Sunday, February 27, 2011

Getting that Camera

Well I wrote this post and then discovered it was a series of definitions.  I think some of you may want to know what those dials are for and what some of the terms mean.   So, I will deal with getting the camera in my next post.  Really I promise.

There is one thing before I get down to it.  This is boring stuff, and I try to avoid it as much as possible.  It is like reading a cook book, pretty boring.  In the end you might be a better cook, but that boring part drives me crazy.  I prefer to just take a picture.  It is the fun part.  At times my hand shakes in anticipation because  I know I am going to nail it.  It is a high for me.  This stuff is just too analytic. It creeps in and tricks you into thinking there is a best way of taking a photograph.  The key to taking a good photograph is taking a picture.

OK.  Here it comes.  Cameras for me break down into two types point and shoot and interchangeable lens cameras.  Point and shoots (P&S) I  define as those cameras that do not have a lens you can remove.  THe interchangeable lens cameras, called digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras,  have different lenses you can attach to the camera.  There are other differences between the two, but this is the primary difference.

Lenses are more important than the camera.  (Providing the camera actually works.)  I cannot stress the importance of the lens enough.  A great lens will make you a better photographer.   It will give you the best image quality (IQ).   So when you are cruising the net looking for a lens look for something that describes the IQ.  I know all those camera companies tell you to get mega pixels, face recognition, smile recognition, blink recognition, GPS, or one that serves as a hammer (My brother says that mine can be used).  I say buy IQ.

Lenses are more important than the camera.  I just wanted to make sure.  After the IQ you should next consider what type of lens.  There are two categories zoom lenses and fixed lenses.  Zoom lenses  are the ones that zoom.  Probably that didn't help much.  They can bring the subject in closer or move it further away without you having to move.  There are two types of zoom lenses, ones that push and pull and ones that twist.  It is generally accepted that twisty ones are better, and cost more.  Don't forget the IQ.  I think all P&S's have a zoom lens.  If you buy a DSLR and there is a lens attached it will probably be a zoom lens.  On P&S cameras the zoom is usually defined in two ways optical and digital.   With an optical zoom the lens is bringing the subject closer, and with digital zoom the camera is doing the work.   In other words with digital zoom the camera is actually cropping the photograph, and with optical this is not happening.  For my money you are better off cropping in  the computer.

Lenses are more important than the camera.  Did I say that before?  Oh well, who cares?  Those fixed focal lenses won't bring the subject closer or move it further away.  You will have to zoom with your feet.  I mean actually walk closer or back up.  They really won't help with weight loss though.  Well, if you had to walk a really long way they might.  Hey, there is an idea.  As seen on TV weight loss lens.

OK lets compare and contrast the categories of lenses.  The reader should keep in mind that the things I'm about to state are general rules and there are exceptions.  There was a time when fixed lenses were considered superior by far, but it is no longer the case.  There are many zooms that rival and even surpass fixed lenses.  Zoom lenses cost more, unless you have to buy several fixed lenses to accomplish what the zoom can do.  Fixed lenses can have a lower F-stop (This is a topic all its own.  Maybe later. Having a lower F-stop is usually better.  F 2.8 is better than 5.6.)  The lower the F-stop the more it the lens will cost.

One final word on lenses, people spend time selecting cameras and little time with lenses.  It really should be the other way around.  Ask any pro and they will tell you the same thing, the better the lens IQ the better the photograph.  I read an article not long ago about a photographer who was using a D10, introduced in 2003, to shoot magazine covers.  His lenses were the best.  I learned the hard way.  When I started shooting sports I used an OK lens.  I soon discovered that it would not produce the results needed.  I bought another superior lens that cost more, and made more money.  I should have just spent the money the first time around.  Once you have decided on a lens look for a used one.  There are a bunch of them for sell on EBAY, or sites that sell used equipment.

Pixels, pixels, pixels I'm sick of them.  Just sick of them. Get more, get more.  I don't even know why.  They are dots.  Yes, dots, granted a bunch of dots, but dots they are.  I shot with a 4 megapixel camera for years.  I bet some of you have pics I shot with that camera.  I even bet that there are some who have 11x14 prints.  Here is the draw back to pixels the more you have the more space they take.  Larger more expensive SD cards, more computer hard drive space, and more memory are needed.  So if you usually print 4x6's then a six mega pixel camera will get the job done and you'll even get an 8x10.

Shutter lag is the length of time after pushing the shutter until the picture is taken.  There is nothing more frustrating than pushing the shutter and nothing happens until the action is over.  Most cameras made today have a short shutter lag, but not all.  When I say short I mean less than 4 tenths of a second.  Do a search before buying.  I don't care what bows and whistles it has, get a short shutter lag.  Just think, little Tommy threw a spoonful of ice cream and hit Aunt Louise in the middle of the forehead and the shutter lag caused you to miss it. You throw the camera against the wall.  Usually not a good thing for the camera, the wall, or your pocket book.   Short shutter lag gets the shot saving the day, money and frustration, and allows you to embarrass your aunt.  You can also wait until Tommy gets older and brings his new girl friend over and show her what he did.  Hey another opportunity for a photograph.

ISO (I don't care what it stands for) is the measure used to determine the sensitivity to light.  In other words the lower the ISO number the less sensitivity to light.  The higher the number the greater the sensitivity to light.  There is a trade though.  With ISO 100 there is less digital noise than at ISO 800.  If the digital noise gets bad enough the picture is ugly (Ugly is my scientific term).  On the hand with a high ISO you can achieve a higher shutter speed which will freeze action or get the photograph with less light.  You can use the higher ISO when Tommy is learning to ride a bike, and you want a shot of him falling.  Another time would be at a wedding when the minster says, "No flash unless it is a bolt of lighting."  Camera companies lie about ISO.  In most of the newer cameras they will give an ISO of up to 51,000.  You would be capable of shooting a cup of black coffee, in a cave at midnight.  They don't tell you about the noise, and the ugly. So again search find the useable ISO.  Not the one the company says, but the one you can actually use without it getting ugly.  Examples below.  Click on the photograph to enlarge and then again to see the noise more plainly.  ISO 3200 is the UGLY.

Photograph size is determined by the number of pixels.  Yeah I already made my stance clear on pixels, but I'm not going to say I'm sick of them.  (I am though.)  The more pixels the larger you can make a print.  This is not always true, but in most cases it is.  It is pretty widely accepted that to print 300 dots per square inch (DPI) or 240 DPI is needed.  People confuse pixels and DPI and they should not.  They are different.  So if you want to print you should shoot with a large number of pixels.  On the other hand if you are only showing the pics on a computer, internet, facebook, TV, or digital picture frame only need 72 DPI is needed.  I regularly have people bring in pics from a  1-2 megapixel camera phone to print.  They have gone over to the ugly side at 4x6 inches even though they look great on the internet.  My suggestion use the highest pixel setting. You can make it smaller in your computer, but making it larger is much more difficult.

 RAW (don't know) and JPEG (don't care) are different ways of capturing an image.  When shooting in JPEG the camera interprets the image.  In other words it does some editing of the photograph in camera. Raw does not do this to the extent that a JPEG does.  RAW leaves the decision to the photographer, and the software that the photographer uses.  The software is called a RAW converter.  Most professionals use RAW.  If you want control shoot in RAW.  If you want to make minor adjustments or none at all use JPEG.

Just writing this makes me not want to take another picture.  I'm thinking about going outside and counting the blades of grass.  Bored.

White balance describes the different colors of light.  Yeah there are a bunch of different colors of light.  The flash has a color, incandescent bulbs another, sunlight another and on and on and on.  Most of you should probably use auto and forget it.  I do most of time, but I occasionally change it in computer.  If you have ever gotten a pic with a yellow or blue cast it probably was a white balance problem.  This is a real problem shooting indoor sports.  Those lights flicker different colors, and usually gyms replace them at different times causing them to give off different colors.  So first there is a blue color, then a kind of brown, and then one that is right and it starts all over again.   THe first pic white balance problem second is corrected

Modes are the camera's way of setting the camera to get "the best photograph".   I read a review the other day on a camera that had 20 different modes including pet, fireworks, food (really).  If you remember to set the camera mode correctly it will more than likely be a miracle.  If you do though, it will probably help.  I never use them.  If someone else wants to discuss them contact me, or use the comments section to enlighten us all.

Image stabilization is used to control camera shake.  I don't know how it works.  Camera shake is the motion of the camera caused by photographer movement. It will allow you to take picture using a slower shutter speed without camera shake.  For the most part 1/30 of a second is the slowest shutter speed without there being camera shake, but with image stabilization 1/15 of a second and slower may be achievable.  If however the subject is moving image stabilization doesn't really help and it is called motion blur.

Almost done is anyone awake out there.

Flash, ya'll know what that is.  No I'm not talking about an old man in a trench coat standing on the corner.  The other kind of flash.  Come on get with it.  There are two basic kinds of flashes on board and flash guns.  The guns are better and cost more.  With an on board flash you will usually light up about 10 feet.  So if you are sitting in the back of an auditorium waiting for Tommy to get his diploma, and then jump up to take that shot...UGLY is about to happen.  Oh you can show people the back of several people's heads, but Tommy will be in darkness.  With a flash gun you stand a chance.  Many will light up over 100 feet.  There is another difference the guns usually recycle faster.  So with a flash gun you may get two chances as he is handed his diploma, but with an on board flash you'll only get the back of those heads once.

Video.   My suggestion is get a video camera, but I don't know much about this.  Anyone who wants to venture in can.

Next getting that camera.  Promise.  Well, unless I change my mind.  Yes I'm in touch with my feminine side.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I am starting this blog to give my humble incites into the world of photography.   I hope from the postings you can learn from my failures and successes.  Most of the readers here I expect will be in the beginning stages of photography, and it is my hope to help you get better.

I read once about a National Geographic photographer (forgot his name and assignment).  He had been sent to Africa.  If memory serves me correctly and he took over 10,000 photographs while there.  I counted the ones published there were 9.  Just nine.  I remember thinking I can do that.  Of course it is just not that simple, but in some ways it is.  From the article I took away three lessons take a bunch of photographs, go there and get someone to pay your way.

The first lesson, take a bunch of photographs, is for two reasons.  First, if you found it worth shooting once why not twice or even three times.  Come on it was pretty, cute, silly or whatever.  Sure you stood there and got that shot, now down on your knees or stomach.  How about stand over it?  Or under it?  Did you think about behind it?  It is the digital age use that card up.  You will hate it if you get home and think I should have done this or that.  I don't care if your photographing a dog, a flower, or Aunt Mildred take a bunch.  I think you get my drift.  You may want to protest that people will object.   Oh, fudge muffins.  Everyone is used to having their picture taken.  It's done at the grocery store, turnpike, bank, pharmacy, casinos, cell phones do it, Walmart parking lot, and even cameras do it.  I'll bet you have a camera within arms reach right now.  Do you get it?   Take a bunch of photographs.  The other reason is you want to get better.  To get better  you need to practice.  Shoot a rifle?   Target...practice   Cook?....I'll practice on the family.  The other day I spent an hour photographing in a bathroom.  Oh come on I wouldn't photograph that.  (Well I might.)  It was the fixtures, the way the light hit the wall, door knob, just the stuff there.  I wanted to now if I could make it interesting.  Sure you laugh at me, but the other day I finished fourth in a contest.  I had shot typing paper.

The next lesson is go there.  You could stay home, and watch snooky (Whatever her name is, on whatever the show is called.  I think it should be: Washed up on Shore.) or you could go there.  Where is there?  Where ever the photograph is.  In the bathroom, down at the bottoms, a National Park, Europe, Africa.  It is where ever you find the pretty.  So let me define the pretty.  It is a flower, a dog, Aunt Mildred.  I found pretty in a piece of paper, at the ocean, my cats, the mountains, my wife, basketball.  It is there go find it. After all it's the digital age and there is delete.

This last one is a little tricky.  Since it is tricky, I'm not going to spend much time on it.  If you get good enough someone will pay you to go to the pretty.

OK so next time I'll discuss camera selection.