The all-in-one camera guide

Modern digital cameras can confuse all but the most knowledgeable. We guide you through the minefield of jargon and specs and tells you what to look for in these machines.

By Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: October 7, 2007

It’s always a good idea to start at the beginning; so we begin by pointing out the various functions and bells and whistles in Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras.

Almost all SLR cameras will have more or less similar features and functions, though the exact placement will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model.

Familiarising yourself with these should be the first point on your learning curve. Of course, we cannot teach you photography, but the idea is to provide you with a DIY start-off kit from where you can feel your way forward. So, happy shooting.

WHY ARE SLRS CONSIDERED BETTER THAN NON-SLR CAMERAS?

The answer, to put it simply, is WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). In other words, the image you see in the viewfinder is also what the camera “sees” through the main lens. This gives a parallax-free image. In non-SLR cameras, the image you see is captured by an “off-axis” viewfinder.

Back view of a Nikon

And although this is not a problem for most photographs, images shot from very close or very far can display “parallax error”; i.e., the image you “capture” may be slightly to the left or right of the view you thought you were capturing.

Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras are the weapon of choice for professional photographers, but because of increasing affordability and technology advancements—prosumer SLRs like Canon’s 400D (Rs 45,000) or Nikon’s D80 (Rs 40,000) have placed advanced camera technology in the hands of informed amateurs as well. However, despite the relatively lightweight bodies of these two cameras, they are a handful.

Small automatic digital cameras have also come a long way. New ones from manufacturers like Sony, Pentax, Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Kodak, Samsung and Minolta are all very small, some even coming in form factors that put mobile phones to shame—such as the Sony Cybershot DSC T100 (Rs 15,170) or Pentax Optio S10 (Rs 10,250).

The price of a good 7-8 megapixel camera with zoom functionality are also coming down—example: cameras like the Canon IXUS 900Ti (Rs 25,000), Nikon Coolpix P5000 (Rs 27,237) and the Samsung L700 (Rs 13,990).

THE BASICS OF PHOTOGRAPHY

The word photography, literally “writing with light” is derived from the Greek roots phos or phot meaning light and graphos, meaning writing.

The amount of light entering your camera and reaching the sensor (in a digital camera) or film (in an analogue one), defines the quality of your photograph.

MANIPULATING YOUR CAMERA

  • You can manipulate the amount of light entering your camera by adjusting the shutter speed (measured in fractions of a second) and aperture, or the size of the lens opening (measured in "stops” or "f-stops").
  • Most point-and-shoot cameras, which don't allow you to play with these two parameters, are pre-set at an aperture reading of f8, a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second and a focal length of 13 ft.
  • This setting allows you to shoot most scenes in normal light and give fairly clear "near-to-infinite" views. However, such cameras cannot capture fast action (such as a speeding car or a running dog), resulting in a visual blur.
  • The way out? Increase the shutter speed to, say 500 (or 1/500th of a second), or 1000 (1/1000th of a second) and compensate for the shorter duration of the "open" shutter by allowing in greater amounts of light. How? By setting your aperture to f4 in the first instance and f2.8 in the second.
  • Remember, the smaller the f-stop number, the larger the aperture opening. For the same light conditions, you have to increase the aperture opening by one notch for every notch you increase the shutter speed.

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