So now that I've had all of my camera gear for several months and have had a few week long trips to test it out (Bahamas and San Francisco), I feel ready to give a brief review of my equipment. Here is a list of the photography equiptment I own. I will go through each one briefly in a series of blog posts.
I have a Nikon D3200. I got this as a gift, so I didn't do any shopping around or research for this purchase. It is a 24 Megapixel camera designed for entry level DSLR photographers, which makes it the highest pixel count for the APS-C sensory size. My photos look way better than they did with my super outdated 6 MP Canon point and shoot. I don't use the video mode, so I can't comment on that (I use other cameras for my videography projects), but the photo quality is amazing!
The Nikon D3200 allows for full manual mode, aperture priority mode, and shutter priority mode, so if you are upgrading from a point and shoot like I was, then it will allow for much more control. It took a while learning the manual controls, and what everything like shutter speed, aperture size, ISO, etc all meant, but the learning curve is not steep, and was a really exciting process. For most of my photos, I tend to keep the camera in aperture priority.
Aperture priority - In aperture priority mode, you select the aperture and your camera sets the shutter speed according to the ISO. You can control the shutter speed indirectly by changing the ISO.
Shutter priority - In shutter priority mode, you select the shutter speed and your camera sets the aperture according to the ISO. You can control the aperture indirectly by changing the ISO.
Full manual mode - In full manual mode, you have complete control over the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
ISO – the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. It is typically measured in numbers, a lower number representing lower sensitivity to available light, while higher numbers mean more sensitivity. More sensitivity comes at the cost though, as the ISO increases, so does the grain/noise in the images. Examples of ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600.
Shutter Speed – the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor. Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second, when they are under a second. Slow shutter speeds allow more light into the camera sensor and are used for low-light and night photography, while fast shutter speeds help to freeze motion. Examples of shutter speeds: 1/15 (1/15th of a second), 1/30, 1/60, 1/125.
Aperture – a hole within a lens, through which light travels into the camera body. The larger the hole, the more light passes to the camera sensor. Aperture also controls the depth of field, which is the portion of a scene that appears to be sharp. If the aperture is very small, the depth of field is large, while if the aperture is large, the depth of field is small. In photography, aperture is typically expressed in “f” numbers (also known as “focal ratio”, since the f-number is the ratio of the diameter of the lens aperture to the length of the lens). Examples of f-numbers are: f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0.
For those moving from a point and shoot who don't feel up to learning all the manual controls, there are built in Scene modes and a Scene auto selector. You choose from common scenes like Portrait, Night Portrait, Landscape, Close up, Sports, etc. I haven't used this much, but from what I've played around with, it is very easy and intuitive to use.
The autofocusing in this camera is good, and pretty fast, but does tend to be lens dependent. There are 11 autofocusing dots spaced across the screen, and you can use advanced settings like AF-C or AF-S.
AF-C (AF continuous, sometimes called continuous servo) is good use when photographing moving objects. When your camera is set to AF-C and you focus on a moving subject, for example a dog running towards you, the focus will stay on the animal so long as your shutter button is held half way down. In other words, the camera will keep re-focusing as the animal moves. That is, so long as you keep your shutter button held half way down.
AF-S (AF single, sometimes called single area AF) mode, is good for photographing subjects that don't move, such as flowers or portraits etc. It locks the focus on the non moving object that you want to photograph. You can then recompose the shot and take the photograph.
I've actually set my camera to AF-C with back button focusing, which I may discuss in depth later. But essentially, I have the focusing action decoupled from the camera shutter. So instead of half pressing the shutter, waiting for it to focus, then fully depressing the shutter, I use a separate button on the back of the camera to focus the camera first (The button I use is labeled AE-L/AF-L, but you can customize this button in the camera settings). With the subject in focus, I can then use the normal shutter button to take several shots in a row, recomposing between shots, without adjusting the focus. If I want the camera to focus continuously (I'm in AF-C, remember), I just hold down my back button while shooting. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but now I really love back button focusing, and I highly recommend at least trying it for a few weeks.
When testing the camera out in low light conditions (with the kit lens, other lenses will be reviewed later), the camera is adequate. It has the ability to adjust the ISO from 100 all the way to a whopping 12800 on ISO Hi 1. In reality however, I rarely will go over ISO 400, because no matter how good the camera, high ISO equals more noise. And for my shooting purposes (mostly for microstock), noise simply is not acceptable. For low light conditions, I will usually use either my nifty fifty, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, or my wide angle, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, both will be reviewed in a future post. The wider apertures in the 50mm f/1.8 and 11-16mm f/2.8 (compared to the kit lens which is a variable f3.5-5.6) allows much more light in through the aperture, allowing for better low light photos.
Note: Typically when a lens is described (such as the Nikon 50mm f/1.8), f/1.8 refers to the maximum aperture opening of the lens. Sometimes the minimum aperture is also given, but since the maximum aperture opening tends to be of most interest, and is always included when describing a lens. This value is also known as the lens "speed", because it affects the exposure time. A lens with a smaller f-stop (smaller f number), has a larger maximum aperture, and is considered a "faster" lens. [The aperture is proportional to the square root of the light admitted, and thus inversely proportional to the square root of required exposure time, such that an aperture of f/2 allows for exposure times one quarter that of f/4.]
Zoom lenses typically have a maximum relative aperture (minimum f-number) of f/2.8 to f/6.3 through their range. High-end lenses will have a constant aperture, such as f/2.8 or f/1.8, which means that the relative aperture will stay the same throughout the zoom range. A more typical consumer zoom will have a variable maximum relative aperture, since it is harder and more expensive to keep the maximum relative aperture proportional to focal length at long focal lengths; f/3.5 to f/5.6 is an example of a common variable aperture range in a consumer zoom lens. So in my gear, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 have fixed maximum apertures of f/1.8 and f/2.8 respectively, whereas the kit lens is a consumer level Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, with the maximum aperture changing from f/3.5 at the 55mm end to f/5.6 at the 18mm end. This means that the maximum aperture changes as you zoom, and is never as wide as the higher end lenses.
The only negative that I have with this camera is that you cannot do HDR photography with it. It does not have the capability for autoexposure bracketing. You can, of course do it manually with 3 photos taken at different exposures, but with moving objects or changing conditions, manual is just not quite good enough. So it is a shame that HDR is not supported.
HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. It is a post-processing task of taking either one image or a series of images, combining them, and adjusting the contrast ratios to do things that are virtually impossible with a single aperture and shutter speed. An HDR image is commonly made by taking three photos of the same scene, each at different shutter speeds. The result is a bright, medium, and dark photo, based on the amount of light that got through the lens. A software process then combines all the photos to bring details to the shadows and highlights both. This helps to achieve the same task in the final photograph that the human eye can accomplish on the scene.
You can do timelapse photography with the camera, but it requires an external intervalometer. I purchased this one, its fairly inexpensive and works well. Rainbowimaging TimerM LCD Timer Remote Control for Nikon D600 D7100 D7000 D5200 D5100 D5000 D3200 (Black) I will probably have a separate post in the future on time lapse photography with the camera, but its sufficient to know here that timelapse photography is really fun and addictive, and easy to do with the Nikon D3200. You can view some examples of my time lapse videos here: http://www.michelsun.com/videos
Upgrading from point and shoots to DSLRs: I couldn't be happier with my step into DSLR photography. Being able to control all of your camera's settings gives you the opportunity to learn more fully about your camera's capabilities, and gives you not only a better understanding of photography, but I think also makes you a much more thoughtful photographer. Instead of "pointing and shooting," you have to plan out your shoots, decide what aperture or shutter speed would be appropriate for the situation, decide what mode you want the camera to be in, decide how to frame your shots, etc. It's a much more active process, and you get much much better compositions. I feel like I am becoming an actual photographer when you think about and plan photos, rather than just some person with a camera. I highly recommend upgrading to a DSLR if you have any interest in taking better photos. Who wouldn't want better photos of the family or vacation photos!
Overall impression: Overall, I think that the Nikon D3200 is an excellent camera. The 24 MP sensor size allows room for lots of cropping if your composition isn't exactly what you want in camera. The camera is easy to use, and easy to learn, even from someone who has never had a DSLR before. It's competitively priced, and a great entry level DSLR. You can purchase it from Amazon here Nikon D3200. Other vendors that I like are Adorama and B&H Photo, or Keh for used equipment.
I'll review these lenses separately, since this post has gotten kind of long
The Nifty Fifty: Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
The Telephoto Zoom: Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G
The Wide Angle: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8