What does it take to get a great photo?

October 12th, 2009

Digital Photography School is one of the sites on my Google Reader. And today, they had a piece talking about what equipment is needed for a great photo.

Their point – it doesn’t matter what camera you have, it’s always a question of the person behind it. And while I’m a hundred and twenty percent in agreement with that perspective, I have an slightly different point of view as well.

In the good ol’ days of traditional film cameras, the biggest differentiators between the high-end professional cameras and the regular cameras were

  • The options of interchange-able lenses (and this meant you could have some really brilliant glass).
  • The perspective shift due to a viewfinder providing a different image from what actually is seen on the film.

Nowadays, interchange-able lens cameras are so easy to find at such cheap prices that the first point is invalidated. Secondly, even with the most simple digital point-and-shoot, what you see is what you get, considering that most of them have live preview which shows you the image seen by the sensor.

But, in the film world, a decent camera could take as good shots as a SLR because the quality of the film, the processing, the printing and the cameraperson could be the same and it didn’t matter so much.

In the digital world, the quality of the sensor makes such a difference that it’s hard to take the same shot with different qualities of cameras and get the same great photo.

For example, I took a photo of a table lamp at night through the glass with a Sony DSC H5. This a a nice camera, 7.2 megapixel sensor and a 12x zoom with Carl-Zeiss lens. In fact, it got a Highly Recommended rating at DP Review.

Here is the photo shrunk down to fit.

(Nice photo, no? Thank you, thank you. You can stop clapping now.)

But look at the cropped image at 100%.

Here you can make out the issues with the camera. Normally on a higher end camera, I would have used a higher ISO and a faster shutter speed to ensure that there is less shake. But most point-and-shoots and especially many Sony cameras have noise issues at higher ISOs. Even in this shot, you can see the noise in the image, at just ISO 200. But since I can’t use a higher ISO, I settled for a slower shutter speed. And the result is the shake in the image.

I took the same shot with a Canon EOS 1000D, and I could manage an ISO 800 and avoid the shake and the noise. And the 1000D really is the most basic SLR in the Canon stable. (Unfortunately, I don’t have this shot with me, since it’s not my camera but I will post it soon.)

And a few years ago when I only had a simple point-and-shoot film camera, some of the shots there were comparable to any shot (quality-of-image-wise) from a DSLR. The quality of the shot is another matter, you still need a good eye and a good hand. And that is immaterial whichever camera you may have.

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