сряда, 24 февруари 2016 г.

Lesson 1 - Compact camera Vs DSLR. Do I need a DSLR to get good pictures?

Image taken from http://www.theguytravel.com/tips-to-getting-the-ideal-travel-photography-shot/

Hello everyone, welcome to lesson 1 of the Shoot Like a Pro - Advanced!

When we talk about the pro side of photography, the first question you need to ask yourself is - Do I need a DSLR.

Most photographers would even laugh at that very statement. To them it is self-evident that the DSLR is 100 times better than a compact. That may be true but the point here is to show the differences between the two. 

In this post I will try to help you make an informed choice and know the limitations of each kind, at least, and then try to explain to you that what matters is the 'gear behind the viewfinder', not so much the gear itself. But before we get to that part, let's compare a compact camera to a DSLR to see what we can choose from.

Compact camera - pros 

  • lightweight 
  • all-in-one function lens
  • cheap
  • user-friendly (most of the time)
  • doesn't attract unwanted attention.
OK, what 99% of all photographers (here I include the selfy-lovers, the casual snappers and well, everyone who has ever taken a picture, not only photographers whit a capital P) have or have had at some point in their lives is the compact camera. It has a few advantages, especially if you are a beginner. 

You don't need to rob a bank to buy one - advantage number 1. It's normally equipped with all the settings you may need for some time - like macro setting, some telephoto options (the optical zoom, I mean) and even (if you choose carefully) manual/ shutter speed and aperture priority modes. It has a built - in flash and the whole thing rarely weights more than 500 g. Another plus is that you can get by unnoticed as the occasional snapper at tourist destinations and thus - doesn't attract unwanted attention. 

Compact camera - cons 

  • You cannot attach any accessories to it
  • bad quality optics (most compact models) with limited abilities
  • SMALL (I mean, really small) sensor
  • 99% of the models don't have manual focus 
  • Bad performance at high ISO settings
  • Impossible to use in low light/ night mode - cannot work with shutter speed slower than 15 sec. 
  • Not weatherproof - get it wet and you will regret it (A LOT!!!)
  • Slow focus in any mode
  • Shoots in JPEG format only
Here we come to the bad news part.  First of all - at least to me - a compact camera is NOT waterproof. I mean, not even close! Get it wet and you will regret it! I did so once - in a torrential rain in Venice - and then the inner lenses (not the one that you can clean) got wet and I could use it for the following hour before it dried up. Luckily, the rain stopped by that time, too. If you get a compact soaked, better throw it away. I was lucky that mine was not soaked, it seems, 


Amazing pic, right? Problem is that it is taken at ISO 3200 with a compact camera - so it is suitable only for prints up to size A4 . Taken on that fateful day in Venice. 
Compact cameras have slow focus (no matter what the specs say) because the only way to work is to project the image on the screen (because they are mirror-less cameras and don't have a viewfinder), so when they focus it takes additional second to project it all at the back of the camera on the LCD monitor. The other reason for the slow focus is the auto focus - which is alway ON. Auto focus is the only available option for 99% of the cameras. Those with touch screen have a function that can override it and get things better - the touch focus (when you tap a place on the screen and it is the spot where the camera focuses). Even if the specs say that there is a manual focus option - better go without it - probably it would be so slow and user-unfriendly that you would regret staring in the first place. 


One of my favourite macro pictures - but it has problems in focusing - due to the autofocus. As you can see - the background is quite in focus - not as blurry as we would like it to be. 
Lack of manual focus slows you quite a lot, especially if you are doing quirky things like macro, wildlife, portraits. The camera would focus where it CAN, which sometimes grossly differs from where you want it to focus. 

Next in line is the sensor. Having a compact camera means that you will have a very small sensor. The sensor in the camera is the part that determines the image quality (it does NOT depend on the megapixels, no matter what 99% of the people think.) You can buy a 20 megapixel compact camera but it would still have a small sensor. Having a small sensor means that you'd be able to capture less of the breathtaking scenery with one shot and your images would be of poorer quality compared to the same shot taken with a DSLR. In most cases, you cannot tell the difference if the conditions are good - lighting is OK, weather is fine etc. Problem is that they are seldom so and the best pictures are taken in bad conditions. Small sensor means that your images would be practically useless after ISO 800 (trust me, I know) or in bad weather - dusk and dawn included. 
A classic illustration on what happens if you try to use a compact camera in low light. It has a lot of noise (pixelation or grain - you can see it in the sky and sea) because of high ISO settings and is blurry and generally out of focus because of the low shutter speed and lack of tripod.
The optics of a compact is rarely top quality (again, no matter what the specs say) - which you may get a good shot but it can't be comparable to a special lens on a DSLR (of course, that are minor differences that cannot be noticed at first sight). It all depends on what you are shooting. Most compacts are practically incapable of getting a bokeh (the blurry out-of-focus background that we love so much in portraits) because the millimeters of the lens start at somewhere between 5 and 10 (which is wide angle aka pin sharp). So whatever you shoot with the lens of a compact - you cannot get is as blurry as you would like to because the lens just cannot do it (promise to explain that in another post.) 
Landscapes - amazing time in Rila mountain (the highest on the Balkans and in Bulgaria) and I have a lot of shots from the day. This one if one of my favourites as a  scenery but it is far from perfect - you see, it is not in focus all over (as it should have been), the sky is overexposed because the sensor exposed for the foreground AND because compacts cannot use filters to compensate for the exposure difference. 
Compacts cannot use accessories - like external flash, remote trigger or filters - and cannot be used with shutter speed slower than 15 sec - so say goodbye to night shooting and sunsets or to blurry seawater and clouds. 

 DSLR- pros 

  • Full range of lenses to get all possible things captured
  • Full range of accessories 
  • Full manual mode and control of what you do
  • Bigger sensor 
  • Performs well with ISO up to 6400 (the bigger the camera, the higher the decent quality at high ISO goes)
  • Manual focus!!! (ALL lenses have it) + image stabilizer (some lenses have it)
  • Weather proof - to some extent
  • Can be used in low light but needs a tripod
  • Quick focus (most of the time) 
  • Has a viewfinder so you don't need to watch the LCD all the time.
  • Shoots in JPEG and RAW 
Here we come to the other end of the scale - the DSLR. DSLR stands for Digital, Single Lens Reflex. That means that whatever the sensor sees through the lens, the same is projected with a mirror (pentagonal - mirror) up to the viewfinder. When the camera takes a picture, the mirror is folded up an the light gets to the sensor. DSLRs are the digital variant of old professional cameras. Anyway, back to the comparison.

DSLRs generally have better optics because they are many - many, many. You can buy a full range of them to get what suits your purpose.  You can also buy all kinds of accessories to enlarge your kit - filters, tripod(s), flash(es) etc. With a DSLR you have full control over what you do - as my mother says about complicated gear - it would do the washing and then hang the clothes to dry if you let it. 
Comparison of quality
Image taken from http://wasabinoise.com/index.php?showimage=45
Most DSLR models do well with ISO as high as 6400. Focus is quick (especially if you use the viewfinder) and you can generally use it in any conditions (as long as it is not extreme weather - blizzard, sandstorm, torrential rain etc. ).

The sensor of s DSLR is bigger, so you can get more of the scenery in one shot. Bigger sensor also means better performance in bad conditions such as low light, dusk and dawn and above all - better image quality. You can shoot in RAW (which is the general photo format for post production) as well as JPEG.


A graph that shows the difference in the sensor size
Image taken from http://www.fabiovisentin.com/blog/38.ashx

DSLR - cons
  • Expensive - VERY 
  • Accessories are even more expensive than the initial purchase
  • No all-purpose lens - you either need to carry 2 or 3 with you or to get satisfied with limited angle
  • HEAVY (a lot)
  • You get noticed immediately - which can attract unwanted attention
  • User-unfriendly and cumbersome if you are a beginner
  • You need a lot of knowledge to get a decent shot in full manual
Here are the bad news about DSLRs. They are E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E - as an initial investment AND all the accessories (lenses etc.) would cost even more. They are heavy - which may become a problem if you are a dedicated mountaineer, for example, and you cannot drag a 10 kg photo bag with you all the way.
Taken from http://wallstreetinsanity.com/20-things-gen-y-needs-to-stop-spending-money-on/
There is no all-purpose lens - the macro lens cannot do landscapes (because it has a limited angle of view and for landscapes you normally want to put in the frame as much as possible) and the landscape lens cannot do macro or wildlife (because it cannot focus close enough to the object) the portrait lens is good but if you try to do landscape with it - it won't be sharp enough... If you are goingon a trip, you would probably need to carry more than one lens with you (which adds to the weight again). 
I said A LOT of lenses, didn't I? 
When using a DSLR, you immediately get noticed in the crowd. I mean INSTANTLY. That singles you out as a possible victim of pickpockets and attracts unwanted attention from officials and a=can get you in trouble if you get caught taking pictures of something you shouldn't be. 
Taken from http://wasabinoise.com/index.php?showimage=45
If you are a beginner, you'll need quite a lot of knowledge to handle it properly - so at first it could be quite user-unfriendly and slow to handle.

Here comes the question - Do I need a DSLR to get good photos or can I continue using my old camera?

To answer that question, please answer the following questions HONESTLY.

  • Do you know your current camera inside out?
If you know all things about it and what settings are used for this or that situation and you can switch between them quickly - you are likely to move on to the next level.
  • Have you used all the settings of your current camera?
If you have, you have probably noticed the strengths and weaknesses of  your current camera.
  • Can you produce good images with your current gear?
If you cannot, you are not ready for the next step. It's like driving - you cannot drive an SUV if you still cannot handle a Volkswagen polo.
Same place as the one with the mountain above, just taken a few hours later. again with the same compact camera.
  • Can you afford a new camera and are you willing to keep investing in it?
If you are not prepared for more expenses - invest in a bridge camera instead. They combine some of the functions of a DSLR with the relatively cheaper price and comfort of a compact.
  • Why do you want to change your gear?
Professional equipment is exactly what it reads - professional. It is made to aid people get good results in varying conditions and above all - TO MAKE MONEY OUT OF THE PICTURES. 
If you want a camera like that just because all your friends have - ask yourself - do you really need it or is it just a whim.
  • Are you willing to cope with the weight every time you go somewhere?
That may not be a problem if you are a man, but for women it is. Even if you are fortunate to be strong enough to handle all the weight - do you really need all that all the time?

Counter to what I said above - what creates the good shot is 50% chance and conditions, 30% talent/skill and inspiration and 20% gear. A good photographer can handle well and produce good and even fantastic photos with whatever is available. Any equipment would do - trust me, the best equipment is the one that you have in your bag right now. 
That one is taken with a 3-megapixel cameraphone.

This one is taken with a smartphone. 
A few years ago - when I was only dreaming to get a DSLR (an to be honest, it was only in a joke-like manner) I met a man carrying a  DSLR around. He and his wife were staying at the same hotel as we did. So one evening, after we had been at the same location at roughly the same time, I asked to see the pictures (hoping that they would be better than mine). Imagine my horror when he just shrugged and just told me he had taken a few shots ... in AUTO mode. Why. on Earth, do you need a DSLR if you use AUTO??? You can use any camera for that purpose.  

In conclusion I want to add gear always helps but it doesn't create masterpieces. You do. 


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