Welcome to the official Frequently Asked Questions list for the channel
#photogeeks on Freenode.
Caveat: this FAQ is no longer (Aug 2012) being actively maintained. Information in the FAQ may be outdated or inaccurate.
Last updated: Sat Aug 25 16:47:33 2012 UTC
The best way to learn is to shoot (assuming you either have a digital camera, or have budgeted for plenty of film). Shooting digital is essentially free after the downpayment of gear and computer for viewing and processing, so there's nothing to hinder you from taking plenty of shots.
Study what works and what doesn't. Pay attention to the values in your EXIF: shutter speed, aperture, ISO (if you have auto-ISO set). Be methodical, repeat yourself, and have fun!
Other sources of information for new photographers:
Sell your gear.
Realistically, Canon or Nikon. If you have a bunch of older lenses for Minolta AF or Pentax, consider getting a modern body to mount them on. But if you're starting from scratch, the amount of used gear available for sale for CaNikon is much greater than for the other brands, maybe excepting Pentax. There's a lot of gear available for rent as well.
Canon or Nikon? Get the body that suits your hands. If you know someone who has either system and is willing to lend you lenses and accessories, this can be a tipping point.
You might also want to try Snapsort which summarizes a lot of information about cameras to help reach a decision.
If you're buying a DSLR for the first time, and you're not a seasoned photographer, you should probably opt for an entry-level model. There are a few reasons for this. First, even an entry-level camera can take absolutely stunning images. Second, if you're new to DSLR photography you're going to be concentrating on learning the basics instead of learning a complex new camera. Third, cameras lose value just as fast as other consumer electronics, so it makes sense to start out with a lesser outlay until you can justify it by either making money with your pictures or discovering that your shooting needs something that your current camera can't deliver.
Most new cameras are sold in a kit with a "kit lens", usually a normal zoom (i.e. one that spans the range between ~28mm and ~70mm) of moderate slowness (typical average aperture is ƒ/4). These lenses are a compromise of cost and quality -- they're inexpensive and decent. Manufacturers realise that most consumers will only get one lens and it should be good enough for them.
If you want to move outside this area your options for a good general purpose lens are limited. The classic 50mm that used to be included in camera kits before zooms got good enough is regularly extolled in blogs and forums as the "nifty fifty". And sure, it's sharp, and fast. Problem is, on crop you'll get a field of view around 70mm, far too long for general photography. By all means, get it if you have the money, but make sure you have something that can covers a more useful range too.
Nikon has recently introduced the 35mm ƒ/1.8 DX that can serve as a fast normal for crop lenses. Canon has a (full-frame) 28mm ƒ/1.8 that's an ideal normal on their 1.6x crop bodies, but you're paying a premium for an image circle that covers more than you need. Sigma has a 30mm ƒ/1.4 which is nice but rather big and heavy.
My take is buy the kit, take decent care of it until you find out what you want to shoot. Do you mostly go wide? Consider getting a wide-angle zoom. Haunting the long end? A 70-200 might be the thing for you. In either case, the kit can be used for travel or parties or walkaround in good light. Just sell it if you need a little cash.
If you're in the market for a high-end DSLR, you might want to get a full-frame (Canon 5D mk III, Nikon D800, D4, Sony A900) vs. a crop "prosumer" body (Canon 7D, Nikon D7000, Sony A77). What to chose?
Full frame advantages:
(For the purposes of this article, a "compact" is defined as a digital camera with a non-removable lens and a sensor smaller than the smallest DSLR sensor, which is the 4/3 at time of writing).
Compact cameras have one primary advantage over DSLRs, and that's the fact that they're smaller.
Otherwise, there are mostly negative factors:
If I were getting a compact, I'd get one with a small size, image stabilisation, decent wide-angle (28mm field-of-view is the bare minimum), weather resistant, and that shares memory cards format with my DSLR. Stuff like flash hotshoe is a plus, but if it leads to larger size, forget it.
The main point with a compact is a camera you can carry everywhere, for party shots, landscapes and portraits in good light, and a digital diary. For most people, a phone camera will cover the latter.
Forget about "bridge cameras" (these have DSLR-like styling and size, but have a compact-camera sensor and EVF). You can get better pics picking up a low-end DSLR and a decent zoom lens.
Premium compacts such as the Canon G10 and the Panasonic LX3 have their uses, but they cost as much as a low-end DSLR too.
Snapsort is a site for deciding what camera to buy and has a large section devoted to compact cameras.
Protective filters are clear-glass or UV filters that are meant to protect the front of your lens (the objective) from harm.
In general, you don't need a filter. As explained in Mike Johnston's article, modern objectives are tough and durable. A sturdy lens hood will keep it away from harmful scratches and improve your images to boot. A cheap filter, on the other hand, can degrade image quality. A broken filter can also be a serious problem, see Philip Greenspun's story here.
However, if you're shooting in places with blowing sand or rain, a filter can indeed fulfil the protective role. Keep in mind, though, that good filters are expensive, and should perhaps only be considered when you're shooting in the aforementioned conditions, or you have an expensive lens with a bulbous front element.
Theoretically, no, but practically yes.
First, "depth of field" is an approximation. It's simply the volume adjacent to the plane of focus where the circle of confusion is small enough to appear sharp at some combination of print size and viewing distance. The circle of confusion is in its turn dependent on the imaging area's makeup and size.
The equations for calculating depth of field use focal length, aperture, and circle of confusion. Imaging surface size has no impact (except on CoC, as mentioned above). Its apparent affect on the DoF is simply due to the fact that different focal lengths are needed for each imaging surface size to maintain the same field of view.
Here's a practical example. Say you want to shoot a subject from 3 metres away. You have 3 bodies, a crop DSLR (APS-C sensor), a film body (or "full-frame" DSLR), and a 6x6 MF body. The normal lenses for these bodies are 28mm, 45mm, and 80mm respectively.
This table shows the depth of field for two apertures, ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/8:
|Lens||Circle of confusion (mm)||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/8|
|28mm||0.02 (digital sensor)||1.34||5.75|
|45mm||0.033 (135 film)||0.83||2.75|
|80mm||0.053 (120 film)||0.41||1.21|
More information about depth of field can be found in this tutorial at Cambridge in Colour.
Lens. "Lense" is an archaic spelling used by medical doctors and pretentious forum denizens.
For basic editing and cataloguing, Picasa is a good choice.
For advanced photo editing and retouching (think Photoshop), there is the GIMP. Although available for Mac OS X and Windows these days, it was originally developed for Linux, SGI IRIX and HP-UX, so it works quite well. It can do a lot of what Photoshop can do, though if you are a veteran Photoshop user, it's likely that the interface will drive you insane.
There are also fundamental technical limitations inherent in the GIMP; see this damning article
There is a project called gimp-shop that attempts to wrap a Photoshop-like layer around the GIMP.
For RAW processing/workflow software (think Aperture, Lightroom, etc), there is Bibble It contains support for most modern RAW image formats you'd expect, and is designed to operate on them in bulk. A free-as-in-freedom alternative is UFRaw.
Another alternative is Darktable which is under active development.
This question at photo.stackexchange.com contains a wealth of information and is likely to be continually updated in the future.
The success of Strobist have led a number of online retailers to offer "strobist kits", packages of lightstands, modifiers, etc for the aspiring photographer.
No-one was interested in paying for the domain, so the planet is no longer live. Feel free to start a new one!