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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Las Vegas Photowalk – Be there!

I’m still not sure how many of you will be in Vegas for Blog World Expo (or who happen to be passing through this coming Friday), but if you are going to be there, bring your cameras!

Photo Credit: Roadsidepictures

Digital Photography School (Darren Rowse, also from Problogger) is hosting a photowalk and Kris Krug is leading the walk. I had a part in organizing this, but Darren and Kris have done most of the work.

We’ll be meeting at Caesar’s Palace and leaving for the walk promptly at 6:30p. Would love to have you come out. I, for one, will have a 24mm f/1.4 lens provided by Pro Photo Rental who will also be in attendance.

The details from the DPS blog are as follows:

Date – Friday 19 September (we know not everyone will be there on the Friday night but it was the only real time available when we surveyed the organizing team).

Time – 6.30pm – 8pm (we’ll be leaving on time so get there a few minutes early – details below on what to do if you’re late).

PlaceCaesars Palace Hotel – Caesars Palace Dr Las Vegas – for those of you attending Blog World Expo this is about 1.8 miles from the convention centre – a reasonably quick cab ride.

We’ll be meeting at Caesars and then walking south along the strip – as far as we can go in the time.

Exactly where to meet – outside Caesars near the Valet parking area there are three large Fountains/Water features. We’ll be meeting there. Look for a bunch of people who look like bloggers with cameras :-)

Here’s the map on Google Maps

Walk Leader – Photographer Kris Krug from Static Photography will be leading us on the walk. He’ll give us some good tips and direction along the way.

What to BringWalking shoes, a drink (it’s Hot in Vegas) and most of all your camera and any lenses/accessories that you want to play with. Keep in mind that we’ll be out around dusk (should be a nice time to shoot).

What we’ll do – this will partly depend upon how many of us there are and where Kris leads us but we’ll most likely be sticking to the Strip (heading south) and might even head to one of the Casinos (if a group of 60 photographers doesn’t freak them out too much).

This will be a fairly informal walk. While Kris is “˜leading’ the idea isn’t for it to be a teaching session – rather a time of connecting, sharing ideas, getting to know one another and having some fun with one another and our cameras.

At 8pm some of the group may continue on together – it’ll be up to the general group consensus at this point.

If you’re late – if you are running late you can try to catch up with us on the walk. We’ll be moving south down the strip. We’ll attempt to give updates on Twitter as to our location – follow @digitalps (DPS’s twitter account) and I’ll have someone login and update every now and again.

If you’re going to share your photos on Flickr we’ll have everyone Tag their images with DPSVegas so we can all see the shots.

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What Happens in Vegas… Has Yet to Be Determined

Public Service announcement here (or something). Next week, I’ll be in Vegas starting on Wed night (9/17) and will be leaving the following Tuesday.

I’ll be out there for Blog World Expo, my second such trip. Last year was so great that I decided I had to go back again this year. One of the highlights of last years trip, for me, was solidifying a solid friendship with Read Write Web Content King, Marshall Kirkpatrick and Wendy Piersall of Sparkplugging.com.

This year, I’m expecting to reunite with friends from b5media and other places, but I definitely am blocking off lots of time to have dinners, coffee or beer with other folks.

You might have the chance to grab me for a minute or two on the floor, but why do that? Shoot me an email and let’s see if we can sit down and talk business, life or other gossip.

It’s Vegas, baby. As long as you don’t try to suck me into being the best man at your Vegas wedding (as also happened last year), we’ll be fine. :)

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