In my second of a series on camera gear, it is time to talk about my “big cameras.” There are some really large cameras out there, like the one shown here, which was created by George R. Lawrence in 1900. But for me, a “big camera” refers to a 35mm DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex). Since everything is relative, this size is compared to my point and shoot and smart phone camera.
My introduction to the DSLR world was a Canon EOS Rebel XTi, also known as a 400D. Just as a side bar, I have never understood the Canon numbering system. You would think that the bigger the number, the larger and more sophisticated the camera. But that is not the case - the XTi (400D) is Canon’s entry level DSLR, a relatively low-priced, light-weight, crop-sensor digital camera with a fairly simple to use dial for the manual and semi-manual modes.
For the first four years, I used the fully automatic mode for 99% of my shots. I probably experimented with Aperture Priority mode a few times, but it was mostly the little green square of the Auto Mode that caught my fancy. I had no idea about f-stops or the relation between aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I really didn’t care; I was just happy to have pictures that came out looking relatively decent, and I was happy to have the camera figure that out for me.
Then my local high school had a class in photography, just enough to whet my appetite. Before I knew it, I was hooked, and started taking classes at the local community college, COD (College of DuPage). The instructors wanted us to shoot in manual mode, so I learned how to do that. They wanted us to shoot in RAW format, so I switched from JPEG to JPEG+RAW and finally to RAW, with a few glitches encountered along the way.
I discovered that I liked having full control over all those combinations that had so mystified me before. The XTi is relatively easy to use, and so it became second nature to spin the dial to get the right shutter speed or push in what I call the ‘alt’ button and spin the dial to change the aperture setting.
I learned how to blur the background, otherwise known as shallow depth of field. I figured out how to take group shots and include myself in them. I learned how to selectively focus, and how to use many other features and techniques to achieve the exact effect I was looking for. Even after several years with my XTi, I am still learning new things about it, still going back to my dog-eared manual to see what other capabilities it has. After six years with this camera, there are many settings that I have never used and may never use; and there are some features and instructions that still mystify me.
So, my DSLR is my camera of choice for “serious” work, for my personal projects, for class work, for images I exhibit and hope to sell. The point and shoot and cellphone cameras are for everyday and documentary shots that may live their life on my computer, or may find their way to social media, newsletters, and other means of sharing captured experiences with friends.
For comparison purposes, the XTi is a 10 megapixel camera. Actual file sizes vary, but my RAW images normally range between 8 and 9 MB, and are in a 3:2 aspect ratio, with dimensions of 3888 x 2592 pixels. I am happy with the print quality for both 8x10 and 11x14 inch prints. On a couple of occasions, I have made large-sized canvas prints, and been happy with the results.
The Lumix DMC-ZS3 is a 10 megapixel point-and-shoot camera that can take images in either a 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratio. I use the 4:3 aspect ratio, and the JPEG file sizes are generally between 3 and 5MB, with dimensions of 3684 x 2736 pixels.
The camera on the iPhone 4S is an 8 megapixel camera. I have printed exhibition quality images as large as 11x14 inches. Most of my iPhone and point-and-shoot images are used for sharing and social media, and are quite suitable for internet use as well as print in newsletters.
Next time: limitations of the XTi, and moving up to the next level.