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Digital Camera Basics (13)

What is Tilt Shift Photography?

What is Tilt-Shift Photography?

There are two basic types of Tilt-shift photography. The first is a product of the digital photography age and can be done automatically by some digital cameras or created after the fact using digital editing software.

The second has been around for some time and involves using a special type of lens known as a “tilt-shift lens”.

Many people associate tilt-shift photography with the more commonly seen examples that create a “miniature" or "toy town” effect on a photo. However tilt-shift photography when done using a specialized tilt-shift lens has many more uses than simply creating this “miniature” effect.

Tilt Shift Photography

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Understanding Depth of Field

Understanding Depth of Field

Narrow Depth of FieldNarrow Depth of Field--50mm at f2.8Depth of Field is term used to describe how much of a photo is in focus. When a picture is taken the camera will focus on a specific point and the amount of area that is acceptable in focus both in front of and behind this main focal point is what is referred to as the depth of field.

There are several factors that influence the depth of field in any photograph. Photographs where a larger area of the photo are in focus are said to have a deep or large depth of field. This is often seen in landscape photos where both the foreground objects and the background are relatively in focus and sharp.

A shallow or small depth of field means that the area in focus is relatively small and that the distance of an object being either in focus or out of focus can be a matter of a few feet or even a few inches depending on the camera and lens. A shallow depth of field is often seen in portraits and macro photography. It helps isolate the subject from the background and results in a nice blurred background (bokeh) that enhances those types of photos.

Factors that determine depth of field

There are four basic factors that determine the depth of field of a photo.

  1. The aperture or f-stop of the lens
  2. The distance the subject is from the camera
  3. The focal length of the lens
  4. The size of the image sensor


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Digital Camera Modes 3

The Beginners Photography Guide to Digital Camera Modes (continued)

Having covered the different Automatic Modes and Automatic Scene Modes we continue our explanation of digital camera modes by looking at the Semi Automatic and Manual Modes found on today's digital cameras.

While the majority of beginning photographers are likely to leave their camera in automatic mode it still helps to understand the many different digital camera modes available to you and the limitations and advantages of them.

Aperture Priority Mode

aperture modeAperture Priority Mode is one of the most popular modes for advanced and professional photographers because of the extra control it gives you not only over the exposure but also the depth of field. In this mode you manually set what F-Stop (aperture) using the control dial and the camera will select the correct shutter speed to properly exposure the image. As with other semi-automatic modes the setting changes you make, such as ISO speed, etc. are retained by the camera when you shut it off so it is easy to go right back to your preset settings.

This mode is great to use when you want to make sure you have the largest aperture (smallest depth of field) for blurring the background. It is also useful when you want to make sure you are using the fastest possible shutter speed, because by selecting the lowest F-Stop (largest aperture opening) the camera will automatically choose the fastest shutter speed possible for those lighting conditions.

Shutter Speed Priority Mode

shutter speed modeShutter Speed Priority Mode is another important semi-automatic digital camera modes. In this mode you select the shutter speed you want and the camera will automatically choose the aperture (lens opening) needed to properly expose the picture. This mode can be used when you want to be sure and keep a slow shutter speed in order to blur motion. An example would be when you take a picture of a river or waterfall and you want a slow shutter speed to smooth out the water giving it that soft, flowing look. Or it might be used when you need to keep your shutter speed at a higher speed to be able to stop motion. When you use this mode you control the shutter speed by using the control dial and the camera will select the F-stop.

One of the disadvantages of this mode is that if you set your shutter speed high or low enough you risk having an overexposed or underexposed image because the lens only has a certain range of F-stops available. This can result in over or under exposed images under certain lighting conditions. This reason as well as the fact you have little control over your depth of field using this mode are why I prefer aperture priority mode the majority of the time.

Manual Exposure Mode

manual modeManual Exposure mode is just as the name suggests...totally manual. You set both the shutter speed and F-stop regardless of what the camera's exposure meter says. This mode offers the greatest flexibility of all as far as letting the photographer control the exposure and is useful in tricky lighting situations or when the camera has a hard time determining the correct exposure. Today manual exposure mode is often overlooked and seldom used by many if not most photographers. While one of the other semi-automatic modes will generally allow enough flexibility for even the most difficult lighting conditions, learning to use the manual mode can come in very handy especially when taking long exposure photographs of fireworks or other nighttime scenes.

Digital Camera Modes 2

The Beginners Photography Guide to Digital Camera Modes (continued)

Having covered the different Automatic Modes we continue our explanation of the different digital camera modes by looking at the many types of AutomaticScene Modes found on today's digital cameras. Following this and completing this section of the beginners photography guide will be a quick look at the Semi Automatic Camera Modes.

While the majority of beginning photographers are likely to leave their camera in automatic mode it still helps to understand the many different digital camera modes available to you and the limitations and advantages of them.

Automatic Scene Modes

Another type of automatic digital camera modes are the Scene Selection Modes. These are another type of automatic mode where the camera settings are tweaked for common shooting scenarios or scenes. Here are some of the more common scene modes.

portrait modePortrait Mode: In this mode the camera automatically is going to select a larger aperture (smaller F-stop) to help blur the background because of the narrow depth of field. The camera will try to meter off of the subjects face and smile detection will be activated if the camera has it. Also usually the color settings are adjusted to provide a little "warmer" color. When using this digital camera mode it is usually recommended that you zoom in on your subject or use a telephoto lens of around 90mm to 135mm to help separate the background from the subject. Fill flash is also helpful or even necessary if the subject is back-lit.

landscape modeLandscape Mode: In this mode the camera will select the smallest aperture (largest F-stop) in order to get the maximum depth of field. Generally this mode will also boost the color saturation a little as well as a slight increase in contrast to give a more vibrant picture. Because the camera is going to select a smaller aperture the shutter speed will also tend to be slower so you need to watch for camera shake and use a tripod when needed.

macro modeMacro Mode: Macro mode is used when photographing close subjects such as flowers or insects. This mode will tend to use faster shutter speeds and larger apertures to provide a shallow depth of field resulting in a blurred background. Some fixed lens cameras have lenses that allow them to focus when they are very close to the subject but with a DSLR you need to have a true macro lens to get that advantage. Because the depth of field is so small in macro mode focusing can be difficult and a tripod might be needed or helpful to get really sharp pictures and keep the subject in focus. It is recommended you do not use a built in flash because it can over-exposure the subject or cause unwanted shadows. If flash is needed some type of flash diffuser will help avoid those problems.

sports modeSports Action Mode: Sports action mode is for shooting fast moving subjects in bright places. In this mode the camera will try and select the fastest shutter speed possible for the available light in order to freeze or stop the action. This will usually mean a larger aperture and less depth of field as well. If the camera has a burst or continuous mode that will also be activated allowing you to take multiple pictures while holding down the shutter button.

twilight modeTwilight or Night Mode: This digital camera mode is designed to shoot night scenes without losing the nighttime atmosphere. When activated the camera will use a longer shutter speed while firing the flash to capture both foreground and background details. This technique is known as "slow shutter speed sync" and if very effective in bringing out details in both foreground objects as well as the background. If normal flash settings were used in this type of lighting the subject would be lit by the flash but the background would be too dark to have much if any detail available. Some DSLRs will allow you to use this mode with or without flash so you can capture night scenes at a distance (without flash) or take a nighttime portrait (with flash). As with any low light situation using a tripod is recommended to avoid motion blur or camera shake caused by the slower shutter speed. When used to take night portraits it is also important that the subject holds still after the flash since the shutter can remain open to allow the back ground to be exposed more. Any movement by the subject during that delay will blur the subject.

panoramic modePanoramic Mode: Many newer digital cameras have a built in panoramic mode that automatically stitches images together to form a panoramic photo. In this mode you can sweep the camera in either a horizontal or vertical direction while holding down the shutter button. The result is panoramic image automatically being created.

Other Scene Modes

scene modeSunset Mode: This mode designed to take pictures at sunset allows the red and orange of the sunset to be captured more vividly.

Beach Mode: In beach mode the camera settings are tweaked to help capture the blueness of the water more vividly.

Snow Mode: This mode helps compensate for those really bright snow scenes.

Fireworks Mode: In this mode the cameras exposure is set to help you capture photos of nighttime fireworks.

Backlit Mode: This mode uses exposure compensation so that the subject is still properly exposed when there is a bright or strongly lit background. Without these adjustments foreground objects would be to dark.

Movie Mode: Another common mode on newer digital cameras allowing you to capture video, often even HD video. This allows you to use your camera to capture video and audio.

Continue to Semi Automatic Modes...

Digital Camera Modes

The Beginners Photography Guide to Digital Camera Modes

Understanding the different digital camera modes on your camera is important for any photographer who wants to take better pictures.

While the majority of beginning photographers are likely to leave their camera in automatic mode it still helps to understand the many different digital camera modes available to you and the limitations and advantages of them.

In this section of our beginners photography guide we will cover some of the most common modes found on today's digital cameras and explain some of the key differences as well as advantages and disadvantages of the different digital camera modes.

To help breakdown this section of the beginners photography guide we will cover the different digital camera modes in three sections: Automatic Modes, Automatic Scene Modes and Semi Automatic Modes.

Automatic Mode

Auto modeAutomatic mode is just that...the camera chooses the exposure settings based on the available light. The advantage of the full automatic mode is that it makes taking a picture very quick and easy even on the most complex DSLR camera. The disadvantage is that even though today's digital cameras are very advanced, there are many times when the photographer wants more control over the exposure settings to compensate for difficult lighting conditions or to achieve a specific effect.

Automatic modes are basically a compromise as you allow the camera to control the exposure settings with little if any input from you as to the type of scene you are shooting etc. Automatic Modes generally use the more "standard" or "vanilla" settings including the type of creative style, color space, white balance, etc. that will be used. Also in most cameras the different types of automatic modes limit the range of ISO that the camera will use which means that you are not able to use have the full ISO range the camera is capable of unless you go to a different mode.

Shooting in automatic mode will generally give you good results but to get the most from your digital camera you must go beyond this mode.

Intelligent Automatic Mode

intelligent scene modeIntelligent automatic modes or intelligent scene recognition modes are a new and approved automatic mode available in a lot of newer cameras. You might consider them to be automatic modes on steroids.

These smarter automatic modes analyze the type of scene and lighting conditions and then the camera selects one of the cameras scene modes (more on these different modes to come) that has the best exposure setting for that type of picture. For example if you are taking a picture of a person the camera might switch to the portrait mode and enable the smile or face-detection so the picture is taken when the subject smiles.

These intelligent automatic modes do a good job and are certainly an improvement in many ways from a standard automatic mode. For many people this might be the only mode they use, yet even as good as these are there are still advantages to using one of the semiautomatic modes such as shutter priority or aperture priority.

Program Auto Mode

portrait modeProgram mode is another type of automatic mode where the camera will automatically select the shutter speed and aperture. The main difference between program mode and automatic mode if the camera has both settings is that any changes or settings you override such as ISO setting, creative style, or white balance are saved in program mode. Therefore when you turn the camera back on you will have the same settings while in automatic mode all the changes would be reset to factory defaults. On some cameras that have both automatic and program modes such as Sony DSLR's the flash if up will fire only when needed in the automatic mode but will flash all the time when up in program mode.

Even though the camera automatically chooses the aperture and shutter speed settings using the control dial will allow you to change the aperture (F-stop) and the shutter speed will be automatically be adjusted as well. This allows you to quickly change the aperture as needed to get a faster shutter speed to stop motion or a smaller aperture to get greater depth of field. Some DSLR's have a feature known as Program Shift that allows you to select whether you want to control the aperture or shutter speed when in the program mode. Check you camera's owners manual for more information on these features.

Continue to Automatic Scene Modes...

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Digital Camera Buying Guide

Digital Camera Buying Guide

Our digital camera buying guide will help you choose the best digital camera to meet your needs and fit your budget.

Digital camera technology, like other electronic products, continually advances at a high rate of speed. Several times a year new models are being introduced that offer new features, better resolution, and improved image quality. This presents a unique problem to the person looking to purchase their first digital camera or upgrade their existing one.

With all the new models and features, how do you choose the best camera for you?

In this digital camera buying guide we will provide you with a few key things to consider when shopping for a digital camera. While it is not necessary to keep up with every new feature or model that comes out, it is helpful to do some comparison shopping in order to get the best value for your money.

Our digital camera buying guide will begin by covering some key factors to consider when buying a camera. After that we will highlight some important features to keep in mind when shopping for the perfect camera. Then we will provide you with information on where to find in-depth reviews of the latest cameras as well as links to where to find some of the best digital camera deals.

Digital Camera Buying Guide...What Type of Camera?

The first thing to decide is what type of camera you are looking for. With the introduction in recent years of the "Four-Thirds" image format as well as the new "Mirror-less Interchangeable Lens" cameras, today's camera buyer has many types of digital cameras to choose from.

If you are not familiar with the different types of digital cameras available today you might want to check out our digital camera comparison page which introduces you to several different types of digital cameras on the market today.

Here are a few important things to keep in mind when deciding what type of camera you will look for:

  • Price...if you are on a budget, as most of us are, you need to determine how much you can afford to spend. That will help you narrow down whether you will be able to afford a DSLR or one of the other interchangeable lens cameras. If those are out of your budget or you prefer a smaller camera then you should consider either a point-and-shoot or high-zoom camera. As prices of entry level DSLR's continue to drop they are quickly becoming a more affordable option for those who want the best overall photo quality. However, remember that when buying a camera that uses interchangeable lenses you are investing in a camera system, because you will likely want to add additional lenses in the future which represents an added cost.
  • you want a smaller point and shoot camera that is easier to carry, or are you OK with a larger camera or DSLR with some extra lenses? The best camera will not do any good if it is left at home because you do not want to take along a camera bag full of equipment.
  • Overall Image Quality...will you be making enlargements of your photos? Or, will you be taking pictures in low light settings? If so then you should consider a DSLR, Four-Thirds, or other interchangeable lens camera. These types of cameras have larger image sensors therefore they will produce better quality photos and do a better job in low-light situations.

Digital Camera Buying Guide...How Many Megapixels?

With all the hype about how many megapixels this or that camera has, one would think that the number of megapixels is the single most important thing to consider when purchasing a digital camera. But in reality it is not. For the average person who will normally not print photos larger than an 8x10, the standard 10 to 12 megapixel sensors found in entry level point-and-shoot cameras have enough image resolution to make prints that size.

Let's face it, most photographers don't need latest, super-advanced 24.6 megapixel, DSLR. If you can afford that type of camera and the lenses to go with it, great! If can still find a good digital camera even on a considerably smaller budget.

The fact is that if you learn to get the most from your digital camera you will be able to capture some great photos no matter what camera you can afford to buy.

Today's point-and-shoot and super-zoom cameras typically come with image sensors between 9 and 14 megapixels. One area to look it when shopping for a digital camera is the digital noise levels produced by the image sensor. Many in depth reviews will have sample pictures taken at different ISO speeds. Watch out for cameras that have higher amounts of noticeable digital noise at higher ISO's than other similar cameras.

Remember the more megapixels you cram into an image sensor, the smaller each pixel is. This means less light falls on the pixel and often results in increased digital noise in the image. Fortunately along with improvements in image sensor technology, digital signal processing has also improved resulting in more acceptable noise levels even on higher megapixel sensors. DSLR's, Four Thirds, and other Interchangeable Lens Cameras also come in a variety of megapixel sizes, with 14 to 16 megapixel APS-C image sensors commonly found even in some of the entry to mid-level cameras. Those image resolutions provide excellent image resolution and quality.

The bottom line on megapixels is that with a few exceptions...the really cheap cameras... the digital cameras you find on the market today have more than adequate image resolution to meet the average photographers needs. So don't get caught up in the whole "buy the highest megapixel camera mindset."

Instead keep the whole issue of megapixels in perspective and look closely at the other important features so you can get the best value for your money. For example, a slightly lower megapixel camera might actually be faster and less susceptible to digital noise in the image. Both are very important features.

Digital Camera Buying Guide...What Brand Should I Buy?

Not surprisingly the answer you will get to this question will vary quite a bit depending on who you ask. DSLR users, especially advanced amateurs and professional photographers tend to be pretty brand loyal...after all they have usually invested a fair amount of money in their camera and lenses. If you spend even a little time reading camera forums online it is easy to see that there are fanatics for most major camera brands and if you listen to some of them their brand of camera is the only one to buy. But the truth is that all of the major camera manufacturers make high quality cameras. Don't get caught up into the mindset that "only brand XXXX is any good because that is what the pros use." The fact is there are professional photographers who make their living using a number of different camera brands.

Digital Camera Manufacturers

Canon and Nikon currently account for around 80% of the DSLR market share. As the two most popular digital camera brands there are a vast number of accessories and lenses available for these brands. This provides a broad user base and a wider variety of used lenses available for purchase on websites such as EBay and Craigslist.

Sony, Olympus, and Pentax have a much smaller market share but all make very competitive and top rated digital cameras. Because Sony DSLR's use the Minolta "A Mount" lens mount, they have the advantage of being compatible with the majority of the older Minolta auto-focus lenses which means that there are more used lenses available for them than some other companies. Other digital camera companies include: Panasonic, Fuji, Sigma, Samsung, Kodak, and Leica. All of these companies make high quality digital cameras and often have some of the highest rated cameras in their classes.

When considering which brand of camera to buy I recommend you compare the different models in your price range from several different companies and find the one you like the best and that offers you the best value for your money. As long as you stick with a digital camera from one of the major camera makers you should be OK. The best thing to do is compare feature for feature and make the best choice for you and your budget.

Digital Camera Buying Guide...What Features Should I Look For?

Here are some key features to look for when buying a fixed lens camera, such as a point-and-shoot or super-zoom model.

  • I would recommend a camera with at least an 8 megapixel image sensor. That resolution will adequately allow you to print an 8x10 photo without using any digital enlargement software. 12-14 megapixel cameras are very popular in these types of cameras but don't be afraid of dropping down to a 8 or 9 megapixel sensor if camera has additional features or offers a better value for the money.
  • An optical zoom of at least 3X. Stay away from cameras that only have digital zoom. While many cameras have digital zoom built in I recommend avoiding digital zoom if at all possible as it can quickly affect the image quality. Look for the largest possible zoom range that you can get in your camera style and price range. Having a larger optical zoom range makes the camera more versatile. This is one of the reasons that I am a big fan of the "super zoom" models that feature optical zooms of up to 30X.
  • High Quality Optics. The quality of the camera lens is very important. Having a high quality lens will help you get sharper pictures. Some manufacturers use different types of lenses on their cameras and often include a name brand, "higher quality" lens on some of their models. When comparing different models look closely at who made the lens. Name brands include Carl Zeiss, Schneider-Kreuznach and Leica. Manufacturers also often have their own designation for their line of professional lenses. For example Sony uses the "G" designation on its professional lenses, while Canon professional lenses are designated by an "L". Sony also commonly uses Carl Zeiss lenses on some of its cameras so a Sony camera with a Carl Zeiss or "G" series lens is a model that features a premium lens. The quality of the lens can make a big difference in the image quality so look for those models that feature top of the line optics.
  • A large high resolution LCD display. Since many fixed lens cameras do not have any viewfinder, or a very small one at best, having a high resolution LCD display is important. Since the LCD display might be the only way of composing or viewing your photo try to make sure the LCD screen is visible in bright light. Without a viewfinder the LCD screen is your only option and needs to be viewable in a variety of lighting conditions.
  • A variety of automatic and semi-automatic modes as well as features such as smile or face detection, etc. are good to have. Many of the newer cameras feature intelligent automatic modes where the camera selects the best "scene" mode for you. I find that this feature generally works well but I also like the ability to move to a semi-automatic mode such as aperture or shutter priority when needed. Other modes such as a panoramic mode are also desirable.

Here are some features to consider when shopping for a DSLR, Four Thirds or other interchangeable lens camera.

  • Live View. Many new DSLR models feature live-view displays, which allow you to focus and compose your picture using the LCD display instead of the viewfinder. Some interchangeable lens cameras don't even have an electronic viewfinder, so having a high-quality LCD display is very important.
  • Articulating LCD Display. Another feature that is becoming increasingly popular on DSLR's is an articulating LCD display that will allow you to rotate the LCD display. This makes for easier viewing when taking a picture on a camera with live view where you cannot look through the viewfinder.
  • Image Stabilization. There are two basic types of image stabilization available: in-the-body and in-the-lens. Canon and Nikon both use image stabilized lenses while Sony, Olympus and Pentax use in-body stabilization. While both systems work very well, the advantage of the in-body stabilization is that it works will all lenses. That means that if you attach an older Minolta lens to a Sony DSLR you get the benefits of image stabilization. When the image stabilization is built into the lens you only get the benefit when using an image stabilized lens and image stabilized lenses tend to be higher priced than non-stabilized lenses. This also means that older Canon or Nikon lenses would not benefit from image stabilization even when used on a newer camera body.
  • Your Lens or Lenses. Many DSLR's come with some type of "kit" lens such as an 18-55mm or some other similar focal length. While these are good everyday lenses and cover from a "wide angle" to a "normal" field of view to a "normal" field of view, many people will want to add a second lens with a longer focal length to be able to zoom in on distant subjects. Lenses that have a 200mm to 300mm focal length are good second lenses to complement the normal "kit" lens. For example a 75-300mm or maybe a 55-200mm lens would be a good additional purchase with your new DSLR. Often you can find a good price on a DSLR Bundle that includes two lenses so you can cover a wider focal range and have more versatility.
  • Other Accessories to consider. As the number of megapixels increase so does the need for more storage space to store your digital pictures. You will likely want to purchase additional memory cards so you have several when traveling. With several different types of memory cards being used by different camera companies you might even need to switch to a different type altogether when upgrading to a new camera. Likewise, newer faster cameras require faster memory cards to maximize their performance. These are additional expenses to keep in mind when shopping for a new DSLR. Also having a extra battery or two is a good idea if you take a lot of photos. Nothing is more frustrating than missing a great photo because of a dead battery or you have filled up your memory card. Having extra memory cards and batteries is a must.
  • Plan for the future. If you can afford to, try and buy a DSLR you can grow into. While the entry level models are great from an affordability standpoint, if you are going to get serious about photography you might want to consider a more advanced model if possible. That allows you to "grow into" the camera so you don't quickly find yourself wanting a more advanced camera with additional features and faster performance. As mentioned earlier buying a DSLR is really like investing in a camera system, as most users will add additional lenses over time. Once you have invested in several lenses it makes switching DSLR brands even harder, so keep in mind that the brand you buy will likely be the one you are committed to for some time.
  • ISO Range and Digital Noise. Entry level cameras might only go up to 3200 ISO, while more advanced models are able to shoot at ISO speeds of 12,800 and higher. Comparing the ISO range and even more importantly the digital noise at higher ISO's is important, especially when you will be taking pictures in low light conditions. Many of the tests and reviews on digital cameras will show examples of high ISO images. This allows you to compare what the real usable ISO range of the different cameras are before digital noise becomes an issue with image quality.

Digital Camera Buying Guide....Where Should I Buy My Camera?

Today's digital camera buyer has a wide variety of options for purchasing his next digital camera.

Starting with local electronics or discount stores like Best Buy or Walmart, to local specialized photography stores, you have many options where you have the ability to do some "hands-on" shopping for your next camera. That allows you to actually check out different cameras in person rather than relying on reviews alone. However shopping online will often allow you to find the best price and the broadest selection.

When shopping online you need to be careful and only buy from a reputable dealer. Common online scams to avoid are those online dealers that sell "Grey Market" goods at discount prices, without indicating such. A "Grey Market" camera is often an overseas model that was not intended to be sold in the U.S. These products normally do not come with a manufacturers warranty so you need to make sure they are warrantied by a reputable seller or third party company. Other things to avoid are companies that try to charge you for digital accessories that should come standard with the camera, or that use high pressure sales tactics to try and sell you the camera with a bundle of low quality, over priced accessories. Remember if the price is too good to be true it probably is.

It is recommended that you carefully check out the reviews of the online dealer as well as checking the internet for complaints from unsatisfied customers. Another reason for buying from an authorized, reputable dealer is that many manufacturers only warranty products sold by their authorized dealer network. If you purchase from a non-authorized dealer you run the risk of not having warranty coverage if something would happen to your camera during the warranty period.

Therefore we recommend that you purchase your digital camera from any one of the many authorized dealers, either online or locally. If you have questions about a specific dealer you can usually check with the manufacturer to make sure it is an authorized dealer. Also be sure to check online review sites to see how that dealer is rated.

Here are links to some authorized camera dealers that we recommend. They have been in business for a number of years and are well known for their customer service, wide selection of products, and competitive pricing. Most of them feature reviews from customers as well as in depth product specifications. We have affiliate relationships with companies which means if you purchase from them they pay us a small commission. You get the same low price and help keep this website online.

Digital Camera Basics

Digital Camera Basics

Understanding digital camera basics is important whether you are looking to purchase your first digital camera or thinking of upgrading an existing one. This page on digital camera basics is a good starting point for understanding some of the important features to consider when buying a digital camera.

With all the different types and models of digital cameras available today choosing the right one for you can be difficult. Often the choice will come down to deciding between several very similar models.

In order to get the best value for your money and make the most informed decision when choosing a digital camera it is important to understand some basics of digital cameras. This page on digital camera basics will give you a brief overview of some important camera features and provide you with links to more in depth information on digital camera basics.

What Type Of Digital Camera Is Best For You?

Choosing the right digital camera or cameras to best suit your needs is an important decision. As you consider which digital camera to purchase there are several important factors to consider.

Digital Camera Basics #1....Consider the Price of the Camera

How much do you have to spend? Camera price is important especially to those on a budget. With the wide price range of digital cameras today we have many choices to choose from. What we are going to use the camera for and how much we really can afford to spend are two important things to keep in mind when choosing a digital camera.

If you plan on getting serious about photography or are thinking about doing it professionally you need to invest in a good DSLR and some high quality lenses and learn how to fully use them. But for many people another type of camera might serve their needs just as well.

While a DSLR or other Interchangeable Lens Camera will give you the best photo quality the cost of additional lenses can quickly add up. When you are considering buying a DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) remember you are really investing in a camera system, as most DSLR users will add additional lenses over time. For some who do not want to mess with interchangeable lenses and the extra costs one of the super zoom cameras can be a good alternative because of the wide focal range they have.

Digital Camera Basics #2...Consider the Size of the Camera

The size of the camera is important because you want a camera that not only is comfortable to use but also one that you will not mind carrying with you.

As the quality of cell phone cameras continue to improve they can become an alternative for some people rather than also carrying a point-and-shoot camera. Smaller cameras that can fit in a purse or pocket have the advantage of being easy to carry but also have smaller image sensors which means more digital noise and a generally a lower quality image.

Camera size is an important feature and whether you choose a smaller Point and Shoot camera or a larger DSLR remember to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both and decide what features are most important to you.

Having the best camera and lens available does no good if you leave it at home because of its large size and extra weight.

Digital Camera Basics #3...Picture Quality

  • What will you be using the photos for?
  • Do you plan on making enlargements of your photos?

These are the type of questions you need to answer when it comes to determining what type of camera will meet your needs. If all you will be doing is posting your pictures to the internet or printing 4x6 photos you can be less concerned with things like the size of the image sensor than you could if you plan on cropping the photos or making enlargements of them.

How you will use your camera and what type of settings you will be photographing in can help you determine which features are more important when considering a digital camera. The person who will be primarily photographing people will likely need less optical zoom than one who wants to take pictures of birds or wildlife.

Today's cameras often have so many advanced settings and features that it can seem overwhelming. Understanding which ones will be most important to you can help you make a better decision when choosing a camera.

Also as you do comparison shopping between models you will often find that Camera A has the advantage in one area while Camera B excels in another....knowing which is more important to you will help you determine which camera is a better fit for you personally.

Digital Camera Basics #4...Consider the Features of The Camera

There are many features to be considered when purchasing a camera. Answering some basic questions will help us determine which might be more important to us.

What type of subjects will you primarily be shooting?

Do you need a camera that can capture several frames per second?

Do you need the ability to zoom in on subjects or will you be taking more wide angle photos?

Will you be taking photos in low light settings where a high ISO Setting will be needed?

How serious are you about photography?...or....What are you going to do with the pictures you take?

These types of questions and many others should be considered when choosing a camera so you get one that will best meet your needs.

Here are a few of the many features to consider when choosing a digital camera.

  • Image sensor size--The size of the image sensor plays an important role in the overall picture quality the camera is able to capture. The smaller image sensors on point and shoot and super-zoom cameras typically will be more susceptible to increased levels of digital noise when taking pictures in low light settings. Understanding how the image sensor relates to the camera's crop factor and to its 35mm equivalent focal range is important when considering a digital camera.
  • Image Resolution--How many megapixels does the camera have? This is closely related to the size of the image sensor. But be wary of being taken captive by the "megapixel myth" and assume that more megapixels are always better. Image resolution is closely related to what you will be doing with your pictures. If you are not going to be enlarging them or cropping them much then you can easily get by with a lower megapixel camera.
  • ISO Range or Sensitivity--This is especially important if you plan on taking pictures in low light situations. Learn more about ISO at our webpage on digital camera settings.
  • Lens Interchangeability--One of the advantages of buying a DSLR, a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera or a Four Thirds format camera is the ability to switch lenses to match the lighting conditions or amount of zoom needed. The disadvantage is the cost, as lenses can easily run almost as much if not more than the camera itself.
  • Optical Zoom--Another very important feature on fixed lens digital cameras is how much optical zoom does the camera have. Digital zoom should be avoided at all cost as it can have a drastic effect on picture quality. Carefully consider the type of pictures you will be taking and how critical the ability to zoom in on your subject will be.
  • Burst Rate--How many frames per second do you need? This is an important feature if you are planning on doing sports photography or other fast action photography.
  • Battery Type--Rechargeable batteries are preferred but it is also nice to be able to substitute AA or AAA alkaline batteries if needed. Battery life is also an important consideration especially with rechargeable batteries. Knowing how many pictures a camera can take on a single charge is important when comparing two cameras, especially if you will be taking a lot of photos while traveling, etc. You don't want to run out of battery life and miss a great photo opportunity.
  • Memory Type--Some type of external memory storage is preferred rather than only internal memory. Having extra memory cards available will ensure that you do not run out of storage space needed to capture your images.
  • Overall value...this can only be determined by you. How you will use the camera and what features are most important will generally help determine the camera that has the best overall value for you.

For more information on the many different types of digital cameras be sure to check our Digital Camera Comparison page.You can find more information on digital camera basics in our Beginners Guide To Photography section that covers basic camera settings, camera modes and many other things related to digital cameras.

I hope you have found this overview of some key digital camera basics helpful as you consider what to look for in your next digital camera.

Color Histograms

Color Histograms

Color Histograms are included in many digital cameras today and offer some distinct advatanges over the standard luminance histogram.

In order to understand why color hisotgrams are an important but often overlooked tool for photographers, we will first discuss what color histograms are. Then we will look at some of the advantages of a color histogram. And finally we will discuss what can be learned from a color histogram and how to use that information to improve our photos.

Understanding color histograpms starts with understanding histograms in general. In photography a histogram is simply a graphical representation of the number of pixels in the image that fall within a certian range, either luminance or color. For example for a normal luminance histogram the graph shows the number of pixels for each luminance or brightness level from black to white. The higher the peak on the graph the more pixels are at that luminance level. With a color histogram the principle is the same but instead of seeing the levels of black graphed you will now see the number of pixels for each of the three main colors.

Learning to read and understand a histogram can be a great way to double check that our photo is properly exposed and to make quick exposure adjustments so we end up with a better exposed photo.

What are color histograms?

A700 HistogramA color histogram is a simply a histogram that shows the color level for each individual RGB color channel. Also known as “Three Color Histograms” these displays are found on some DSLR and high end cameras.

A three color histogram is read similar to a normal luminance histogram. However instead of showing the distribution of pixels from black to white as with the luminance histogram, a three color histogram shows the brightness distribution for each color individually. This is important because you can easily see if one color is overexposed and clipped which means that you might be loosing important detail for that color range.

There are two basic types of three color histograms. The first is the RGB histogram that shows a combination of all three colors and possibly even the luminance histogram all together. The second are individual histograms for each separate color.

What is the advantage of a three color histogram?

The advantage of a color histogram is that you can see if individual colors have been clipped or are over or under exposed.

This is important because it is possible for a luminance histogram to show little if any clipping while a three color histogram would show clipping on one color channel. This would result in a loss of texture or detail for that color similar to what you get with an over-exposed image.

Flower Luminance HistogramThe luminance histogram for this flower picture shows no clipping.

In the photo above you see that th luminance histogram shows no clipping (spikes on either the black or white side of the scale). Yet when you look at a color histogram for the same image you can easily see that the red channel is slightly clipped which means you could be losing some detail in the highlight areas of that color range. There is also a spike on the left hand side of the blue histogram which could mean that the blue channel is slightly clipped in the shadow areas.

Three Color HistogramHere you see the individual histograms for each color as well as a combined histogram that shows all three color channels and the luminance histogram as well. The clipping that is occurring on the red channel is easily visible when using a three color histogram.

Generally having some clipping on just one color channel is not as much of a problem as when all three colors are clipped but it really depends on your image and the look you are trying to capture. That is the case for the flower image above. While the red channel is clipped the image still retains enough luminance detail in the other colors that the clipping is not really an issue in this photo.

What can I learn from a color histogram that is different than a normal luminance histogram?

Color histograms can help you determine if the white balance of your image is correct. If the spike for each color is located at the same place on the histogram for each color channel then the photo is balanced or neutral. This can be a good way of doing a quick check of your white balance but it is important to realize that it does not work on all images. For example an image that contains a lot of one color such as a blue sky will usually have the spike for that color offset even if the white balance is correct.

Color histograms and luminance histograms are important tools for evaluating the exposure of a photo. If we see spiking or clipping on the right hand side of the image we know that the image is likely over-exposed a problem that can quickly be remedied by a quick adjustment to the exposure compensation. On the other hand if the spike is on the left hand side of the image then the shadow areas might be under exposed necessitating an increase in brightness.

Both over exposed and under exposed images mean we are gernally losing valualbe detail and a slight adjustment to our exposure can make for a much better image. Learning to read and use a histogram will help you become a better photographer.

Learn more about histograms at this page on understanding histograms

Understanding Histograms

Understanding Histograms

  • What are histograms?
  • Why are histograms important?
  • How to use histograms?

This page will help you answer those questions and begin understanding histograms and why they are important.

What are histograms?

A histogram is a visual picture that shows how many pixels of a particular brightness level there are in the photo. It is like a graph that shows you how much light each pixel of your image sensor is reading.

There are two basic types of histograms. The first type is the standard luminance histogram which is the focus of this page and the second type are RGB or Three Color Histograms.

Normal HistogramThis is an example of a well-balanced histogram. Notice the small spikes at both sides indicating the picture has small areas of pure black and pure white but the majority of the pixels are in the center to middle area indicating excellent midrange detail. It also has broader "peak" areas indicating good contrast.

The purpose of the histogram is to let you see instantly if your photo is correctly exposed. Once you learn how to read a histogram it gives you instant feedback as whether your photo is correctly exposed that can be more accurate than simply looking at the screen.

Why are histograms important?

Understanding histograms begins with understanding why they are important and what purpose they serve. Histograms are important because even though today’s cameras have excellent metering systems there are lighting conditions that can “fool” the cameras internal light meter resulting in an incorrectly exposed image. For example if your subject has a large bright area the camera meter will think it needs to reduce the amount of light which can result in an under-exposed image. On the other hand if you have a large dark area in the photo it can fool the camera and result in an over-exposed photo.

Now you might ask why can’t I just look at the LCD screen and tell if the photo is exposed correctly? The answer is you might be able to some of the time but why chance it when you have a tool that takes the guesswork out of making that judgment right at your fingertips.

One problem with relying on your LCD display alone is that it can sometimes fool you. For example if you have your LCD display set to the maximum brightness a photo might look over-exposed when it really is not. Also there are times when viewing the LCD in sunlight that the screen looks washed out or is hard to see due to the bright sun. Finally you have the fact that even the largest LCD’s on cameras are really too small to accurately judge a photo’s exposure and color.

So with all these factors working against you why not check your trusty histogram and know for sure how well your photo is exposed. The fact is there are times when you really can’t tell how well the picture is exposed by looking at the LCD display….and it is in those situations that your histogram helps you the most.

How to use histograms?

Knowing how to use histograms is an important part of understanding histograms and begins with understanding how a histogram is set up.

Histograms are set up so the darker pixels show up on the left hand side and the lighter pixels are found on the right hand side. If most of your pixels are found on the left hand side your image is likely under-exposed and will be too dark and lack detail in the shadow areas. If the majority of the pixels are found on the right hand side then the photo is likely over-exposed and will be too light with little or no detail in bright parts of the image.

Understanding Histograms Through Examples

Histogram Normal ExposureThis is a normally exposed image. Notice how the histogram covers from true black to true white with little clipping. This image is using the full dynamic range of the camera.

 Over Exposed HistorgramThis is an over-exposed image. Notice how the histogram is shifted to the right and you have a large spike on the right hand side. This indicates that the highlights are clipped and contain no detail. Also notice how the histogram is "flatter" which indicates less contrast in the image.

Under Exposed HistogramThis is an under-exposed image. Notice how the histogram is shifted to the left and you have no white pixels at all in the image.

Pixels on the far left hand side of the histogram represent pure black or a light intensity level of 0 while pixels on the far right hand side represent pure white or a light intensity of 255. Pixels between these two areas make up the areas of the image that contain detail or the tonal range of the image.

Histograms typically look like a mountain peak or a range of peaks. Those areas of the photos that have the greatest numbers of pixels for that luminance or color level will have the tallest peak.

Understanding Histograms can also help us see the contrast of the image. An image with a low contrast will generally have a “steeper” peak on the histogram while an image with more contrast will have more of a rounded peak to the histogram.

Contrast histogramHere are two examples showing the difference contrast makes in a histogram. The picture on the left is a low contrast picture that looks "flat" as seen by the narrow and steep peak in the histogram. The picture on the right had the contrast adjusted and notice how the histogram spreads out resulting in a broader peak and a better photo.
It is important to realize that there is no perfect histogram. The right histogram for one scene or one picture might not be right for the next scene or picture. There are times when the best histogram for an image might be heavily weighted towards either the light or dark side of the histogram and yet the exposure is correct for that image and what you are trying to capture. An example of this would be a photo of the moon at night where almost all your pixels will be on the left hand side of the histogram but you image is properly exposed. 

Using a Histogram to Help Adjust Your Camera Settings

Histograms allow us to quickly see how well our image is exposed. Once we know how to "read" a histogram and understand what it shows, the next step is to understand how to adjust our camera settings in order to avoid under-exposing or over-exposing the picture.

One quick way of adjusting the exposure slightly up or down to improve your histogram and image is by using the "exposure compensation" feature of the camera. This camera setting allows you to quickly adjust your exposure either up or down slightly to either lighten or darken the image.

Histograms Reviewed

A histogram is a graph or visualization of how much light your image sensor is capturing at each pixel location. There is no “prefect histogram” and a histogram alone cannot tell you if your picture is overexposed or underexposed, it only tells you how your image is exposed. There are times where a histogram might look like the image is under or over exposed when in reality it is not, because of the subject matter.

For example some images are simply darker because most of the details or tones are found to the left side of the histogram in the shadow areas. These images are called “Low Key” and the histogram will show most of the pixels on the left hand side. The opposite of this type of image is the “High Key” image where most of the detail or tones are in the highlights of the image. This type of picture will show a majority of the pixels on the right hand side of the histogram.

For most cases the histogram is a very accurate way of making sure your image is properly exposed and you are not losing important details in either the shadows or highlight areas of the picture.

Balanced HistogramAnother example of a well exposed image and a balanced histogram. We know by looking at the histogram that we have all levels of light represented from true black to true white and that the picture has good contrast by the wide peak of the histogram.

I hope you have found this page on understanding histograms helpful and I wish you the best as you continue down the path of becoming a better photographer.

Click here to learn about color histograms and their advantages

Crop Factor

What is Crop Factor?

Crop factor is a term used to describe the relationship between the focal length of the lens and the size of the camera's image sensor. It helps us to compare the equivalent or effective focal length between different cameras that use different sizes of image sensors

The crop factor of a DSLR comes into play when a lens designed for a 35mm film camera or a "Full Frame DSLR" is used on a DSLR with a smaller image sensor such as an APS-C camera. Because the image sensor in the camera is smaller it effectively “crops” the image as a smaller area is exposed. Therefore when the image is printed that area of the photo is enlarged more than had the same lens been used on a 35mm or Full Frame DSLR.

The "crop factor" of a lens and camera combination effectively increases the focal length of the lens resulting in greater magnification of the subject.

For example a 50mm lens on a DSLR with a 1.5x crop factor has a field of view “equivalent” to using a 75mm lens on a 35mm SLR or a Full Frame DSLR. Nothing has changed on the lens, the sensor is simply capturing a smaller area of what the lens actually “sees” which gives us an image that appears to be magnified more or taken with a longer telephoto lens.

Determining the “Equivalent Focal Length” of a DSLR and Lens combination is as simple as multiplying the focal range of the lens times the crop factor or "multiplication factor" of the camera as it is sometimes called.

The crop/multiplication factor is also important when considering Point and Shoot digital cameras as well as Super Zoom cameras. This is because the image sensors on those cameras are much smaller than a 35mm camera so their multiplication factor is much higher.

Why Crop Factor Is Important?

Understanding the "Equivalent Focal Length" of the camera is important when comparing the zoom capabilities of different cameras.

Many Point and Shoot and Super Zoom cameras list their zoom capabilities in terms of magnification, such as 3X, 5X, 10X, 15X, or 20X zoom, similar to the designations used on camcorders for years. While these numbers are helpful in quickly identifying the camera with the greatest range of focal length, they really do not do much for us in comparing the overall effective focal range of the camera. This is why many manufacturers now list the 35mm equivalent in their full specifications.

When it comes to comparing cameras and knowing how much zoom capabilities a camera really has it is important to compare the "35mm Equivalent" specification instead of simply looking at the amount of zoom it has.

Here is an example of three different Sony Camera models to show this relationship. In order to have the effective focal range of the Super Zoom Sony HX1 you would need an APS-C DSLR like the Alpha 100 with a 19mm to 373mm lens which no one currently makes. Since the Alpha 900 is a Full Frame camera it would require a 28mm to 560mm lens to equal the full focal range of the Sony HX1.

Camera Actual Focal Length of Lens Crop Factor 35mm Equivalent Focal Length
Sony HX1 5.0mm to 100mm 5.6 28mm to 560mm
Sony Alpha 100 18mm to 250mm 1.5 27mm to 375mm
Sony Alpha 900 18mm to 250mm 1 18mm to 250mm

Crop Factor

Examples of what Crop Factor Does

The relationship of image sensor size and field of view is easily seen in this photo. The circular area represents the area seen through the lens of the camera.

The black rectangle represents the image captured by a 35mm Film camera or a Full Frame DSLR and the blue rectangle is the image that would be captured by the same lens on a APS-C DSLR with a crop factor of 1.5.

Crop Factor Full FrameCrop factor of an APS-C sensor compared to a full frame sensor.

See how this results in the center area being magnified more which means the effective focal range of the lens has increased.

The difference in how the photos taken with the two different cameras would print out is represented by these two photos.

In order to get the same angle of view that you have with the Full Frame DSLR you would need to use less zoom on an APS-C camera.

Crop Factor APSCThis photo shows what the APS-C image would look like when printed.This can be helpful if you are needing to have the maximum zoom capabilities but at the same time would limit your ability to get really wide angle photos. Also we need to remember that the more magnification that takes place because of a smaller image sensor the more that digital noise is likely to become an issue.

 When buying a Point and Shoot, Super Zoom or DSLR camera it is important to understand the "Equivalent Focal Length" of the camera and lens combination.

Different manufacturers use different image sensor sizes in their cameras. Some of the more popular multiplication factors by camera maker are listed in the table below. Of course several of these companies also make Full Frame DSLR's which have a crop factor of One.

Manufacturer Crop Factor
Sony 1.5x
Nikon 1.5x
Pentax 1.5x
Canon 1.6x
Olympus 2.0x

Final Thoughts

Crop factor can work to your advantage or disadvantage depending on what type of pictures you take the most. If you do a lot of landscape or group shots that require a wider angle lens then a higher crop factor will limit your ability to get the widest possible angle of view. Yet on the other hand if you need the most zoom capability then a higher crop factor could work to your advantage as your effective focal length would be increased for the same lens.

Remember that the smaller the image sensor is the higher the crop factor will normally be. Because the smaller image sensor is effectively cropping the image the end result will be a photo where it looks like you have zoomed closer to the subject.

When comparing cameras be sure to look at the specifications for the 35mm equivalent of the lens. This will give you more uniform way of comparing a camera and lens combination or one point and shoot camera to another.

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