starting from scratch – part 2: bigger isn’t better

This is a real product by Sigma.  Look closely, you may even be able to see the camera mounted to it.  ; )


A relative of mine is applying to an art school and needs a portfolio of photographs to present.  This post is for her and anyone else looking to produce great photographs quickly.  My main goal here is to challenge the idea that a DSLR is the best tool for this job.  The day I bought my first (and current) DSLR I thought it was broken.  All my images were out of focus and the the colors were dull and boring.  In fact, I had taken much better shots with our little four megapixel point-and-shoot camera.  With the DSLR on Auto mode and my image format set to jpeg I figured I should at least get something as good as the point-and-shoot!  But my camera was not broken.  It was functioning just as designed.

Eventually I came to realize that most DSLRs are just not cut out for full automatic operation.  Unlike point-and-shoot cameras, they are designed to give photographers total control over their exposures.  The auto mode is usually an after-thought.  Because of this, most first time users are disappointed in their initial images.  It happened to me and it also happened to a buddy of mine who recently purchased the same model camera I did.  That is not to say there aren’t DSLRs that are geared toward point-and-shoot photographers.  There are.  But there are always trade-offs to be made in photography and the battle between control and automation is a big one.  That is to say there is a difference between consumer and prosumer DSLR cameras.

Here is what new DSLR users should expect from their prosumer camera:

  • Weak Colors – The in-camera processing that is done to jpeg images on a prosumer DSLR is minimal compared to a point-and-shoot.  The assumption is that you are going to do your own post processing.  RAW is worse in this regard because it is the data coming right from the sensor with no real color interpretation.  You will want to shoot in RAW most of the time anyway.  Why?  Because I said so.  Look it up, lazy!
  • Unsharp Subjects – Auto-focus systems in DSLRs are very different than those in point-and-shoot cameras.  You will need to study your auto-focus system to be able to make proper focusing decisions.  Another reason subjects come out blurrier than expected is the lack of image stabilization on DSLRs.  Point-And-Shoot cameras have image stabilizers, that compensate for camera shake, built into the body of the camera.  With DSLR systems the image stabilization is almost always in the lens.  Most kit lenses (read reasonably priced) do not have stabilization built-in. Until you buy better glass, you will need to use camera support in situations that may not have required it with a point-and-shoot.
  • Zoom Range Less Than Expected – You figure that because the lens on your DSLRs is so large it must be able to get close-ups at very long range.  Not so, I’m afraid.  This is because the sensor is much bigger than on a point-and-shoot.  You can search and find out the reason for this on your own.  Just be aware that point-and-shoots can achieve a high zoom range relative to their size.

These are really but a few of the many surprises that new DSLR owners can face.  I don’t want to make these cameras sound too complicated.  DSLR photography just takes a little bit of learning and experimentation to master when compared to a point-and-shoot.  I’d say that if you are looking to get great looking photographs in a short amount of time (i.e. for a quick portfolio to demonstrate your creativity to an art school) stick with a point-and-shoot.  That way you can concentrate on your creative ideas rather than on buttons and menus.  Of course, it all depends on how quickly you need to produce fantastic images.  If you have enough time to take an extensive class on photography, or to study it at length on your own, then a DSLR may, in fact, be the best tool for the job.


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