One question that I get asked a lot is “Can you recommend a camera that ‘takes good pictures’?” This is actually why I started new-B-photo. I wrote up a digital camera buyer’s guide to teach people what to look for and how to compare digital cameras. The problem was that I approached the guide from the perspective of a photographer. The guide starts (like many other such guides on the net) with questions like ‘what is your skill level’ and ‘what do you want to take pictures of’ – rather abstract questions – followed by a long discussion on the photographic needs of each type of subject.

After more thought I realized that this is the WRONG WAY to approach answering that question. If you aren’t new to photography and/or are coming from a film SLR camera you already know all of that stuff. If all you know about photography is not to use ISO 100 film in dim light, all of that stuff is probably Greek to you. All you want is a camera that will take decent pictures of your friends / pets / kids / holidays / vacations / etc.

So back to the original question: Can I recommend a camera that ‘takes good pictures’?” Short answer: No. Long answer: Not really. The problem is that this is a loaded question. It comes from a presupposition that many people have, summed up by a few quotes that can be found on almost any photography forum: “If I had your camera I could take just as good pictures as you” or “wow, with that kind of camera you don’t have to do any work at all… you just have to take the pictures…” Another quote from a photography forum sums up what is wrong with this presupposition:

Dinner Host: These are really great shots. You must have a brilliant camera.

Photographer: Thanks. This is a lovely dinner. You must have some great pots.

Of course that statement sounds absurd – a good meal is a combination of ingredients at a certain ratio, added in a certain order and cooked in a certain way. The pots are only a tool used in the process – actually, only the cooking part of the process. The chef still needs to select the ingredients, measure them out and add them at the proper time. Likewise, a good picture is a combination of composition, perspective, field-of-view, exposure, depth-of-field, and shutter speed. A camera is only a tool in the process, and a fully automated camera only adjusts exposure and focus. The rest is up to the photographer who needs to decide where to locate the camera, how to frame the subject, pick a focal length and depth-of-field… That is why Ansel Adams said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” and “A photograph is not an accident – it is a concept.” (If you don’t know who Ansel Adams is, Google him – He’s like the van Gogh of landscape photography.)

So a better question is can I help YOU to take better pictures? I think so, if you’re patient and willing to learn. So where do we go from here? There are two introductory chapters. The first is a tour of your camera which will introduce you to all of the pertinent parts and their function. The second is an introduction to the most fundamental of principle of photography, exposure. These two chapters will serve as the back-bone for all of the remaining chapters, regardless of your current or desired skill level. Section 1 will cover photographic fundamentals such as Depth-of-Field, Field-of-View, Perspective, and Motion as well as how to adjust them. Section 2 will cover topics unique to digital photography such as white balance, the effect of sensor size, sensor sensitivity, optical zoom, and digital file formats. Section 3 will cover common image problems such as blurry, hazy, grainy, and bright/dark images and how to fix them. Section 4 will cover some general tips to improve the look of your photos. More material will be added as requested by readers.

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