Benjamin Szentpály

Photography Tips

Getting Started with Photography

Today I am going to tell you everything you need to know if you are interested in getting into the field of photography. You'll learn exactly how cameras work, what camera you should buy, and what lenses you should buy with it.

Before I tell you what camera to go buy let's have a quick lesson on how cameras work and learn the word lingo. If you're already a camera whiz and know everything there is to know about cameras scroll down to where it says, "SKIP TO HERE IF YOU'RE A GENIUS AND ALREADY KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT CAMERAS."

The first thing you will need to understand about cameras and their lenses are their focal lengths.

Focal Lengths

The number of "mm" designates what level of zoom a lens has. 

For example, 

Image result for 18mm sample shot

an 18mm lens is really wide, 

Image result for 50mm sample shot

50mm is like what you see with your naked eye (minus the depth of field)

Image result for 200mm sample shot

and 200mm is like a telescope. 

There are two types of lenses, Primes and Zooms. Prime lenses are constantly at the same fixed focal length, 35mm for example. Zoom lenses operate within a certain range of focal lengths for example like 55-200mm. Prime lenses generally take much higher quality photos than zooms when comparing cheap primes with cheap zooms. Expensive zooms can be very good and can to a certain extent eliminate the need to carry around several primes.

Aperture / f-stop

The lower the "f" number, the better (and generally more expensive) a lens gets. This is because a lower f-stop allows for a wider depth of field which allows for more light to reach camera's sensor. 

Image result for aperture

To make this more understandable, think of what you see with your eyes. In a brightly lit environment, your pupils close up to an aperture of f/8.3. In a dimly lit area they can open up to as wide as f/2.1. This is why a lens with say f/1.8 or f/1.4 can see better in the dark than we can with our own eyes.

When the aperture is high at say f/8. Everything starts to generally be in focus and there is barely any more background blur. You can replicate this with your eyes when you aren't wearing glasses by squinting or by looking through a tiny hole, you will see that everything gets sharp. Think of your DSLR camera as a much more powerful set of eyes, or your iPhone's camera as a much weaker set of eyes.

The trade-off with buying a zoom lens is that they rarely have good wide open apertures. The widest most zoom lenses get is to f/2.8, but those are super expensive. Cheap zooms have usually have a variable aperture like the one that comes with the D3300, the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. On the cheap zooms, the aperture closes up and lets in less light as you zoom in. Expensive zoom lenses have constant apertures.

Image result for high focal length blur
Background blur is also affected by the focal length (how zoomed in the lens is) as much as the aperture. The amount that a lens is zoomed in affects the depth of field just as much as the aperture does.

SKIP TO HERE IF YOU'RE A GENIUS AND ALREADY KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT CAMERAS.

Buy the Nikon D3300 as your first DSLR.

The lens that comes with the D3300, the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, is complete garbage. Avoid it at all costs. Just buy the camera as the body only and save yourself the cash, or buy it with stock lens and sell it ASAP.

When I bought my D3300, I bought it together with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G ($196), it was a fantastic starter lens. Pretty wide, but also still having a blurry background which is pretty cool.

After a while I was longing for an even more zoomed in lens with even blurrier backgrounds, I already had the Nikon 85mm 1.8G ($476) on my wishlist for a while, until I found this amazing deal, the Opteka 85mm f/1.8 for only $99 which I bought right away. The only trade off with the Opteka is that it is a completely manual lens. That means no autofocus, no auto exposure, no auto anything. So it forces you to learn everything about how your camera works. I learned a lot from it.

In February, I wanted a wider lens for making videos, but still wanted a low aperture, which is extremely hard to find. There is only one zoom lens on the entire market with an aperture of 1.8, and that lens is the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 ($799). I found mine on eBay for $591, a total steal. So that lens replaced my 35mm 1.8, since it includes the 35mm focal length plus more at the same aperture. It is also way sharper than the Nikon.

My most recent lens purchase was the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 ($446) which I found used on eBay in mint, like new condition for $299. I use it for all my portraits now, and I love it, I never touch the 85mm anymore, even though I should.

It's a lot of fun to play around with all the different focal lengths. I highly recommend starting out with the 35mm which teaches you to zoom with your feet and getting closer to your subjects instead of zooming. If the budget allows, start off with the 35mm and 85mm and use both. The 85mm will teach you how to use manual controls, and get you the best possible pictures.

Eventually you will build up your collection of gear to cover all the ranges of focal lengths. I now have a complete range of focal lengths after two years of building up my gear collection. (18-35, 50, 85, and 55-200)

I have just upgraded to a full frame camera, the Nikon D750.

I didn't talk about full frame cameras versus crop cameras, but we'll save that for next time. 

Happy shooting,

//BENJAMIN SZENTPALY

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Benjamin Szentpaly