Many photography lovers have thought of buying their first DSLR camera. Enthusiasm and haste can cause us to get a machine that we do not know how to use it and then we ask ourselves this question, discovering at that moment that there is a whole world behind a DSLR. In Nemara Studio we want to introduce 7 concepts that you should know before buying your first camera.

1. Camera Sensor

The sensor is one of the most important parts of the camera, a photosensitive piece that detects the light that enters through the lens and transforms it into electrical signals that will be interpreted by the image processor of the camera and will be the final photograph.

If you start with an APS-C camera you should take into account that the specific lenses for this system are not completely compatible with Full Frame cameras.

There are different sensor sizes. In digital photography, the bigger sensor size, the better image quality, shallower depth of field and higher ISO you can use. On the contrary, a smaller sensor size gives you advantages like cheaper lenses or less weight in the camera body and lenses. The most  common sensor sizes in DSLR cameras are APS-C and Full Frame (35mm), but you can find smaller and bigger sizes as you can see in the next image:

If you start with an APS-C camera you should be aware that, if you invest in APS-C lenses and you change in the future to a Full Frame Camera, the APS-C lenses are not completely compatible with Full Frame cameras and you will have some issues like vignetting or crop, losing megapixels.

2. Megapixels

Megapixels are the dot quantity to create a digital image. The more points, the bigger the image, that means the image will have more resolution. Megapixels have suffered the marketing pressure in the last years but they are less important than other features.

If printing in bigger sizes is out of your plans, megapixels should be a secondary feature when you choose a camera.

More megapixels give you the advantage of print in bigger sizes without losing quality, the option of bigger cropping and better details (detail is different to sharpness). On the contrary, some disadvantages of having more megapixels are that RAW or JPEG files are bigger, which means investing more money in memory cards and HDDs.

If printing in bigger sizes is out of your plans, megapixels should be a secondary feature when you choose a camera.

3. Shooting Modes

Manual and semi-automatic shooting modes allow the photographer to set some or all of the settings like the ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance, etc.

The main shooting modes you can find in a DSLR camera are:

Manual Mode (M): in manual mode you can control everything about the photography settings, the camera does not set anything and all depends on you.

Semi-automatic Modes: they are modes that assist the photographer and let you decide most of the adjustments like white balance, focus mode, ISO, shutter speed or aperture. The camera decides other of them to obtain a well exposed photograph.

  • Aperture Priority (A or Av): A or Av mode (it depends on the brand of the camera) allows you to control the aperture (f) and the camera works on the shutter speed to get a well exposed photograph. This mode is used to get the desired depth of field (DOF).
  • Shutter Priority (S or Tv): in this mode you set the shutter speed and the camera works on the aperture to achieve the right exposure. This mode is used to take long exposure photographs like night shots or high speed photographs to freeze the moment like in Formula 1.
  • Program Mode (P): it is very similar to the automatic mode with the difference that the camera sets the shutter speed and aperture and you control the other settings.

Automatic Mode (Auto): in this mode the camera does everything for you, you only press the shutter release button and enjoy the result. The camera decides which values are correct for the final photography. It is the easy mode but you waste all the potential of the camera.

4. Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is the time that the shutter keeps opened the lens diaphragm. It is the time that the camera take light through the lens which means that, at lower speeds the sensor gets more light and, at higher speeds less light. Its main use is to freeze the moment or achieve the “silk effect”.

Look the upper image and imagine that you have your eyes closed. If you quickly open and close your eyes, you will see a freezed moment, like the right side of the image. On the contrary, if you open your eyes 5 seconds, you will see a motion scene, like the left side of the image.

5. Aperture

The aperture or “f” is the size of the “hole” through which the light enters to the sensor. This “hole” is created by the diaphragm normally located in the lens.

It works as follows. Smaller aperture values mean more light and shallower depth of field; on the contrary, higher aperture values mean less light and more focused backgrounds. Another function of the aperture is to control the depth of field. You can understand it better with this summary:

  • Higher F: focused backgrounds (or less bokeh) and less light.
  • Smaller F: blurry backgrounds (more bokeh) and more light.

The upper image is an overlap of two photographs. In the upper half you can see a blurry background because it was taken at F1.8 while in the lower half you can see a more focused background because it was taken at F8. The other settings have been adjusted to compensate the exposure.

6. ISO

The ISO is the sensor’s sensitivity to the light that enters through the lens. The higher the number, the higher the sensitivity and more light you will get. This means that you can use higher shutter speeds or lower apertures in the same situation.

The amount of ISO you can use depends on the camera and the sensor size. Thus, a Full Frame camera supports a higher ISO than an APS-C camera.

  • Higher ISO: more light, more noise, less details.
  • Lower ISO: less light, less noise, more detais.

Two of the main disadvantages of higher ISO are the noise and losing details.

7. RAW and JPEG

JPEG is a lossy compresion image format which means that you lose information every time that you save an image as JPEG. The most common extensions of this kind of file are .jpg and .jpeg.

You should take the photo in RAW format if you want to exploit the full potential of your camera and achieve professional results.

One of the advantages of JPEG format is its size, thus you can save more photographs in your cards or disk drives.

RAW format is a lossless format. The extension of this files is different depending on the camera’s brand but the most common extensions are NEF, NRW, ARW, SRF, SR2, RAF, CRW, CR2, CAP, PTX, PEF o RAF, entre otras.

A RAW file has all the light information of the scene in the moment when you took the photograph. This information is unprocessed which means that you can use it with edition programs to get the final image. You should take the photo in RAW format if you want to exploit the full potential of your camera and achieve professional results.

Finally…

We know this post has a lot of information and it could be difficult to understand. Take it easy. Nemara Studio would like that when you have your new camera you use it as you consider but knowing all of its potential.

See you soon!