I have been asked for picture and camera advice from a few people, so I thought putting it all in one place would be a good idea.
I have to stress that this is all based on my personal experience and personal opinion, and many people will have differenct experience and therefore different opinions. Take what you want and leave the rest. I'm not great with correct terminology, so I try to describe what I mean. And if you see an error in what I wrote, PLEASE correct me!!!!!
I hope that other people who have photography experience will post their own thoughts as well.
don't get a camera with a proprietary interface. That means that you must download software to connect the camera. That's a pain in the neck. When it just reads into any computer you can connect it anywhere.
Always shoot on the highest setting. always. When you shoot on the low one you get more pictures on your card, but you get low quality pictures that you can't crop in and have any quality. What good is that? You can always make the final pictures smaller, but making them bigger reduces clarity.
If your camera has a "raw" setting, use it as often as you can. Raw needs a separate program to read it, but that is the only exception to the interface notes above. Raw pictures produce the absolute best quality.
If you are cropping or working on your pictures NEVER save them as jpg files. Jpg is a "lossy" format, and every time you save them they will go down in quality. Yes, even if you save them at 100 quality. That is just how the format works. Save them as EPS or Tiff to keep the quality. when you are done, save them as jpg.
never shoot in black and white or sepia, even if your camera has those settings. Most programs have a "convert to grayscale" setting. If you shoot in color you can switch to black and white. If you shoot in grayscale, you can't go back to color.
I have two digital cameras - my point and shoot is a Sony Cyber-shot P-150, 7.2 mp. My SLR is a Nikon D50.
When looking for a point and shoot, the highest mp that you can afford the better. The bigger the images are the more cropping you'll be able to do. Make sure it has an optical zoom, not a digital zoom. The digital zooms aren't worth it, as it is a "fake" zoom that often has very bad picture quality. Most have both, but you can turn off the digital. Do that as soon as you get home. Pre settings are great, be sure it has a "sports" setting; most of them do. A setting for close up work is an added bonus. Not all cameras allow you to zoom while taking video (mine doesn't) which I find annoying. I like my "little camera" because it fits easily in my pocket.
The Nikon is good, and has come waaaay down in price since I got mine a year ago. It has excellent pre-sets for people who don't know much about cameras. Get a good "Dummies" or "Idiot's Guide" book and learn about your camera, you'll be happy you did! The best thing about a digital camera is you can take all the pictures you want and learn all about the settings without the high costs of buying and developing film.
The downfall of an SLR is the need to buy lenses. In my experience, off-brand lenses are not worth the money. They tend to focus slower than the "name brand" lenses. They are somewhat cheaper, but with lenses you get what you pay for. Nikon makes "Nikkor" lenses, I believe that Canon just calls their lenses "Canon". If you are buying online, make sure it is not a "Nikon mount" which means it is off brand but it fits on a Nikon. If it says "Nikon lens" it is definately off brand. Don't get fooled by the "It's a Nikon lens, but they just put a different name on it. They are all made in the same factory." That may be true, but if Nikon doesn't want their name on it, they don't want their name on it for a reason! I saved some money and bought a Tamron lens, it was a poor decision on my part. I got it so I wouldn't have to swap lenses while working. I should have dealt with the inconvience instead of settling for a not-so-good lens.
When you get a zoom lens, get the one with the lowest aperature range you can afford. The aperature is what controlls the amount of light that comes into the camera. The lower the number the more light. The more light the faster shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed the less chance you have for blur.
Used lenses can be a good buy, but be very picky. Look through the lens into bright light and look for dust, scratches and fungus. A lot can be focused through with no problem, but some show up in your pictures. Take some out of focus shots of a light colored wall and look for dots, blotches and other "artifacts". Decide what you can live with, it's personal preference. Make sure you can return it for a full refund within a week or so, then shoot a few HUNDRED pictures with it. You may find that you didn't notice something on first inspection and want to return it. I recently bought a lens that worked great the first day and then just stopped focusing the second.
Lens "falloff" is where the picture gets darker in the corners. That is common with the low aperature lenses, and you can't do anything about it. You get the advantage of the fast lens and just deal with the falloff. You can see the falloff in the picture I posted of Riggs with the basket ball and the two red balls.
Get the absolute best lenses you can afford. You'll still be able to use them when you upgrade your camera in the future. A good basic lens to buy if you can only afford one is 28 to 105 (zoom) 3.5-4.5 (aperature), that's the only lens I had for the first 8 years I had my film SLR and I was very happy with it. You want the biggest range you can get. A macro (close-up) setting is a useful feature as well
Length of zoom:
There are many many different lenses, the low numbers are how "small" the subject is, the high numbers are how far in you can "zoom". You want the biggest range possible for versitility. With most reasonably priced lenses the aperature goes up the farther in you zoom, so watch that. You can get lower fixed aperature lenses, but you will pay in the upper hundreds up to many thousands. My high speed, 2.8 lens was over $700, used. They don't make it anymore, and the replacement for it is $1,600. That's higher than my house payment and my car payment combined! No chance of that!
The other benefit of the name brand lenses is that they don't go down much in value. Yes, there is depretiation, but not nearly as much as the off brand ones.
the more light you have the faster your shutter speed can be. The faster your shutter speed is, the better chance you have of not getting blurred pictures.
This is the "light sensitivity" of the images. In the film world, the higher the number the more expensive the film was and the grainer the film was. 400 is as high as I will shoot, in bright light I will go to 800. Some point and shoot cameras allow you to select an ISO some don't.
I generally keep mine on automatic and have been happy with the results, but you can experiment with your camera and see if it knows the correct sources. Some do, some get confused.
If you have a dark dog in the middle of a bright background, you will have a picture with your dog as a big black smuge and a pretty, bright background. When you have this big of a variation, select "spot" metering so that your dog (the most important part of the picture) is correctly exposed.
Depth of focus:
the area of the picture that is in focus. The lower the aperature, the smaller the "band" of focus. You can see that in my pictures by looking at the grass in the picture. very little of it is in focus. The higher aperatures have much larger bands of focus. At 22 you have feet to work with, at 2.8 you have inches. I think it's about 18 on my lens, but it may be a little farther. It didn't come with a manual so I don't know exactly.
DO NOT BUY GRAY MARKET EQUIPMENT. EVER. Gray market cameras and lenses are cheaper, but they are imported from another country and that means that there is no warrenty. No matter what the sales person tells you, don't buy it. It would suck to spend $1000 on a D80 and then have it break and be SOL. USA warrenties will make the camera up to 20% more money. It's worth it. Make sure you specifically ask if it is gray market equipment.
If you want to take a close up picture of something, most point and shoots won't focus closer than 2 feet on the macro setting and 3 feet on the regular setting. Check your camera's manual. It's better to be farther away and crop than close and blurry!
If you want to take action shots, set your camera to "shutter" and select the highest number that gives you clear pictures. I'd rather have a slightly dark picture than a blurry picture! You want at least 125 for slow moving objects, ideally 250 for fast moving. In bright light, go even higher
I have all of my equipment on a special insurance rider with no deductable. It costs me about $100 a year, though I have a number of other things on it as well. If it was just the camera and lenses it would be about $50. It's a little more expensive than the store warenty, but it covers full replacement and most importantly, theft. If your camera gets stolen, Best Buy isn't going to give a crap. Store warrenties also don't cover cameras that appear to have been dropped. If the camera has a big gouge in it they will just shrug and say "sorry". This one is from personal experience. Some store warrenties are better than that though.
Tripods and monopods
For stationary shooting, a tripod is your best bet. Most are very easy to use and adjust. The super cool one have a button you push and the legs all drop on their own. If you hold the top level the tripod puts all the legs down exactly where you need them. They are a little pricy though.
A monopod is great for easy mobility. It keeps the camera completey steady. If you get one of the big 2.8 lenses you definately want one to keep everything still. The lens weighs over a pound so you have to hold the lens and not the camera. The weight of the lens can bend or break the bayonet mount on the camera and that would suck. If the bayont mount breaks, not only will your camera be broken, but your lens will hit the ground, which it will seriously object to. I don't have a monopod because my lens didn't come with the tripod mount (and it's $80 so I haven't bought it yet)
get an extra memory card and a separate card reader just to make your life easier. You will run out of memory at the most inopportune moments. the card reader is much faster than the camera.
get a clear filter for your lens, so if you wack it against something the filter breaks and not the last piece of glass. they can run over $30 bucks, but they are worth it for the protection.
remote so you don't have to use the timer. It's completely unneessary, but it's cool.
A flash unit is better light than the built in flash because you want the light source as far away from the lens as possible to reduce shadow.
That's all I can think of at the moment.
Last edited by mnp13
on October 19th, 2006, 6:15 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Inside me is a thin woman trying to get out. I usually shut the bitch up with a martini.