Basic digital photography – which equipment for which style?

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An important aspect of basic digital photography -

"What equipment do I need for the style of photos I wish to take?"

Other related basic digital photography articles

digital photography exposure

focal length, aperture and f-stops summarized

shedding the light on f-numbers

angle of view, magnification and crop factors

depth of field explained

take creative control of your photos

photos by Digitpedia, Axel Buhrmann and Armno-old

What equipment do i need for my style of photography

What type of lens and camera is best suited to a particular photography style or theme?

To answer this question several factors relating to the desired final image must first be asked

  • What quality of image is acceptable in terms of clarity and sharpness in the format that it will ultimately be viewed (i.e. is it to be printed and at what size? or is it going to be displayed on a monitor and at what size and resolution?
  • How faithful a reproduction of the scene as witnessed with the naked eye is required?
  • How much creative control over the image is desired.

Answering these questions fully, could easily form the basis of an entire syllabus of a photography degree! So, in the context of these basic digital photography articles about Focal lengths and f-numbers, here I will only give a brief summary for each.


Image quality and image sensor size

In truth it is really the physical IMAGE SENSOR size (not to be confused with number of mega pixels - which is in itself a related but separate issue) that determines image quality. In simple terms, the larger the sensor the higher the achievable quality.

However, this gain in achievable quality comes at a high price. Here is a list of the pros and cons to large sensor sizes.

  • Large sensors = high cost. Large sensors are disproportionately more expensive to produce than small sensors.
  • Large sensors = larger, heavier equipment. Large sensors require a (more or less) proportionately longer focal length to record the same angle of view (image magnification) as a smaller sensor. In turn, longer focal lengths require larger diameter apertures for an equivalent f-number. So lenses to suit larger sensors are inherently heavier and more bulky, less convenient to carry and significantly more expensive. The camera body also needs to be larger – both to hold the larger sensor AND to be capable of bearing the mass and dimensions of larger lenses.
  • Large sensor = shallower depth of field. If the final image requires a large depth of field, a higher f-number (smaller aperture) will be needed – this in turn will require a longer shutter speed - this may in turn result in blurring due to camera shake or subject motion (or the need to overcome this via a tripod or flash )

Conclusion - If extremely high quality images are required (e.g. for professional purposes) then more expensive and bulky cameras with large image sensors and the necessarily large expensive lenses that go with them are needed.

But if you are planning to use your camera for a more basic digital photography where you don't need the quality required for professional reproduction nor the degree of creative control over the image, or if you are predominantly shooting a style that needs a large depth of field (e.g.landscape or architectural photography) then a lower cost camera with smaller image sensor size may well be adequate.


Faithful reproduction of the scene as seen by the naked eye

The way human eyes actually see and process images is complex and not even the most advanced cameras function in a similar way.

What I am referring to instead are images that appear “natural” with respect to depth of field and magnification. This typically means photos taken with an angle of view from approx. 40 deg to 60 deg. At this angle of view the image will not appear to be more, or less magnified than by someone witnessing the event first hand. For “full frame” sensors (equivalent to 35mm film) this corresponds to a focal length of around 50mm.

Conclusion - If you only want to record simple images with a “natural” appearance , then you will not require equipment with a large range of focal lengths (often referred to as “optical zoom” ) nor the ability to create shallower depths of field (as obtained by larger image sensors in conjunction with large apertures. )

Although photos of this type when carefully composed could still be considered “masterpieces” . More often than not this style of photo is taken simply to record a scene as witnessed. This basic digital photography is what we refer to as a “snapshot” and probably constitutes by far the greatest proportion of all digital images taken.

If however you wish to take a more creative style of digital photo, then you may need a camera and lens that gives you greater control - particularly over depth of field.

Please read taking creative control of your photos for a more detailed explanation.


Photographic accessories

In addition to the basic equipment requirements of camera and lens, there are a host of additional accessories that can be useful in certain types of photography.

These include

  • Additional lighting sources such as off camera flash.
  • Stabilising supports such as tripods or monopods
  • Filters to modify the light before it passes thro' the lens.
  • Tools for cleaning your camera and lenses.

A detailed look at these items is outside the scope of this particular article - however here is a link to an excellent article that discusses and reviews the pros and cons of monopods - an often overlooked accessory.

click here for Monopod Reviews (opens in new window)



Useful links from "basic digital photography"

go to JARGON BUSTER digital photography terms explained

digital photography exposure

focal length, aperture and f-stops summarized

shedding the light on f-numbers

angle of view, magnification and crop factors

depth of field explained

taking creative control of my photos

return to digital photography lessons

return from basic digital photography which equipment for which style to home page


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