n00b with SLR and Linux by the Uncle

by the Uncle on November 25, 2007

in Equipment, Products, the Uncle

I had planned to write more for Snapshot Chronicles, but life has been busy in recent months. It still is, but I have an opportunity to share with folks my experiences moving from budget snapshot cameras to more advanced, fancier ones. I now have a digital SLR camera. So I am going to force myself to write regularly, even if my posts are brief.

Single Lens Reflex is complicated to do, but is really simple to explain. The viewfinder looks through the same lens you take pictures through. You will photograph EXACTLY what you see in the viewfinder. This adds expense and complexity, as well as weight and size to a camera, and it is NOT required for great pictures. But it opens up a whole world of capabilities that are simply not available with less complex cameras.

The camera I chose is the Nikon D40 – widely considered one of the best inexpensive digital SLRs. It is not one of the highest pixel count cameras available, but as with many things, the law of diminishing returns applies: 6.1 megapixels produces wonderful images and for most uses (and photographers) will look every bit as good as a higher pixel count camera. Available as a kit for around $500 USD, all that is needed is to charge the battery. I chose this camera based on the recommendation of a friend who is VERY into photography, and actually DOES know what he is talking about.

Initial impressions: I opened the package and was amazed at both how small and light the D40 is, even with the included 18-55mm lens. Well, the lens is a bit big, but it is still very light. I opened the manual and set the battery to charging up while I began reading about the camera and how to use it…

Began reading the manual

I am still reading the manual, and trying to understand what it says. It has been a long time since I used anything but simple point-and-shoot cameras. Fortunately, an intimate understanding of every technical option and setting is NOT required to begin taking pictures! The D40 has a fully automatic setting that works pretty well, and a number of preset settings for specific environments: indoors, outside, cloudy, etc. I am mostly using the presets right now. It is going to take me a while to really LEARN how to use the camera to best effect and start doing anything “artsy.”

A caveat about the Nikon D40

One of the advantages of an SLR is the ability to change lenses- tele-photo, wide-angle and more, and this can be done with the D40, BUT….Most similar cameras have the focus drive motor built into the camera, and this one does not. Only lenses with the drive motor built into the lens will do auto-focus, although the others will usually work fine manually. The lack of a drive motor in the camera body is one of the reasons the D40 is relatively inexpensive for the quality of the camera, but additional lenses will be more costly than those without a motor.

For many people (such as myself) this will not be an issue, but if you already have a 35mm camera and assorted lenses, getting a digital SLR that can use the same lenses is likely to be worth any additional cost for the camera body itself.

Other than the lenses, the D40 seems to pretty much match up with any other camera as far as flash attachments, mounting to a tripod, etc.

I have included three pictures for comparison: one with my cellphone, one with a Canon point-and-shoot and one with the Nikon.

LG VX9800 Cell Phone

Canon SD450 (snapshot camera)

Nikon D40 SLR (Auto setting)

Note that while the phone-cam looks pretty bad, both of the other two look quite good. Nothing wrong with simple cameras at all, eh? As I learn how to use the D40, I expect to see better results and be more capable of “artsy” photographs, but nevertheless the far simpler camera does a very nice job and is far more convenient.

About the images: All three pictures were taken one after another for minimal variation. All were saved as jpeg images. No re-touching. The images were re-sized using the GIMP, an Open Source image editing application similar to Photoshop.

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