Different Types of Camera
This is without doubt the easiest and most convenient way to take photos. If all you will ever want to do is take photos to share online, in emails and with your friends with the minimum of fuss and effort, this is what you need. The latest models take cracking photos and there are many apps to help you.
A good compact camera can take professional quality photos and is small enough to fit in your pocket or handbag. If you want to take control of your photography, but don't want the hassles of changing lenses, a compact camera might be what you're looking for. Be careful though, as cheap compacts are not as good as some of the latest camera phones.
Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera systems seem to be the future. They are light and easy to carry around, far less expensive than good DSLRs, and the latest models are used by professionals. If you are interested in learning about photography and want to progress beyond pointing and shooting, a mirrorless camera system would be an excellent choice.
A DSLR is also a camera system which requires additional lenses, but the good ones are bulky, heavy and expensive. A professional DSLR with a few good quality lenses can set you back more than a new car. Carrying one around all day with 2 or 3 lenses requires a backpack and strong arms, and you would probably require an expensive tripod as well. Professional photographers often have two DSLRs in their kit.
Bridge cameras only have one lens, often with a huge 30x to 50x zoom range or more. If you're looking for one camera that does it all and don't mind lugging around the extra bulk, this might make a good choice, especially as a travel camera. Be warned though, huge zoom ranges in a single lens come with compromises in image quality. For fun, internet and home use they are just fine.
How a Camera Works
The fundamental principles of photography are relatively straight forward. Light enters through a lens and hits a sensor which records all the detail in the light, as well as detail in shadows and colours. The diagram below shows how light travels through a DSLR. It first hits a mirror, then travels through a prism until it is reflected back out through the viewfinder to your eye. When you take a photo, the mirror flips up and the light travels directly to the sensor where the image is recorded.
Mirrorless cameras don't have mirrors, which is one reason why they are much smaller, lighter and cheaper to manufacture than DSLRs. Cameras require batteries to power them and memory cards on which to save and store your photos. Most batteries are removeable and rechargeable. The most common memory cards are compact flash cards, which are used in some DSLRs, and SD (secure digital) cards, which are found in compacts, mirrorless, DSLR and bridge cameras.
Sensor Sizes - Full frame or Cropped?
Sensor sizes can be confusing. Micro four thirds, 1" sensors, cropped, full frame, medium format, what's the difference? Image quality is not dependent solely on sensor size. The idea that full frame is better than a cropped sensor is mostly nonsense. Image quality is more down to the lenses you use than your sensor. If an APS-C camera has quality lenses that can be used wide open and produce stunning bokeh, that is superior to a full frame camera that has to be stopped down 2 or 3 times because the image quality of the lens is rubbish wide open. Generally speaking, most landscape photographers I know prefer full frame cameras for the higher resolution, while most wildlife photographers I know prefer cropped cameras because of the extra reach. There is no such thing as a camera that is good at everything. Micro four thirds cameras can produce excellent landscape photos, take superb wildlife and action photos, and they can be excellent for street and events. The best way to begin is to buy a good cheap camera with manual as well as automatic controls and learn how to use it properly. When a camera begins to hold you back because it can't do what you want it to, that's the time to upgrade. By that time you will also have a fair idea of where you want to go with photography and will be less likely to waste money on expensive gear not suited to your needs. The following illustration is for comparison only, it is not to scale.
General House Keeping
As with anything in life, photography requires a few simple housekeeping tasks so your camera will always be ready. For example, your batteries will need to be charged and your camera card will have to be formatted and ready to use. A good habit to develop is to transfer photos from your camera to your computer as soon as you get home, and then charge your battery. Once your photos are safely on your computer and your battery is charged, put the card and battery back in the camera. I do this as a matter of course and my gear is always ready to go.
You will make life much easier for yourself if you put together a filing system for your photos. It doesn't have to be elaborate, and you don't need a fancy software filing system either. All you need to get started is a main folder called My Photos or something, then another level of folders within for holidays, birthdays, events, landscapes, club outings, wildlife or whatever else you think you need. You can even have sub folders for different years. Whatever works for you is a good system, just have a system so you can find your photos when you need them.
Gear is expensive, so look after it. Instead of having your camera, batteries, memory cards, and all your cables knocking around in drawers, get yourself a proper bag to keep it all together. A good bag is a small price to pay to keep your gear safe. It doesn't have to be new either, there are plenty of excellent second hand camera bags around. There is nothing worse than not being able to find a cable or a spare battery when you need it. Keep your lens cover on when your camera is not in use, use the lens hood to protect your glass, and only use a proper lens cloth.
RAW vs Jpg
The heading is perhaps a little misleading in that there is no competition between RAWs and Jpgs. If you shoot a perfect picture as a jpg, what do you need a RAW file for? You don’t. In fact, many professionals shoot in both RAW and jpg, and if the jpg is good, they bin the RAW because it isn’t needed.
There are many different types of image files but we only need to
familiarise ourselves with three at this stage - RAWs, jpgs, and
Tiffs. A RAW is the file your camera records when you take a photo,
while a jpg is a processed and compressed version of that RAW file.
Jpgs are much smaller in size than RAWs and take up far less room on
your computer or memory card. As jpgs are compressed images, they
are lossy, which means they lose quality the more you work with them
and repeatedly save over them. A Tiff file is an excellent file type
for saving photos you want to keep. They are non lossy so they don't
lose quality no matter how much you work on them. The only
disadvantage to Tiff files is that they are huge compared to jpgs.
How I work is to save my RAW files as Tiffs to work on them, and
then make a copy of the finished Tiff file as a jpg. If I ever need
to work on the photo again, I work on the Tiff and make a fresh jpg
when I'm done. I never work on jpgs and this ensures my photos
retain their image quality. If you shoot in jpg, that's fine, save
them as Tiffs and you will be able to work on them as much as you
like without degrading the image quality.
If you shoot RAW you will have to process the image and turn it into a jpg before you can use it. If you’re only interested in sharing your photos with family and friends, forget about RAWs as you don’t need them. Learn more about some of the features on your camera instead to improve the quality of your jpgs. Additionally, most modern digital cameras have effects you can apply to your jpgs in camera, everything from black and white treatments to special effects to high dynamic range photos (HDR). The dynamic ranges of some cameras are now so good that there is enough information in the highlights and shadows of RAW files for your camera to produce well exposed images without the need for you to process RAWs separately.
If your camera doesn’t have the capability to record images as RAWs, is your camera inferior? No, it isn’t. Shoot away in jpg and have fun. Remember, professional photographers make their living by the quality of their images, so they need expensive equipment and expensive software to ensure top quality at high resolutions. If they reduce their images to a size for sharing on the Internet, most likely they will be of much the same quality as yours. It is only when you are selling extremely high resolution photographs with lots of detail to discerning customers that you need to be particular with such high quality. If you’re not selling pictures for a living, and your camera doesn’t shoot in RAW, don’t worry about it, you’re not missing anything except a lot of post processing work. I often shoot jpgs when I'm out having fun.
You're now ready to start taking photos. You may not feel you're ready yet, but just insert a battery, slot in the memory card and format it by following the instructions that came with your gear, put the camera in auto and go and take some photos. Modern cameras are so good that full auto mode will allow anyone to take decent enough images. As you progress through this workshop your knowledge and understanding of photography and your camera will grow and you will be better placed to do much more, but for now just go out, take some photos and have some fun.
Credits - Camera phone, Petar Milošević, Wikipedia. Fuji X100s, Rev8600, Wikipedia. DSLR, Rama, Wikipedia. Bridge camera, Mohylek, Wikipedia. DSLR cutaway, Hanabi123, Wikipedia. Memory cards, Evan-Amos, Wikipedia. All other photos copyright George Maciver - all rights reserved.