Got a particular photo in mind that you can’t capture with your standard point and shoot? Interested in entering the artistic world of bokeh? Or are you simply fascinated by the stunning images produced using HDR software? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be time to upgrade to a DSLR camera. Larger image sensors, faster lenses, bigger zooms, advanced features and the enhanced versatility of interchangeable lenses—if you’re ready to enter the next level of photography, you need to buy a DSLR camera. Here’s what you need to know to make the switch.
DSLR Cameras are an Investment
Advanced optics, quality lenses, and microprocessors don’t come cheap. The first thing you need to know when switching to a DSLRs is that you’re looking at an entry level price of at least $400-500 for a basic DSLR. You’re investing in your future as a photographer, and you can’t rely on a single spec to tell you which camera is best. Rather you are making a conscious decision of what combination of features in specs will allow you to capture that photo you had in mind that made you want to upgrade in the first place. Buy the camera that helps you take the type of pictures that you want to take. Buy the camera that will give you the most fun.
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Demystifying Aperture or f Number
The aperture is a hole in the lens that allows light into the camera’s sensor. In the same way that the amount of light that enters your eye is limited by the size of your pupil, the amount of light that enters a camera is limited by the size of the lens’s aperture. Aperture can cause a lot of confusion to newcomers to the world of DSLR photography, because the f number sizing system is counterintuitive. While the impulse is to think of larger numbers being associated with larger values, an aperture of f/1.4 is actually significantly larger than an aperture of f/8.0. This makes more sense if you understand the inner workings of a camera lens. The f-number actually refers to how open or closed the diaphragm is, and is a dimensionless ratio of the lens’s focal length to the diameter of the opening. The larger the aperture of a lens (the smaller the f number), the more light can reach the light sensor or film. The more light that reaches the sensor or film, the shorter the exposure time, and the shorter the exposure time, the faster your shutter speed—this is why a lens with a larger aperture is called a “fast” lens.
A lot of what you can do with a DSLR is affected by the image sensor on your camera. It is often the most expensive component of a DSLR and the reason that these cameras are so huge. The large image sensor allows you to take advantage of larger apertures and control the depth of field of an image. This is how you can create those artistic photos that place emphasis on the subject with a smooth blurred background. The blurred background is called bokeh, the Japanese word for “blur” or “haze,” and there is much literature on the subject of creating quality bokeh. The other major advantage of large image sensors is the ability to shoot in low light conditions and reduce image noise. Larger image sensors give you bigger megapixels, access to higher ISO ranges, better color saturation, the ability to shoot in dynamic ranges and ultimately produce more natural looking images. The image sensor is why a 16 megapixel DSLR takes significantly better photos than a point and shoot or smartphone camera of the same megapixel size.
The viewfinder is what makes a DSLR camera a digital single lens reflex camera. A mirror or pentaprism directs light from the lens to your eye to allow you to see the world exactly as the photo your camera will produce. Technically your camera lens will see the image upside down and inverted, but for all intents and purposes the viewfinder “corrects” the image so that you see it as it exists in real life. This is huge in photography, because it allows the photographer to line up his or her shot exactly as they intended. Of course not all viewfinders are created equal, and the better the viewfinder, the more accurate the photographer.
You can either buy a camera body by itself or with a kit lens. The type of lens you purchase depends on what kind of pictures you wish to take. If you want to take bright and vibrant photographs of flowers and insects, you’ll want a fast macro lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or greater. If you want to capture in huge detail all the objects in a frame, you’ll want a significantly smaller aperture of f/32. Develop a collection of lenses to help you cope with a variety of different shooting conditions.