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The Basics of Camera and Lens Choice

Questioner: What kind of camera should I buy?

Dan: I know it is considered bad form and perhaps a little irritating to have your question answered with a question, but sometimes we simply don't receive enough information in a question asked to give a good answer. I might be tempted to answer this question based on the answer I would want to receive if I were asking the question. The fact is, I am not asking it and if I'm going to give a common sense answer, I need to know a little more about the needs or desires of the person asking it. I must ask, "what do you want to do with the camera? What sort of photography do you want to do? and, how much do you know about photography right now?

Questioner: I really don't know anything about cameras but I would like to learn to make great pictures. I love landscapes and things like flowers and birds, and I think I would really enjoy making good pictures of those.

Dan: That does help me to answer your question, but sorry, I'm going to have to ask you some more questions if I'm going to be able to give you a useful answer. First off, let me assure you that I'm not going to suggest you buy a particular brand of camera. You will have to make that choice on your own. I believe that I can give you enough information to let you build your knowledge of the subject to the point where you can make informed choices as to which camera is best for YOU. So my follow-up questions are these. How much do you want to learn about photography and cameras? How much money are you willing to spend on camera equipment? Are you interested in learning how to really control the camera, which you will need to do in many cases if you are to expect the best results, or are you wanting a camera which does all of the work for you and you simply aim and shoot?

Questioner: Now I am really confused? I don't know enough about cameras to even begin to answer those questions. I don't know what you mean by "controlling the camera".

Dan: That's ok. I understand that it's easy to become confused at the beginning. There are too many cryptic sounding terminologies and highly scientific sounding descriptions out there in the cold to be anything but confused. Let's break it down a little more. You said you enjoy seeing landscapes and of course you have a desire to photograph those. So do I! At the same time, you said you like the idea of making photographs of smaller subjects such as flowers and birds. Ok, I've got that. Let me ask the question this way. Do you want the camera to do it all for you, are are you willing to learn to make the camera do things which it needs to do in order to produce the photographic results you want?

Questioner: Hmmm, so you're telling me that I may need to work controls on my camera and learn lots of technical things in order to get good pictures?

Dan: No you don't. However, the more you understand about how your camera works, and the more you learn and understand about photographic techniques, the better pictures you will be able to make. It is easy to make very nice pictures with almost any camera if the lighting and scenery conditions are right. Unfortunately, conditions are not always ideal. When conditions are not ideal or you want to exercise your creativity to a greater degree, your requirements in a camera will call for more control on your part. Fret not, by the time you have finished reading this book, you will know how far you want to go with photography as a hobby or artistic outlet.

Do you see what I mean about the difficulty in making informed choices without adequate knowledge? Let me describe the choices you have and that will allow you to make more informed decisions. I will walk us through this one step at a time.

This camera is very much like the one my mother used. It was the epitome of simplicity during its day. Actually the simple cameras of today are even more simple to use. This camera falls into the classification of what is commonly called "point and shoot" cameras. You just point it at the subject and push the shutter release. The picture is taken. You don't do anything to control or even affect the exposure. Please don't be distracted by an occasional "technical" term such as the one I injected with the word "exposure." That will all come later. The point I am trying to put across now is simply control or lack of control of a camera's actual creating the image on film or digital sensor.

By the way, the Brownie box camera was as common in its day as the modern compact digital point and shoot camera is today. It was inexpensive and simple. The pictures it created were not bad either. It was highly favored among the non-expert picture takers of the day. You did not (could not, actually) control or vary the shutter speed or lens focus. It was all fixed. You were at the mercy of lighting conditions. It had no zoom feature and most models did not even have flash capability. The up side was that you did not have to learn about things such as focal length, f-stops, aperture or shutter settings, depth of field or any other more advanced photographic terms and concepts.


brownie box camera
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Dan W. Dooley