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PBG: The DSLR basics #2

PBG: The DSLR basics #2

In the last post we largely spoke about DSLR cameras manufacturers and many other useful subjects about starting in photography, but today we are going to extend a little bit more the knowledge of a DSLR camera

Following the information from the PBG: Starting in photography #1, we already know what is an DSLR or mirrorless camera, but we are going to explore the main image sensor types used in DSLR, different camera for specific niches, the camera menu settings and compatibility with different accessories, followed by camera functions covered in the next posts.

Are you still with me? Good.

PBG: The DSLR basics #2
Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

The image sensor formats of a DSLR

Although there are many sensor formats on different cameras on the market, the main two ones we’re gonna stress about are CROP SENSOR and FULL-FRAME SENSOR

The APC-S crop sensor (DX) is widely found on many DSLR cameras, in special in entry-level ones. It stands out due to the low production costs and high-quality, which drastically decreases the camera price overall.

The APC-S crop sensor found on Nikon DX cameras is slightly larger than the one found in Canon EF-S. It is the second-largest sensor found in a regular DSLR and is able to record image information way beyond a mobile phone or compact camera image sensor

A full-frame sensor is considered to be the largest common image sensor found on DSLR and is more likely to be found in special in high-end DSLR than entry-level ones.

This sensor type is larger than a crop sensor and allows about 2.4 times more light to be stored in the same period of time, and it allows you to capture a better dynamic range.

The most creative photographs which rule the magic world in modern times are more likely also to be taken with a full-frame camera.

But there comes the disadvantage of an FX camera over the APS-C: Price.

Although this considered to be a more pricey way for quality, you won’t always need a full-frame camera, in special when first starting in photography

Therefore, it is better to first know the niche you are starting before buying a more expensive camera. And I hope you did follow my advice from earlier post not to invest in photography just yet (apart from a second-hand entry level for learning photography)

Not to get too long with this section, I am going to write in general three niches in photography where one sensor is advantageous over the other:
  • Portrait photography: FULL FRAME.
  • Astrophotography: FULL FRAME (D810A)
  • Wildlife photography CROP SENSOR

In portrait photography, the photographs which stand out are those ones with a shallow depth of field. To obtain the best results of a shallow depth of field, you need to pick a full-frame camera over an APS-C DSLR

In astrophotography, there is no doubt that a full-frame camera allows you to capture more amount of light in a shorter period of time. But there are a very few cameras specifically created for astrophotography such as Nikon D810A, with greater sensitivity to light.

Although those cameras are standard for astrophotography, they may be not so good taking daylight photographs with.

Wildlife photography is mostly dominated by crop sensor cameras, such as Nikon D500

A crop-sensor image has a 1.5x magnification ratio over a full-frame sensor, which means that a 500mm lens on a crop sensor will have a focal distance of 750mm, allowing you to ‘bring the subject closer to you’.

That doesn’t mean the full-frame cameras are not used in wildlife photography. They are. Absolutely. This is just one huge advantage using a crop-sensor over a full-frame sensor.

Moving on, we know there are some minor and major differences between camera manufacturers. I want you to understand the fact that I am a Nikon user, therefore I cannot give you any accurate information about any other camera manufacturers, such as Canon, Sony etc.

But the process of learning photography has nothing to do with a camera manufacturer.

When we are shooting photographs, we think also about post-processing. But before getting there (as well if you want to shoot JPEG only without any post-processing) there are few settings to keep in mind, which we have to change the first time when we have a new DSLR.

The Picture Control (DSLR)

Picture control is the way we choose how new photos are processed to the type of scene or creative intent. Those are a standard adjustment to sharpening, clarity, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue.

Depending to your creative content or scene, you may want to choose differently, but my standard picture control is set as following (on both my Nikon D500 and Nikon D750):

  • Quick-Adjust is set to 0
  • Sharpening between 0 and 9 is set to 6
  • Clarity is set at +1
  • Both contrast and brightness are at 0
  • Saturation and hue is set at +1

We have to think also about white balance. If you are unsure which one to pick accordingly to your scene, leave to AUTO WB for now, and we will try to cover it later on other posts.

What about compatibility and accessories?

I may have mentioned before that the lenses are not interchangeable between camera manufacturers (such as a Canon lens will not fit a Nikon camera) unless provided a converter.

I did never used a converter due to the fact that I never wanted to buy other camera lenses for my Nikon, but from my researches on this theme, I would not recommend, unless you have no other choice.

  • An FX lens will perfectly fit an FX (full-frame) camera sensor and a DX with a crop ratio of 1.5x
  • A DX lens will perfectly fit a DX camera and if you are mounting into an FX camera, you get a negative crop ratio. Therefore, your images will see a strong vignetting, or better said, the edge of the lenses.

Of course, this can be easily cropped out, but think about barrel distortion and maybe focusing issues.

On the market of today, there are plenty of accessories provided for a DSLR camera, and usually mounted on the hot-shoe or connected directly to the camera ports.

Few of them are: Flashgun, shutter remote control, monitor, light panels and much more

At the bottom of the camera, you may find not only a standard 1/4″ screw hole (depending on your camera) for mounting on a tripod but also a battery grip slot.

Battery grips are pretty expensive but do let you take a huge extra number of shots without you to worry about the battery level of your camera.

Few recommended tips for your new DSLR

  • Learn all your camera buttons and their function, explore the menu.
  • Adjust your camera dioptry level for your viewfinder
  • Play with live view mode. It is more useful than you think
  • Set you ISO on manual or auto with a maximum of 1600 (by this value you may not get any noise image at all, no matter what DSLR you use)
  • Make sure you have 2x SD memory cards and a spare battery
  • Buy a tripod. Learn how to shoot on a tripod.
  • But most important, follow this list of guides to learn how to use the exposure triangle, the composition rules and a billion other tips.

Thank you for reading this post. Reading those posts in order should be more than enough to help you from starting first time in photography to getting to be a brilliant photographer.

PBG: The DSLR basics #2
PBG: The DSLR basics #2

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In this second post of our series, we are talking largely about the DSLR and its basics, advantages of both full-frame and crop sensor cameras, etc.