Saturday, May 22, 2010
One of the toughest decisions to make when you want to venture seriously into photography is choosing the right camera for you. My simple answer in a single sentence is: Choose a camera that can produce sharp image with the less noise possible.
I guess the next question will be is: How will you know if that’s the right camera? To answer this, we are going to exclude the point-and-shoot cameras because these types of cameras usually don’t give you full control of the settings. They produce poor images in “low-light” conditions because they have small sensors. In other words, the bigger the sensor of a camera, the better your picture will be.
You might conclude that you’ll buy a camera with a bigger sensor to get a better picture. Well, not really. Cameras with bigger sensors are more expensive. There is what you call a full frame DSLR but the price is around $3,000 to $8,000. Aside from that, full frame cameras are really bulky. Usually, the pros use these types of camera.
There is also what you call APS-C DSLR camera. These cameras have smaller sensor that’s why they’re cheaper. You can buy them around $400-$3,000. They’re still bulky but cheaper.
You also need to consider how many megapixels or MP in your camera. Again, more MP means more expensive. In my opinion, the MP does not really affect the sharpness of an image. If you’re printing poster size pictures, then choose a camera with higher MP (8MP and above) but if you’re just printing 4×6 photos, 6-8MP will do the job. Aside from that, if you crop your photos, having a higher MP is preferred.
Another important settings in DSLR cameras are the aperture, ISO and shutter speed. To better understand aperture, ISO and shutter speed, try to compare your camera to your eyes. Aperture is how wide or narrow your eyes, ISO is the sensitivity of your eyes to the light and the shutter speed is how fast or slow your eyes blink.
That’s how short I can explain them. Now, let’s try to elaborate them further.
While reading this in your monitor, try to open wide your eyes as possible until your eyes pop-out (just kidding). You might have noticed that what you’re reading in the monitor became blurry. Now, narrow your eyes like trying to read fine print, this time it’s becoming sharper, right? Congratulations! You have just successfully adjusted the aperture in your eyes. Take note, aperture is not in your camera, it’s in the lens.
If someone will point a bright flashlight in your eyes, you might look away from that flashlight, right? Because you’re eyes are sensitive to the brightness. The light was absorbed faster by your eyes. When you go in the movie house, during the first few minutes, you might not even see if the seat is vacant or not. All you see is darkness but as time goes by, you see better because your eyes have adjusted to the situation. Even if you go to the washroom and go back to the movie house, your eyes will adjust quicker and see better compare to the first time you went inside the movie house. Another good example is after looking to the flash of a camera, chances are you might not see well. That bright light you saw from the flash might linger and block your vision. This is what I call ISO. Unlike aperture, ISO takes time to adjust in your eyes but in the camera, you can all adjust them instantly according to the situation or your preference. In other words, the more sensitive your eyes to the light, the faster your eyes absorb the light and the less sensitive your eyes to the light, the slower your eyes absorb the light. Remember, I’m just comparing the eyes to the camera. No medical terms.
The last one is the shutter speed which is the easiest to understand (and easiest to explain, too!). This is just the blinking of the eyes.
Maybe the next question is: How do you apply this to your camera? Again, while reading this in your monitor, try to open wide your eyes and blink as fast as you can. Now, narrow your eyes and blink as fast as you can again. You might have noticed that it’s easier (faster) to blink when you narrow your eyes and your eyes are less sensitive to light. On the other hand, it’s harder to blink when your eyes are open wide and at the same time what you see is brighter (or your eyes are more sensitive to light).
Now, let’s go to the camera itself. The aperture in your camera, I mean in your lens, is the only thing odd because the smaller the number the wider the aperture it gets. So, if the aperture let’s say is set to f/1.2, that means your aperture is open wide. Any number higher than this simply means smaller aperture. The wider the aperture, the faster the light will enter in your sensor. This is also the reason why you see some image with a blurry background but sharp foreground or subject. Lenses with wider aperture are more expensive.
For the ISO, it usually starts at 100 and the next number will always double so it’ll be 200, 400, 800, and so on. You must take note that the higher the ISO, the faster your sensor will absorb light but the noisier your image will get and less sharp. Digital noise tremendously affects the sharpness of a photo. This is where most camera brands make a big difference. Some cameras produce less noise at higher ISO even they have the same size of sensor.
So what’s the advantage of higher ISO if images will be noisy and less sharp? Higher ISO is helpful in low-light conditions because it helps the sensor to absorb light faster especially if you don’t have a flash or you don’t want to use the built-in flash in your camera because your subject will get shadows and will look wash-out.
The shutter speed is usually measured by a fraction of a second. So, if the shutter speed reads 1/4000, it’s equivalent to 0.00025 second. That’s really fast. So what will happen if you have a slower shutter? The result is blurry image or ghostly subject especially if your hand shook while taking photos or if your subject is moving (like my son who’s constantly running).
So does it mean you have to adjust manually these three (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) while taking pictures? That’s a lot of work and complicated! And how will I know what’s the correct settings for these three in every situation? Well, fortunately, you don’t really need to manually control these three every time you’re taking pictures. Unfortunately, I have to explain this next time because I’m tired now. I hope I was able to help you in deciding which camera to choose.
The author is not a photographer. He has degree in B.S. Commerce, major in banking and finance plus an MBA degree. While writing this, he’s currently working as a financial analyst and started taking pictures seriously when his son was born in 2007.