That’s the sound of our new camera! (or the opening of a new NKOTB song, but I digress…)
We took the plunge and purchased a DSLR. After much debate and research (okay 2 months of it), we decided to go with the Nikon D90. Our choices were narrowed down to either the Nikon D90, or the Canon XSi. In the end, it really came down to the outcome; we viewed tons of pictures taken by each camera, and just loved the colors and crispness of the D90. Both cameras had about the same features, or one won out over the other in various categories, but we like results. And the results of the Nikon seemed slightly superior to the Canon.
During my research of DSLR’s, I actually learned a lot of great tips for getting good shots, and also learned about some features that I have on my previous camera. Score! It was a few of those, “Ohhh, that’s what that button does” kind of moments. Overall, a little (or a lot) of research before opening the camera really helped to not feel so overwhelmed at first, and also had us taking pretty good shots right away.
One reason for getting an SLR is so that we have the ability to change lenses. Most people think it’s the camera that is responsible for taking a good picture, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The lens plays a huge role in the color, contrast and clarity of every single photo shot. The most important thing for us was that we can now buy lenses that match our own photography style, since a nature photographer (Eric) should not use the same lens as a portrait photograph (me). This also means that even if our photography styles change in a couple years (or a couple of months!), we won’t have to buy a new camera, just different lenses.
The Nikon D90 can be bought as a kit, where you get the camera body and an 18-105mm lens. We opted against the kit, after reading hundreds of reviews, as many had deemed the kit lens “cheap”, and noted that it was causing many, many errors. Instead, we bought the body separately, along with:
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR Zoom Nikkor Lens
Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens
Umm, what are all of those number and letters?!
Let’s start with the 18-55mm, and 55-200mm. The only way I could explain this to myself, was to think of it in terms of focal length, or zoom. On DSLR’s, “normal field of view” is considered 50mm, or what your eyes can see. Anything smaller than 50mm will pick up a bit wider of an image than the eyes can see, and anything larger than 50mm will pick up less width than the eye can see, but it will also “zoom in” closer.
So…you want a smaller number to pick up things close to you (babies, kids, flowers, friends), and larger numbers to “zoom in” on things (clock towers, steeples, birds in a tree, a boat on the water).
For a really good feel of what mm lens will work for the distance you want to shoot, try this site.
Next, let’s look at AF. This simply means it has the option to Auto Focus if you so choose. Most recommend using manual focus, but having the option to shoot off some quick pics in AF is a nice option. Most cameras have anywhere from a 5-11 point autofocus setting. This means the camera will automagically choose 5, or 7, or 8, or 10 things to focus on in the picture that it has deemed important to keep in focus. You can also choose One Shot, or Continuous Focus. One shot will focus and then take the picture. It will not take the picture until it is focused. Continuous focus continual works to keep things in focus, and will take the picture even if the camera hasn’t completely focused. This works great for children, pets, or sports shots.
Then, there’s VR. This stands for Vibration Reduction. Basically, if you have a shaky hand, you know that it will blur the picture. Some cameras have VR in the body, and some bodies do not have VR, and so the lenses must have VR. We figured it was more important in the lenses, since they are more unstable, and we will be touching them a lot while adjusting the focal length. Many “experts”, aka internet persona, also agree that VR in the lens is a better choice.
The DX just means that it for the digital SLR’s and not the film camera bodies.
The lenses also are labeled with an “F” number. This is for f-stop. F-stop is the ratio…of the proportion…and the diagonal…and the hole…and light…and aperture. Yeah…At this point in my photography career, I don’t really care what it is. I just care about what it does and how to use it.
The smaller the f-stop number (for example f/2.8), the more in focus one aspect of the picture will be, with the background and everything else being “blurred” out.
The larger the f-stop number (for example, f/22), the more things will be in focus, with very little, if anything, “blurred” out.
I read somewhere that an easy way to remember how this works is to imagine photographing a group of people. At f/4, four people will be in focus. At f/32, 32 people will be in focus.
Another aspect that was important to us was getting a camera with a wide ISO range. The ISO number indicates how quickly the camera can absorb the available light in the room. This is super important to be able to control manually if you normally shoot photos in dim light (like our very dim apartment). When there’s not a lot of available light, the camera automatically slows down the shutter speed to capture a balanced exposure. A slow shutter speed means that the shutter stays open longer, giving the sensor plenty of time to gather light. Unfortunately, there’s a problem associated with this: when the shutter stays open for long periods of time, any motion is captured as blur, and not a simple blur that VR will help. Since an increase in the ISO makes the sensor absorb light faster, the shutter doesn’t have to stay open for such long periods of time, minimizing the chance of getting blur.
The higher the ISO (like 800, 1600, or 3200), the more faster light is absorbed.
The lower the ISO (like 100, or 200), the slower light is absorbed—good if you’re shooting in very bright sunlight.
This is one of those features that is actually available on our previous camera, which is not an SLR.
One thing that really made Eric drool was that the D90 can shoot 5 pictures/second. Yes, he uses this for almost everything. Yes, it is very annoying to view pictures with him later. It’s like watching one of the “flip-book” animations. Still, there is a time and place for needing to shoot this many frames per second, and I’m glad we’ll be able to do it.
While our other cameras have White Balance options, this was one of the things I never really messed with. And I can’t believe I didn’t. It makes a HUGE difference. I’m sure you’ve noticed that fluorescent lights or sunlight or dim light affects the way colors look in the pictures, especially items that are supposed to be white. A pre-set white balance setting will adjust for the average color temperature under those lighting conditions. However, the D90 (along with other expensive cameras), allow for manual white balance. Simply point the camera at the item in the photo that is supposed to be white, and the camera automagically adjusts everything. It makes me think of Cheer laundry detergent-your whites come out whiter and your colors brighter! (At least I think that’s Cheer. I should know that…)
To us, this wasn’t a huge selling point. If you’re not a person who normally enlarges pictures and prints them above 11×14, then anything above 6 megapixels isn’t really needed. If you like to zoom and crop and print larger pictures, 8-10 megapixels should be good. Case in point, we weren’t going to be tempted to pay more money simply because one camera touted 1.3 more megapixels than the other.
Upon first glance, the fact that the D90 could do HD video looked like a major selling point. However, after more research, we realized we will never, ever use this feature. Because SLR’s use an actual sensor that absorbs light, the longer the shutter is held open, the more light is being burned into the sensor—literally. Allowing too much light for prolonged periods of time will burn “hot pixels” into the sensor, thus all of your pictures will show up with red dots. We have a digital that takes WONDERFUL HD video already, so no need to risk the ruin of this camera.
The Nikon D90 also possesses a wide range of lighting features that allows the camera, again, to automagically adjust contrast, color, and light intake to get the best shots. Actually, the camera has something like a bazillion menus. The bottom line seemed to be that this will be a camera that can grow and change with us as our skills and interests change. We can keep some automatic settings while having some manual. We can change lenses as we feel more and more comfortable with what we’re doing. And the camera really does do a wonderful job of capturing good shots. After just two days with the camera, I’m smitten, and I’ve only taken a few pictures—the other 4 millionish were taken by the hubby.
Oh, and as a side note. Watch Amazon, and sign up for email alerts. We saved almost $500 by watching sales and comparing prices. Plus, free shipping never hurts when you’re like us and don’t have a camera store nearby. Overall, we have a plan to “recoup” the entire cost of the camera by the end of Summer, which includes eating in even more, making some cash shooting a wedding (yep!), and having a few more game nights in instead of movie nights out.