Planning to buy a new camera? Planning to start a new interest in photography? Confused about which camera to buy and where to start?
Here is a comprehensive guide to answer all your questions. 10 things you should remember while choosing your camera. Before we get into to understanding what photography is all about and where to start, we will try and first understand what you are looking for and from there we can get more clarity into which camera would be good for what kind of photography.
- Why a DSLR?
- Types of Sensors
- Full framed or Cropped sensor
- Image Quality and Speed
- Upgrade Options
Lets look at each of these in detail.
01. Why a DSLR?
Our first step is to understand what makes a DSLR (Digital Single Reflex Lens) camera special. When you compare Point and Shoot camera with a DSLR, the basic difference between the two, besides the size, is the way in which an image is captured. As we understand, light is the primary source for us to see anything, it is the same for capturing a photograph. DSLR uses a mirror behind its lens to direct this light reflecting from an object towards the viewfinder.
This means, you exactly see what you want to capture and you know how the picture will look like. Once you hit the shutter button this mirror moves out of the way and allows the light to hit the sensor instead of the viewfinder. On the contrary Point and Shoot captures translated image and shows you a digital version of your shot. This is a major quality difference between the DSLR and Point and Shoot.
If you want your pictures to be sharp, crystal clear and amateur, DSLR is your choice. However, the latest Point and Shoot or the Compact cameras are also equipped with the most DSLR features these days which include changing aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance, the result is much sharper pictures, however, these cameras do not let you have the freedom of changing lenses as per your need and situation.
Now that you chose a DSLR, the next question is to understand how an image is captured?
02. Types of Sensors
Do I really need to know this? Yes of course, because there are different types of sensors and depending on these, your choice of camera may vary and the price too. So it is really important to understand the way in which a sensor captures the image and besides, to be a good photographer, it is important for you to know what your shot is all about.
Technology has moved so quick that the expensive cameras earlier accessible only to a few have now come down to the reach of anyone who needs it. One of the major drivers in getting the prices lowered is the breakthrough into low cost CMOS sensors.
Sensors in DSLR cameras are large when compared to the ones in point and shoot or compact cameras, producing clear images and less distortion or noise. There are 2 types of sensors available in the market today, CCD (charge-coupled device) and CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor). Both work on the same principle, converting light into electrons. Image sensor is made up of millions of light sensitive photodiodes, where each photodiode records a very small piece of the image as a numeric value that equals a precise brightness level that creates your image.
When looking for a camera, megapixel should not be counted as a priority because the size of the sensor is more important than the megapixel. We will look at how resolution and megapixel will affect your image, later in this article. While choosing a camera, you can always strike a balance between the size of the sensor and the megapixel.
While CCD is one of the oldest techniques for digital image capturing, it gives superior image quality with less distortion and noise compared to CMOS sensors. However, CCD sensors consume more power and more expensive when compared to CMOS. With more functionality CMOS sensors are more efficient, use less power and are ideal for high speed burst modes. Since this article is more about helping you chose a camera, I will not go in detail on the sensor sizes and their effects at this point in time.
03. Full Framed or Cropped Sensors
While deciding on the camera, you will also come across words like Full Frame sensors and Cropped sensors. Full Frame (36mm/24mm) is found on high end cameras Canon 5D, 6D or Nikon D800, which are pro level cameras and used by professional photographers. If your pockets are not too deep, you can go for a mid range cameras which shows APS – C (Advanced Photo System type C) with a range of 23.6mm/15.8mm which are available in all major DSLR manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, Sony and Pentax.
What’s the difference between a Full Frame and a Cropped sensor? As I mentioned earlier, sensor size is very important for a good quality image and when we say Full Frame which is approximately 36mm/24mm is a large sensor and any lens mounted on the camera with a full frame sensor gives you exact picture without any cropping or focal length magnification issues. On the other hand an APS-C sensor, which comes along with most mid range cameras, gives you an enlarged image with the same lens. I am not saying it is bad, the image is just enlarged. But you still get wonderfully clear and sharp images.
Now let’s go to Megapixel, which most of us look for in the new camera, assuming that more the megapixel, more the clarity. It is partially true; however, the combination of Megapixel will always be with the size of the sensor. And that is why I mentioned, it is important to understand what sensors do, to your shots.
Imagine a point and shoot with 16 megapixel camera and a DSLR with a 16 megapixel camera. Both the cameras have same number of pixels. However, since a DSLR will have larger sensor (size) each pixel would be larger when compared to a point and shoot. This means, each pixel is more sensitive to light and is able to gather more light, reduce the possibility of distortion and is capable of producing images with more detail. While choosing your camera, you can apply the same logic to compare 2 different DSLRs of your choice with the same megapixel and see the size of the sensors.
Another advantage of choosing a better sensor size is while printing the images. Larger the sensor, larger the pixel and greater the detail of the image, so while printing, better will be quality of the image.
05. Image Quality and Speed
Image Quality in DSLR is significantly better due the size of the sensors and ability to upgrade it with better lenses with less barrel distortions. The ability to operate the DSLRs at higher ISO with faster shutter speeds will leave less grain and lesser noise on the images. Few of the DSLR cameras also have a built in noise reduction feature while taking pictures in JPG mode. In Raw files, you might still find some noise in the beginner DSLRs. When it comes to speed, DLSRs are pretty handy to focus and click in the manual mode. View finder adds value to the camera, since what you see with your eye is what gets captured in the image as well. So it is very important you get to understand the speed and Image quality before you for your DSLR
When it comes to control, I would rather give a slight upper hand to the DSLR than to a point and shoot. Why only a slight upper hand? Because there are few areas in which the point and shoot scores when we talk about control. Point and Shoot cameras are being upgraded almost to the level of DSLRs with all the manual controls, ISO and white balance settings. It has the benefit of zooming in and out and with deeper pockets you can have a optical zoom of 50x, which is very expensive in DSLRs where lenses for the occasion needs to be changed…but it is still digital. However, the advantage with DSLR is, each type of lens is tailor made to suite your requirements and is not generic, Discovering your interest in photography.
With extensive manual controls, upper and lower ranges of ISO, Control on the depth of field and quality optics, DSLR score more here. It will give you the flexibility to focus on the foreground or the background or even the bokeh effect (blurring the background) which most of us as beginners would want to have. Qualities of the DSLR lenses is much higher than the fixed lenses on a point and shoot which gives you a higher advantage on the image quality. So while choosing a DSLR, check for the ISO range, manual control options and quality of the optics for the lenses you would purchase.
07. Upgrade Options
Another important factor for you to know is what next? Once you purchase your DSLR and if you want to upgrade it to a next or a higher model, will your entire range of lenses mount on it or you have change the entire set. Let’s say you opted for Canon camera and 2 years down the line you found a Nikon with good features, what about your canon lenses, they don’t mount on Nikon. Similarly even in Canon, not all lenses are compatible with all cameras. You have EFS and EF lenses where few lenses do not mount on to a lower camera body models. So it is very important for you to chose your camera keeping the futuristic perspective.
Coming down to the 3 most important topics in this article. What is the purpose for you buy a camera? Want to learn photography? Want to do macro photography? Portrait photography? Sports? Landscape? Want to travel with your camera? Want to shoot videos? Decide on what you want to do with the camera, a realistic estimate. Basis this estimate, you will have different types of cameras available, if you want to shoot videos, you would want to have fast cameras. If you want to do macro photography, you may to choose large sensor cameras. If you want to do landscape photography, you may to check for the cameras which give you the closest true colors. If you want to learn photography, you may want to start off with beginner’s cameras, so on and so forth. So basis your requirement, you will have to identify the features of the camera you are looking for and not the other way around of identifying the camera and identifying your interests.
Price, of course is the first thing that we have on the mind. For me, it should also have been the first thing we should have started with, but on purpose I have put it last so that we know what we are looking for and understand how camera works.
Think of your budget, be a little flexible but not too much as you might be getting a better deal for putting few more bucks. Cameras range from a beginner to professional ones with prices starting low to extremely high for a professional camera. Check if you are paying for only the body of the camera or is it coming with a lens for that price. Check if you are getting a additional battery, camera bag, memory card or any filters along with the kit. Check for what kind of warranty you are getting, a global warranty or a local one. This one is tricky since, for a person in India, ordering a camera from US or Europe may be cheaper, but the warranty may not apply, so you need to be careful.
Also, when you check online, prices vary on the same camera at different sites, so it would be good to compare what is the difference in the kit you would be getting.
With the change in technology, you get lot more for lesser price, so don’t lose on the great features. You may not use the feature right now, but when you want to, you may not have it on the camera. On my first camera, I had limited budget so opted out for a Bluetooth connectivity, only to realize it later, how much it was useful.
What is the maximum FPS (Frames per Second) for the camera? What is its ISO range? What is the LCD size? What is its connectivity? Do we have a flash or we need an external one? Generally professional cameras do not have any built in flash. Does the camera come with sensor cleaning feature? It is very important to have this feature for protecting from dust as you may keep changing your lenses. These days you are also option of image stabilization or anti shake cameras, normally this is built into the lenses but with emerging technology this is also a feature in camera bodies.
I have tried to keep the article extensive and hope it has helped you in getting what you were looking for. Happy clicking!!