Acing at photography is all about understanding your equipment. But what makes a great camera? In this blog, we delve into greater details about the features one must look for when choosing to buy a DSLR.
I keep saying that the choice of gadget (particularly the camera and the lens) is of utmost importance when it comes to photography. It isn’t necessary to invest huge amounts of money when one is starting out; as you move higher up the learning curve, you will feel the need to do so automatically, and it will then become essential that you upgrade your equipment.
Although manufacturers and buyers seem to be hooked on to the megapixel hype nowadays, the utility value of high megapixel cameras has been overrated. Beyond a certain point, a high megapixel camera is only useful when it comes to printing huge blow-ups or billboards. There are many other important aspects besides megapixels that one must keep in mind while buying a camera. Here’s a look at the different features of a DSLR that are extremely necessary to be looked into while purchasing one.
THE RIGHT GEAR CHECKLIST
So, what to look for while buying a camera?
ISO: Noise at a higher ISO that gives rise to grainy images, is a major challenge to tackle. Most DSLRs offer noiseless images up to ISO 400; acceptable image quality can still be achieved up to ISO 600 with most entry level and mid-range cameras. However, under ambient light conditions, where the ISO needs to be increased to 800 or more, the chances of getting noisy images are quite high. The final image quality, thus, depends not only on the resolution of the sensor but also on its noise reduction capability. A high megapixel camera may not give rise to great resolution if the noise levels are high, rather, it will worsen it by cramming too many pixels into the sensor.
Dynamic Range: If the subject exceeds the camera’s dynamic range, the highlights become over-exposed or turn white and dark objects lose shape. Manufacturers usually do not publish the dynamic range of sensors. Magazines/ websites reviewing the DSLR test the dynamic range and this is measured in f-stops. Older, less expensive DSLRs usually have a range of six stops, while newer and more expensive models have a greater dynamic range.
Autofocus: Many cameras boast of multiple AF points. These points blink red when they are locked onto a subject. What manufacturers don’t disclose and one must look into, is how easily and how quickly one can switch between these AF points.
Frames per second: FPS, as the name indicates, the number of frames that can be clicked in a second. A camera with an FPS of four or above is good enough for capturing action sequences. One should also find out how many frames can be shot continuously before the camera has to stop and write the images information in the memory storage. These features can be tested before buying the camera by practically clicking images in a demo environment.
Mirror lock-up allows you to lock the mirror before taking a shot. This eliminates any possible vibration that may arise out of mirror movement, especially while using a relatively slow shutter speed. This feature is good for landscape photography in particular. Most new generation cameras come equipped with this feature.
Flash sync speed is important for those who are highly interested in freeze-action-flash photography or macro photography. A camera with a high flash sync speed indicates faster synchronisation between shutter release and flash firing. A camera with a flash sync speed of 1/200 is good to begin with.
Which brand of camera to buy, is a question asked by buyers all the time. I quote internationally acclaimed wildlife photographer Andy Rouse, who says, “Comparing models and saying “mine is better than yours”, is something for the playground that we should have all grown out of. It should not matter what camera I use, it’s about the photography that I produce and the techniques that I teach. Never again will I say anything negative about another manufacturer’s camera system; it’s not how a professional behaves and it doesn’t help anyone.” Now that, says it all.
WHICH LENS TO USE
Choosing the correct lens for wildlife photography is a challenge. As far as the longer focal length of lenses are concerned, the best gears needed for wildlife photography include lens above 300 mm. Zoom lenses of 70-300 mm are acceptable (though the optical quality of the glass used is always questionable); but bird photography specifically requires lenses with focal lengths up to 400 or 500 mm. Zoom lenses with the focal length ranging from 150 to 500/600 mm are available in the considerably affordable range of Rs. 70,000-Rs. 90,000. However, longer the focal length, greater the chances of the camera shaking while shooting. The focal length of the lens is thus, not the only thing that you must keep in mind while buying a lens.
It is very important to know how fast the lens is before buying it and this is indicated by the maximum aperture. A wider aperture means more light will enter, thus ensuring the use of a faster shutter speed – a very important feature in wildlife photography. Zoom lenses that offer a fixed maximum wide aperture through the zoom range (eg. 70-200/4 or 24-70/2.8) are of much higher quality. Fast lenses are expensive, though. There are many third party lens manufacturers in the market for those looking to buy good high quality lenses at a relatively affordable cost.
So the next time you look to buy a DSLR, make an informed decision based not only on the megapixels but also on these essential aspects of the camera.