Camera Basics


There are various types of cameras available to you and each one has it's advantages and disadvantages. These are the cameras I own and use. (actually I currently own a Canon G10 and the Nikon D4 ; not the G11 and D3s)

 the Point and Shoot

Advantages- Small and lightweight, easy to use, low cost, large depth of field. "Rugged" versions which are water and impact resistant.

Disadvantages- Very limited control, small sensor, low usable ISO range, lack of ability to control(reduce) the depth of field.

(shown, Olympus 1030SW "Tough" Camera)

the Advanced Point and Shoot/Super Zoom

Advantages- compact with a larger sensor, large zoom range, manual control, cost effective, large depth of field, ability to use external flash.

Disadvantages- Somewhat lacking in low light capability and ability to control the depth of field.

(shown, Canon G11)

the entry level DSLR, Micro 4/3, EVF, etc

Advantages- Interchangeable lenses; this is a big step up, but comes at significant expense. Remote wireless flash control may be built in. Quicker response. Optical thru-the-lens viewfinder.

Disadvantages- Cost, sensors not much better than the best advanced point and shoots, more complicated to use, size and weight.

(shown, Nikon D7000)

the Pro DSLR

Advantages- The best capabilities in almost every area. "Battery grip" built in. Durability and handling.

Disadvantage- Expensive. Loss of remote wireless flash control built in.

(shown, Nikon D3s)

As you move from the point-and-shoot to the pro DSLR the capabilities increase and so does the cost. That's the general rule, but the lines are blurring. They are putting better and larger sensors into smaller cameras and technology is changing at a very fast pace. 

When you move from the entry DSLR to the pro DSLR the cost increase is exponential and the capability increase nominal. The professional equipment has a premium price because the little things matter to someone who makes a living with thier cameras. For many the costs may not be justified.


The Image Sensor

The image sensor is one of the most important considerations in choosing a camera. The general rule is that a larger sensor will perform better in low light, give wider fields of view, and give better control of depth of field. The other general rule is that more megapixels (for a given sensor size) will perform worse in low light but also allow for larger print sizes and deliver more detail. It's a balancing act and individual needs will dictate which choice to make. Just know that "more" isn't always better.

For example, I prefer my "rugged" point and shoot for casual shooting in dangerous environments because it's water and impact proof. I prefer my advanced point-and-shoot for close-up "macro" type shots because the small sensor coupled with the wider lens creates a much deeper  depth of field. I prefer my "crop sensor" DSLR for the "added reach" I get when working at long distances. And I prefer my pro DSLR for it's low light capabilities, overall handling and performance. 

Crop Factor:

*the crop factors shown are rounded

Crop factor is discussed in relation to the size of a 35mm film negative. 35mm film size is considered "full frame" with no crop factor. Every sensor smaller than a full frame is a "crop sensor" but the term "crop body" is generally used for cameras with the APS-C size sensors. The term "crop factor" comes from the idea that if you took a full frame image you would have to "crop it down" to match the field of view captured by the smaller sensor size.

But crop factor is not the same as cropping an image. When you crop an image you "throw away" pixels and data originally captured, crop factor does not. Crop factor is more like zoom. Crop factor does not actually give greater magnification, but the appearance is similar.

Crop factor is different than zoom, or magnification, in one significant aspect. Increasing the zoom/magnification makes details clearer and crop factor does not. If the subject is far enough away to be lacking in detail then having more pixels lacking detail isn't going to help. 

The math is simple. If you have an APS-C (DX) sensor the crop factor is roughly 1.5x. So if you are using a 200mm lens it will look like you are using a 300mm lens as far as the captured FOV is concerned.

It's not all about sensor size and Megapixels

Technology is changing. Sensors are becoming more efficient at gathering light energy and processors are becoming more effective in converting that energy. My D7000 generates no more noise than my D300 did, probably even less. The D7000 is a 16MP camera and the D300 was a 12MP camera. The D7000 can deliver larger prints and more detail than the D300 could.
By the time I get done writing these articles I'll probably have to start all over again. 


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