Sunday, January 25, 2009

Selecting the Digital Camera best for you

To make the most of your digital camera, you will need to have a good understanding of how it works. If you're new to digital photography or if you're interested in improving your shooting skills, the following information explains the capabilities of digital cameras.

Keep in mind the more you know about your camera the better shooter you’ll be. In photography, camera operations should be second nature. Being skilled at its operation will enable you to concentrate on capturing story-telling images and not be occupied with camera functions.

A variety of Digital cameras are available for every level and type of need, from point & shoot to advanced amateur to digital SLR's.

The three basic categories of digital cameras are:

1. Point and shoot cameras: These are small, compact cameras with built-in flashes, auto exposure/auto focus, and a fixed lens.
They are great for snap shots, but limit creative control. Some point and shoot cameras have a "shutter lag" which means there is a delay between the time you press the shutter button and the time the picture is taken.

A sample of typical point and shoot cameras with common features.

2. Advanced amateur camera (often called pro- consumer): Offers many features of pro -digital SLR'’S. They can be used in full auto mode and most importantly allows manual controls. Some have the ability to switch lenses while others have fixed lenses. Many entry level DSLR’S include both a hot shoe to attach a flash and a onboard flash with modes such as fully automatic, fill flash, or no flash options.

A selection of advanced amateur cameras.

3. Digital SLR cameras: These are the highest levels of digital cameras. They offer fast focus and shooting speeds. They are larger cameras and offer interchangeable lenses while also accepting external flashes. They provide more power and flexibility, high-quality sensors and processors, a wide range of sensitivity settings (ISO), and a full range of controls used for exposure options. Most have a wide variety of
available accessories.

Examples of common Pro Digital SLR'S.

Arm yourself with information, do your research to find the best fit for you. For more information and specific comparisons check out this resource, its one of the best gear review sites I've found. Digital Photography Review

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Buying a new camera?

In this post I'd like to answer a few questions I get often from students in my photo classes. It's a question of gear. What camera is the best for me? That one question is always a hard one to completely answer as there are many things to consider when evaluating the type of camera you're looking to buy. The following is a list of questions I always ask before offering advice.

1. What type of camera do you have now? What brand are you most familiar with using? If you've always used a Canon for example I always think its best you stick with a Canon.

2. What is your level of experience? If you're just getting started, look for basic easy to use models with more auto controls. If you’re more experienced, you'll want a camera that offers both auto and manual controls.

3. Think about how you plan to use the camera. Are you using the camera for general purposes such as family and friend photos? Will you be traveling often? A smaller more portable camera may be better. Do you want to shoot sports or actions shots? If so, you'll need a camera that can handle shooting fast. The image buffer is temporary storage while your image is written to the card. Bottom line for shooting action look for camera that has a faster buffer.

4. What context will the images be used, a website, an online album, a publication? Do you plan on making prints? If you have a need for prints or you are shooting for a publication you'll be looking at a camera that has a larger file size. Megapixels will play a role in your decision.

5. How often do you plan to use your camera? Are you more of a hobbyist or do you plan on making a career out of your passion? If you're looking at becoming more of serious photographer you many want to get a camera that will allow you to start building a system. Building a gear system can take time. This often means buying an entry-level camera with manual options. Once your skills grows, your can upgrade your camera body for a model that offer more advanced features and use your first camera as a back up.

6. How much money do you plan to budget for your new camera? Having a basic budget will help you better target which models you'll be able to afford. Often camera manufacturers will release the latest and greatest version and will discount the last year's models. The newer camera may only have a few upgraded options so it may be worth your time to check out the older models.

Ask yourself the above questions, the more completely you consider your needs the better choice you'll make for a camera.

A few helpful tips

Always talk to friends about the kind of camera they are using and ask them about their experiences. This can be a great way to gain insights on a popular brand.

Do some research to compare model-to-model to narrow your focus to three or four top cameras. Here's the best link I have found to compare cameras features and options.

Visit a local camera retailer with list of top selections even if you plan on buying online. Handle the cameras, this gives you a good sense for how the camera feels in your hand. I encourage students not to buy a camera on the first visit to the camera store. This will help avoid being influenced by a fast talking salesperson.

Shop around for the best prices before you buy. I always recommend buying from a local retailer over an online source. In my own experience I have found retailers will be very helpful in providing a quicker turn around when it comes to repairs. I'm a big believer in building relationships and it's always good to know a camera store around the corner. I recently helped my sister buy a camera from a large camera store in my city and was surprised to learn with the purchase of every camera came a weekend workshop held at the end of every month. She found the three-hour class very helpful.

Another mistake made by first time camera buyer is spending their entire budget to buy the high-end camera with low-grade lenses. By that I mean buying a camera as part of a kit that includes cheap lens. Retailers will use these kits to market good cameras with cheap accessories. Here's what I mean, a lower quality lens for example something like a 18mm-150mm f 3.5-5.6 (pay special attention to the aperture range) this lens is more cost effective but you'll find it's has limits. If you're on a budget go for a less expensive camera and invest your money on a good lens. You will probably not read other photo blogs that make such a statement but ask any working photographer and you'll hear, "It's about the glass"! I always look for lenses that have a minimum lens opening (aperture) of f 2.8 this allows for more options especially in low light. Yes, better quality lenses cost more but in the end you'll be much happier.

When buying a lens take a look at some of the off market lens. I know photographers who swear by Sigma, Tokina and Tamron. Often these lenses can be almost half the cost of the name brand lens with very little sacrifice on sharpness and quality.

Remember all cameras' do the same thing; capture images! Avoid being a gear hog. That's someone who always has to have the latest and greatest camera with all the bells and whistles. The best part of photography is making great images and without a good eye even the best camera will be worthless. I shot this image while working in Durango. I'd hadn't planned on shooting in water so I went to the local Wal-Mart to buy a cheap 10.00 disposable waterproof camera enclosed in plastic. I simply panned with the movement of the boats as they came down the river.

"It matters little how much equipment we use; it matters much that we be masters of all we do use". Sam Abell, National Geographic Photographer

Read the next post for a helpful basic overview of digital camera and their categories.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean