DSLR Camera for Beginners
The Digital Single Lens Reflex camera or the DSLRs as they are popularly referred to, are a very robust camera system. It was once considered to be a camera system that was reserved for professionals only. However, things have changed in the last 5 – 10 years. Even first time camera buyers are looking at these cameras as their preferred choice. If you belong to that category, this tutorial on DSLR camera for beginners is for you.
The thing is every beginner realizes that DSLRs make excellent photography. But what no beginners realize is that DSLRs don’t make images on their own. As the legendary Ansel Adams had said, the most important part of a camera is the 12 inches behind it. It needs a great mind behind the camera to make excellent images.
Most beginners end up getting frustrated within the first 2 – 4 weeks. They either surrender themselves to the Green Dot (the Auto Mode) or ditch their DSLRs altogether for their smartphones.
Therefore, understanding how to use your new procurement and how to make good images with it is imperative before you head out. This guide will help you to overcome your apprehensions about your new acquisition. It will also help you to realize your own potential as a photographer, as well as give you a good understanding of your camera.
What is a DSLR Camera?
The History of the DSLR Camera for Beginners
The Digital Single Lens Reflex camera, or popularly known as DSLRs are the most dominating form of cameras, digital or otherwise in the modern era.
Back in 1991, when the Kodak professional Digital Camera System (DCS) was introduced, no one thought that going forward DSLRs would completely push traditional film cameras out of the market. Even few would have envisioned that transition in less than 2 decades. Such was the dominance of film cameras.
The 35mm was the most preferred shooting medium. Medium and large formats were also in prominence, but the 35mm was what brought photography within the reach of the average consumer. Much like the way smartphones have brought in a newfound interest in photography today.
Introduction of the Digital SLR (DSLR)
The Digital Single Lens Reflex camera, named as such because it essentially shares the same technology as the older film based Single Lens Reflex cameras of yesteryears, is an optical marvel.
It has a single lens in front of it and thus, the name ‘Single Lens’. It is the job of the lens to focus light on to the sensor. The sensor is where the magic happens, i.e., light is converted into image.
The word Reflex denotes that there is a ‘reflex’ mirror in front of the sensor. This reflex mirror is what powers the optical viewfinder at the back of the camera. This also happens to be the key difference between DSLR and Mirrorless cameras.
The Digital Sensor
All these features are common to what you would find on a traditional film SLR. What segregates the DSLR from a SLR is the sensor. The digital sensor at the back of the camera is the single most important aspect of a DSLR camera.
This sensor is where the magic happens. Light travels through the lens, gets focused on to the sensor and an image is recorded.
The sensor is actually a composite surface. It consists of millions of tiny light sensitive photo-diodes. How many of these pixels are there on a single sensor? Well, it depends on the camera. To give you an example, the entry level Nikon D3300 has a sensor that consists of 24.2 megapixels. 1 megapixel = 1 million pixels. On the other hand, the Canon EOS 5DS R has a phenomenal 50.6 megapixels.
Each of these photo-diodes collect light (more accurately photons). These photons are then converted into electrical signals. Finally, via tiny wiring, which connects the sensor to the image processing engine (chip), transfer the signals where they are assimilated and converted into a digital image.
How do the Pixels on a Sensor Work?
It is mandatory to know how the pixels work. This is regardless of whether you are looking for DSLR camera for beginners or you are an advanced user.
Each of these photodiodes can be compared with a bucket. The buckets are lined up to collect rainwater. If the bucket sizes are large, you have a higher chance of collecting more rain water. If the buckets are small, even if you increase the number of buckets, the actual amount of rainwater collected will be small with more wastage. The same thing happens here.
Moreover, these photo diodes have micro lenses over them. The job of these micro lenses is to allow light of one color to pass through and block everything else. Some of these photo diodes would capture only red color, others will capture blue and the rest green.
Actually, there are twice as much green collected compared to either red or blue. Later on when the light signals are converted into electrical signals and transferred to the image processor, a complex process is used to convert these red, green and blue colors and produce an image with all the colors in the visible spectrum.
Also a part of these photodiodes is the wiring that runs from each of the photo diodes to the image processor. Traditional camera sensors have these wiring on the surface of the sensor.
Does more Pixels Make a Better Camera?
When I was in college our Economics professor taught us the theory of Diminishing Returns. He explained that with a given amount of resources if you initially add manpower production will go up exponentially. After a while, if you keep adding manpower, production will not increase in the same rate. As a matter of fact it would go down after a while.
The same way, increasing the number of pixels, initially will result in higher resolution. Resolution denotes more detail. So, the amount of detail you would be able to capture with a 24 megapixel camera would be much higher to what you would be able to capture with a 16 megapixel camera.
However, if you increase the number of pixels to say, 48, (keeping the sensor size unchanged) the pixels will be more tightly packed. Light coming in through the lens gets scattered because of the tightly packed pixels plus the wiring that make up the sensor surface. This is detrimental to the process of capturing light. This leads to noise.
The best approach would be a large sensor and a reasonable number of pixels.
A Few More Aspects to Keep in Mind
There are some parameters that you need to know. If the sensor is large such as a full-frame, you can opt for a larger resolution. It has a larger surface area and is able to capture a lot of light with the individual pixels not tightly packed. Such sensors perform better in low light. Plus, you get the advantage of higher resolution, larger detail and shallower depth of field (to be explained later). This is the sort of camera
If the sensor is small, settle for a lower resolution sensor. A lower resolution sensor will get you less deal, but at least low light performance will be better and your images will not suffer from softness.
Of course if you already purchased your camera, all these make no sense at this. What you can do is to learn how to make excellent images. Read on!
Main Features of a DSLR
The Rear LCD Screen
The most on your face feature that segregates a DSLR from older film cameras is the LCD screen that dominates the back of a DSLR camera. This LCD screen is a versatile tool. Not only can you review the images that you take, but you can also compose your images via the screen as well as alter the settings of your camera. This is where the primary interface of the camera is accessed.
The Optical Viewfinder
The optical viewfinder is one of the most fundamental aspects to master on a DSLR camera for beginners. The optical viewfinder is a feature that has been taken directly from the older film cameras. This viewfinder is your primary composing window. Most semi-pro and pro grade DSLRs will offer a 100% view through the viewfinder. But entry level cameras mostly offer anything between 95% to 98% of the view that your sensor see.
The Reflex Mirror
The optical viewfinder is powered by a reflex mirror. When you press the shutter release of your camera you will hear a sound, like some metal surface slapping. This is actually the mirror inside the camera that swings away and then resets.
When the reflex mirror is in its resting position, it reflects the light coming through the lens on to a pentaprism (or pentamirror depending on the camera you have) located at the top of the camera.
The bounced light is then internally reflected and finally beamed through the viewfinder at the back of the camera. The view that you see is the actual light coming through the lens (give or take some loss in intensity).
When the mirror is in its resting position, the digital sensor gets no light at all. This is because the mirror is directly in the path of the sensor. When you press the shutter release, the mirror moves away from the path of the sensor. Light will now hit the sensor and form an image.
Digital cameras these days can practically shoot an unlimited number of frames. Why? This is because digital cameras don’t have limited number of shots as older film cameras had. With a roll of 35mm film you could basically make about 36 exposures.
Nowadays, with higher capacity memory cards and dual memory card slots you are can shoot thousands of photos. If you shoot tethered you can keep shooting the whole day without running out of memory. Plus, with a battery grip you extend the time frame of your power backup.
*** We recommend that you read the following paragraphs on Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO after going through the paragraph on Exposure.
Ability to Control Aperture
There are a number of reasons why DSLR cameras are more popular than compact cameras and for that matter smartphones. One of them is the ability to change the exposure settings. Aperture being one of the key exposure settings that you can change. The other being shutter speed.
Aperture denotes the small opening on the lens that allows light to enter the camera. This small opening is controlled via the aperture diaphram. Meaning, you can make it larger or smaller depending on your requirement to capture more or less light.
There are tiny blades at the back of the lens. These can open and close to change the size of the aperture. Opening the aperture up allow more light to enter the camera. Closing the aperture down allow less light to enter the camera.
Ability to Control Shutter Speed
All DSLR cameras and not just DSLR camera for beginners will give you the opportunity to control aperture. Another feature of the camera is the ability to change the shutter speed. Shutter Speed denotes the length of time for which the aperture remains open to collect light. In other words the length of time the aperture is open. The longer that time frame, the more light your camera will capture.
Ability to Amplify Light Signals (ISO)
ISO is a term that you will hear a lot (as much as shutter speed and aperture). It is fundamental to digital photography. ISO stands for International Standards Organization. In photography it refers to the sensitivity of the sensor. Actually, the sensor does not ‘see’ more light or some such thing. What happens is that the camera’s internal software amplifies the light signal. That means even in low light you will get a properly exposed image.
The above three features, control aperture, shutter speed and ISO isn’t exclusive to DSLR cameras. Point & shoot cameras as well as smartphones do have the option to change ISO. Film cameras (SLR) allow you to change the aperture and the shutter speed.
Mirrorless systems also have similar features like these. But there are certain advantages and disadvantages to using a mirrorless system. We will not go into details of those as they are outside the purview of this discussion.
Latest posts by Rajib (see all)
- Learn Photography Terms for Beginners - June 16, 2017
- A review of the Nikon COOLPIX B700 - May 28, 2017
- A Review of the Sony Alpha a6300 Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera - May 24, 2017