I bought a digital point and shoot camera about six years ago and it was wonderful as long as the subject was standing still or at least moving slowly. Trying to take a picture of a horse jumping a fence was a series of shots of horses' tails. Wanting to take a picture of a horse actually over a fence and not disappearing out of the picture I bought a dSLR. When I bit the bullet I decided to buy a Canon XTi digital single lens reflex camera.
There are lots of digital cameras on the market right now, so my advice is to go to a good camera store and try cameras out. Personally, I bought the Canon because it was on sale at a very good price and I liked the feel of the camera when I held it. There is a good chance that you will be spending lots of time cuddling that camera so make sure it is comfortable for you to hold. Remember too, that many professional cameras are designed to fit a man's hand, although some men trying to hit the shutter release might say otherwise, wanting a camera that is easier for them to handle. You will find the more expensive cameras quite a bit bigger and perhaps a little ungainly if you have small petite hands, man or woman.
dSLR – stands for digital single lens reflex. For the most part these cameras have interchangeable lenses. Point and shoot – has come to mean cameras that aren’t dSLR. Originally it was only cameras that you couldn’t adjust anything on - you just picked it up and pointed it at what you wanted to take a picture of and pressed the shutter button, and you can still find lots that subdivide the category.
So why a dSLR and not a point and shoot?
For me it was because you can make adjustments, you get to make the decisions, where with a point and shoot they make all of the decisions. More decisions means more complicated and you have to know more, but also gives you creative control. Mind you, nowadays the point and shoots have more and more choices available. But still, today it is the dSLRs that allow you to use different lenses, each one designed for a specific purpose.
Remember all those wonderful tail shots? So why did that happen? Well, because I didn't always have the creative control.
For example, there are three things that can affect what ends up in the picture
1. SHUTTER LAG - The delay between triggering the shutter and when the photograph is actually recorded
2. AUTOFOCUS LAG – How fast the camera can focus on the subject; be aware that this will change with how much light is available: the less light there is, the longer the camera will take to focus.
2. SHOT TO SHOT - How fast the camera processes the shot; this is a factor both of the camera and the memory card
The combination of the three I usually think of as FRAMES PER SECOND or how many pictures I can take in a second.
Point and shot cameras tend to have some issues if you are planning to shoot horses jumping over fences. The digital single lens reflex cameras have some issues if you want to shoot scenery from the back of your horse while trail riding in the Rockies. Each camera will have pluses and minuses. What you need to figure out is what you want the camera to do for you and then pick the camera currently available that does it the best, and learn to live with the fact that a better one will be out soon or it’s out now but you didn’t feel like selling your entire herd and mortgaging the farm to buy it.
Point and shoot cameras are usually slower, their fames per second is usually in the 1 per second range compared to the 3+ frames per second of the dSLRs. But, point and shoots are getting faster, so check out any that you think you might like to buy. Ten frames per second will usually let you do series of shots and get a pretty good one of the horse over the fence. I have 3 frames per second on my Canon XTi. I can get a good shot of a horse over a fence if I have the timing correct and shoot a single shot. Trying to get a good shot over a fence in continuous shooting doesn’t usually happen and it’s more good luck than good judgement when it does. The shutter lag time on the Canon XTi is 0.1, a high-end digital point and shoot right now is about 0.15 seconds.
Consider how much zoom the camera has. With dSLRs you can buy bigger lenses. The point and shoots - what you buy is what you get for the most part, although there are some you can buy extenders for. When looking at a point and shoot you'll see things like optical zoom (the zoom the actual lens produces), for instance 3X. What that means is that the longest focal length is three times the shortest focal length. So if the shortest length is 50mm then the longest focal length would be 150mm. If the lens starts at 28mm then 3 times is 84mm. Digital zoom enlarges a portion of the image, thus 'simulating' optical zoom. In other words, the camera crops a portion of the image and then enlarges it back to size. In so doing, you lose image quality. To take pictures of horses at a horse show that fill the frame you need a lens with a focal length of around 500mm.
Focal length is basically the distance where that lens can take a picture in focus.
Focal length of lenses in digital cameras gets complicated because of sensor size. Smaller sensors lengthen the virtual focal length of a lens, so when you go into the camera shop, ask what sort of sensor the camera has that you are looking at and what effect it has on the focal length of that particular camera. Sensor size also affects noise in a photo. Noise is those blotchy or pale areas or flecks of color that weren’t in the original scene. Noise has a bunch of different causes but in general the smaller the sensor the worse the potential for noise.
Another thing to consider is, does the camera have a viewfinder? A viewfinder is where you put your eye and look through to see the picture that you are going to take. Or do you only have a screen on the back of camera to use to focus?
There are some pluses to the viewfinder in that you hold the camera close to your body and that means there is less camera shake. Camera shake is exactly what it sounds like - the camera moves a bit as you are taking the picture and the picture ends up blurry. To counteract camera shake, the general rule of thumb is
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