Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Choices choices...

Having spent the past few weeks reading up on all things camera related for the budding photog and playing around with a basic point and click CoolPix, I have finally come to a decision as to which camera I aim to purchase as my first DSLR.

For me, the only camera that came anywhere close to what I'm looking for is the Nikon D7000. Everything about this camera screams "there can only be one!" For a beginner with aspirations to be a serious hobbyist slash enthusiast, it has enough user friendliness coupled with enough advanced features to allow advancement at a steady pace. Don't get me wrong, this camera will be far more capable than me for at least the first year and maybe more, and that's the point, if I am going to invest in a proper camera, I do not want to have to upgrade a year or two later. The Nikon D7000 has so much going for it, compared to the others I looked at, the D5100, the Canons,the Pentax and the Sonys, that I just kept coming back to it.

I spent weeks watching You Tube videos (check out www.digitalreviewtv.com and www.artoftheimage.com), read countless articles online (www.snapsort.com is amazing) and even went into a few stores to check out some models. Listening to and reading the reviews and there are plenty all pointed to the D7000. A few key features.

16.2 megapixels, Expeed2 processor, dual memory card slots, ISO from 100 to 25600, burst rate of 6 frames per second, magnesium alloy body (vs plastic of all others), all weather proofing sealed, autofocus motor, 39 focus points, 1080HP movie, 30 second to 1/8000th of a second shutter speeds, shutter tested to 150,000 actuations, dust cleaning CMOS sensor, multiple scene modes, kit lens 15-105mm Nikkor build, live view through the lens, pentaprism, 100% viewfinder image (wysiwyg) and to cap it off the price off all this amazing technology for £1000.

This is a serious bit of kit. The key for me was spending a lot of time taking pictures with my little CoolPix and my Android phone, the joy and fun of taking pictures was what mattered, not the kit. Discovering an inner creative side, the peace and calm of just wandering around eyes wide open and discovering new and interesting things, or discovering really dull and boring things, the art of discovering and framing and composing has awakened something within and is very welcome.

Oh, and the CoolPix and Android are always at the ready. Next post, all going according to plan, an order will be placed and delivery taken a week later, watch this space.

Monday, March 19, 2012

From here to DSLR - Out and About

So while I am researching which DSLR camera to invest in, I will be spending most of my time capturing images on my trusty little Nikon Coolpix S3000, a point and click (p&c) automatic which allows some input. The camera has an Auto mode (where all the adjustments can be made - weird!) and the Scene modes which are preset, but you can adjust these for Ev (exposure compensation - more later). So a few examples:

Sunset mode

Close up mode

Black & White

 These were all taken in one day while roaming around Putney one afternoon. These are my first ever pictures posted to my blog and certain not to be the last. Next time, I will talk about camera choices, until then....

From here to DSLR - The 3 elements

So, next we should take each item and discuss how it helps us make images within the camera. First off the Aperture. The aperture opens to various different diameters or stops as they are called. The stop numbering system is counter intuitive because a large stop number means a small opening. Stops are referred to by the letter f. So an f stop of 1/16 has a narrower opening than an f stop of 1/8. And an f stop of 1/8 has a smaller opening than an f stop of 1/4. You may see a pattern here, the f stops appear to be in increments of one half. This is no coincidence. An f stop of 1/16 is twice as small as 1/8 and so let's in half as much light. This will be crucial later on and fundamental to the entire capture process. More later on the half/double rule.

Following on from Aperture, is Shutter speed, and as the name suggests, this is the speed with which the shutter opens and closes determining how much time the light entering from the Aperture gets exposed to the sensor. The degrees or measures of time are called stops (similar the stops of measurement for Aperture) and stops of time are also subject to the half/double standard. In other words, a shutter speed of 1/60 keeps the shutter open for half as long as a speed of 1/30. And similarly, a speed of 1/4 is open for twice as long as a speed of 1/8. What this all means is that twice the amount of light will enter when you slow the shutter speed one stop and will halve when you increase the speed by one stop. And now for the bit that connects the dots.

As both Aperture and Shutter speed exhibit the same half/double characteristic and both control the amount of light beaming it's way toward the sensor, it becomes clear that the two are directly related. In other words, if both have timing in common, then by adjusting one in ratio to the other, we should be able to get the same result. What result? The amount of light hitting the sensor should be the same. Example: an Aperture of f/4 and Shutter speed of 1/125 will leave the same amount of light onto the sensor as an Aperture of f/5.6 and Shutter speed of 1/60.

And last but not least, the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is a number that denotes how sensitive the sensor is to light. And surprise, ISO also follows the half/double convention, in other words, an ISO stop of 400 is twice as sensitive to light as ISO 200. Using a high ISO requires less light and using a lower ISO requires more light. As in the previous paragraph, by adjusting the ISO levels one stop, you can adjust either the Aperture or the Shutter speed one stop. Adjusting the ISO from 200 to 400, you could adjust your Aperture up from f/8 to f/16 and leaving the Shutter speed alone, you would be allowing the same amount of light to enter. As the sensors is now more sensitive to light, less light through the Aperture is required for the same exposure. Again, by adjusting the ISO from 200 to 400 and leaving the Aperture constant, you could increase the shutter speed from 1/125 to 1/250. This would leave half the light into the sensor but the sensor is now twice as sensitive.

So there you have it, playing around with these 3 elements will take time, patience and practice. Bring it on,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

From here to DSLR - The Basics

Last post, I outlined I would be entering the world of digital photography, first by exploring what could be achieved with my Nikon CoolPix S3000, a basic point and click (p&c) before graduating to a digital SLR. By reading and learning the basics of photography from YouTube videos, googled articles and a couple of books from Waterstones, I will attempt to document the process, list my successes, my failures and what I've learned along the way.

So first stop was Waterstones, a browse through the photography section and whoa, information overload! So where to begin? I spotted this book, "Digital Photography - A Basic Manual" by Harry Horenstein, a guy who has been taking photos since the 70s and is a professor of photography at RISD in the States.

This book covers a heck of a lot and starts the reader off from a beginner level and moves on swiftly through to more advanced topics. This book did not bamboozle or tech overload me one bit, the writing is easy, the concepts well explained and photo images are great examples of what can be achieved with practice. A valuable read. I even showed to a work colleague who also has a passion for photography and she was impressed.

First up, what is digital photography? Light enters a sealed box through an opening, passes through a lens and is focused onto a sensor which converts that light into an electronic signal which in turn gets processed into an image. That's all there is to it. This whole process is called 'capture'. And capture is what this blog is all about, the how, the why, the oh no and the oh yes!

So, next I needed to find out what goes into capturing an image? There are 3 basic elements, namely Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO. The aperture refers to the size of the hole or opening through which the light comes into the camera, the shutter speed determines the length of time the light is allowed to fall onto the sensor and finally the ISO refers to the sensitivity of the sensor to the light falling on it. These 3 elements (volume of light, duration of light and sensitivity of the sensor to that light) when combined as intended, are what make us pause, reflect and gasp at the world.

Our own style of photography comes through manipulating the tools at our disposal and coupled with artistic vision, thoughtful composition, message and subject, our images get created. And the beauty is we can always return to that moment. It's past and present. Cool bananas huh? Next time, I will look at the 3 basics,

Sunday, March 11, 2012

From here to DSLR

Having used my point and shoot Nikon Coolpix S3000 in the usual non thinking about it fashion, I decided to move up into the digital SLR world. I did the usual types of research, googling, YouTubeing and venturing to the local bookstore. Faced with what seemed like more options than a Wall Street trader could shake his fist at, I consulted my all knowing wife. The issues for me were first, what type of camera? second, budget and third, whether or not this was my usual run of the mill quarterly band aid to fix my boredom? Let's digress for a moment. Being 45 and without kids to occupy my 1440 minutes of every day, and having just moved to London, boredom can and does set in. Over the past 12 years, I have lived in 4 different countries, having a network of close friends to drop in on just isn't available. Yes I have friends from work but come the weekend they are all doing what family dads do and should.

So my wife suggested, instead of agonizing over what camera to buy etc, why not take the point and click (p&c) and see what I could achieve with it. The principles are the same although the equipment may be shall we say, agricultural compared to the more modern DSLRs available. This way, I can learn and apply the principles and have some fun along the way. Once mastered (within reason), moving up to a DSLR will be a welcome challenge. A bit like putting in time before moving up to the next level. It also avoids the whole mine field of spending gobs of money on expensive equipment only for it to end up on a shelf or even worse, used as a p&c.

So I went online and downloaded the Coolpix operating manual to see how and what could be achieved and together with lots of reading on ISOs, shutter speeds and apertures, I dove right in.

Over the next few months, I will be documenting what principles of photography I've learned and how i've applied them to using my p&c. The next step will be to go through my decision making process in choosing my first digital SLR. Should be fun. Next post, "The Basics".