling in sensor size gives a noise advantage of halving ISO. The SL1's APS-C sized sensor is about 8× larger by area than the G16's, which means when you get to pixel-peeping, the SL1's noise performance at ISO 8000 might be about what you get at ISO 1000. But, on the other hand, sensor technology is amazing these days. Make sure you're not under exposing, and especially when not analyzing with a magnifying glass, and results will be fine. Generally, you should strive to keep this as low as you can, while getting in enough light.

Shutter Speed

Finally, the shutter speed. In terms of effect on the photo, this might be the most important, and also, the one that doesn't change with sensor size. Note the smoothness of the water — a longer exposure will make that even more silky, and a shorter exposure will make individual ripples and waves more apparent. So if you want to match the original, you have to keep the shutter speed the same.

Putting it all together

Presumably the light in your scene won't be exactly the same as the above. So, you'll need to watch your camera's meter, histogram, and possibly take some test shots. Once you work that out, though:

  1. Set the shutter to 15 seconds. Use a tripod, because even with image stabilization you can't hand-hold for that long and get a very sharp result.
  2. Let the aperture and ISO fall wherever they want to to match the exposure, possibly experimenting with keeping them constrained to values most optimal for your camera.
  3. Shoot in RAW and apply distortion correction after.
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    \$\begingroup\$ The EXIF information of the shot shows odd X/Y Resolutions (and yields 33MP)--looks like this might also be a stitched panorama. \$\endgroup\$
    – inkista
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 21:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @inkista I don't think so; it's just 16:9 and probably cropped. I think you're looking at the "Focal Plane X/Y Resolution" data in the EXIF, which is actually photoreceptors per inch on the sensor. Convert to millimeters multiply by the 22.3×14.9 sensor size and you'll get (approximately) the normal largest image size of 5184×3456. In other words, those values are not relevant here. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 16:15

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