Digital SLR Photography All-in-One For Dummies Cheat Sheet
If you’re interested in photography, you will find no better device than a digital SLR (or dSLR). Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, you can find a dSLR that will fit your needs. You really can’t beat the combination of power, flexibility, growth potential, and “accessorize-ability” of a dSLR. With the information in this cheat sheet, you’ll be taking photos in no time.
Categorizing Digital SLRs
Not all digital SLRs are the same. It helps to organize them into broad categories based on features and prices. This is how they are designed and built, anyway. Manufacturers target specific audiences with each camera they produce. Knowing this helps you compare apples to apples when shopping or studying a camera’s capabilities.
- Consumer-level: These cameras are for beginners or those with a limited budget. Prices are under $1,000, give or take. While they can take great photos, entry-level models at the low end of the consumer spectrum have limited features and capabilities compared to the rest. More expensive cameras in this category feature better performance and features than the bare-bones models.
Don’t ever be embarrassed at having a consumer or entry-level dSLR. Even the least expensive dSLR is a far, far more capable camera than a compact digital camera or smartphone. The best way to get more out of a consumer-level dSLR is to upgrade your lens.
- Mid-range: These cameras are for the amateur who really means business, or the professional who needs something smaller, lighter, and less expensive than a top-tier camera. They range in price from between $1,000 and $1,500. Manufacturers begin adding pro-level features such as better autofocus, metering, and flash options.
- Professional: dSLRs that range from between $1,500 and $2,500 are considered professional cameras. They are designed to operate professionally, but may have performance limitations and form factor compromises that keep them affordable. All the same, they are larger than the mid-range cameras, weigh more, use more magnesium alloy (for strength and durability), and have many more features. High-end professional dSLRs can run anywhere from $2,500 to $7,000 or more. They weigh more, are more durable, have the best sensors, image processors, autofocus, metering, and ISO performance (just to name a few things) than other dSLRs. They represent the pinnacle of digital SLR photography.
Knowing the Basic Parts of a Digital SLR
All dSLRs share a number of common design elements. For example, the grip is always on the right side. All have an LCD monitor on the back and a viewfinder that you look through. After learning a little bit about them, you should be able to pick up any dSLR without being totally intimidated. The following illustrations of a typical consumer-level model dSLR from Canon show you the basic parts of most dSLRs.
Understanding Digital SLR Lens Types and Focal Lengths
Lenses are an important part of digital SLR photography. Knowing what types of lenses there are and what they do will help you choose the right lenses for the type of photography you want to pursue.
The general lens categories are:
Zoom lenses: Lenses that have a zoom ring that enables you to change the focal length are called zoom lenses. They come in several types. The most common, and in many ways, versatile type is called the Standard (or Normal) Zoom lens. There are also wide-angle and telephoto zoom lenses.
Prime lenses: A prime lens has a fixed focal length. A lens with a fixed focal length cannot zoom in or out. They are specialized lenses that do what they do well. Buy the lens that matches the focal length you like the best. When you compose your shots, you have to physically move closer or further away to zoom in and out.
Macro lenses: Macro lenses specialize in taking photos of close objects with a reproduction ratio close to 1:1. Most macro lenses are primes.
Other specialty lenses: This includes creative and artistic lenses such as:
Lensbaby: Nontraditional but creative. There are several different types of lenses that have different creative focus and depth of field effects.
Holga: A plastic Holga lens that is compatible with your dSLR and can be mounted directly. Awesome!
Diana+: Similar to Holga lenses, but have much more zoom in them. Requires an adapter.
Tilt-shift: Tilt-shift lenses tilt and shift, producing interesting depth of field and perspective effects.
Pinhole: Simply a pinhole that lets light into the camera. There is no focus. The aperture is so small the depth of field is huge. Expect longer exposure time. Pinhole cameras create soft dreamy photos.
Lenses are also categorized based on their focal lengths:
Ultra-wide angle: Ultra-wide angle lenses have a very wide angle of view. Their focal lengths are 20mm and below for full-frame cameras, 15mm and below for APS-C, and 10mm and below for Three Fourths dSLRs.
Wide-angle: Wide-angle focal lengths include from approximately 20-40mm for full-frame, 15-25mm for APS-C, and 10-20mm for Three Fourths cameras.
Normal: Normal focal lengths are around the same diagonal size as your camera’s sensor, give or take a small range. This includes 40-60mm for full-frame, 25-40mm for APS-C, and 20-30mm for Three Fourths cameras.
Near (also known as medium) telephoto: Near telephoto focal lengths run from approximately 60-200mm for full-frame cameras, 40-135mm for APS-C, and 30-100mm for Three Fourths system cameras.
Telephoto: This range is considered “proper telephoto.” It extends from the end of near telephoto and stops before things get ridiculously expensive. Typical telephoto focal lengths are from 200-300mm for full-frame, 135-200mm for APS-C, and 100-150mm for Three Fourths cameras.
Super telephoto: These lenses are singularly optimized to shoot incredible shots with ridiculous focal lengths. They run from 300mm and up on full-frame cameras, 200mm and over for APS-C, and 150mm and up for Three Fourths cameras.
Summarizing Common Digital SLR Shooting Modes
Sometimes it feels like half the challenge of photography is choosing the right shooting mode. This decision affects how much control you can exert over the camera, and to what purpose. There really isn’t a “wrong” choice here. Some people prefer to let the camera handle most of the work. Others prefer exercising more creative control.
|Automatic||This mode probably needs the least explanation. You point the camera. You press the shutter button halfway to focus, and then fully to take the photo. The camera does the rest. Simple. Use this mode when you’re learning about your camera and photography or when you need to transfer the workload to the camera so you can relax and have fun. Some cameras have more than one automatic mode, one of which will be “advanced.”|
|Flash Off||This mode is Auto without the flash. It may even be called Auto (flash off) on your camera. Easy. Use it when you want to be in Auto but can’t turn off the flash.|
|Portrait||Take photos with nicely blurred backgrounds and sharp subjects.|
|Landscape||Scenic scenes full of scenery; processed to make the colors stand out. Use Landscape mode to photograph cityscapes as well as traditional shots of nature.|
|Sports/Action||Optimized to photograph moving subjects with a fast shutter speed. You can also use Sports when you’re moving.|
|Other scenes||Your camera may have many more types of scenes, such as Child, Sunset, Night View, Handheld Night, Twilight, or Night Portrait.|
|Specialty||Many cameras now have some form of automatic HDR shooting mode. Some enable you to shoot multiple exposures. Sony cameras have Sweep Panorama and Continuous Advance modes.|
|Program Auto (P)||Program Auto is like Auto mode, but you have much more control over the camera. The camera is set on automatic exposure and selects an aperture and shutter speed combination that it thinks is best. It can be as easy as “point and shoot”, but you’re able to set up the camera with the options you want (metering, drive mode, white balance, and so on.)
You can also shift the program by changing which combination of aperture and shutter speed the camera uses in a given situation.
|Shutter-priority (S or Tv)||You set the shutter speed and the camera works around that to get the right exposure. In all other aspects, the camera is under your full control. Good for sports, action, and when you are moving.|
|Aperture-priority (A or Av)||Similar to shutter-priority, but you set the aperture instead of shutter speed. Enables you to control the depth of field more directly. Good for portraits, landscapes, and close-ups.|
|Manual exposure (M)||In the Manual exposure mode, you are responsible for all exposure settings.|
|Bulb (B)||This special mode opens the shutter for as long as you hold the shutter button down. If you don’t have a B mode on your dial, you may be able to access it by increasing your camera’s shutter speed.|
Configuring the Flash on Your Digital SLR Camera
Your digital SLR camera may have several different flash options. Each of these options is useful in different lighting and motion situations:
Auto TTL: Automatic flash mode. The camera and flash determine the flash strength. TTL stands for “through the lens,” which is how the flash assesses the scene to determine exposure and distance information, if possible.
Red-Eye Reduction: Fires a series of pre-flashes to constrict people’s pupils, diminishing the chances of red-eye.
Fill flash: Forces the flash to fire in conditions when it is not necessary (from an overall exposure standpoint) in order to eliminate shadows and balance the light. Use fill flash outdoors to keep people’s faces from being in shadow. Use indoors to balance bright light from windows.
Slow sync: Slows the shutter and flash down to increase the amount of ambient light that contributes to the photo. The result is brighter backgrounds. You may have to raise ISO to keep shutter speed fast enough for handheld photography.
High speed sync: A special flash mode used when you have an external flash mounted on your camera’s hot shoe. This mode enables much faster shutter speeds than are possible with pop-up flashes. Use for action shots or in bright light when you need a very fast shutter.
Rear curtain: Waits to fire the flash until just before the exposure ends.
Repeating flash: Divides the flash up into a number of discrete pulses, triggering them over the length of the exposure.
Wireless: Enables wireless mode on compatible flashes and camera bodies. When properly configured, syncs the off-camera flash with your camera, enabling you to trigger the off-camera flash remotely.
Manual: The flash mode that requires you to set the flash strength yourself.