For the record, I own a Sony A-350 Alpha Series, which in my own humble opinion, is a camera best suited to people who’ve never owned a DSLR. People prefer Canon and Nikon models, but whatever model you have – be sure to know its functions inside out before you take it out in front of your friends and family. Trust me when I say, nothing is more embarrassing than not knowing how to use your equipment in front of a crowd. When you own a DSLR, people expect you to know how to use it and if you don’t, the phrase “A Monkey with a DSLR” will be heard and boy it hurts.
Let’s walk through the basics first. This is going to be a multi-series blog, so please be patient. I will cover your area of interest sooner or later. The learning curve is pretty steep if you’re coming from a mobile camera or a point and shoot camera (those itty bitty cameras that fit the palm of your hand) or even a bridge or super-zoom camera (The ones with a 40x optical zoom) So you’re probably knowledgeable about stuff like optical zoom and digital zoom and stuff like filters (Sepia, B&W, etc, etc) but just forget all that. That stuff is now behind you. Welcome to the professional level, kid.
At the beginning, just leave the camera on full Auto mode. Auto focus, auto white balance, auto this, auto that. Just use the zoom and get used to that first. Any professional photographer who reads this will think I’m off my rocker – but bear with me. I say use auto because a) most people do exactly that, which makes your DSLR a great point and shoot) and b) a DSLR, unlike a point and shoot or a mobile, is heavy stuff. You need to get used to holding it properly, using both hands and there are plenty of guides on the internet on how to hold the camera in the first place. Steadiness is the key because a small shake can ruin an otherwise great picture!
Another important thing is to use the anti-handshake system of your camera. I believe Nikon and Canon have this system built in their lenses – VR or Vibration Reduction I think. VR lenses are more expensive than non-VR though. Sony, on the other hand, has the anti-handshake in the camera body itself, so lenses are now free of the duty. Lucky me.
DSLR cameras come with detachable lenses with a lot of numbers on them. Your first lens is probably the one that came with the camera and is called a kit lens. Most cameras ship with a basic ‘does it all’ lens and that’s fine for starters. Different lenses are used for different situations though. The kit lens is usually an 18-70mm or a 28-80mm lens – in other words, they’re usually under 100mm. The smaller the number, the wider the view you can capture. For a small idea, close one of your eyes. What you see with your other eye is roughly equivalent to 50mm, give or take a few. So anything lower than that is going to capture a wider area, and numbers above that will capture a narrower area. Also, a word of caution – the more you extend your zoom or go up in numbers, the more pronounced are the slightest of movements. So steady those hands!
Other numbers on your lens include the aperture of that lens. Think of aperture as the area where you can focus on. You’re reading this blog on a computer screen, but your eye also sees other areas where you are not concentrating, but are nonetheless very visible. Unlike the human eye though, which has the ability to focus on everything at once, lenses can focus on limited items. That ability in lens terminology is called the aperture and is inscribed on the lenses as 1:XX(XX)-XX. For example, a the kit lens with my camera is a 1:3.5(22)-5.6 which means that the kit lens is capable of a minimum aperture size of 3.5 at minimum zoom level (18mm) and a maximum of 22, with 5.6 being the minimum at full zoom (70mm). As I zoom into an object, the aperture will also increase correspondingly.
There’s also another number which starts off with Ø XXmm which is the diameter of the lens you use. Most lenses are of the 55mm variety which means that when you purchase items like filters and adapters etc, this is the size you should get for the lens you’re using.
There are different types of lenses available for your camera. Kit lenses, zoom or telephoto lenses (acts more or less like a telescope), macro lenses (for close up photography of small objects like insects etc), fixed focal length or prime lenses where there is no range for zoom, usually used for portraits (your passport sized photograph was probably taken by one) which are the mainstream ones used by photographers. Depending on what you photograph, you probably will need one of these later on when you get tired of the limits of the kit lens.That’s all for now. Play with your camera, find out how many photos you can take on a single charge and very important – read its manual. You’ll get to know your way around.