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DSLR Guide News, April 2006 - Get Dad a New Camera
May 23, 2006

Finding the Right Camera for Fathers

Table of Contents

Intro - Father's Day
SLR Q and A - Do-it-all Zooms
Photo Recipe - Filling In With Flash
The Gear - SLRs for Dads
Recent Updates - What's new at the Guide
SLR E-course - Master Your Digital SLR
Learn More - Digital SLR Resources


Father's Day is coming up next month and we all know what that means - it's gadget time for Dads!

It turns out that Fathers really aren't in the majority when it comes to taking family photos - a recent study conducted by Circuit City found that 57% of Moms were the household photographer as compared to 27% of Dads.

But if you are shopping for a Dad or spouse who is a budding amateur photographer, this Father's Day might be a good time to upgrade to a digital SLR from that point-and-shoot that he's been using.

In the gear section of this newsletter I'll talk in more depth about some of the cameras that are available right now and what might appeal to different types of Dads.

Even if a digital SLR isn't the right gift for the Dad in your life, at least now you can consider yourself warned that you only have a month left to find a good present!

Digital SLR Q&A

Question: Should I get a mega-zoom or several smaller zooms to cover the range?

Answer: It depends on what you want to photograph, and how much you want to spend.

I've been getting a lot of questions at the Guide lately about the right lens to use with a digital SLR camera. Many of the questions revolve around a small group of mega-zoom lenses: lenses that cover the range from wide angle (18mm) to telephoto (200mm).

Are they good? Do they take good photos? Are they better than 2 more expensive zooms that cover the same range?

The answer to all of these questions comes down to how much money you are willing to spend. Lenses that cost more use better glass. Better glass produces photos with less distortion - focus is crisp and there is no color distortion.

Expensive lenses should always produce better images than budget lenses.

Dedicated lenses will also produce better images than lenses that are trying to do it all. For example, you can't find many people who are expert computer programmers and world-renowned artists. It's hard to excel at both.

Think of mega zoom lenses in the same way: they are trying to be both wide angle lenses (for landscape photography) and telephoto zooms (for wildlife and other closeup work).

A lens like this cannot produce a better image than one that is dedicated to just one part of the range (a wide angle to wide angle zoom) or a telephoto zoom lens.

That being said, could you tell the difference between the images produced by a budget mega-zoom vs a high-end specialty lens if you didn't know which lens had taken which shot? This is harder to tell, and much more subjective.

There are probably many people out there who will be quite pleased with images created using a mega-zoom. They enjoy the added benefit of only using one lens and saving quite a bundle of money by not having to buy 3 or 4 separate lenses.

Professionals don't do this - pros carry an arsenal of lenses with them because they are exacting about the quality of the photos they take. When they want to take a certain type of photos they use a certain type of lens.

So a lot rides on how discriminating you are - if you want convenience, then take a good look at the mega-zoom lenses that will work with your camera. If your intent is to produce high-quality photos with your camera, then consider 2 to 3 lenses that are better suited for specific styles of photography.

Photo Recipe

A photo recipe is a simple way of breaking down a complicated photography technique.

Send in your ideas for photo recipes

I'll include your requests in future issues of the newsletter.

February Photo Recipe - Fill Flash
This month's photo recipe is a technique that many photographers don't use enough (myself included) but really makes a difference in the quality of the photos that you take with your digital SLR camera.


  • Camera set to shutter priority mode
  • Flash - either built-in or external

STEP 1 - Head outside
When you use your camera outside with the flash activated, this is called "fill flash" since the flash isn't the primary source of light (as it is indoors at night).

In this case, the sun is your primary light source. So the question becomes: why add more light to a photo when there is plenty of it already?

The reason is because the sun can cast harsh shadows that will give your photo too much contrast. If you even out the contrast with the flash, you'll get a more balanced (and pleasing) photo to look at.

Get a willing subject to pose for you, and (with the flash off) take photos all the way around him or her to see the types of shadows the sun can throw on a person's face. Depending upon the angle of light (head-on, to the right or left or behind) your fill flash is going to yield different results when you use it.

STEP 2 - Turn on the flash
Now activate your flash and take the same series of photos, moving all the way around your subject.

When the subject is lit from the front (head-on) you won't see too much effect of the flash. But when your subject is lit from the side and especially from the back by sunlight, you should see a big difference in the photos you take with flash.

If you camera is able to accurately determine how much flash to use, the photos that you take with fill flash should be much more evenly lit than the ones without.

STEP 3 - Compensate
Sometimes your camera can't figure out how to expose the scene correctly with the fill flash.

In this case, play around with your flash compensation setting. Most digital SLRs allow you to adjust the amount of light that the flash puts out. You can adjust the flash compensation setting so that it puts out more or less light for every shot.

In some cases, you will only want to use a tiny amount of fill flash so that your subject doesn't look washed out, but when your subject is backlit you may have to boost the flash in order to compensate for the strength of the natural sunlight.


This first shot of my son doesn't use any fill flash - you can see the shadows on his face around the eyes.
Portrait - No Fill Flash

This second shot does use fill flash - just enough to balance out the shadows and create a more even light. Now if I could only get him to look at me when I take a picture!
Portrait - Fill Flash

This next shot is of a flower in my backyard without fill flash - it's an overcast day, so the light is muted and even.
Flower - No Fill Flash

Now the same flower with fill flash - it brightens up the colors and creates just a little bit more contrast than was apparent before.
Flower - Fill Flash

Digital SLR Gear

So you've got a Dad who's a budding amateur photographer and you'd like to get him something special this Father's Day.

While a digital SLR camera might be right up his alley, finding the right one can be a bit tricky given the number of models you have to choose from.

That's why this month's digital SLR gear section is devoted to talking about different types of Dads and the cameras that might suit him best.

Non-Technical Dads

If your Dad likes the idea of technology but still feels a little bit nervous around the computer, you're going to want a digital SLR camera that is fairly easy to use. My recommendation is the Pentax *ist DL - it doesn't have quite as many features as some other digital SLRs, but this is part of what makes this camera so easy to use.

Plus, it runs on standard AA batteries, so Dad will be out taking pictures soon after he unpacks the camera. The camera's small size and light weight also make it ideal for Dads who like to travel.

Family Photographer Dads

If Dad is the one who is always inclined to take out the camera to photograph kids and family events then the Nikon D50 is a great camera to consider. Its fast response time and excellent color reproduction will ensure that Dad gets great family shots, even when the kids are running all over the house.

Wildlife Dads

Is your father a birder? Does he enjoy nothing more than trying to spot some rare member of the avian family through binoculars?

Then what he needs is a responsive camera with a lot of megapixels and a variety of high-power zoom lenses so that he can also take pictures of his favorite birds when he wants to. His camera? The Canon EOS 350D Rebel XT.

Just make sure of one thing before getting this camera for Dad - find out how big his hands are. If your father has really big paws it's going to be hard for him to operate the compact controls on the 350D.

Technical Dads

At the opposite end from the non-technical Dad is the Father who likes to fiddle. If your Dad is always adjusting the speaker wire for the home theater system and has more remote controls than he knows what to do with, the ideal camera is the Olympus E-330.

The E-330 is so chock-full of menus and settings that it's more like a small computer than a camera. Every feature on the E-330 can be customized and tweaked so that Dad can get exactly the results from it he wants.

Recent Updates to The Guide

This month at the Digital SLR Guide has been all about keeping things up-to-date.

I haven't added very many new pages to the web site, but I have updated some pages to keep them current with the changing world of digital SLR cameras.

You will also notice three new small links at the bottom of every page: "Send With E-mail", "Print This Page", and "Bookmark With del.ici.ous". They are designed to make it easier for you to enjoy and share the information in the Digital SLR Guide.

Find an article that you like? You can bookmark it for later, or e-mail it to a friend who might also be interested. If you'd like to read the article without having to stare at your computer screen, you can easily send a copy to your printer so you can go over it later.

If you've read the information on the Guide and are still confused, you have two options: read one of the following articles that I write for, or just contact me and ask your question directly.

SLR Guide E-Course

Do you have a new digital SLR camera but aren't sure how to use it?

Good news - the Digital SLR Guide is here to help!

I offer a 5-week online course in digital SLR camera technique that will teach you about all of the important features of your digital SLR or SLR-like camera.

Here's what one person had to say after completing the e-course:

"I have done a lot of research for digital camera lessons and found many I have tried left me still confused a bit. When finished with this one I feel like a pro...I can truly say "now I get it" and it taught me how everything fits right into place with each other."

Find Out More

Digital SLR Learning Resources

Each month I will present a new photography book or online resource that will take your photos to the next level, and help you continue to learn about photography (if that's your desire).

March Resource: Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography

This photo book by Brenda Tharp is essential for anyone who wants to become an advanced landscape photographer.

But first, a warning: this book is not about camera technique. Brenda spends very little time talking about aperture and shutter speed settings and how to get your camera to do what you want it to.

Instead the focus is on SEEING, and how to train your eye to find really exceptional landscapes.

She talks about line, shape and texture, and - of course - color. A great landscape photograph is a well-balanced blend of all of these, so it's important to wait for just the right light to take your landscape photos.

Brenda also spends a lot of time on the emotion of an image - what feeling are you trying to create in the viewer by taking the photograph?

Is it a mood, a concept, a statement?

Regardless of what you choose, it is the photos that have deeper meaning beyond just the subject matter that you will really enjoy for years to come.

The book is chock-full of full-page examples that illustrate different techniques and approaches. While the text is engaging, you can also learn a great deal just by studying the images in the book, and finding the ones that really speak to you.

Once you've found something you like, go out in the world and try to re-create it yourself. That's the best type of learning there is.

Read Other Reviews for Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography

In Conclusion

Busy times lie ahead for the Digital SLR Guide.

Sony recently announced that along with the introduction of their first digital SLR camera this year they are planning on releasing no less than 20 new lenses over the course of a year.

They also talk about being a late-comer to the digital SLR market, but they are filled with a strong desire to become the dominant force in the digital SLR marketplace. When companies like Sony start talking like this, you can be sure that there will be a flurry of camera releases over the next couple of months.

Manufacturers like Canon and Nikon will no doubt respond with new models of their own, so keeping track of them all should keep me plenty occupied for another couple of years!

And as always, the Digital SLR Guide newsletter will be here to keep you up-to-date on all of the latest news and developments.

Before I forget, I have recently re-activated the digital camera guide poll. This poll lets you request a guide for the camera of your choice. In a couple of weeks I will compile the results of the poll, and the most popular camera will be the next one that I get my hands on.

So take a second to respond (it really only takes that long) and let me know what digital SLR camera is on your mind.

Thanks for reading, happy picture-taking, and I'll see you next month!

--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

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