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Digital Photography For Dummies

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Author Article
Daryl



Joined: 07 Feb 2003
Articles: 2
Comments: 2
Location: Everett, Washington
 Posted: 6/10/2004, 2:17 pm

This is an explanation of some of the terms and features on your camera followed by a description of the modes and how to use them.

Why go digital?
Why should you buy a digital camera? First off, film and developing is very expensive. On a recent 4 day vacation I took over 200 pictures. On a film camera I would have spent about $100 in film and developing.
My favorite feature of digital is the LCD screen. When taking a picture I can quickly see if I took it right, while Iím still there and have the opportunity to re-take it. No more waiting days to get your pictures back only to find out you had your thumb on the lens or you shouldnít have used the flash.
Plus, blowing up pictures and making prints is easier. With digital you can edit you pictures in software, crop to the size you want, and print. With film you are at the mercy of the lab you take your picture to, unless you have your own darkroom. With software like Photoshop, you can do anything you could do in a dark room, and more to your pictures. Also, with digital you wonít need to scan your pictures to share with family and friends quickly over the internet and you donít have boxes of photo albums laying around the house. Print the pictures you want, store what you want to keep on a hard drive, and delete the rest.

Mega pixels
Mega pixel or MP is a number that corresponds to the maximum number of pixels that can be in a photo you take. That means how detailed your photo will be and how large you can blow up a print before it looks bad. More is better. With less then a 2 MP camera youíll be lucky if pictures printed at 5x7 come out perfect. If you do everything right you may be able to print 8x10. 3 MP 8x10 should be no problem and 11x14 is possible. 4 MP = 16x20, 5 MP and up you should be good with just about anything youíd want to print.
Most people I have seen like to set their camera to the middle range in picture quality. In my opinion this is the worst thing you can do. Why pay for a 3MP camera and then take pictures at a 2MP setting? Buy an extra memory card and take all your pictures on the highest setting if you want to get the most out of your camera.

Zoom
There are two types of zoom on a digital camera. Optical and Digital. Digital zoom does basically the same thing as when you zoom in on a picture on your computer. The results are the same too. It is nearly impossible to take a good quality picture in digital zoom. When you buy a camera, the first thing you should do is disable the digital zoom on the settings menu. You can do the same thing digital zoom does with better results in any photo editing software. Thus, donít even consider the digital zoom when buying a camera.
Optical zoom is using the lens to get closer to your subject. On digital cameras the zoom is measured in Xís. Such as 3X, read 3 times, meaning it will get you 3 times closer to your subject. You will probably want at least 3X optical zoom on your camera. With zoom more is better. The new trend in digital cameras in the ultra zoom cameras with 10X and 12X optical zoom.
Iíve seen some low end cameras that have no optical zoom and a little digital zoom. These are not worth the money if you are trying to take good pictures.

Memory Cards
A memory card is the equivalent of a disk for your computer. You slide it into your camera and the images are stored on the card. For some odd reason just about every manufacturer has their own style of memory cards. XD, CF, SD, Memory stickÖ Be sure you are aware of what style your camera takes before buying extra memory. Also note that some styles are more expensive, harder to find, slower, and have less capacity then the others.
The size of the image and the number of pictures you can fit on a card is based on your cameraís MP rating and the quality setting you chose. As stated previously, if you want good pictures you need to set your camera on the highest quality setting. This will mean you will need a lot of memory. Memory cards come in many sizes. Iíd suggest getting the largest one you can find and use the 16mb card that came with your camera as a back up. If you take a lot of pictures you will want extra cards. I have a 3.2MP camera and have 3 cards totaling 328MB of memory. On the highest quality setting I can take about 230 pictures before emptying my cards.
A memory card reader can be picked up for a few bucks. These are handy if you have multiple cards. They allow you to empty your cards without going through your camera.
Some printers have memory card readers so you can print without going through your computer. While this may be handy, by doing this you are missing out on the best part of digital photography. Editing your picture in a software like Photoshop can turn a decent picture into a great picture.

Jump Drive
If you take a lot of pictures between visits to your computer or are going on a long vacation you may want to invest in a jump drive. They are not too popular yet, but you can find them on the internet. Itís basically a 20 or 40gig hard drive about the size of a walkman that you can plug your memory card into and copy on the fly. This allows you to save all your pictures and re-use your cards. They run $200-400 and are worlds cheaper then what it would take to buy enough cards to get the same capacity.

Battery
Most cameras have a proprietary battery back that you can recharge. Be sure you know the charge life of your battery before heading out. You wouldnít want to run out of battery. Some people like to have a spare battery just in case. A tip, your camera will have a few hours of battery power. To conserve it, keep your camera off except when you are taking pictures. Iíve seen people leave there camera on the whole time and wonder why there battery is dead half way through the hike.

Modes
You may hear that a camera has multiple modes. This is where you are going to get into the full feature cameras and things are going to get confusing. A standard full feature camera will have 4 modes. S = shutter priority, A = aperture priority, M = full manual and point and shoot (usually a little picture of a camera) where the camera does the thinking for you. To change modes you turn the dial to what mode you want. To change settings within the different modes, most cameras Iíve seen have a roller button. Roll it up or down to select what you want to adjust, push in once, then roll it again to change the setting. Push it in again to lock the setting.
Shutter priority (S) was the first mode I experimented with. This allows you to speed up or slow down your shutter. Your shutter speed dictates how long your shutter will remain open. On your camera it may say 800 for a shutter speed, that means 1/800 second. If it says 2Ē that means 2 full seconds. Example, you are at a baseball game and you want to catch a picture of a batter in mid swing with the ball coming off the bat. Put your camera in S mode and set the shutter to the fastest setting, 1/1000 on most full featured cameras. By putting it in Shutter priority, you set the shutter and the camera figures our what aperture to set itself at based on the lighting.
If you want to slow down your shutter to get a motion blured shot, things get a little tricky. Unless your are rock steady, you donít want to take pictures at anything slower then 1/250 hand held. Thus youíll need a tripod. Also note that when you set the shutter to stay open longer it will let more light in. If you keep the shutter open too long on a bright day your picture will be all white. To get one of those amazing waterfall or creek shots, wait for an overcast day or find a spot on the creek in the shade and experiment with slower shutters. Ĺ second should give you that effect. If you want to have a little fun, in a dimly lit room set your camera on a tripod and set your shutter to about 8 seconds. Set it on timer and stand in front of the camera. A few seconds after the picture starts quickly move out of the frame. The resulting image will be a see through you!
Have you ever tried to get a lightening picture? Seems impossible, huh? Actually itís quite simple. As a storm is rolling in, set your camera on shutter priority and set the shutter speed as slow as you can. The darker the area you are in the better, under a street light you wonít be able to keep it open long. Then just set it on a tripod and aim it at the spot where the lightening is active and shoot away. You should be able to slow the shutter down to 15 seconds. Thus any and all lightening strikes in your frame of view in that 15 seconds will be in your picture. By the way, do not even touch the camera during a slow shutter picture. The slightest movement will result in a blurry picture.
Aperture priority is a little more difficult to explain. Aperture is how much light is let into the shutter, or how far open the shutter is. In aperture priority, you set the aperture and the camera figures out how long to leave the shutter open based on the lighting. Playing with the aperture will allow you to control your depth of field (DOF). Example having the whole picture in focus is deep DOF. Having one small spot in focus is shallow DOF. To get a deep DOF, like on a landscape shot, you want to set your aperture higher, but beware that it may slow down your shutter to the point you need a tripod. To get a shallow DOF, like on a bird or flower where you want the background blurred, you set a low aperture.
Once youíve mastered shutter and aperture, you are ready for manual mode. In manual mode you control the shutter and the aperture. This is handy in weird lighting situations where your camera may be getting fooled by the light, or when you are trying to set up a special shot.
Your camera may also have a sports mode, a landscape mode, and/or a nighttime mode. These are just preset settings of aperture and shutter that you can achieve on your own with the A, S or M mode. They are simple to use, handy, and self-explanatory.
Two other settings your camera has that Iíll touch on, but youíll probably want to keep set on auto. ISO and white balance. ISO is film speed and white balance is pretty much how much white is in your picture. When taking pictures indoors you may need to set your white balance to indoors and when taking pictures in low light or sunset you may want to force your camera to a lower ISO if you are using a tripod and you are not taking an action shot. Otherwise Iíd leave them on auto.

Macro
Have you ever seen a great close up shot of a bug or a flower and then try to take one. All you end up with is a blurry out of focus mess. Thatís because you donít know about every photographerís favorite button, the macro button. The macro button simply allows your camera to focus on objects really close to your camera. Depending on your camera you may be able to get as close as an inch from the lens. Every digital camera I have seen has a macro mode, but very few people actually know how to use it. Itís quite simple. Simply look for the button with a little flower picture on it and press it. The little flower symbol should now show up on your display. Now go put your camera up close to something and give it a second or two to focus. A coin or a pencil tip is good for practice. You may have to move the camera closer or farther, or play with the zoom, but it should be pretty easy to focus in on something small 4-5 inches form the camera.

I hope this helps you more then it confuses you. If you have any questions on whatís in here, or a question I didnít cover, send me a PM. If I canít help you I know people that can.
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