Want to know how to take the perfect shot?
We've put together a few key topics that will get you talking like a pro photographer in no time! This photography guide will help you in selecting the right camera for you, and will also have you taking professional quality shots.
Why worry about the sensor?
A camera’s sensor, or more specifically its size, it often what a lot of people will look to first when choosing a camera. This is because it has a huge affect on the images a camera produces. As well as the physical size of it, the number of pixels found in the sensor is also very important.
What is a sensor?
A sensor is made up of many millions of light receptors which measure the amount and type of light coming into the camera through the lens. Because there’s so many, this is conveniently measured in Megapixels, where 1 Megapixel is 1,000,000 Pixels.
What are the differences between sizes?
The first thing to get your head around is the how the size of the sensor affects your lens choice and field of view. When considering DSLRs, you’ll find most are either Full-Frame or APS-C sized. Full frame sensors are 36 x 24mm and for example, Canon APS-C sized sensors measure 22.2 x 14.8mm which is a ‘crop factor’ of roughly 1.6 times (other brands cropped sensors have slightly different measurements however they’re very similar). Because everything else about the camera is the same, this ‘crop’ simply means what it sounds like. For a camera of each type of sensor in the same position with the same lens, the full frame one would capture a wider field of view (by 1.6 times – see our example below)..
Is sensor size the only thing to worry about?
One other very important thing to consider regarding the sensor size is noise. This is closely related to the ISO page so check that out if you haven’t already. Consider two sensors, both of the same pixel count – one is full frame and one is an APS-C sized sensor. You can see straight away that the larger physical size of the full frame sensor means that each individual pixel can be larger and therefore it can receive more light. This is very advantageous in low-light situations because its increased sensitivity means the amount of available light can lower more before you have to raise the ISO, resulting in higher quality photographs. The same is true of sensors of the same size, where one has a lower pixel count - again allowing each individual pixel to have a larger surface area. The big idea here is that while the pixels are definitely important, don’t judge a camera solely on its pixel count.
What is aperture?
Aperture is the size of the opening in your lens and is one of the ways you can control how much light comes into the camera.
How does it work?
A larger opening means more light can come in and a smaller opening means less light can come in.Aperture is measured in F-stops where a small F-stop, like F/1.4, is a large opening and a large F-stop, like F/8, is a much smaller opening.
What are ‘stops’?
The following are ‘full stops’, where each stop down lets half as much light in as the one before: F/1, F/1.4, F/2, F/2.8, F/4, F/5.6, F/8, F/11, F/16, F/22 and F/32 (in theory this continues on, but this is the most common range found in DSLR lenses). You will also find though that most cameras will have the option to use fractions of full stops, like F/1.8 for example. The key is to remember that a small number is a big opening and a large number is a small opening. To get you up to speed on some photography lingo, lenses that have a very wide maximum aperture (like F/1.4) are called ‘fast’ and lenses with smaller maximum apertures (like F/5.6) are not as fast.
What does changing the aperture do?
There is a two-fold effect to changing the size of the aperture and it has to do with the depth of field, which is the area of the photo that is in focus. Large apertures give a very shallow depth of field and small apertures give a deeper depth of field. So for example, landscapes are much more suited to small apertures like F/8, F/11, etc., because much more of the image is in focus, whereas a large aperture is helpful for portraits because it allows you to isolate the subject and have the background well out of focus.
How does shutter speed work?
Inside a conventional DSLR, a mirror reflects light up to the viewfinder while you frame and focus your shot. When you press the shutter button, it flips up to reveal the sensor. In front of the sensor is the shutter – a curtain of sorts, which then opens and closes at a rate specified either by you (if in a manual mode) or the camera (if set to Auto). The longer the sensor is left exposed, the more light is captured and vice versa.
Why change shutter speed?
The trade off with a long shutter speed is that unless both the subject and camera are perfectly still, your photo will be blurry – more and more the longer the shutter speed. To freeze motion (helpful for sports or wildlife photography), a fast shutter speed is required. For sports or fast action, you could start at around 1/500th-1/800th of a second and adjust as needed.
Shutter speed can be used creatively too. See what happens when you get down to 1/50th of a second and below, like in our example below:
What is the connection between shutter speed and aperture?
It can be helpful to use the analogy of a bucket of water to understand how shutter speed and aperture relate to each other. Imagine an empty bucket on the ground. To fill it with water, you need to use either a small tap for a minute or two, or a very thick fire hose for only a few seconds. Aperture and shutter speed work a bit like this. If you have a large aperture (big opening – like the fire hose), you can afford to have a very short shutter speed. For the same situation, if you have a very small aperture (small opening - like a tap or garden hose), you need a longer shutter speed to get the right exposure (fill the bucket). Changing one always affects the other.
ISO, What does it stand for?
ISO stands for International Standards Organisation. On your camera, ISO refers to how sensitive the sensor is to light.
What is the difference between Low ISO and High ISO?
Your camera will perform at its best when least sensitive, or at its lowest ISO (usually ISO 100). To do this though, you need a LOT of light. If you’re in a situation with very little light, the only way you can shoot at a low ISO is to use a long shutter speed with your camera on a tripod. This isn’t always possible so the alternative is to increase the sensor’s sensitivity. Modern cameras will perform quite well up to ISO values of 1600 or more, however the trade off with increasing the ISO is always lower image quality in the way of ‘noise’, or graininess (see example below).
How do you change ISO?
You can set the ISO manually or make the camera choose it automatically depending on the amount of light it meters. When you get used to how your camera performs as certain ISO levels, you can set a maximum ISO it will increase to in auto mode which can be a very handy feature.
What Flash options are available?
There are two main categories of flashes: built-in flash and external flash. Most cameras will have a built-in flash (high end DSLRs are the exception) that can be used and controlled manually or completely automatically. In full auto mode on your DSLR, the flash will pop up if it doesn’t detect enough light, as it would on a point-and-shoot camera. External flashes can be used on camera as well, however owning one also gives you the option to use it off the camera for even greater control of light and creative effects.
What are the benefits of an external flash?
‘Bouncing’ the light off walls or ceilings is particularly common and useful with an external flash mounted on a DSLR via the hot-shoe (as per our example below). External flashes are much more powerful than built-in ones in general but as such, they require their own power supply (good quality rechargeable batteries are recommended). The classic ‘red-eye’ problem is only possible when the flash is fired from a position along the line of sight from the lens to the person (or very close to the lens, like a built-in flash), as the light literally reflects off the retina at the back of the eye. Using an off camera flash or bouncing your flash eliminates this issue .
DSLR lenses are not built onto the camera – they instead have a lens mount, allowing you to change them as required. Lenses come in different shapes, sizes and colours with various uses and vary in price greatly! Aside from the actual quality of the optics inside the lens, the main things you’d look for when choosing a lens are focal length, maximum aperture, autofocus, image stabilisation and the minimum focusing distance:
- Focal length is measured in millimetres. Focal lengths up to 24mm are generally considered ultra wide to wide angle, 50mm is a good ‘normal’ viewing angle – similar to what our eyes see, and anything above that is considered telephoto. Some lenses allow you to zoom over a certain range (18-55mm is a popular one) and some are fixed to a particular focal length.
- Maximum aperture is the lowest f-number a lens will go down to. Larger apertures are harder and more expensive to design and make (especially in zoom lenses) and are therefore more expensive. Professional zoom lenses will usually have a fixed aperture throughout their zoom range (like F/2.8 or F/4), whereas cheaper zoom lenses may vary from something like F3.5-6.3 as you zoom in further.
- Autofocus is reasonably self-explanatory – most current lenses have some form of autofocus and modern focusing systems are generally very quick and quiet. Some older lenses can only focus manually.
- Image Stabilization is found in some lenses and is designed to reduce the effect of camera movement. Optics in the lens physically move to counteract bumps and shakes. This enables you to use a slower shutter speed so this feature is very helpful in low light situations. Keep in mind though, that if you want to freeze motion you still need a fast shutter speed.
- Minimum focusing distance is again, quite obvious. It’s the closest distance the lens can focus to and is especially important for macro photography, however it’s good to know what it is for any given lens. Lenses with a longer focal length tend to have a longer minimum focusing distance.
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