Topic Wiki

Quick tips on random subjects that come up in between classes (will add as we go along):

Food photography tips
Newborn photography tips

Table of Contents (I'll change each line to a link as we go along.)

Introduction

1) Choosing a camera: Point and Shoot vs. Mirrorless vs. DSLR
2) Camera specs: What do they mean, and which ones matter to me?
3) Exposure Basics Part 1 - the shutter speed/aperture/ISO triangle
4) Exposure Basics Part 2 - getting to know your mode dial, and other exposure controls
5) All about memory cards

Lenses 101 - technology, terminology, and specs, zooms vs. primes, basic/advanced/unique lenses

Lighting 101 - focusing specifically on easy to afford and easy to use setups
Small flash - on camera, off camera, modifiers and accessories
Studio strobes
Continuous lighting - fluorescent, LED, and halogen
Basic light modifiers - umbrellas, softboxes, gels, reflectors
Basic supports - lightstands, umbrella brackets, backgrounds, etc.

All about accessories - memory cards, tripods, bags, filters, remotes, adapters, grips, geotaggers, and more)


So I bought all my stuff - now what?

What makes a compelling photograph?
Depth of field
Composition basics - rule of thirds, perspective, framing
Advanced composition - negative space, inclusion and exclusion, compression
Light - natural, golden hour, basic flash usage.

Let's start shooting...

Kids:
In the park
Playing sports
At home

Landscapes and wildlife:
"Grand" landscapes
"Intimate" landscapes
Seascapes
Waterfalls
Cityscapes
Wildlife
Birds in flight
Shooting in bad weather

Portraits:
Babies and newborns
Single person - indoors
Single person - outdoors
Families/siblings/groups
Natural light
Artificial light - simple
Artificial light - complex
Mixed light

Others:
Close up and macro
Product photography

How do I...? (Some specific scenarios/techniques - Basic)
Shoot out of a plane window?
Shoot underwater?
Shoot compelling black-and-white?

How do I...? (Some specific scenarios/techniques - Advanced)
HDR
Long exposures
Light painting
Twilight landscapes
Milky Way
Star trails

Basic editing concepts:
Exposure
Contrast
Clarity/sharpening
Color
Layers and masking

Poll

What type of camera do shoot with?

Point & Shoot - basic (Canon Elph style) or Smartphone
107 (39.1%)
Point & Shoot - advanced (Canon S100 or G Style)
39 (14.2%)
Mirrorless
21 (7.7%)
DSLR - consumer (Up to a Nikon D5200 or Canon Rebel)
61 (22.3%)
DSLR - prosumer or pro (Nikon D7000 or Canon 60D and up)
23 (8.4%)
P&S, but I plan on getting an SLR or Mirrorless in the near future
23 (8.4%)

Total Members Voted: 224

Author Topic: Learn Photography Master Thread  (Read 89235 times)

Online Something Fishy

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Jan 2011
  • Posts: 4674
  • Total likes: 170
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 34
    • View Profile
    • My Flickr Page
  • Location: Not Brooklyn
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #75 on: May 05, 2013, 03:16:34 AM »
+1
If there is anything you can do to make your pic look nicer with such a camera.
Can we add a 'smartphone' option?  :P I mostly use my iPhone5 cam.

Sure you could make your pics look nicer even if you only use a smartphone, no question about it.

The techniques for smartphones will be extremely similar to P&Ss, so I've lumped them together as one group in the poll.
Check out all my Trip Reports here!

Offline bem684

  • Dansdeals Platinum Elite + Lifetime Silver Elite
  • *****
  • Join Date: Aug 2010
  • Posts: 656
  • Total likes: 3
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 0
    • View Profile
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #76 on: May 05, 2013, 11:16:08 AM »
I strongly recommend the videos from Michael the Maven aka Michael the Mentor aka Michael Andrew. 

I worked for a frum camera store for about 4 years and Michael once gave us a HUGE amount of business by posting on a professional photo forum that we had the Canon 5D III a day before B&H or Adorama (this camera was selling for around $5k at the time, and we got dozens of sales in 24 hours after he made that post).  He has a large following apparently.  Anyway he asked us to start selling his DVDs, which we did.  I bought one for myself when I purchased my Rebel T3i a few months ago. 

I love his videos - they explain every feature and function of your camera, plus photography basics and accessories tips and recommendations.  He shoots with Canon gear so most (but not all) of his videos are Canon related.  But he does such a great job explaining concepts that it's worth looking to see if he has any videos for your camera (or user level).

http://michaelthemaven.com/products/

If you want to support a frum company who also sells his videos, check out PMI Digital on ebay:

http://stores.ebay.com/PMI-Digital/_i.html?_nkw=michael&submit=Search&_sid=227383702


Offline yehuda S

  • Dansdeals Platinum Elite + Lifetime Gold Elite
  • ******
  • Join Date: Jul 2011
  • Posts: 776
  • Total likes: 0
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 1
    • View Profile
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #77 on: May 05, 2013, 02:57:59 PM »
Are all micro 4/3 lenses from different brands (Olympus, Panasonic etc) interchangeable with each other?
Work is what you do between vacations.

Online Something Fishy

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Jan 2011
  • Posts: 4674
  • Total likes: 170
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 34
    • View Profile
    • My Flickr Page
  • Location: Not Brooklyn
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #78 on: May 05, 2013, 02:59:06 PM »
Are all micro 4/3 lenses from different brands (Olympus, Panasonic etc) interchangeable with rematch other?

Yes.
Check out all my Trip Reports here!

Offline jack12

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Dec 2008
  • Posts: 1115
  • Total likes: 0
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 8
    • View Profile
  • Programs: National Emerald Club Executive Elite, Hertz #1 Club Gold Presidents Circle, Sixt Platinum
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #79 on: May 06, 2013, 02:50:12 PM »
What would the Nikon Coolpix P100 - http://www.amazon.com/Nikon-P100-Vibration-Reduction-Black/dp/B0034XFG86 be classified as?

Online Something Fishy

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Jan 2011
  • Posts: 4674
  • Total likes: 170
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 34
    • View Profile
    • My Flickr Page
  • Location: Not Brooklyn
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #80 on: May 06, 2013, 02:51:41 PM »
Check out all my Trip Reports here!

Offline yehuda S

  • Dansdeals Platinum Elite + Lifetime Gold Elite
  • ******
  • Join Date: Jul 2011
  • Posts: 776
  • Total likes: 0
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 1
    • View Profile
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #81 on: May 06, 2013, 03:20:17 PM »
Yes.

Should we change this to all except Sony?
Work is what you do between vacations.

Online Something Fishy

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Jan 2011
  • Posts: 4674
  • Total likes: 170
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 34
    • View Profile
    • My Flickr Page
  • Location: Not Brooklyn
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #82 on: May 06, 2013, 03:25:57 PM »
Should we change this to all except Sony?

There are plenty of other mirrorless systems which are not compatible with each other. Canon M, Nikon 1, Samsung NX to name a few. The only interchangeable brands are Olympus and Panasonic since the Micro 4/3 mount is a joint venture between them.
Check out all my Trip Reports here!

Offline Moshe123

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Sep 2012
  • Posts: 4403
  • Total likes: 29
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 1
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Location: NYC
  • Programs: Lost
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #83 on: May 06, 2013, 03:33:00 PM »
It was awesome to meet Mr. Tall Fishy last night!

Offline jaywhy

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Sep 2012
  • Posts: 3554
  • Total likes: 3
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 7
    • View Profile
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #84 on: May 06, 2013, 03:51:15 PM »
It was awesome to meet Mr. Tall Fishy last night!
+1

Online Something Fishy

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Jan 2011
  • Posts: 4674
  • Total likes: 170
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 34
    • View Profile
    • My Flickr Page
  • Location: Not Brooklyn
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #85 on: May 07, 2013, 12:59:14 AM »
It was awesome to meet Mr. Tall Fishy last night!
+1

Thanks, it was awesome meeting all of you and putting a face to the name :D.
Check out all my Trip Reports here!

Online Something Fishy

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Jan 2011
  • Posts: 4674
  • Total likes: 170
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 34
    • View Profile
    • My Flickr Page
  • Location: Not Brooklyn
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #86 on: May 07, 2013, 01:06:18 AM »
There are already many posts in this thread discussing camera buying questions. If possible, I'd like to keep this thread on topic and discuss the art of photography as opposed to 'which camera should I get'. I've made a Which Camera Should I Get? Master Thread, please feel free to ask any questions related to choosing a camera there. I will be following that thread closely and will try to help as much as possible.

Thanks!

Also, the next lesson should be live either tomorrow or Wednesday. I'm almost done :).
Check out all my Trip Reports here!

Offline Achas Veachas

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Jul 2012
  • Posts: 4227
  • Total likes: 2
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 3
    • View Profile
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #87 on: May 07, 2013, 07:17:37 AM »
Also, the next lesson should be live either tomorrow or Wednesday. I'm almost done :).
Thanks! Was waiting but didn't want to ask for fear of being a nudge to someone already giving so much time for free.
Curiosity made the cat smarter.

Offline DovtheBear

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Nov 2012
  • Posts: 2937
  • Total likes: 0
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 14
    • View Profile
  • Location: ליבי במזרח ואנכי בסוף מערב
  • Programs: Regus Gold, Hertz 5 Star, National Executive, Sixt Platinum, Chase Debit, Rav Kav Emerald
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #88 on: May 07, 2013, 03:43:31 PM »
It was awesome to meet Mr. Tall Fishy last night!
it was awesome meeting all of you and putting a face to the name :D.
+1  8)
"להסתובב זה לא אומר להיות חופשי"

Online Something Fishy

  • Dansdeals Presidential Platinum Elite
  • ********
  • Join Date: Jan 2011
  • Posts: 4674
  • Total likes: 170
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 34
    • View Profile
    • My Flickr Page
  • Location: Not Brooklyn
Re: Learn Photography Master Thread
« Reply #89 on: May 12, 2013, 03:14:24 AM »
Lesson 2.

Remember, click on the wiki if you want to see only the lessons and not the other posts.

Camera specs: What do they mean, and which ones matter to me?

So you've decided on the type of camera you want to get; now the fun part begins. You walk into Best Buy and are assaulted with a hundred different models, all looking pretty much alike, and a salesperson who doesn't know the difference between a microwave and a TV. To top it all off, every camera has a 3-foot list of specs and features attached. Where do you start???

Let's discuss some of the things you might see and how to sift thought the marketing gibberish to find the camera for you.

There are three vital factors which will determine the quality of the pictures your camera will produce: the sensor, the lens, and the processor. The lens projects the image onto the sensor, the sensor records it, and the processor turns it into something you could actually see. Note that by 'quality' I mean technical quality; the artistic quality of your pictures is up to you and you alone.
_________

The sensor
This is the most important part in your camera - it's the 'film', the medium that captures the image. The better the sensor, the better your images. The sensor consists of a chip made out of millions of pixels, with a color filter and micro-lens over every one of them. Every pixel is capable of picking up one data point of light; put a couple of million of these on a chip and you have millions of data points, which the processor then translates into a picture. Here's what you need to know about sensors:

Megapixels: This is the number of pixels on the sensor. 1 million pixels equals 1 megapixel, therefore a 12mp camera will have 12 million individual pixels on its sensor. Once upon a time this was the number one most important camera spec, the one which would generally determine which model you bought. This is not the case anymore; ANY camera currently available will have more megapixels then you know what to do with.

Contrary to popular belief, more megapixels does not necessarily mean better pictures. Back in the day when you had to decide between a 3.2mp camera and a 5.1mp one, it really mattered and the 5.1 would deliver a better image. Nowadays, when every point & shoot has 10, 12, 14 megapixels and even a basic DSLR has 18 or 24, all of them will deliver stunning quality images.

So what’s the advantage of more megapixels? Two things – the more megapixels, the larger you can print, and the more you could crop. As far as printing, for 99% of us in 99% of situations, 10mp is enough – you could easily print up to 11x14” with that. Printing only 4x6”? Technically, 3 megapixels is enough for that. The big advantage then is cropping. The more megapixels, the more you could crop and still end up with a high quality picture. For example, say you took a horizontal shot and want to crop it into a vertical – you’d lose more than half your picture, and therefore more than half your resolution. If you started out with a 14mp image, you now have 6 or so megapixels left; but if you started out with 10mp, you now only have 3 of them left and can't print as big.

Megapixels also have nothing to do with video quality; even 1080p HD is only 2.07mp.

Are there times where less megapixels is more? You betcha. Which bring us right to our next discussion: sensor size.

Sensor Size - This is probably the most important sensor spec, as it had the biggest direct impact on the picture. The sensor size is also the biggest differentiator between a point & shoot and DSLR. If the sensor is bigger, it means that each individual pixel could be bigger, which means more light-gathering ability per pixel, which directly means better pictures. Therefore, all things being equal, a bigger sensor will give you a better picture. With few exceptions, the sensor size goes up as the cameras go up - a P&S will have the smallest, an advanced P&S will be bigger, and so on for mirrorless, APS-C DSLRs, and full-frame DSLRs.

What kind of difference will it make in your pictures? Quite a few. The biggest is probably that you get less noise the bigger the sensor gets. Noise is the colored speckles or grain you see in many pictures taken in low-light situations, when the higher ISO setting pushes the sensor to be more sensitive to light. Therefore, if the actual pixels are bigger, they don't have to be pushed so far since they're inherently more light-sensitive.

What this means in practice is that in low-light situations (not specifically 'dark' - an indoor space that's not flooded with light would also require higher ISOs), you'd get a cleaner, sharper picture without noise or blur. Less noise because the pixels aren't working as hard, and less blur because a two-stop increase in ISO means a two-stop increase in shutter speed (this'll be discussed and clarified in the Basic Exposure lesson).

These two pictures of the Tetons about an hour before sunrise clearly show the difference in noise between high and low ISOs; the better your sensor, the higher the ISO could go before noise becomes an issue. The first picture was taken at ISO 8000 (very high), and the second one at ISO 400 (fairly low). Both were taken with a Nikon D700 and a 24-70 f/2.8 lens.






Uploaded with ImageShack.us

Something to be mindful about is that megapixels matter here, and less could be more. If you have a 10MP camera and a 14MP camera with the same sized sensor, the 10MP will be better in low light, due to 2 million less pixels spread over the same area. The pixels therefore are bigger and/or have more space between them, both of which means less noise.

Another benefit of a large sensor is the ability to get out of focus backgrounds. This is why you rarely see portraits with a nice out of focus background coming from a P&S - the sensor is simply not capable of it. In a future lesson I'll show you how you could get your P&S to blur your backgrounds, to a degree. But for now just remember this: when someone shoots with a DSLR or mirrorless after years of using only a P&S, the ability to blur their backgrounds easily is one of their favorite things.

This type of picture is pretty much impossible to take with a P&S-size sensor:

Nikon D600, 85mm f/1.8, 1/1250th @f/1.8, ISO 200

The sensor size also directly dictates how your lens will act, if it acts longer than marked (crop factor). We'll discuss this in more detail in the lens section below, and in more in depth in the Lenses 101 section.

Other than that, there are some more benefits to larger sensor - slightly better color, better dynamic range, etc. (all of which will be explained later, but are not very important to the buying process).

How do you know how big any given sensor is? Every camera has this info hidden somewhere in its spec sheet. It'll be listed either as a fraction (1/1.7" is larger than 1/2.3"), as a diagonal measurement (usually in inches - bigger number is better), or WxH (usually in mm). Mirrorless and DSLRs (and very rarely, a P&S) will usually have an additional designation such as APS-C or M4/3 (see below). On rare occasions you will also find the actual individual pixel size (measured in microns, "µ"). This last one won't help you much, since you usually won't have what to compare it to.

Here are some common sensor size designations and what they mean, starting from the largest:
Full frame means that the sensor is exactly the size of a single 35mm negative frame. The most sought after size, this is the best and most expensive. Found in top-level DSLRs (and in the $2800 Sony RX-1 P&S).
APS-C is about 75% of full frame and is found in the vast majority of DSLRs, as well as in some Mirrorless systems (Sony NEX, Samsung NX). Quality is getting closer and closer to to full frame with every new camera. Nikon calls APS-C "DX", and Canon version is a hair smaller (about 72% of full frame). Allows smaller camera bodies and lenses (see Lenses 101 for more details on this).
Micro 4/3s is a joint venture between Olympus and Panasonic and is 50% of full frame. Almost as good as APS-C, but not quite the same in low light or out of focus backgrounds (very close though).
1" is exactly what it sounds like: 1" diagonal. Smaller than M4/3 but larger than most P&S sensors. Used in some advanced P&Ss. Nikon also uses those in their mirrorless cameras and calls it CX.
1/1.7" is even smaller. Mostly used for advanced P&Ss.
1/2.3", 1/2.33", etc. are small sensors used in point & shoots.
Foveon is unique to Sigma and is about halfway between APS-C and M4/3 in size, and APS-H is the now-obsolete Canon size that was between APS-C and full frame.
Medium Format is 4 times as large as full-size, but unless you're in the market for a $43k camera, you don't have to worry about it ;).

This graphic gives you a great idea of how the different sensors compare to each other in size:

Source

Sensor Type: When you start looking at sensors you'll come across all kinds of terms and acronyms, most of which don't mean too much in real life. I won't get into all of them, but here are the most common ones you'll find and what they mean:
CCD - The traditional, most commonly used technology in point and shoots.
CMOS - Actually older then the CCD, it used to have resolution issues. Now that that issue has been overcome, CMOS is the most commonly used system in higher-end cameras (and most every phone, too). This includes mirrorless, DLSRs, and some P&Ss. CMOS uses less power than CCDs and is better in low light.
Backlit - Relatively new technology, this is also CMOS and is used in P&Ss and some phones. Slightly better low light performance than straight CMOS.
EXR, X-Trans, Foveon - Proprietary creations of Fuji or Sigma, these use completely different pixel layouts than traditional CCDs. EXRs strength is low light, while X-Trans and Foveon specialize in color rendition.
____________

The Lens
The lens is the second most important part of the camera. As opposed to the sensor, which is largely determined by the brand and type of the camera, when it comes to lenses you have far more options and decisions to make.

The lens is the 'eye' of the camera; what it sees gets recorded onto the sensor. It doesn't matter if your sensor is so awesome that it's made out of the hairs of baby unicorns; it could only record what the lens sees. Therefore, a good lens is absolutely vital. This is easier with P&Ss, but if you're buying an SLR or mirrorless you should give at least as much thought to your lens as to your camera.

I won't go in to the nitty-gritty of lenses here; that'll be covered in the Lenses 101 section down the road. I'll just touch upon the very basics that you need to know to make an informed decision.

Focal Length - The most important lens attribute, which tells you how much the lens 'sees'. Every lens will have this spec marked in mm, and some may have it in 'x' too (such as 10x). A zoom will have a set of two numbers; a prime (fixed lens) will have one. The lower the number, the wider the lens (wide-angle, WA). The higher the number, the 'longer' the lens (telephoto). A good zoom on a P&S will go from fairly wide to moderately tele, such as 24-240mm, or 10x zoom. Shorter zooms (let's say 5x) are not worse lenses; they simply aren't as flexible. In fact, since shorter zoom use simpler optical designs, they may in fact be better (such as less distortion).

A wide angle lens takes in a very large portion of the scene, and is therefore well suited for landscapes, large groups of people, and even smaller groups indoors. The wider the lens, the less you'd have to step back to get everything in the picture. A telephoto lens sees a very small portion of the scene, but it sees it bigger; therefore the 'longer' the lens the better it is for capturing distant shots. This is good for taking pictures of your kid's school play from across the room, or shooting animals on vacation (OK, that didn't come out quite right  :D).

What focal length lens to buy depends mainly on your personal use of the camera and/or lens. I personally suggest to get wider over longer - meaning that if your options are two very similar cameras, one with a 28-224mm (8x) zoom and one with 24-120mm (5x) zoom, I'd suggest the latter. Simple reason - if your lens isn't wide enough, there is no way you're gonna back up past that wall behind you to get one more person into your group shot. Wide angle is something that has to be done in-camera. If on the other hand your zoom is too short and the deer is too far away, you could always crop after the fact.

A prime lens is a lens with only one focal length, meaning it doesn't zoom at all. Primes give the highest quality images, far sharper than a zoom could produce. They usually also have extremely wide apertures (see below).

Most P&Ss today come with a fairly wide lens, and most zoom at at least 5x. Over the last 2 years ultracompacts have begun incorporation much larger zoom such as 12x or even 20x, due to new lens miniaturization techniques. You'll probably notice that some higher-end P&Ss have smaller zoom than you'd expect (2.5x, 4x). This is due to the undeniable fact that at the end of the day physics is physics, and the less you bend and contort the light coming in the better the quality. Superzoom P&Ss are usually much bigger than typical com,pacts (they look like shrunken-down SLRs), and have super zooms (duh!), anywhere from 30x to 50x. This is very convenient, but you pay for it in price, size, and a bit of image quality (not just because of the monster lens, but also because these cameras tend to have the very smallest sensors of them all).

Most SLRs and mirrorless cameras come with a 'kit lens'. This is typically an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. This is usually a good way to start, although many people choose to go with a bigger zoom right away, such as the 18-105, 18-135, or 18-200. Remember though that 18 is not 18; on APS-C cameras you have to multiply this by 1.5x, thus giving you a typical kit lens of 24-82 (approximately). THis is called the 'crop factor', and we'll discuss it in more detail later on. Also remember that typically, an 18-55 is a great lens. Sure it's not a large zoom by any standards, and the aperture is quite slow (see next section), but it will be sharp as a tack, quick focusing, and small and lightweight.

Something to remember in regards to zoom is that the difference in mm is far more pronounced at the wide end than at the tele end. This means that the 4mm difference between a 24mm and 28mm lens will make a far bigger difference than the 30mm between 220mm and 250mm.

In the picture below, you could see how much the scene would change had I used a 28mm lens instead of a 24mm one - everything outside the yellow square would not have been included. On the other hand, the two red squares show the approximate difference between 220 and 250mm lenses - not very much at all.




Digital zoom is something you could ignore, and preferably never use. This is not a real zoom, as all it does is digitally crop the picture. You could do this on a computer with more precision and with better results.

(A quick note about focal length: If you look on the lens of your P&S you may see far smaller numbers than what we discussed (such as 5.6-56mm instead of 24-240mm). That is the actual, physical focal length and doesn't really mean anything to the end user. What matters is the 35mm equivalent of the lens, which usually written somewhere else on the camera.)

Aperture - This is the size of the lens opening. Again, I won't go into all the details in this lesson, but for now let’s just say that the bigger the maximum aperture the better. Bigger apertures means that more light could enter the lens and get passed along to the sensor; this equals faster focusing, better low light performance, and more out of focus backgrounds. The lower the aperture number (called the f-stop), the bigger the lens opening; hence, f/2.8 is much bigger than f/5.6 (it actually lets in 4 times as much light). In this example, f/2.8 is the max aperture; the opening could be made smaller (i.e. stopped down), usually to f/8 on P&Ss or f/22 on SLRs/mirrorless. You would need a camera that offers manual aperture control (usually A mode, AV on Canons) to do this; most P&Ss don’t offer that.

Apertures come in two flavors: constant and variable. The vast majority of zooms are variable aperture; a rare few P&S and most pro-level mirrorless and SLR lenses are constant. In a variable lens, the max aperture changes as you zoom; the further you zoom, the smaller it gets. On the other hand, a constant lens will keep the same maximum aperture throughout its zoom range.

Have a look at the Canon 110HS, which has a typical P&S lens. You’ll find the following markings on the lens: Canon Zoom Lens 5x IS 4.3-21.5mm 1:2.7-5.9. This means that it’s a 5x zoom, going from 4.3-21.5mm focal length, with a variable aperture of f2.7-5.9; at its widest (4.3mm) the max aperture is f/2.7, and as you zoom it gets smaller and smaller, until it hits f/5.9 at the longest zoom position (21.5mm). The IS stands for Image Stabilization, which we’ll discuss a bit further down.

On the other hand, look at the $2300 70-200 f/2.8 pro lens: it only has one aperture number, meaning that no matter if you're at 70 or at 200mm, your aperture could always go up to f/2.8.

Since a variable-aperture lens needs far less optical elements and design, they will be cheaper (by a lot ), smaller, and weigh far less than a constant aperture lens.

A prime lens will usually have an extremely wide aperture, with f/1.4 and 1.8 being the most common. There are even a few f/0.95 lenses on the market today (here's a cheap one ;)).

Here you could see how the lower the f/stop number, the larger the aperture. Every step here is a full stop apart from the ones next to it, meaning that it's twice as big and lets in twice the light (and vice versa). The common f/stops continue past f/8 to f/11, f/16, f/22, and f/32.

Source

Lens Branding: On point & shots, you'll very often find other manufacturer's branding on the lens. Many Panasonics carry Leica branding, Sonys have Zeiss, Samsungs have Schneider-KREUZNACH, etc. What's happening here is that these companies are licencing the names from these storied lens makers. Will it make a big difference in your pictures? No. Should you go with one of those cameras over another that doesn't have this kind of branding? I don't think so. A regular Canon or Nikon lens is just as good.

The reason a real Leica lens costs north of $5000 is due to the crazy expensive glass, insane tolerances, and the fact that every single lens is assembled by hand in Germany and is inspected for some 30-odd issues every step of the way. No way slapping a Leica label on a Panasonic lens is gonna give you any of that.
________
The Processor
The processor is another vital part of the camera, but one over you have very little control over. The processor is the 'brain' of the camera, and influences everything - the speed of focusing, the amount of features, and most importantly, the image quality. It'll analyze the raw date from sensor, figure out what kind of picture you've just taken, and apply what it assumes are the correct settings (sharpening, color, white balance, noise reduction, etc., etc.).

Unfortunately, there aren't many options available to you as far as processors go when buying a camera. Usually any given brand will have one or two versions of their processors on the market at any given time. So why is it important for you to know about the processor? Because sometimes you might have a choice between two generations of the same camera (such as right after a new camera was introduced), and you have to decide if it's worth it for you to spends more on the new one. Often it's a good idea to go with the older one, since most camera upgrades are incremental, meaning that there's not much real life difference between the two. Maybe a slighter bigger zoom, some more scene modes, etc. However, at the point in the cycle when manufacturers switch to a new generation sensor (usually every two years, or around 3-4 camera generations (P&S - with DSLRs it's usually two generations), it may be a worthwhile upgrade. Your pictures will simply be better looking, your low light shots will have less noise (due to better noise-reduction algorithms), and everything will be faster.

So how do you know what gen processor the camera has? Just look at any part of the camera literature - camera companies love to advertise it. Canon calls their processors Digic - they're currently transitioning from Digic 5 to 6. Nikon's are called EXPEED; they're currently at EXPEED 3. When choosing between two camera generations, simply compare the processor generations. If one's newer, it's probably worth getting it over the old one.
________
Other Specs

Video:
Every digital camera these days is capable of taking amazing videos. Here's what you have to know to wade through all the video specs:
Resolution is the most basic video spec - how sharp will it be? The vast majority of cameras these days will shoot up to 1920x1080 (commonly called Full HD, or 1080HD). This is usually the best option for playback on a computer or TV. Some cheaper cameras will only give you 1280x720 (called simply HD, or 720HD). It's rare to find a camera these days that only shoots 640x480 (VGA).
Frame Rate Is the speed at which the camera takes individual pictures (or frames) that make up the video. The most common is 30 fps(Frames Per Second), meaning that every second of video is made out of 30 separate pictures. This produces a nice, smooth video that works well for 99% of situations. Most DSLRs also shoot at 24 fps, which is considered more 'cinematic'. Many cameras are also capable of shooting at 60 fps, which appears smoother. Some people find this too smooth and unrealistic. A big advantage of higher frame rates is that it could be used to create slow motion video in post production. If you have one second of video at 60 fps, it could be turned into two seconds at 30 fps. It will still be nice and smooth, but now you've essentially slowed down time by half. This is how some cameras have a slow motion mode - it'll take 60, 120, or even more fps. Note though that most slo-mo modes that shoot over 60 fps do so at a very reduced resolution, so it's a trade off.
In the US, TV is usually broadcast at 30 fps (actually 29.97, to be precise), while most movies are at 24 fps (23.976), hence the 'cinematic' designation.
Progressive or Interlaced denotes if the video is actually one actual picture per frame, or of it's averaged from two frames. This is designated by either a P or I, so your camera says '1080p' you know you're getting progressive, while '720i' will be interlaced. Since progressive is made up up individual pictures, the quality is usually better, and it's easy to grab a single frame and save it as a still picture. Interlaced on the other hand averages two frames into one, by using alternating lines of each. This takes up less space (since it really only takes half of the stated pictures), but makes it very difficult to extract a frame, since if there is any movement in the frame the lines will show up. This wiki page has some good pictures about halfway down where you could see the difference between the two.
Compression Format dictates what file type your camera will output, and how much space it will take up. The most popular these days is H.264, which outputs as an MOV file. This is a very efficient format, as it takes up relatively little space, retains the original quality, and is easy to edit. AVI is also quite common, though it takes up more space than H.264. AVCHD and AVCHD-Lite are found fairly often, mostly in Sony and Panasonic cameras. It's much bulkier than H.264 and AVI, but handles high frame rates and is supposedly better quality. AVCHD and AVCHD-Lite does play on Windows natively and are quite the pain in the neck to edit (they generally have to be converted first).

RAW: Many advanced P&Ss and all mirrorless and DSLRs are capable of shooting in the RAW format, as opposed to just JPEG.

What's RAW? When the camera takes a picture, the sensor captures a huge amount of data. It then passes all that to the processor, which 'finishes' the picture. It'll apply color correction, contrast adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction, and a hundred other things. When it's done it'll save the file to the card as a finished JPEG file, and throw away all the original sensor data. Usually, the camera is pretty good at figuring all this out and delivering good results. However, what if you want to make these decisions? What if the camera keeps on putting out pictures that you feel are too dark, or too vivid? Sure you could edit them in Photoshop later and try to fix it, but instead of working with all the data that was actually captured, your working only with the little bit of data the camera saw fit to include in the JPEG file.

This is where RAW comes in. Simply put, it's the raw data as captured by your sensor, with nothing thrown out by the processor. What this means is that you make all the decisions, not the camera. If you shoot in RAW you will have to edit each and every picture, since the camera doesn't do it for you. This is obviously quite time consuming - I personally have about 20000 RAW files waiting to be edited. The advantages are enormous though - since you're working with so much data, you could do amazing things which the camera would never have figured out on it's own.

Have a look at this picture below - the first one is how the camera decided it should look, and the second one is after I took the RAW file and made the decisions myself. There's no Photoshop wizardry happening here; all I've adjusted is exposure, contrast, sharpening, color, etc. - all things the camera usually does by itself. (The only 'Photoshopping' was removing the small (hardly visible) sign on the bottom left and the dark spot in the center.)





Besides of the obvious issue of having to edit every single picture, there are some other drawbacks to shooting RAW. By virtue of the file containing so much info, the files are also HUGE - my Nikon D600 gives me less than 600 RAW shots on a 32GB card, compared to over 2000 JPEGs. And due to the large file sizes, shooting RAW is slower than JPEG. On mirrorless and DSLRs that's not so much of an issue as the cameras are built for that, with a P&S the slowdown will be quite noticeable.

Most cameras that shoot RAW also allow you to shoot RAW+JPEG - this is the best of both worlds, the control of RAW but the convenience of a ready JPEG if you can't or won't want to edit every picture. The downside of this is that it takes up even more space, and it's even slower.

In order to edit the RAW files, you'll need special software. The best RAW editor/converter is Adobe  Lightroom or ACR (Adobe Camera Raw, part of Photoshop). A camera that shoots RAW will usually include a basic converter too.

But in the end, there's a reason most pros shoot RAW full time - it just gives them more control and options.

Burst mode is when you hold down the shutter button and the camera takes a series of pictures in a row. This is extremely useful when shooing kids or fast-moving objects, as you could take a burst of pictures and choose the best one later. The speed at which the camera takes pictures in this mode is measured in fps - the more frames per second the better.

Most cameras have a limit of the amount of pictures you could take, so if your camera could do 5 fps with a 10-frame max, you'll get 2-second bursts. Note that some cameras will also reduce the megapixels in this mode.

A viewfinder is a very useful thing to have. It'll allow you to frame your picture even in bright sunlight, when it's usually hard to see the screen. Also, due to the fact that you hold the camera up to your face, it'll be steadier, so less chance of blurry pictures.

Every DSLR has a viewfinder, and some mirrorless and P&Ss have them too. For some mirrorless cameras you could buy a separate viewfinder which will snap into your hot shoe.

There are two types of viewfinders: Electronic (EVF) and optical (OVF). An EVF is essentially a tiny LDC screen, and generally mimics what you'd see on the main LCD. This means that not only could you compose your shot through it, you could also playback your pictures and go through the menus, all in bright sunlight. Most superzoom P&Ss, all of Sony's SLRs, and all mirrorless cameras (the ones with a viewfinder, that is) use an EVF. An OVF itself also comes in two flavors (sorry!) - through-the-lens (TTL), and tunnel. A TTL OVF is the better of the two, as it looks right through the lens (via a mirror), so what you see is exactly what you get. A tunnel-style OVF is simply a window, and gives you only a rough approximation of your composition.

So which one is the best? A TTL OVF gives you the best view - exactly what the lens see, and it all looks very lifelike and 3-D. An EVF on the other hand shows you much more info. But still, a tunnel-style OVF is still better than nothing.

Scene Modes - When a manufacturer runs out of real upgrades to new cameras, they fall back on the trusty 'more scene modes!' argument. A scene mode is when you choose from a pre-determined list of 'scenes' on the camera, and the camera will optimize the picture to that. Shooting a sunset? Set the camera to sunset mode. Flowers? Flower mode. Fish in a barrel? Aquarium mode!

Is this feature useful? Sure it is, you'll generally get somewhat better pictures that way. But the point is that these modes don't do any magic - they just change a setting or two to get a certain result. This isn't anything you can't do yourself, but it sure is more convenient as the camera changes all those settings at once. But at a certain point, all this gets redundant. The scene modes that actually do something have been in all cameras for years. What the cameras now do is offer an ever expanding list of ultra-specific situations, most of which don't do anything different than others. For example, the Pet setting on most cameras does the EXACT same thing as the Portrait mode, and the Fireworks mode does the same thing as Night Landscape. It won't take long until your camera will have a "3 Friends Having Picnic at High Noon at the Lakeshore" mode, with separate scene modes whether the picnic consists of cheese and wine or sandwiches and watermelon, if it's on a blanket or on the grass, and whether these friends are men, women, or both. All of which do the exact same thing, mind you, but hey, my camera has 188 scene modes versus your puny 150! :o

Batteries - Most cameras use lithium-ion batteries, which are tiny, last long, and weigh almost nothing. The disadvantage is that they're expensive ($25-50 for most), and that if it dies, you now have a very expensive paperweight. Personally I suggest you always carry a spare battery, you won't regret it.

Some cameras use AA batteries, which also have their advantages and disadvantages. They doesn't last as long and are heavier, but on the other hand if they die you could get a fresh pair anywhere in the world for two bucks.
_________

So there you have it - all about the important camera specs. The next lesson will be a short discussion about when or why you should or shouldn't upgrade your camera / buy the latest model, then on to a short discussion about lenses. After that we'll get into how to take better pictures - composition ,exposure, etc.


_________
Lesson Summary:

Sensor size:
- The bigger the better
- Usually, sensor size goes up with camera type
- Bigger sensors allow better pictures and out of focus backgrounds.
Lens:
- Wide angle is usually more important than telephoto.
- Longer zooms are quite convenient, but shorter ones usually have better image quality.
- The larger your aperture (the lower the f-stop number), the more light and the more out of focus the background can get.
Video:
- Higher resolution is better
- 30 fps is usually best, but 60 and higher has its uses.
- Progressive is better than Interlaced.
- H.264 and AVI formats are generally easier to work with than AVCHD.
RAW:
- Gives you full control over finishing the picture.
- Takes up lots of space, slows the camera down, and requires editing of each and every picture.
- Still a useful feature to have and use.
Burst Mode:
- Extremely useful. The more fps the better.
Viewfinder:
- Let's you shoot easily in bright sunlight and helps to steady the camera.
- An EVF is the most versatile.
- A TTL OVF is the most accurate.
- A tunnel-style OVF is still better than nothing.
Scene Modes:
- Useful, but irrelevant at this point. Every camera has all scenes you'd ever need.
Batteries:
- Li-ion is more powerful and lasts longer, but is more expensive.
- AAs don't last as long, but could be gotten anywhere for cheap.
Check out all my Trip Reports here!