Part 2: Understanding your DSLR camera functions !

Unlike talking about the cellphone and learning the details of how that type of camera works, today’s blog will focus on how to understand your new DSLR camera. First off, to learn about this type of camera, I’m wondering how many know what DSLR means? Let’s get that out of the way, then we can get into some serious work. DSLR = Digital Single Lens Reflex. That is usually reserved for cameras with interchangeable lenses. Not all DSLR cameras have interchangeable lenses, but let’s say over 90 percent of the cameras do.

There is a lot to learn about this type of camera, so, this will probably be a multi-part blog. Tonight let’s focus (no pun intended) on the first few major settings of a DSLR Camera: The aperture, shutter speed and the ISO settings. And to help me with these subjects, I am going to use an article from Graham Wadden on Picture/Correct. I may just use a few extra pictures so you understand fully what each function does for you.

dslr camera

1. Shooting Modes

Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture Priority Mode lets you control / adjust the aperture while the camera takes charge of determining the shutter speed, based upon the other settings (including the aperture). Adjusting the aperture causes background elements in your scene to become either crystal clear or blurred. The wider the aperture, (like the lower number on your aperture dial: F2.8, F2. etc.) the more the background elements will become blurred, as you focus on your main subject. Conversely, a narrower aperture (this would be the higher numbers on your aperture lens, like F11, F16 and F22) enables you to include more things in your scene without them being lost to the blurring that occurs with the wider apertures.

aperture priority mode
photo by Koshy Koshy

Another thing that aperture adjustment does (in manual mode) is to brighten or darken the overall image. With a wider aperture, you’re letting more light in through the lens and onto the camera’s sensor, so images will become bright. Go the other way, and your images will become darker as you narrow the aperture, as this time you’re letting less light reach the sensor during the period of the exposure.

Shutter Priority Mode

Shutter Priority Mode lets you control / adjust the speed of the shutter while the camera takes charge of determining the aperture. Adjusting the shutter speed will let you freeze motion if you choose a faster shutter speed (Example: 1/2000 second, or even 1/1000 of a second). A slower shutter speed will increase the amount of motion blur in your images. A good example would be including a subtle blurring of the wings of a kestrel, as it hovers in the sky. You capture this activity with a slower shutter speed. Adjusting the shutter speed also affects the brightness of the image in a similar way as adjusting the aperture (in manual mode). If you select a faster shutter speed, you’re reducing the time that the shutter is held open, which lets less light into the camera’s sensor, resulting in a darkening of the overall image. Conversely, you will notice images become brighter as you slow down the shutter speed, as you’re causing the camera to hold the shutter open for slightly longer, letting in more light onto the sensor as a result.

A perfect example of what a slow shutter speed can do for your picture. Notice how the water is blurred, almost giving that a dreamlike effect.
A high speed shutter setting is often used with sports photography. Notice how you can freeze the action.

Manual Mode

Manual Mode lets you control / adjust both shutter speed and the aperture. Choose this option if you want total control over determining these two settings rather than letter the camera’s algorithms calculate the most appropriate settings. You may be fine with that; but, then again, taking manual control will allow you absolute control over the artistic process and outcome with your photography.

2. ISO

This feature is pronounced “EYE-so”—unless you want to wind-up nerdy-types who get a bit manic over such mispronunciations, in which case treat it as an acronym; call it “I.S.O.”, then enjoy their fit of apoplexy. As for what this feature does, it allows you to control the camera’s light sensitivity based on a numerical system. The lower the ISO number (e.g. 100, 125, 200, 400), the less sensitive the camera will be to light, typically resulting in darker images (unless you have a sufficiently bright light source to compensate, such as an external flash unit). The higher the ISO numbers (e.g. 800, 1600, 2000, and beyond), the more sensitive the camera’s sensor, with lighter images being the result. But, you need to know that this light-enhancing wizardry comes at a cost, and that cost is a reduction in the overall quality of the image as a result of bumping up the ISO setting, particularly above the 1600 level.

Turning up the numbers on you ISO setting will allow you to even shoot in low light, without a flash.
high ISO
This photo was taken at night time. It looks like it was nearly daylight. Camera ISO setting was probably 3200 ISO.

Camera technology is improving all the time, and every generation of camera gets slightly better at processing images with slightly higher ISO settings. In some cases, it can be better to sacrifice overall image quality in order to get a “once in a lifetime shot” (I’m not sure that many complained about the relatively low quality of images from the first moon landings, did they?). However, in general, if you’re in pursuit of quality, then it’s often best to go for the lower ISO values, specifically, the lowest “native” ISO setting your camera lets you select. What I mean by this is that some digital cameras allow you to set the camera into “Extended ISO” mode, which opens up additional ISO settings. For instance, on the Panasonic GH4, the Extended ISO feature lets you drop down to either 80 or 100. Turn off the Extended ISO feature and whatever the lowest value you see is the camera’s true lowest “native” ISO setting. On the Panasonic GH4, this happens to be ISO 200. That’s just how this camera is designed and the engineers felt this camera worked at its most optimum levels with a minimum native ISO setting of 200. Some cameras have 100 as their native setting; others, such as the Panasonic FZ1000, begin at 125.

Notice the incredible detail of this photo. This was shot at ISO 64. The lower the number, the better detail you can get.

Thursday: Learn about: * Different focusing modes, *Back focus, * And exposure Compensation mode.

Friday: Learn about: *Custom White Balance, *the 3 different kinds of metering modes.

So much to learn about this type of camera, but, most people will try to master all these things. Once you do, your photography will take on a whole new dimension.

Other great photos, using the above steps:

Aperture set at F16
Aperture set at F2.8

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.