Shooting Video in Bars, Nightclubs & Other Dark Crevices

By Andrew J. Allsbury

Owner & Creative Director (CreativeWave, Idaho)


A common question from bar and nightclub owners is, “how do we get such high quality footage in their dimly lit facilities”? The answer is fairly simple and revolves primarily around the camera’s sensor size, sensitivity and lens speed.


Sensor Size

The most common professional video cameras utilize sensor chips between 1/4 – 2/3 in size. These chips while ideal for most ENG / news gathering uses, are NOT ideal for low light situations. Basically, the bigger the sensor, the more light it can take in. When hiring a videographer for a low light business/event, be sure that they have cameras available that utilize a 4/3, S35 for FF35 sensor. Ideal cameras would be the Panasonic AF100, Sony F3/FS100, Red One/Epic, Canon 5D Mark II, etc.

ISO/GAIN Sensitivity

Choosing a camera with higher baseline sensitivity is also very important. Otherwise things could look bright, but noisy/grainy. Ideally you want a camera that is rated at 400+ native ISO. It’s important to note that shooting above double the native ISO is usually not acceptable in professional work, unless it’s an emergency situation.


Lens Speed

Without fast lenses you will not be able to achieve good low light performance. A fast lens is generally classified as a lens capable of shooting at an aperture of f2.8 or below, although in extreme low light situations, many people will want to be in the f1.8-f0.95 range. Yes, these lenses are expensive, but believe me they will make all the difference in the world.


Suggested Camera Packages For Low-Light:

(Ridiculous) Red Epic Utilizing Zeiss SuperSpeed 50mm f1.2 Lens (Approx. $70,000 Retail)

(Expensive) Sony F3 Utilizing Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f0.95 Lens (Approx. $30,000 Retail)

(Reasonable) Panasonic AF100 Utilizing Voightlander 25mm f0.95 Lens (Approx. $10,000 Retail)

(Cheap) 5D Mark II Utilizing Canon 50mm 1.2L Lens (Approx. $5,000 Retail)

*Price does not necessarily mean better or worse, all of these packages have pros/cons. This is just meant to give you an idea of what is potentially out there.