I am going to start this Photography Tips Series: The Gear by answering (or not) the most common question “what gear should I buy?“.
Being hundreds of models out there I understand that it can be really overwhelming to make a decision.
But I think the most important question is “what kind of photography do you want to make?”.
There are a lot of technical aspects of a camera, and photography in general and I am not going to get extremely into these because it can be a pain in the butt. But I will get into it far enough for you to be able to decide which camera and lenses fill your needs.
If you are a beginner the most important thing is to go out there and practice. Your photography will improve with that. The gear is not taking the picture, you are. So having a better equipment doesn’t mean you’ll take better photos. So keep that in mind. Practice is key. So the first investment doesn’t have to be huge.
Today’s digital cameras are an evolution of analog/film cameras. The most common film for analog cameras is the 35 mm film.
So a DSLR full frame camera has the “same format” as a 35 mm film. When the sensor is smaller that means it is cropped (APS-C).
The majority of the entry level cameras out there have an APS-C sensor (a cropped sensor) and tend to have more accessible prices.
Full frame cameras, on the other hand, are cameras that their sensor is not cropped, hence the “full frame” and tend to be more expensive because they are aimed to a more professional consumer.
The “crop factor” in APS-C cameras variates with the company you are working with. For example for Canon it is 1.6, for Nikon, it is 1.5.
That means that the sensor is 1.6 or 1.5 times smaller than the full frame sensor.
What this affects is the size and quality of the final image and the real focal length you’ll be working with your lenses.
If you have an APS-C sensor camera and you put a 35mm lens, what you’ll see when taking the picture is not a 35mm focal length, because you have to multiply that 35mm times the crop factor of your camera.
An example with Canon: 35 x 1.6 = 56.
That means that a 35mm lens in my APS-C Canon camera is equivalent to shooting with a 56 mm lens.
If my camera is Nikon it will be 35 x 1.5 = 52,5. So an equivalent to a 50mm lens.
If you have a full frame camera, you don’t need to multiply anything because you’ll have a full-size sensor. So if you put a 35mm lens to a full frame camera, your focal length will be 35mm.
No matter what camera you have, the real difference in your images is going to be made primarily by the lens you use.
When buying a lens you have to consider again, what kind of photography you want to make. If you want to shoot landscapes you’ll probably get better results with a type of lens, and this lens might not work with portraits, for example.
The most important things to consider in a lens is the focal length (the mm) and the aperture of the lens.
The aperture of the lens is how wide open it will get. In other words, how much light it will get in.
Imagine your eye’s iris. When there is not much light around, your iris gets wide open to let as much light as it can to be able to see. And when there is too much light, your iris will close up and be really small to control the amount of light it gets in.
The bigger the aperture, the more light it gets in, the better the lens. The aperture in your lenses is the “F” number you’ll see. The smaller the number the bigger the “iris” opens.
For example, a 50mm F1.8 has an aperture of 1.8.
A 50mm F1.4 has an aperture of 1.4. That means that the 1.4 lets in more light than the 1.8.
The focal length is determined by the “mm number” of the lens.
To put it in simple words -and please note this is not the real physical explanation of focal length- but to introduce you to it, think that the bigger the mm number on the lens, that means the farther you’ll have to be to the subject you want to photograph.
The smaller the mm lens, that means you can be quite close because the lens takes in a lot of the scene.
All these lenses have a category they fit into. Smaller mm lenses are called Wide Angle lenses. Bigger mm lenses are called Telephoto lenses.
The range goes something like this:
24-35mm are Wide Angle lenses (anything below are called ultra-wide angle lenses)
35-70mm are Standard lenses
70-105mm are Mild Telephoto lenses
105-up mm are Telephoto lenses
Another kind of category is prime and zoom lenses.
If you have a 35mm prime lens that means that lens only covers the 35mm focal length. A 24-70mm lens, means you have a zoom lens and that you can cover all the millimeters between 24 and 70.
If you want to “zoom” or get closer with a prime lens, you’ll have to move. Your feet are your zooms!
These lenses have other particular characteristics.
For example, a characteristic of wide angle lenses is that they tend to distort the image OUT. That’s because of how much of the scene they cover.
A telephoto lens tends to distort the image IN because it makes them look “flatter”.
A characteristic of a 50mm lens is that it is considered to be the most faithful to the human eye. That means that a picture you take with a 50mm lens will look more or less the same that if you looked at that scene with your own eyes.
I know that this is a lot of information to process. But I tried to explain it as simple as I could so you could understand the basics. Of course, if you want to completely understand all these differences, you’ll have to go out and practice so you can see for yourself. It’s easier that way.
Good beginner camera and lens I personally recommend is the Canon Rebel T5i with the 18-135mm lens kit. It is a really great camera. And this lens will let you experiment with a big range of different focal lengths.
Keep in mind this is an APS-C sensor camera. So do the maths I taught you at the beginning of this post so you can know the real focal lengths of this lens 😉
In the next post of this Photography Tips Series, I will talk about the basics and the settings. I will get more into what settings do exactly what. And how to correctly expose your image.
It will answer some of the most common questions like: What does shutter speed mean? How do I get that blurry background and my subject in focus? How can I make those pictures that have people writing messages or drawing with light?
All of these and more on the next post! So stay tuned.
If you want to know the gear I own, I have a post on that as well!
Let me know in the comments if you liked this Photography Tips Series: The Gear!