New To Photography:Equipment and Software

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This page is a chapter in the book Equipment and Software.


There are many types of cameras. But for the purpose of this thread we will be assuming primarily a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera or a Point and Shoot (P&S) that has some form of exposure control (i.e. you can set the ISO, aperture and shutter speed).
A new type of camera is now entering the market, know as EVIL (see Camera Types - more information).
These cameras are small like a compact (P&S) but have the interchangeable lenses like a DSLR.

The popular DSLR brands are Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony and Olympus.
Once you buy a DSLR camera you are mostly locked into a 'system' as the lenses and other accessories are only compatible with that brand.
Each brand has it followers (and religious zealots ); there are strengths and weaknesses to all of the systems, including some incompatibilities within a brand that you need to find out about.
The reality is that any of the popular brands will allow you you take stunning photographs; as the real skill is in you!

When buying a camera it is really important to try it physically in your hands.
Some camera bodies feel better to hold than others - and that is a very personal thing - no right or wrong answers.
If you are not comfortable with the feel of the camera you won't enjoy using it. So take you time when purchasing and get the brand/model that suits you.
Each brand has a definite style and layout of buttons and dials. Go to several shops and take plenty of time on the physical research.
If you can get out on an AP meet-up and the friendly AP members will let you take a few photo's with their camera's.

Please refer to the AP site dictionary if you have trouble with terminology like DSLR, P&S etc. and this Appendix A - Explanations of Shutter, Aperture, ISO etc for information on basic terminology.

SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex and DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex and refers to how the light enters the camera.
These are the cameras you see many professionals and serious amateurs lugging around. These cameras have a larger body than most P&S cameras and interchangeable lenses. These cameras allow for great control over the photography process and allow the photographer to take images not always possible with a P&S.
Other camera types (eg. Range finders, view cameras) are less versatile than DSLR cameras and are typically used for specialist applications.

Why pick a DSLR camera over a P&S or vice versa.
DSLR cameras generally ...
  • have bigger sensors
  • have better low light performance
  • have much better glass (lenses) and lots of options due to the interchangeable nature of DSLR lenses
  • have real viewfinder
  • have overall better creative control
  • have more CPU power, which for the same mega pixel count allows a higher FPS rate
  • have a bigger image buffer. Which means you can take more pictures before pausing to wait for writing to the SD/CF memory card
  • have the option of raw format. Most DSLRs, but not most P&S, offer the option of using a raw file format. So you have more data and can do more in Post Processing
  • can have an external flash
  • can have additional batteries (via a grip)

P&S cameras generally ...
  • are lower cost
  • are lighter and smaller
  • can be easier to use


With photography lenses, bigger isn't always better. It completely depends on what you want to photograph.
Lens magnifications are marked in millimetres (mm). For those new to photography these markings don't give a lot of help in deciding what lens they need.
Most people end up with a couple of so called 'kit' lens when they buy a DSLR. Typically 18-50mm and 70-300mm which covers a reasonable range.
BUT! When listening to advice from those who have been around its found to be better to put more money into a good quality glass (another slang term for lens) as you are buying system when you buy a particular brand of DSLR (eg. Canon lens will not fit a Nikon or Pentax etc). There are third party lens manufactures
like Tamron and Sigma who make lenses with fitting for various bands; you need to order the specific version of the lens for your camera body.

Get advice here first! Don't let some sales guy talk you into your purchase.
For general photography a mid range lens such as the Tamron f/2.8 28-75mm or Sigma f/2.8 24-70 are a great start.
Why? Its a good zoom range for portrait and landscape and they are faster lenses than the kit lenses (by faster we mean the f/stop number is smaller, which means they can open wider and allow in more light).
You can then add a longer (telephoto) or shorter (wide angle) lenses to you collection.
Warning! Watch out for LBA (Lens Buying Addiction) - which afflicts most of the forum members
Refer: Using different lenses

Terminology: Lens (singular) and lenses (plural); never lense !

[top]Flash (a.k.a. Speedlight)

One of the first accessories people buy for their camera is a decent flash unit as the build in ones are not that powerful.
Flash insures that I am ready for low-light situations.
An additional flash allows you to take images from around 10 metres away and still get good detail.
Again - ask for advise before purchasing, there is a lot to learn.

[top]Camera Bag & Camera Care

A camera bag is a safety device for your camera and other equipment. It holds your camera, lenses, flash, memory cards, and other accessories safely within a padded environment. The bag helps protect my equipment from breakage, rain, and even quickly fluctuating temperatures. It also makes it a lot easier to carry several items at one time and has been known to double for camera support when you need a tripod and don't have one handy.

There are four main types of external damage sources to be concerned about; avoid where possible.
a) Dirt, especially dust on the sensor
b) Scratches on lens etc.
c) Shock
d) Water including condensation

Treat your gear with respect and you will enjoy it for many years, it is however it is a tool, so don't be totally precious about it either - you still need to get out and take photos. Google is your friend! Google 'camera lens care' for lots of items on care and cleaning of camera gear.
Camera and Lens Care

[top]Support - Tripod, Monopod etc.


[top]AA cells

We recommend Sanyo Eneloops or Powerex Imedions. Charge and they will have 80% charge if left on the shelf for 12 months.
Regular NiMh cells lose their charge in about a month.
Also get a Maha Powerex MH-C9000 WizardOne Battery Charger & Analyzer. This is the best value battery manager for your cells.
You will never need another charger and can even resurrect dead cells!
The cheap fast chargers that you get thrown into deals by camera stores will reduce you cell (battery) life by up to 80%!
These fast chargers usually over charge. They usually supply pretty crappy cells anyway.
If you get offered batteries and charger in a deal ... we suggest switching the deal for a memory card or other more useful item and buy a good set of cells and charger!

[top]Lithium-ion batteries

If your camera uses a custom Lithium-ion battery consider a 2nd battery.
You can get cheaper replacement batteries online (eBay etc.).
You want to have enough to make sure you don't run out of power in the field.

[top]Computer and Software

You will need a computer and software for your digital darkroom (Post Processing).
Don't buy any software until you at least try the free alternates; you are better off putting your money into decent glass (lenses) than expensive software.

[top]Computer Specification

For photographic processing your computer will need a reasonable graphics card (256MB minimum) and plenty of memory.
2GB of memory on Windows XP is a good amount.
Windows 7 based systems will need more, 3 to 4GB being normal or more for 64 bit Windows 7.

[top]Image Editing Software

The following programs are more than sufficient for 98% of PP that any photographer is likely to do.
a) The GIMP (this has many plugins and has similar capabilities to Photoshop)
b) Picasa from google
c) Paint .net (Very lightweight, good for JPEGs and simple stuff)

And the missing 2% can be done using other programs (eg. Autostitch for panoramas)

[top]Digital Asset Management (DAM) Software

In addition to Aperture (for Mac) and Adobe Lightroom (PC and Mac) there are some free DAM software: IrfranView XnView Picassa from Google can be used as a DAM shows many other alternates

A more comprehensive list of DAM software is available here:
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