Ah yes - the indoor party shot. It's a tough one isn't it? Especially if you don't want to go around flashing in every face you see. So what can you do? Ok, first off - some assumptions here. I'm assuming low light (I'm assuming you don't have studio lighting). I'm assuming you don't want to use the flash but I will cover some tips on using flash at the end of this blog. Here's what to do:
Step One: Set the ISO high
First off set the ISO as high as you dare, or use the AutoISO function. On the APS-C mirrorless cameras that I like to use you can go up to ISO 6400 without much 'noise' (mottling) affecting the image. ISO6400 helps a lot.
Step Two: Select a 'fast' lens
Secondly choose a 'fast' lens - and pick the right one to attach. As we described in Tip#1 the aperture affects the amount of light that comes in to the lens, so a fast wide open aperture brings in the maximum light - it's great if your lens goes really fast like F1.2 or F1.4 but even F2.8 is pretty good. Too bad if you only brought your zoom with you because it's a rare zoom that opens as fast as the dedicated prime lenses. Speaking of which the new Fujinon F1.2 56mm sounds like the best one to take to a night time party right? Well no, not really - it's a portrait style lens and since you are going to be indoors you will find you are not able to focus close enough for much of the action. So, what about the F2.8 27mm pancake lens then? Yep - quite possibly. A good little all rounder pancake is that lens. Quite a lovely job. But what about the F1.4 35mm lens? Wouldn't that be ideal? Ahhh - sweet! But wait, not so fast - it IS a lovely lens - but it has one big flaw for indoor party shots. Unfortunately it is SLOW at focusing in dim light (Fuji are planning a new release of this lens next year which I guess will be fast at focusing).
So basically, you need to decide on which compromises you can live with, at least with the current Fujinon current lens catalog. I tend to go for the sweet little pancake lens - it is only F2.8 but that's still faster than any of the zoom lenses and it focuses quite quickly, plus being a pancake style it's not in people's faces. And the image view is pretty much what you eye sees without distortion effects of wide angle. So it's my indoor lens of choice.
Step Three: pick the shutter speed to be reasonably high - have it faster than 1/50 sec
Now if you are at ISO6400 and have a fast lens attached and you are in 'P' mode then the camera will open the aperture as wide as it can and you will be able to get reasonable shots in quite low light at shutter speeds that eliminate or at least reduce hand-shake or the movement of people. The following shot was taken at ISO6400 at F2.8 with the pancake lens and shutter speed of 1/220 and it managed to take a photo similar to what you might take in a party in very low interior light.
If you shoot with a zoom lens attached then you might well get the additional benefit of OIS that will enable you to take a shot down to, say, 1/10 of a second without hand shake affecting the image. But there are very few people that stay still enough for that to be useful at such a low speed - so save that lens for the birthday or wedding cake shot perhaps!
What about the flash?
Yes, the flash will help but there is a lot to discuss on using the flash at parties - and I've made most of the mistakes so I hope I can help you with this. Here we go.
First off let's just get the basics right. Flash is very white, bright, FAST light. So fast that you can effectively freeze or stop motion with this light. But this will be of little effect if you are shooting with a fairly slow shutter speed as well as using the flash because the movement of people can still be blurred in the image from the background light in the time it takes the shutter to open and shut - despite the flash being fast. You must also select a high enough shutter speed to avoid the background blur of movement but not so high that the flash will actually catch your shutter mirror moving across the image. Some cameras automatically match the shutter speed to what is needed by the flash but since some do not, here are some tips. So without getting technical this means no higher than 1/180 second for the Fuji X-A1/M1 and X-PRO1 and X-E1 cameras. Yes, all you smarty pants X100 owners can smile - your shutter is very different and you can go way faster. But let's just agree on this blog that a speed of 1/125 (which is what can be set easily on all these cameras) will avoid most background movement AND avoid any hassles with the flash catching the shutter curtain as it moves. So it's a nice safe speed to set (you might get away with 1/250 Sec but at this speed or faster you will sometimes see a black edge cutting off your image where you have caught the curtain itself moving across). On the little X-M1/A1 cameras you select the desired speed by turning the dial around to 'S' shutter mode and choosing the speed of 1/125 by turning the knurled knob. On the X-E1 or X-Pro1 you just turn the shutter speed dial which I just love - this is so great.
Next, we need to tell the flash to shoot according to the requirements of the scene. Now whole books can be written on this topic, but I can recommend the second curtain mode which the Fuji cameras support. What this means is that the camera uses the ambient light for most of the shutter 'click' but just before the shot ends, it calculates how much more light is still required and dials that into the flash and bang - pushes that light out. It's incredible really. The camera does all this so fast - and what it means is that you can take shots that don't have motion blur, that in fact will have some nice ambient light in them and will still be filled in a bit more with the flash. Here's the little Buddha with this mode on:
Of course this image shows some negative aspects of flash - harsh shadows being one (look behind the arms). Anyway without a lot of effort this is what flash gives - additional light, but it comes at a cost. I try and avoid it, but I still have lots to learn and no doubt some kind soul will give me some tips to help me with this quite difficult field.