is intended to help photographers who are 'starting out' and would
like to purchase an advanced amateur
digital camera. Hopefully, it will evoke 'thought and discussion' whereby it can
be used by the reader to further explore and expand it's contents on
'Internet Discussion Groups' and through reading books pertaining to
I have tried
many times to break down the thinking and to 'create a discipline' in
deciding the correct camera to purchase - the best formula that I have created
is as follows:-
I have to decide
on the 'final' print size that I want to achieve (or digital
I select the size of sensor +
sensor pixels that will deliver that final print size or digital
display with image quality versus image noise within the print size
or digital display at the heart of my decision.
My understanding of 'noise' in digital images is very important,
virtually every modern digital camera will display 'noise' the
equivalent to 'grain' on a film image at higher ISO rated settings,
especially on low light and night images.
Most importantly, I recognise
that when using 'post processing' software it is normal to 'perhaps'
have to apply noise reduction to a HIGH ISO rated image and balance
it with the optimum image quality in ratio to the final viewing
size, especially if it is a large print or digital display. Some
cameras will automatically apply noise reduction in the camera as
the image is captured and this level of noise reduction can be
adjusted in the camera menu system. A LARGE print on a wall or even
on a 50" digital display may display noise when my nose is close up
to it but the noise disappears as I stand back to view the
image...........it is all relative!
I select the sensor size in a
camera which could be a large sensor on a Medium Format camera,
becoming smaller with a 35mm Full Frame to a APS-H crop or APS-C crop
sensor or even smaller to a micro 4/3rds and then finally a very
small compact camera sensor. Each will deliver the image quality
and it's style
versus image noise in the 'ISO Range' that I intend to use. This
does require special consideration, especially if I DO NOT WANT to
use timed/tripod shots in low light and dark conditions. Invariably
the greater the size of the sensor in the camera that I select, the
less 'noise' and greater image quality at higher ISO ratings.
I always give image style careful consideration as a 35mm 'Full
Frame' digital sensor camera will offer at a given aperture a different 'depth of field'
and 'out of focus control' than say a crop sensor DSLR or a micro
4/3rds 2x crop sensor camera. For example a 24mm lens on a 1.6x crop
sensor will give me a reasonably wide 38mm 'field of view' but the
lens is still a 24mm lens which struggles even at f1.4 to provide me
with enough 'out of focus' background at a reasonable distance to
make a subject stand out enough from the background. A 35mm lens
would be more suitable but on a 1.6x crop sensor the actual 'field
of view' is narrower and is now 56mm, which does not suit me. The
ideal solution would be to use a '35mm full frame' sensor camera
where a 35mm lens is actually a 35mm field of view.
I always consider that I may wish to
'crop images in post processing' and this does impact on the above choices as
then have to base my considerations on 'perhaps' a larger sensor
I have to decide what 'frame speed' the
digital camera will require to capture images within my spectrum
of photography, especially for fast sport and birds in flight photography
which all require fast frame rate capability. The type of lens is
also a major consideration for fast moving subjects (see below)!
The final choice of lenses are
all important and should match, in image quality at a given focal
length, the capability of the digital camera sensor.
The choice of camera and lens combination is
always driven by a budget which rules the
aspirations! Ideally the camera follows the
lens, within reason. It is the lens focal
range and aperture coupled with the
preferred type of photography that
dictates the choice. Prime or Zoom lenses which are used
include those with apertures which are wide
f.95, f1.1, f1.4, f2, f2.8, and these are
the 'desired choices' for fast speed,
tighter depth of
field control and the ability to isolate a
subject as well as working in low light
conditions. As you move to 'narrower'
aperture setting lenses like f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16, f22 and f32
which let in less light, the speed lessens and the depth of field
increases whereby it is harder to isolate subjects. However some f4,
200mm, 300mm, 400mm, 500mm and 600mm telephoto lenses can isolate
backgrounds, even up to an f8 aperture.
I now give careful consideration as to the number of digital cameras, lenses and their overall weight for carrying on trips. Very often many of these items (especially lenses
and bags) overlap each other and end up lying in a cupboard.
The cost becomes the 'overriding' deciding
factor that determines the final quality and capability of my
Once I have a reasonable
idea of what image capturing 'technical capabilities' I am seeking in
a camera, I then have to check out the reviews which can be a little
daunting...............how do you break-in to cut through all the jargon
and 'grasp' a basic understanding of what the camera offers.
When you look at a camera for the first time it is like looking at a map of a city
whilst travelling for the first time. It makes no sense and you try to
pinpoint the major attractions, plan a place to stay within them and
then explore further out, once you are established. Of course a seasoned
traveler will accomplish it much better as they know exactly what they
are looking for from existing experience!
* Automatic Shot Setting
Control (camera sets up the shot when you press
the shutter button)
Camera & Software
Each year, camera manufacturers further the development in digital
camera technology. Cameras now have pre-sets which deliberately 'blur'
backgrounds to a greater degree than the actual lens is capable of. Some
cameras now have 'touch screens' which duplicate a great number of the
controls I have described below as well as the auto correction of lens
distortions and flaws in image capture. Some cameras and the post
processing software are now BOTH capable of opening up the dynamic range
in images and to even 'auto correct' noise versus image quality. It can
only become better as time passes.
I am 'old school' from the days of manual cameras so although my choices
of manual controls are sound enough, please remember that 'touch screen'
technology will also work the camera controls from a 21st century
Every DSLR or
Mirrorless camera should have the following 'PRIMARY' controls to look
for. Once you have established where they are on the camera, either as
fixed wheel, button, menu driven or touch screen, you have to decide if they are
positioned in a suitable position on or within the camera so that they
will suit your use when the camera is in your hand and you are taking a
Exposure Metering Control
The camera will have a control, either a fixed switch or wheel or
perhaps it is menu driven or touch screen? This usually will have selections for
multiple 'across the entire scene' balanced metering, center weighted
metering and spot metering. When starting out, play safe with multiple
metering until you can explore the effects of metering as you move
forward. This control should be easy to use as this is an area that you
may alter frequently, especially if you shoot across the spectrum of
photography (landscapes, portraits, sport, wildlife etc)
Autofocus Setup Control
This control wheel, switch or menu
driven control will set-up the style of focus you wish to use with
autofocus lenses. Invariably the choices are multiple point focus,
centre point 'spot' focus and by ADDITIONALLY using a control on the
camera to select a 'given point' of focus which similar to the other
two, can also be seen on the image scene through the viewfinder.
Multiple point is invariably used for an overall balanced image in focus
and spot focus is invariably used for a precise point of focus. Using a
control to select a point of focus through the viewfinder means that you
can keep the camera on the scene and select which part of the scene to
NOTE: Sports or birds in flight photographers, invariable also use a
control to select either single frame shooting, multiple frame 'burst'
shooting and automatic focus tracking which is ideal for tracking fast
A (Aperture Priority) Control
Control A sets up the camera to allow me to set the
aperture of the lens. I set the aperture (see next section) using either
the lens ring (manual lenses) or via a control on the camera for
autofocus lenses. The camera takes an exposure reading of the scene and automatically sets
the shutter speed for me.
NOTE: Sports or birds in flight photographers, invariable use the
S for shutter priority control whereby they select the shutter speed
of choice and the camera automatically selects an aperture to match the
exposure meter reading.
After I have set A - I can then rotate the control wheel (it may be menu
driven) which allows me
to set the aperture of my choice - for example f1.4 for a wide open lens which
produces a 'narrow focus' depth of field and to f22 for a stopped down
lens (less light is allowed in) which produces a 'larger focus' depth of
field - I tend never to stop down above f11+ as diffraction often sets in and the image
quality deteriorates. For older manual lenses, the aperture setting will
be on the barrel of the lens and is changed by a ring which moves the
aperture point to match a marked f number on the lens (all types of lenses vary in
aperture but could be f.95, f1.1, f1.4, f2, f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16, f22
ISO Button Control
This is similar to the old film days where you select the ISO for the
speed of the film - ISO:100 for slower film to ISO:800+ for faster film.
In the film days the slower the film the less the grain on the image and
the image quality was optimum. The faster the film the more grain and
the image quality was not as good. Faster film tended to be used for low
light shots and faster moving subjects. It is the same today with the
modern digital sensor but grain is now known as 'noise'. The ISO setting
of my choice, using the ISO button and menu, plays an important part as
ISO:100 will match a slower shutter to my choice of aperture whilst
ISO:800 will select a much faster shutter speed. After you have selected
your preferred aperture, lets say f11 and the camera has metered the scene,
you may find that the (always) preferred ISO:100 has to be increased as
the metering is delivering a shutter speed of 1/20sec and that is far to slow for the
lens to be able to capture a shot without camera shake affecting the
image and causing a blur, so you raise the ISO to 400 and the aperture
which is still at f11 now reads a shutter speed of 1/80sec. In the case
of S for shutter priority at ISO:100 you have set the shutter for
1/80secs but the aperture is seeking to settle on f5.6 aperture so you
raise to ISO:400 whereby the shutter remains at 1/80sec and the aperture
is where you want it at f11.
Exposure Compensation Setting
This should be a control wheel, menu driven or a click switch and when
selected it will allow me to
alter the cameras exposure metering by increasing the exposure + or
decreasing - it. When I
have a scene in the LCD/Viewfinder that requires less for darker
exposure or more for brighter exposure,
I can use this to change the metering exposure to suit. Many
photographers will deliberately leave their exposure compensation
setting at -2/3rds of a stop to ensure they can recover any images that
have highlights, like skies, which are to bright.
Control (Usually it is just an AE Button)
This is usually a
button and it can be set for choice in the camera menu (autofocus lock or auto exposure
lock). In most cases it is just an AE button and requires no menu
setting. I have this button
programmed to 'lock the exposure' not the AF Focus. After I have set-up
the camera for the shot, I may find that the scene requires less or more
exposure and I may want to lock that exposure so that I can focus on a
part of the scene only. I have two choices, I can use the control wheel
and adjust the metering (as in the above exposure compensation setting
control section) and then press the AE button to lock the
exposure (press again usually unlocks it) or I can raise/lower the camera and lock an exposure as the
metering of the camera automatically changes as it sees more light or
less light. This then allows me to focus on my given subject and even
re-arrange my scene in the LCD/Viewfinder - see the Shutter Button part
Image Bracketing Control
This is a switch or a menu driven control that can set-up the camera to
take multiple and different exposure shots when you press the shutter
button. When I have a scene where it is difficult to judge the proper
exposure, I use the 3 or 5 shot bracketing feature control. Using this,
I can take multiple and different exposed shots of the
same scene and select the image with the best exposure.
Shutter (Half Press Focus) Button
When using autofocus
lenses, and using the shutter
button, I can half press it to autofocus on the part of the scene that I
want in focus (using the spot focus setting - see above) and by still holding the half
press, I can re-arrange my scene in the LCD/Viewfinder and then fully
press down the button to take the shot. This is ideal for 'isolating the
focus' of subjects in an overall scene. In the case of manual lenses, I
don't have to worry about the half shutter press to lock the focus
because I focus the lens on the given area by adjusting the focus ring
on the lens barrel and then no matter where I then aim the lens in the
scene that distance remains in focus.
on Playback - Highlight Blink Mode
There should be a control that will ensure that on playback or just
after you have taken your shot, the image will be displayed on your LCD
in blink mode.
In the set-up menu there should be a Highlight = On as for
'everyday' use I
never refer to the histogram. I use the 'highlight blink' on the
'immediate' image playback on the LCD which I use to inspect for blown
areas of the picture which will blink white/black on the image. I find
this the simplest method as very often I am on the move and I might just
get a second shot before the subject is gone. The solution is to reduce
the exposure compensation and reshoot the image. Hopefully, this will reduce or eradicate the white/black warning blinking area
on the picture. Many photographers like to use the image playback 'histogram'
and this is also very important. In some cases, the balance between a dark foreground
and a bright sky can be very difficult to achieve and many photographers
will use a 2 stop graduated grey filter to overcome the imbalance of the
This may be a button that is dedicated to 'autofocus lock' and it can be
used in place of the shutter button to lock the focus of the image.
This is usually a bonus button that allows you to use the menu to set it
up for other uses, such as some of the controls above that may not be so
accessible on the camera.
I have not covered other types of control buttons, but these include on
some cameras the ability to shoot single frame shots, multiple frames
and auto focus tracking of a subject, especially useful for sport and
birds in flight. There are also menus to set-up your camera for a single switch
control that brings up your preferred basic 'overall control'
parameters, this is usually a C1, 2, 3 control switch on a top dial.
In Camera - Manual
Adjustment of a Lens Focus
Most advanced prosumer DSLR cameras have a mechanism in the menu which
will allow the user to adjust the calibration of a lens to match the
focal plane of the sensor. With modern sensors a lens may be slightly of
focus and will focus slightly in front or behind the target, although
the user thinks it is focusing on the target. This shows up as a slight
blurring when examining images at 100%, sometimes much lower. Once the
lens is calibrated to the camera and the calibration is stored in the
camera, it requires no further attention, even after the camera is
switched of and on again or the lens is taken off and put back on.
Several lenses can be calibrated and stored in the cameras memory in
There are photographers who wish to shoot only jpeg images and if this
is the case, it is important to ensure that the camera of choice has
adequate menu controls to 'hone' the processed parameters of the image
in-camera. The main ones are colour style, saturation, brightness, sharpness, noise
reduction and contrast. Some cameras have 'ART' filters which can be
very useful for photographic art.
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