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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Should I Buy a Digital SLR, or Is My Compact Good Enough?


Two of the world's favourite personal, electronic, gadgets are cell phones and digital cameras. Just about everybody has a cell phone, and most of those people also have a camera, or at least are using their cell phone's built in camera. It is not surprising that the cell phone manufactures are capitalising on the popularity of photography.
Because cameras are in high demand, there are simply hundreds to choose from. Many companies that specialise in electronics have made a move towards producing cameras also. Sony, Panasonic, LG, and Samsung to mention just a few, and where they lack expertise, i.e. Optical Lens manufacturing, they outsourced companies like Leica and Zeiss to give them a hand in that area.
Unfortunately there has come a change in the production of devices and accessories over the last perhaps thirty years. Manufacturers no longer produce devices with the intent of lasting the user for many years to come, rather they seem to want you to replace or upgrade every two years or so. Keep the costs as low as possible and move as many as possible. The word Discontinued has never been more evident than now. Whatever camera you buy today, will inevitable be discontinued and replace within a year, in the case of compact digital cameras. A little bit longer with SLR's.
Digital SLR models seem to have a production life of around two years, before they are discontinued. There is one advantage to this and that is with every new model, the technology advances. Your Digital SLR's now are so much better than the first offerings that were available, and they in most respects have surpassed their analogue predecessors.
So with all the very many and constantly changing options available today it can very difficult to choose a camera. Unless you have been playing the upgrade game already for a couple of years, and thereby quite familiar with the different brands available and their relative strengths and weaknesses, as a novice in the world of Digital SLR's making your first choice is difficult.
Firstly, ask yourself do I really need an SLR? Or is my compact camera doing everything I want from it? Just because old Jones next door brought a fancy looking SLR camera to the kids party the other day, is not reason enough for you to run out and buy one hastily yourself.
SLR cameras offer the user much more control over the technical parameters of photography. They allow you to become very creative with your compositions and exposures. All cameras now days can automatically set your exposures for you and take care of the focusing at the same time. They can even recognise a human face and make sure it's in focus, but, they don't necessarily know what you had in mind for that shot. With an SLR, and its manual capability you can purposely do things that contradict the automatic decisions of impersonal microchips.
Many compact cameras also have manual modes, but the distinct advantage with an SLR, and what sets it apart, is that because it is physically bigger, it can accommodate a much larger image sensor than a little camera. With sensors, CMOS or CCD types, bigger is still better. The best Digital SLR's now have sensors which are full frame in size i.e. the same size as a 35mm film negative. Bigger sensors have two advantages. Broader dynamic range and more control over depth of field. Dynamic range is the cameras ability to record more variations between the lightest and darkest areas within the scene, and Depth Of Field control is your ability to either blur the background behind your portrait subject, or keep as much of your landscape in focus as possible.
The last big motivator for a SLR, is the variety of interchangeable lenses you can get for them, and additional light sources like flashes and strobes. With a compact, it's as good as it gets, but with an SLR, buying a new lens, adds a whole new dimension to your photography. There are some fantastic lenses available for whatever occasion or requirement you have. Your SLR, is a platform that you can broaden out from, allowing you get precisely the image you had in mind, weather its photographing the hairs on an ants back, or taking a leopard's portrait from a place where he can't even see you.
SLR's are not compact drop in your pocket types of cameras, so remember that. There are very many people who have SLR's and simply leave them at home just because they are "too cumbersome". If that is you, don't buy one, stick with your compact. An SLR is just the tip of the iceberg, and its full potential and advantages start becoming more and more evident as you broaden out with the very many additional accessories that are available, so if you plan to invest once, and once only, you might as well keep to your compact camera.
So in closing, if Photography means more to you than simply documenting occasional events, and if you are fascinated with things like composition and expression. If you don't mind lugging about a variety of additional gadgets, and maybe revisiting a specific spot many times until you find the light to be just perfect for your shot, then get yourself a SLR.
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