Buying Digital SLR Cameras

I’ve been shooting photography for about 5 months now. I’m not an expert, but I’m learning. I bought a 3 year old Canon Rebel XT on Craigslist from a fine arts student at University of Baltimore. She had taken good care of it and was looking to upgrade to a Canon 5D.

So I bought the camera and started playing around with it. I realized quickly that I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what RAW format was, and had no clue about techniques. Shutter was the only thing I understood. Aperture was sort of vague, and ISO I remembered from the good old days of point and shoot film cameras. I didn’t know how it all played together, and I’m honestly still learning. Good photographers never perfect their craft. They just keep tinkering until they know the art enough to make very educated guesses about angles, settings, white balance, etc.

I take my camera everywhere I go now. Out of every 100 photos, I toss 90. I insist on using pure manual settings, because there’s no better way, in my mind, to learn than to trial and error it. When I say manual, I mean manual. I manually focus. I usually keep my ISO around 200, but I can change that. Shutter and aperture settings are all adjusted on every shot.

Recently, I’ve had a number of people mention that they plan to buy their first DSLR camera. Some of these usually follow this up by mentioning really high-end cameras like the Canon 5D or the Nikon D700 as cameras they want.

My response is always the same… Why?

As rookie photographers, they don’t know why. They just know it’s better. Which is true, but that’s not the point.

Here’s what rookie photographers need to focus on when picking up a brand new DSLR camera.

It’s all about technique

During the early part of the camera career, the photographer should be learning about lighting. If you can’t shoot completely manual, you shouldn’t own a high end camera. That’s not to say that owning a high end camera should mean that you can’t use shutter-priority or aperture-priority settings. But, there are principles to shooting and understanding the balance between Aperture and Shutter is critical to taking great photos.

Here’s a primer. Shutter speed is, very simply, how quickly the lens shutter opens and closes. It is measured in “thousandths of a second”. My Canon lists a 1/16 second shutter speed simply as 16. Do the math. The quicker the shutter opens and closes (the higher the number), the less light that can enter the lens. On bright sunny days, you’ll use a high shutter speed. In a dark pub, you;ll use a low shutter speed.

But wait, then there’s aperture. The problem with slow shutter speeds (in a bar, for instance) is that since the shutter is open longer, the camera is more susceptible to camera shake. Long shutter speeds usually need tripods to ensure that no shake appears in the photo. Aperture is defined as “how wide open” the lens is. The higher the aperture number (actually, it’s a lower number as “the aperture is higher”), the more wide open the lens is, allowing for more light. In a dark room, a lower aperture will open the lens up more, to allow more light in allowing a photographer to use a faster shutter.

But then there’s focal length, which affects aperture. Confused yet?

My point is there is technique that needs to be learned and should be learned on a cheaper, lower end camera.

Here’s an example of some photos I’ve taken on my Rebel XT.

Nationals Park

  • Aperture: f/8
  • Shutter: 1/50 second
  • ISO: 200
  • Lens: Canon 50mm Prime (fixed) f/1.8

  • Aperture: f/5
  • Shutter: 1/800 second
  • ISO: 800
  • Lens: Canon 55-18 Zoom

Admittedly, this was altered because I shot in the RAW, a format that captures all data about a picture allowing for manipulation of the photo qualities after the fact. I used Apple’s Aperture 2.0. The photo was taken in broad daylight.

End of the day, rookie photographers can go and buy top of the line equipment but without a firm understanding of the techniques, it will not help them take great shots.

In Vegas, I went photowalking with about 80 bloggers and photographers. Jared Kohlmann of Pro Photo Rental brought high end gear and allowed me to shoot with a Canon 5D, a 24mm prime f/1.4 and a Fisheye lens. Here are some of the results:

Bellagio

  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Shutter: 1/50 second
  • ISO: 200
  • Lens: Canon 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Las Vegas at Night

  • Aperture: f/10
  • Shutter: 7 seconds
  • ISO: 100
  • Lens: Canon 24mm prime f/1.4

As a power user, after you’ve learned technique, you’ll definitely want a higher end camera because of the full frame. Lower end cameras, such as my Rebel XT, actually don’t capture all of what the lens can capture and crops the photo. Using lenses like the fisheye actually will not work on crop frame cameras, but you pay top dollar for full frame. As a rookie, these are things you just can’t worry about.

Enjoy your shooting!

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Startup Voodoo: Turning Users into Evangelists

If you can pitch a user and convert them in under an hour, you’ve got a great product. If you listen to your users recruit other users without prompting, you’ve got a kick-ass company.

Last year at Gnomedex, I discovered Lijit for the first time and the concept behind trust-based search clicked in my mind as very valuable and necessary in an increasingly crowded web space. Little did I know that less that a year later, I would begin doing business development for the company that, more than any other, had me sold on first blush.

About two months ago, I sent an email to Jeremy Schoemaker about the Lijit tool. I was unsure what the outcome would be and was pleased to get an email within an hour thanking me for the email and informing me that he had signed up and installed since my initial email. Quick win, and thanks, Jeremy!

A few days later, he wrote a post about the widget and he became the referral for a large number of installs. To this day, he ranks near the top.

A few days ago at Blog World Expo, I sat in the New Media Lounge with Drew Olanoff from Strands and Jessica Smith. I was not pushing Lijit but instead, plunking away on Twitter while Drew and Jessica chatted. At some point, the conversation spun around to Lijit and I listened with a smile as Drew sold Jessica on our tool, without me getting involved.

Drew is a passionate user who has been converted into an evangelist.

There is no greater testimony to any company, not just Lijit, than to have their users do the selling. End of the day, your brand is controlled by your users (as I’ve said repeatedly for years) and though you might feel like you have to protect or have ownership of your brand, it is really the intangible effect of the loyalty of your users.

If your users don’t have faith, confidence and loyalty in your brand, your brand is essentially worthless. If, however, you can turn them into passionate users (Kathy Sierra’s message, actually), you will have evangelists for life and your brand has value.

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Sweet Caroline in Vegas

I’m still in travel mode. Long story, but I’ve been in Las Vegas since last Wednesday and don’t leave until tomorrow. While this has been a fantastic trip, the process of writing serious posts requires some time to process everything from the week. That processing of data doesn’t happen when you get together with Jeremy Wright, Darren Rowse, Muhammed Saleem, Micah Baldwin and many others for karaoke in Las Vegas.

Yeah. Could be ugly.

So, while I have a ton of things to write about, those will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, enjoy my rendition of Red Sox Nation national anthem, Sweet Caroline. The entire bar was into it and though there was someone just off camera who was really “off” making the recording sound meh, in reality it brought down the house. Thanks Micah for having your Nokia N95 ready to go at a moments notice.

Cameos by Jeremy Wright, Darren Rowse, and Shai Coggins.

Thanks for letting me bring Red Sox Nation to Vegas. :)

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