Digital SLR Guide

Looking to move from a ‘point and shoot’ digital camera to a more serious digital SLR model? Confused about why you might want to? Here’s what you need to know...

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By  Matthew Wade Published  March 1, 2007

|~|Digital-SLR---m.gif|~||~|According to the result of this year’s Windows Middle East Reader Survey, most Windows readers own and use digital still cameras, but these are usually consumer models and few of you own or use digital SLR (DSLR) devices. What we also know however, from the e-mails and letters we receive each week, is that many of you more creative and enthusiastic snappers are seriously considering making the move to SLR soon. With the region’s biggest digital photography event, Gulf Photo Plus, taking place later this month in Dubai (for details visit www.gulfphotoplus.com), we thought this was an excellent time to offer interested snappers some useful advice. To this end we caught up with Chris Hurtt. Hailing from the United States, Chris is a successful freelance commercial photographer and instructor for the online Perfect Picture School of Photography. He will be hosting several workshops during Gulf Photo Plus 2007, including Kick Start in Digital SLR, Top Tips for Digital Shooters and Lens Choice to name just three. Why move to DSLR? The price difference between a standard ‘point and shoot’ (P&S) digicam and even an entry-level digital SLR can be hundreds of dollars, if not more. For those users not already committed to such a serious cash outlay then, we asked Chris to explain what benefits DSLR cameras offer that ‘point and shoot’ products can’t match, to help you work out whether an SLR is for you. “With a P&S camera, it really does all the 'thinking’ for you, which means creative control is very limited. “With a DSLR you can, for instance, manually control your exposures - your camera’s aperture and shutter speed - which you can’t do with a P&S. Say you’re in a big city and taxi cabs or cars are going by, you could adjust these settings to easily take a photograph that shows motion blur. This process is called panning.” The opposite of panning, he explains, is what he terms ‘freezing the action’. “If you have kids for instance and they have sporting events, you might want to snap a football player when he or she is just about to kick the ball. It’s these kind of freeze shots that you see in the newspapers too, for example when players look like they’re truly frozen in the air. For this kind of shot, Chris says, you would adjust the DSLR’s settings to use an ‘open’ or ‘wide’ aperture and obviously a very short shutter speed too. “If you try and do this kind of shot with a P&S,” Hurtt adds in comparison, “all you’re going to see is blurred people.” Click for action The other key advantage, which Chris reckons is the main reason many digi-snappers moving to SLR, is a major annoyance, and that’s the problem of ‘shutter lag’. “When you press the button of a P&S model, there is a delay before the shot is taken,” he explains. “This is awful - you miss so many shots this way - people are smiling, you press, and they drop their smiles. This problem is magnified even further with sports photography. If you’re shooting this type of action, you just miss the moment. Digital SLRs do experience shutter lag too, but it’s in the order of milliseconds.” It’s also a lot easier with an SLR to capture night shots with long exposures - “on every postcard in the world you see this technique being used, to show those beautiful skies”, Hurtt says. “It’s difficult to get this type of accuracy regularly with a P&S; because the camera is guessing for you and you can get a difficult effect each time”. Last but not least, with DSLR kit, you also have the ability to change the lenses of your camera, “so depending on the type of lens you attach, there isn’t really a photograph you can’t take,” Hurtt says. BUYING ADVICE Forget MPs The main camera specification we all see bandied about, both in the press and in advertisements, is a camera’s megapixel (MP) rating. Five years ago for example three MPs was a revolutionary amount for a quick shooter, then it was five, now even P&S models are getting up to eight megapixels and beyond. So how much should you take these stats into account when looking to buy an SLR? Chris advises… “Point and shoots and SLRs are getting to the point where they have the same megapixel ratings. A standard Nikon P&S model for instance now offers between five and seven MPs,” Hurtt says, “so this isn’t too much of a concern.” Where P&S and SLR models differ however, and it’s a key difference, is the image quality they can produce, and this is down not to the MP rating but the on-board image sensors themselves. “The image quality of an SLR is a lot higher, because they use much larger sensors. It’s not necessarily about more pixels,” Chris suggests. “A P&S sensor you see is typically 5-7mm in size, whereas SLR sensors are from 24mm right up to 36mm at the widest. Therefore the detectors are larger and you get a much cleaner image as a result.” “With Adobe Photoshop and all the things you can do now in terms of post-shot editing, a 6MP camera can give you a large, almost poster-sized photo; such as 11 x 14 inches, that kind of size,” Hurtt adds. “So, generally speaking, as far as buying cameras based on megapixel ratings goes, those days are kind of over.” Canon? Nikon? Don't sweat it... If you think Mac users and PC users are firmly entrenched in their respective technological positions, you should hear photographers debating the pros and cons of Canon and Nikon SLR cameras, Chris says. However the first time buyer shouldn’t worry at all, he reckons, about which side of the fence they come down on, as the quality of grass is excellent on both sides. Hurtt explains: “Regarding the Nikon versus Canon war, as far as which is better, this argument will go on forever. The bottom line is that you just pick one and stick with it. They all have their pros and cons - I shoot both Canon and Nikon. It’s really subjective, and remember - it’s usually pros and serious amateurs discussing this, people who’ve invested US $10-15K in their gear, so they have to be passionate about it. It’s driven by ego.” Lenses: use what you’re given ‘Most of the Canons and Nikons coming out now come with what’s referred to as a ‘kit’ lense - this has a 18-55mm range, is a zoom lens and often as not comes with the camera,” says Hurtt. “This type is a very good, very versatile lens. It’s got fantastic optical quality and will really serve you well. If you then want to get a telephoto zoom lens, in the 70-300mm range; Nikon and Canon offer these for a few hundred US dollars. These are great for shooting portraits, sport shots, selective focus pictures - this is very much something you can do with an SLR but not a P&S,” Chris continues. “For instance, you might take a portrait shot of a person with muted, blurry yet colourful background. That’s done with a telephoto lens. At the high-end, up near 300mm, this effect is amazing - it will knock out the background detail completely so as not to distract your viewer from the portrait subject. Telephoto lenses are perfect for isolating a subject from everything around them like this.” Vendor models Two companies that have recently hit the market here with their first digital SLR cameras are Panasonic and Sony. Whilst Canon and Nikon might be the DSLR giants of the world right now, Hurtt doesn’t believe buyers should avoid these new offerings, but he does suggest you check one crucial factor before parting with your funds: “With Sony and Panasonic models, it all depends on what type of lenses they take. What I can tell you is that they’re just as competent as the Nikons and Canons, so providing they’re built to take Nikon and Canon lenses then I would say go ahead and buy one if you like it and it’s a good price. If these cameras will only take their own lenses however, then I would stay away; the reason being that if that vendor decides to get out of the SLR market later, they stop making lenses and you’ve spent a thousand dollars, you might just be out of luck.” Stop dreaming, start shooting! If you’re reading Windows then the chances are you’re a technology lover and prone to always hankering after the latest, greatest kit. When you’ve bought a new digital SLR however, Hurtt says you should stop looking around. “There's always going to be something better out there. Once you’ve bought a digital SLR though, focus on it and make it do what it can do.” ||**||New Additions|~|CAM.gif|~||~|The latest digital SLR cameras to hit the Middle East market. Beginners walk this way... SONY D-SLR A100 Sony’s first digital SLR offering was developed to meet demand from both high-level amateurs and families alike. Code-named the ‘alpha’, this device is built around Sony’s Bionz image processing engine and a 10.2 megapixel resolution CCD sensor. Features include a Super SteadyShot anti-shake function to prevent blurry pictures, an anti-dust system to protect its sensor, high speed DDR-SDRAM capable of capturing three frames per second continuously (so that moments are never missed) and Sony’s new lithium ion ‘stamina’ battery pack, with which the vendor suggests a user can shoot up to 750 shots in a single charge. Sony offers a range of 21 high-quality interchangeable lenses with this first SLR release, including Carl Zeiss designed lenses and two teleconverters. The Alpha can also accept Minolta’s DSLR lenses. Specs: Sony Bionz processing engine, 10.2 megapixel resolution CCD sensor, high-speed DDR-SDRAM, Super SteadyShot anti-shake function, anti-dust system, lithiun ion ‘stamina’ battery pack, 2.5” Clear Photo LCD Plus display with 230,000 dot high-res playback, D-Range Optimizer, White Balance, AF Mode and Exposure Mode, Auto Focus (AF) System Lens support: Accepts Minolta lenses and Sony’s (produced in collaboration with Minolta) Price: $953 (includes 18-70mm lens) Tel: +9714 800 7669 ------------------------ NIKON D40 Billed as the lightest, most compact Nikon digital SLR ever, and featuring intuitive controls and an ergonomically designed structure that first-time SLR users can easily enjoy, the D40 is based upon Nikon’s DX Format CCD image sensor and offers a resolution of 6.1 megapixels. This model can handle a fast 2.5 frames per second - in bursts of up to 100 JPEG frames - while its 420-pixel RGB sensor delivers what Nikon claims is consistent, dependable automatic exposure for ideal results in almost all lighting conditions. In addition the D40 packs in no less than eight automated so-called ‘Digital Vari-Programs’ [Auto, Auto (Flash Off), Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close Up, and Night Portrait], which help the user get the very best shos by optimising white balance, sharpening, tone, color, saturation and hue to perfectly match the scene being shot. Specs: CCD image sensor, 6.1 megapixels, 2.5 frames per second, near-instant .018-second power-up, 3D Color Matrix Metering II, Digital Vari-Programs, 2.5-inch LCD monitor, shutter speed control range 30-1/4000 s, i-TTL flash control, Nikon Creative Lighting System support, includes Nikon PictureProject editing software and support for Nikon Capture NX software Lens support: Accepts only Nikon lenses Price: $681 (includes 512Mbyte SD card and starter lens) Tel: +9714 282 3700 ------------------------ PANASONIC DMC-L1 Panasonic’s first digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera with interchangeable lens, the DMC-L1, was designed by the Japanese electronics giant to offer superb rendering capabilities and be a pleasure to use. The DMC-L1 comes equipped with a LEICA D VARIO-ELMARIT lens, the first Leica lens designed specifically for a digital SLR camera and is equipped with MEGA O.I.S. (optical image stabiliser). In terms of its other features, the DMC-L1 incorporates a Live MOS image sensor that conforms to the Four Thirds standard and offers 7.5 megapixels to ensure great picture quality. The camera also introduces to this market a full-time Live View function that, using a signal output directly from the Live MOS sensor, lets users see on the LCD screen the same image seen by the sensor. With full-time Live View on hand and the DMC-L1’s large LCD display, Panasonic claims this allows SLR snappers to compose shots in new ways and with greater ease and accuracy than ever before. Specs: Venus Engine III, LEICA D VARIO-ELMARIT lens, MEGA O.I.S, Live MOS image sensor, 7.5 megapixels, sensor-based dust reduction system, F2.8-3.4 brightness from 28mm wide angle to 100mm telephoto, magnesium allow body Lens support: Accepts Olympus & Sigma lenses Price: US $2179 Tel: +9714 881 9880 ------------------------ CANON EOS 400D Billed as Canon’s ‘next-generation’ DSLR, the EOS 400D features a 10.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, new EOS Integrated Cleaning System, larger and brighter 2.5” LCD and 9-point auto-focus (AF). This new release is positioned above Canon’s EOS 350D, which the firm claims was the fastest selling SLR camera of all time and effectively kick-started a digital revolution back in 2003. Additional EOS 400D features include Picture Style image processing parameters, a DIGIC II image processor that touts a rapid 0.2-second start-up time, Digital Photo Professional RAW processing software, and full compatibility with all Canon EF and EF-S lenses and EX-series Speedlites. Specs: 10.1 megapixel CMOS image sensor, DIGIC II image processor, EOS Integrated Cleaning System, internal Dust Delete Data system, 2.5” high-resolution LCD display, 9-point AF, maximum frame burst rate of 27 large JPEGs (and 10 RAW), PictBridge connectivity, Digital Photo Professional & RAW converter software, 100Mbytes of personal photo storage & sharing space (Canon Image Gatewayonline) Lens support: Accepts only Canon lenses Price: $953 (includes 1Gbyte memory card, tri-pod & Canon EF18-55mm lens) Tel: +9714 391 5050 ||**||

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