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It is said, a camera is only as good as the photographer. But that’s only partially true. Good equipment accounts for quite a bit too.
While we can’t make you a better photographer – or can we? – we can clear up some of the strongly held and often completely misleading beliefs when it comes to compact cameras and DSLRs.
Let’s get started.
The Brand War: Nikon is Better Than Canon; Brand X is Better Than Y
The comparison isn’t a fair one to make.
First of all, with regards to compact cameras, there are great cameras by other brands, such as Pentax and Sony. While the DSLR market might be dominated by the big two (Nikon and Canon), it’s unfair to say that a Sony compact is somehow sub-par to a Canon point-and-shoot in the lower price ranges. The truth is, at the lower-priced consumer end of the spectrum, there isn’t a lot of difference in any of the major brands.
Secondly, if you’re referring to DSLRs, it’s rarely an apples-to-apples comparison. The body of the camera is really what you’re talking about, and when you take away lenses and accessories, the body of each of the big two is remarkably similar in terms of features and image quality when studying comparable models.
Look. Professionals use both brands, and beautiful – or even iconic – photographs aren’t unfavorably skewed to one side or the other.
If you want the best camera for you, don’t decide on brand name alone. Seek advice from experienced photographers, educate yourself, hold several models in your hands and play with the features. Only then can you make a decision about which side of the fence you’re on.
More Megapixels = Better Camera
Consumers aren’t typically experts, so they rely on specs to help them when shopping for electronics. Most aren’t even fully aware of what a megapixel actually is. Retailers and manufacturers exploit this by inflating their specifications in such a way that consumers begin to believe that the easiest way to achieve better photos is to get the device with the highest specs.
The truth isn’t so simple as not all megapixels are created equal, and there’s more to it than just megapixels. Take a look at the video above that tests the camera from the iPhone 5s against the iPhone 6. Both cameras are 8 megapixels, yet you can see the difference in detail and color in the camera within the iPhone 6 which just goes to show megapixels don’t tell the whole story.
In reality, the so-called “sweet spot” of consumer grade photography is between 5 and 10 megapixels. Most digital photos never actually get printed as we’re a social sharing society, so sub-10 megapixel cameras produce great images with favourable file sizes to be easily shared online. When it comes to printing, most common sizes – 4″ x 6″, 5″ x 7″ and 8″ x 10″ – are all possible with fewer than 10 megapixels (see explanation in the secion below).
Instead of worrying about the number of megapixels, customers should instead focus on features that might be a bit harder to understand, or even under-advertised, such as:
- Sensors: A digital camera sensor is the modern day equivalent of film. After you click the shutter button, the sensor is exposed to light and color and captures what it sees. Better sensors are able to more accurately reproduce an image.
- Image processor: The processor isn’t as relevant if you’re shooting in RAW but for those shooting in JPEG, the image processor is a bit more important. Quality image processors allow you to handle operations in a variety of lighting conditions with pre-set settings for low light, sports, and other common needs. In addition, better processors are also faster, which makes it possible to capture images in rapid succession.
Here’s a quick list of 8 tips to read before buying your next digital camera.
PPI and DPI Are the Same
Although they’re often used interchangeably – even by experts – PPI and DPI are not the same.
Let’s take a closer look.
- Pixels Per Inch – or PPI, otherwise known as pixel density – is the resolution of the digital image.
- Dots Per Inch – or DPI – is print resolution.
Say you’re using a 5 megapixel camera; the maximum image resolution output from the camera is 2592 x 1944 pixels. That’s 2592 pixels wide by 1944 pixels high. If you were to view this on a computer monitor, it would appear as a 36 x 27-inch image because the computer monitors can only display 72 pixels per inch. On an iMac with Retina 5K display which outputs 218 pixels per inch, it will appear smaller.
On the other hand, Dots Per Inch or DPI, represents the number of ink dots a printer can lay down per inch. To print a decent quality photo, the printer will require 300 DPI of information. Say you took the 2592 x 1944 image to the print shop, you would be able to print an 8 x 6-inch photo quite easily at 324 DPI. Any larger and you’ll be spreading the pixels too far away from each other, and the printed photo will appear fuzzy.
Once you understand PPI and DPI, you’ll know exactly what to expect of your printed photos.
More Zoom is Better
Except when it’s not.
The first thing you should understand is the difference between optical zoom and digital zoom. Optical zoom is the “real” zoom — it uses motors inside the camera lens to actually move the lens and adjust focal points so you’re able to view subjects further away. Optical zoom is a specification that’s worth taking notice of, digital zoom isn’t.
A digital zoom, on the other hand, doesn’t actually use the lens at all. Instead, it digitally magnifies the image you’re viewing through the LCD panel. In reality, all digital zoom does is distort your images by making it seem as though you’re closer by expanding – and distorting – pixels.
Since DSLR cameras don’t offer digital zoom, this is really only important for those buying a handheld point-and-shoot: you shouldn’t be impressed with digital zoom.
RAW is Better Than JPEG
It’s important to note that RAW isn’t an image file format and JPEG is. It’s so named because it’s raw — not yet processed and not ready to be printed. Think of it as a digital negative. Unlike a JPEG, RAW files requires special software to view them (although this is typically supported on newer computers). JPEG, on the other hand, is standard print-ready format that is viewable on any device supports images.
Photographers who shoot in RAW do so in order to retain as much data as possible, because on-camera conversion into JPEG files involves compression and therefore loss in quality. Shooting in RAW and post-processing allows the photographer flexibility to edit images after they’re taken, which they won’t get with JPEG.
I wrote a more in-depth piece about compression and lossy or lossless formats just recently if you aren’t quite sure what I’m talking about.
Now, having said that, not every photographer shoots in RAW, so it’s really a case of need and preference of the photographer.
If we’re talking about compact cameras, the point is typically moot as most consumer models generally don’t have the ability to shoot in RAW.
You Need a DSLR
Before you rip me to shreds, I’m not saying that smartphone or compact cameras are in any way, shape, or form superior or even comparable to a DSLR. What I am saying is that most of you probably don’t actually need the DSLR – and you’re not likely getting the most from it anyway. In fact, here are 6 great point-and-shoots.
Camera technology has come a long way and today’s average compact is more than capable enough for most consumers. They take great images, shoot HD video, and even allow you to share your photos to social media on the fly. In fact, you may not even need a compact. Most smartphones on the market can handle all of your photo and video needs, and in quality far superior to that point-and-shoot you bought a few years back.
If you’re willing to shell out a few thousand dollars for a DSLR, you’ll certainly get the boost in image quality you’re looking for. The benefits of a DSLR come in the form of options. Lenses, accessories, filters, and settings that the typical consumer will never use – or use correctly, at least – are most of what sets a DSLR apart from a compact.
Buying a DSLR? Get the Most Expensive Body You Can Afford
When buying a DSLR, it rarely makes sense to exhaust your budget on the most expensive camera body you can afford.
The only truly reusable part of a DSLR are the lenses. So once you move on to a newer camera body, the lenses are typically compatible with the upgrade (assuming you buy the same brand and sensor size). Good lenses can last a decade or more and cycle through several camera bodies until you decide it’s time for an upgrade in glass. The camera body, on the other hand, is slowly churning toward obsolescence from the day you buy it.
And, as the video above shows, a good camera with bad lenses isn’t any better than a bad camera with good lenses. In fact, the lenses sort of negate any advantage of the better camera body in a lot of key areas such as color reproduction, depth of field, and contrast. In short, if you can’t afford to buy a lot of quality gear all at once, allocate most of the budget towards a high-quality lens, then pick a compatible body.
What other camera myths do you come across regularly that you’d like to clear up? Sound off in the comments below.