Guest post by Justin McKee
What is this madness?!
In this series I’ll touch on manual control, megapixels upon megapixels and lenses that can seemingly see into your soul. Each blog will feature a different aspect of a camera that allows a picture to be exposed properly and, once all that is covered, we’ll dive head first into different scenarios that allow you to use this knowledge to its fullest. But for now, let’s learn about the high quality cameras before going any further.
A DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera has two main components — a body and a lens. If you buy such a camera in a kit, you should have both of these. The camera body is what records the photo, and the camera’s lens is what compresses the light entering the camera onto the camera’s sensor. But hey, one thing at a time.
THE CAMERA’S BODY
A DSLR camera’s body is used to capture the image you’re after. Inside of your camera, beneath a mirror and a shutter, lies a single sensor. This sensor uses complex photodiodes to organize light into pixels. Pixels are minuscule squares of varying color that, combined together, create a photograph. Back in the day, film was used in a digital sensor’s stead to capture an image, however, technology has allowed for us to have a far faster method of image capture.
Digital sensors give us the ability to write our images to a memory card. It’s way faster than using film and for the social media buffs it’s great because they can get their images onto Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram in a far more timely manner.
A camera body’s digital sensor comes in varying sizes. My Canon 5D Mark III has a full frame sensor, which is basically the same size as 35mm film. Full frame cameras tend to cost a lot of money so there’s also the option to have smaller sensors. An Aps-c sized sensor is a smaller sensor that is a bit more gentle on the bank account. These sensors are amazing in that they can capture images that are high quality but they also have a few drawbacks such as noisier images (more on that in the post about ISO).
A memory card is vital to your DSLR’s function. Without a card you won’t be able to keep any images you take. Memory cards can be found just about anywhere, and they’ve really changed over the years as far as size goes. I remember back in high school that it was cool to have an 8 gigabyte flash drive — I currently have a 64 gigabyte memory card in my camera. I’ve even seen memory cards that go up to 512 gigabytes. Expect to pay upwards of $1,000 for them though.
It’s really staggering to compare a DSLR to a point-and-shoot camera because once you learn how to control a camera manually you begin to understand how much engineering goes into making something like your phone’s camera automated.
You’ll learn more about a camera body’s functions as we discuss different photographic techniques in future posts. For example, next week’s post will touch on shutter speed. With a DSLR, shutter speed is determined by you manually and knowing what number to set that speed to can drastically change how your photos will turn out.
What’s a camera without a lens? Not much. A camera needs a lens in order to organize the light in front of it into a photograph.
A lens is a housing for multiple pieces of glass, also referred to as elements. These elements of glass are what bend light just like a prism or a lighthouse’s Fresnel glass. Some lenses only have a few elements, some have upwards of 20 pieces of glass inside them.
Lenses come in varying focal lengths. Focal length is measured in millimeters, and that measurement is based on the distance from the first piece of glass in a lens to the camera body’s sensor. A lens with a focal length of 16mm creates an exceedingly wide image because more light from across the image plane is allowed into the camera’s body. A lens with a focal length of 200mm narrows down the amount of light passing through the lens and can see subjects that are much farther away.
In general, lenses that are from 8mm to 35mm are considered wide-angle lenses. Lenses that feature focal lengths from 24mm to 135mm are referred to as standard lenses. Lastly, lenses that can reach from 135mm and higher are generally considered telephoto and super telephoto lenses respectively. Personally, I enjoy either wide angle lenses or telephoto lenses. Standard lenses don’t appeal to me as much because they represent focal lengths that are similar to what our eyes see. As a photographer, I want to see and capture images beyond the limitations of my own two eyes.
There are many lenses out there with different capabilities. Some lenses zoom; some do not. Some lenses are better in low light; some are terrible. Generally, the more versatile a lens can be, the more expensive it will be. That’s not to say such lenses are unobtainable or not worth investing in, but price can be a major drawback.
DSLRs bring a lot of quality to photos because of the complete manual control that they offer and the larger size allows for more light to enter the camera… unfortunately, price, size and weight are often what deter people from purchasing these powerful cameras.
The next blog will cover shutter speed — one of the big three settings that determine how well a photo will turn out.
Justin McKee is a small-town photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.