If you’ve been taking pictures with a point and shoot digital camera or just your cell phone, it’s time to consider investing in a really good camera.
The question that everyone asks is this: “Do I really need to spend a lot of money on a camera to take good pictures?” The answer, in my opinion, is yes, if you want to create the kind of images that you’d love to frame and mat and hang on your walls.
The advantages of owning a good digital SLR camera are many. First, the camera is designed and built to take higher quality pictures. I’ll explain that in a minute. Second, being able to change lenses will give you almost limitless options. Third, the price of high-quality consumer digital SLR cameras has come way down in recent years.
Photo quality is determined by several factors. In the old days film was rated by light sensitivity. Before it was called ISO, film was rated by a standard known as “ASA” and the higher the number, the more silver nitrate it contained. The higher the light sensitivity the “faster” the film captured light. The one caveat was that faster film was also grainier than slower film. You could buy ASA 25 speed to ASA 1600 in any photo store and almost every department store sold 100, 200, 400, and 800 speed film.
With digital cameras, instead of film they capture images on what is known as a “charged array” of photo sites (pixels). They are embedded in the camera’s sensor lined up like the squares in graph paper. Each individual sensor captures a tiny portion of your image and the camera’s processor assembles the bits and pieces into a complete picture. The larger the sensor, the better the image quality the camera produces.
Most point and shoot digital cameras come with tiny sensors, the size of your little fingernail or smaller. A cell phone’s sensor is even smaller than that. Digital SLR cameras contain either a sensor that is about the size of a postage stamp (APS-C) or a “full frame” sensor (the size of old 35mm film negatives).
Lenses Make A Difference
Think of a camera lens as a window. The bigger the diameter of your lens, the more light it lets into the camera body. The lens aperture opens and closes to let in more or less light depending on how you set it. The lower the number the more light it lets into the camera. The wider the aperture, the less depth of field (focus area front to back). The higher the number, the greater the depth of field, but the slower your exposure.
Compare a digital point and shoot camera to a cell phone and you will see a very tiny lens on the cell phone compared to the lens on the small point and shoot camera. Now, compare the pocket-sized point and shoot camera’s lens to the one on an interchangeable lens camera, like a digital SLR or a newer mirrorless camera. Those big lenses give you the best potential image quality possible.
I say “potential” because there are cheap lenses that really are a waste of money and then there are great lenses that offer superb performance and clarity. Stick with the big brands, like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Sigma, Olympus, and Pentax and you can expect good results, whether it’s a digital SLR camera or a mirrorless camera body and lens combination.
Lenses are make in wide angle, normal focal range (roughly mimics the human eye), telephoto, and zoom configurations.
Wide angle lenses are great for landscapes and scenic vistas. The same goes for “normal” lenses, but, they have less distortion and take in a smaller amount of the scene you are capturing (it’s still a great lens for general use and happy snaps). Telephoto lenses bring you close to your subject without moving closer. Zoom lenses are convenient in that they cover a range of “focal lengths” –i.e. 70-200 mm, 35-70 mm, 18-300 mm. The broader that range the more distortion may be visible at both ends of the spectrum.
Prime focus lenses are one focal length. Common sizes are 28 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm, 100 mm, 200 mm, 300 mm, 400 mm, 500 mm.
Prime focus lenses offer you the very best image quality possible because a quality prime lens is designed from one end to the other for absolutely optimum quality. There are no compromises in the design. The downside is that they are less versatile and they are not cheap. My personal favorite prime lens size is a 200 mm f/2.8 aperture lens made by Pentax.
To sum this up, a quality camera body and a quality lens will give you excellent results. So, how important are your memories? If photography is one of your passions, you won’t regret investing in a great camera and lenses.