Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Photog 101

Supplies:  Camera, camera manual

You can get good pictures with any camera.  Of course it's easier to get good pictures with a good camera, but I have seen beautiful photos from a point and shoot, and very poor ones from a high end DSLR.  The biggest key is to know how your camera works.  Most people have never even opened their manual.  BIG MISTAKE!!!  You can not expect to get the most out of your camera be it small or big if you don't know how it works and what every one of those icons means.  Photography can be overwhelming, but if you start by learning the basics about your camera, it will be much easier to understand.

How does a camera work?
Inside that magical little box of yours is an intricate, complex puzzle that's surprisingly easy to understand once you learn.  Photo means light in greek- and that's really all our pictures are= a replica of light.  In the olden days, when you pushed down the button, your camera shutter (the little doors on front) snapped open for a split second and exposed chemically treated material (film) to light.  The amount and wavelengths that reached the film determined how the chemicals reacted, creating a replica of the light it was exposed to.  Your digital camera works similarly.  When the shutters on your lens open, they expose a sensor to those same wavelengths the film used to get.  The sensor duplicates the light into a series of tiny dots called pixels.  Millions of these create the picture that almost instantaneously pops up on your LCD.  Brilliant!

What are the differences between cameras?
Your average camera is a point and shoot.  These are the compact cameras most people own.  They run from under $100 to around $400.  Most allow only minimal setting changes and are perfect for people who don't want a complicated, bulky machine.  Different brands and models heavily vary in their quality and options.  What options does yours have?  READ YOUR MANUAL.

With heavy price drops and more introductory models made in the last decade, you will now see a lot of people running around with DSLR cameras.  This means digital single-lens reflect camera.  If that just flew over your head, a very quick explanation is this:  when you look in the viewfinder of a point and shoot camera, you are looking through glass, and the lens is actually right below.  An SLR uses mirrors like a periscope so that what you see in your viewfinder is exactly what is seen through the lens.  While that's nice, the real pull to SLRs is that they have interchangeable lenses, and what attracted me the most, faster shutter speeds and a considerably higher quality sensor.  Higher quality sensor= higher quality raw image.  But for the cons, they are big, bulky, expensive and complicated if you choose to leave auto mode.  Do you own an SLR and struggle with what all those settings on the dial mean? (Hint:  READ YOUR MANUAL)

What should I look for in a new camera?
If you want to upgrade your camera, you need to know a few things to consider.  The budget nazi in me says price first and foremost, but since this is a photography post, let's pretend money isn't an issue.  
1.  Consider your needs.  Do you rarely use your camera?  Does the thought of changing settings make you shudder?  Or are you already very comfortable with camera settings and wanting more?  Do you need something small or is size not an issue?  What do you photograph the most?  What kind of lighting do you normal shoot in?  The need for shooting in low lighting, or faster shutter speeds for sports or squirmy children might lead you to a DSLR.  But if if has to fit in your pocket and you refuse to mess with any buttons other than the shutter, then don't buy one just because your friends all did.

2.  Please, please, please with a cherry on top don't think that higher mega pixels = better pictures because I might just have to come through the computer and slap some sense into you.  The sensor in your camera is what is most important.  As the race continues to get the highest mega pixels possible in a pocket sized camera, the sensor quality goes by the wayside.  The only thing a cheap 20 mega pixel camera is going to do is allow you to blow your picture up poster size . . . and the picture quality will be so poor it will look like you blew up a picture taken by your cell phone.  My last point and shoot was so poor, that its 7.1mp looked considerably worse than my mom's 3.1mp at any size.  Sensor quality is everything, got it?  You can check this by reading reviews with caution, looking up technical aspects of the camera, and by bringing a compatible SD card so you can take images shot in the store home to take a closer look.  A good store will allow you to move around.  The Best Buy associate let me take the camera in a back room so I could test the flash and quality of a low light pictures.

3.  One that most people miss when considering a new camera is battery life.  If your camera sucks batteries dry, you will want to invest in rechargables and a charger. Or that may deter your from buying that particular model (I use my camera so often, I would stay far, far away from battery drainers).  

There's so much more I could cover, but it will all have to wait for a later post. (stay tuned for manual settings, accessories, and post editing).  Until then, here's your homework:

A.  Read your manual.  I'm not kidding.  Right now!  (I really can't help you anymore until you do)
B.  Don't just be a spectator in your learning, have your camera handy as you read to look, touch, and try out.

1 comment:

Deanna said...

love it! Thanks for the tips. And I completely agree...reading the manual is KEY!!! It's helped me SO MUCH to better understand what is going on in that fun little machine. :)