I’ve played with cameras for a very long time. When I started, my first camera was a plastic toy that took 127 roll film. I shot black and white images because color negative film was outside of the budget of my 10 year old allowance. The camera had one speed, 1/40 of a second, and 2 apertures labeled as outside (about the equivalent of f-16) and indoor (about f-8). I took pictures of everything my 10 year old mind thought of, mostly my brothers and sisters. By the time I was 12, I had figured out how to actually use the camera to the best of its abilities and had improved the number of good images per roll of film.
I was 13 when one of my teachers, taught me to process my own film and create prints. I will always remember the man that got me started on a hobby that I’ve enjoyed ever since, Michael Angelotti (RIP)! He not only taught me how to process images, but how to use a 35mm film camera. He actually took time to explain all of the camera’s features so that when I used it, I had properly exposed negatives that needed little extra work to make prints. He said the camera is only a tool. It is your eye and mind that has to find the image and the camera has to be set up so as to record the image you wished to create!
I have a set of things I try to do each and every time I get a new camera in my hands. If a manual is available, I take time to read it and go over each function listed with the camera before I tried to shoot anything with that camera. By knowing what each function does, you are given the ability to have the camera create a base image that makes your post processing much easier. Don’t fool yourself, every image can be improved by knowing how to best process it after you have shot it. These days, most people think that their camera does a better job of making a great image than they can, but they are incorrect, they just don’t want to spend the time and effort it takes to do it!
A camera basically has 3 items it can adjust to create an image, ISO “capturing or film speed”, aperture “how much light will hit the sensor or film” and shutter speed “how long the shutter will remain open”. There are also some incidental things that you should consider when buying a camera, jitter “how long is the delay from when you press the shutter release until it opens the shutter (many digital cameras are notoriously slow in opening the shutter making them poor choices for sports or wildlife shooting), weight (never thought much about this until I got older), battery life (running out of battery charge can really louse up vacation shooting), choice of lens (be sure the camera has a lens that enables you to shoot what you want and do not try to compromise here).
ISO is a term that used to mean the speed of the reactivity of the film to light. The smaller to grains of film, the less sensitive the film was to light, but the better it could capture fine detail in bright light. In digital cameras, it is used to describe the sensitivity of the sensor to light, but it isn’t quite the same as with film. In digital cameras, you have a fixed pixel size. In order to change the reactance of the pixels, the voltage is varied. This variance can create heat and the heat interferes with the pixel and the pixels near it causing “noise” in an image some software processing can reduce this noise, but not eliminate it. Higher ISO’s are often used by sports and wildlife photographers as they tend to need smaller lens openings and fast shutter speeds. Lower ISO’s are often desired for portraiture, as a wider lens opening is often used.
Aperture is basically a diaphragm that can be opened or closed to control light passing through it. When light passes through a smaller opening, the waves interfere less with each other and a sharper image can be created. A very sharp image is often desired when shooting sports and wildlife. For portraiture, a more pleasing image is created when the background is blurred. For this, a wider aperture is desired.
To find the optimal shutter speed, one has to consider the length of the lens, the lens opening and the ISO. For the old timers like me, we used a simple guide called Sunny 16. It was based upon an ISO of 100 and went like this;
For a bright sunny day, your shutter speed is the ISO at an f/stop of 16.
To reduce camera shake in your image, the ISO used in a digital camera should correspond to the focal length of the lens if over 100 mm. .
Image stabilization has changed the requirements a bit, but the Sunny 16 guide is a good one to use even now.
Take time and read your owners manual when you buy a camera. Also, I highly recommend you buy your camera from a bricks and mortar location. This way you get to feel how the camera fits your hand and when it feels good to you, that is the one to buy. A tool is only useful if you are going to use it. A camera that doesn’t feel good in your hands isn’t going to get used. Don’t buy a camera that doesn’t give you the features that match your shooting style, as that will show up in poor images that will discourage you from shooting. Above all else, play with your camera, It will help you remain focused!