New camera!

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I finally bit the bullet.

I got a digital SLR camera.

Nikon D90 with Tamron 18-270mm lens.

Thank you all who’ve donated to support this site. Your donations helped cover almost half the cost. You guys rock!

This is actually my second SLR camera. For a long time I used to shoot on Minolta Maxxum 5 film camera. So why a new one?

Bye bye film

Shooting on film is sort of like Christmas. You never know what you’ll get. One of the last straws for me was coming back from hiking the John Muir Trail in California, taking a bag of rolls to the print shop, eagerly awaiting the amazing nature photos I thought I had taken, and finding out that most of the photos were mediocre at best. The exposure was off, they were either too light or too dark to properly capture the beautiful alpine lakes and sawtooth peaks.

Plus shooting on film can get quite pricey. So, I ended up retiring the Minolta sometimes in 2008 and bough my first-ever digital camera, a point-and-shoot Canon Powershot SD1100. I got that camera just in time for the Trans-Siberian adventure. It worked out great. Point and shoot cameras are great for traveling – they are small, light, and last for a long time on a single charge.

Isn’t this just an expensive toy?

However, they suffer from several limitations. The beauty of an SLR (meaning single lens reflex) camera is that you look directly through the lens while composing the photo. This is because the camera contains a mirror in front of what used to be film, and is now the digital counterpart called CCD (charge-coupled device, sensor which detect the photons hitting it). While composing the photo, the CCD is behind the mirror, and the light is reflected into the eyepiece. When you press the shutter button, the mirror rapidly lifts up, exposing the CCD. This is also why the viewfinder in SLRs goes black while the photo is being taken – the mirror is lifted up.

Why is this important? For one, you can attach different lenses to the camera. In addition, you can attach various filters to the front of the lens. One of the most popular filters, circular polarizer, is absolutely amazing. It works like your polarized sunglasses and increases the contrast of the image. This filter can be rotated to alter the amount of polarization. You look through the viewfinder onto a pale sky, rotate the filter, and all of the sudden the pale sky becomes vibrant blue with clouds appearing in the image seemingly out of nowhere.

SLRs also let you control the aperture setting. To take a photo that is neither too dark nor too light, you need to expose the CCD with just the right amount of light. The camera automatically calculates the amount of light and opens the shutter for just the right number of milliseconds. However, shutter speed is not the only factor affecting exposure. The amount of light reaching the CCD is also controlled by how wide the shutter opens. Think of the shutter as the pupil in your eye. If it’s bright out, the pupils open only slightly. If it’s dark, they are wide open. Camera’s shutter works the same way. An SLR camera allows you to not only control the shutter speed but also the aperture – the size of the opening. The aperture setting has an interesting effect on the final photo. The wider the shutter opens, the blurrier features in front and behind the object you are focusing on get. This allows you to take “artsy” photos, where you separate the subject (such as a tasty Slovak dish) from the distracting background.

Noise noise everywhere

All these features are nice. But the main reason I went for a new camera is simpler. The light in my kitchen is horrible. It’s way too dark, and the Canon Powershot simply sucks in low light situation.

So that’s why I went for Nikon D90. Bunch of camera reviews I’ve found online said that although most modern DSLRs work great in well-lit situation, Nikon D90 really shines when it comes to lack of light. It really seems to be true! I did a little experiment: check out the photos below.

Films came in different ISO settings. Lower the ISO, the better the quality of the image – more vivid the colors, less noise. However, lower ISO film also needed to be exposed longer than one with higher ISO number. So while some photos could be shot no-problem hand-holding the camera at ISO 400, taking the same photo with ISO 100 film required the camera to be put on a tripod.

CCDs work on exactly the same principle. The Canon can shoot up to ISO 1600, but I’ve found that anything higher than ISO 400 is simply not acceptable. The photo on the left was shot with the Canon at ISO 800 (not even the highest setting). Click on it and see how the black body of my old Maxxum 5 is not black at all. It’s full of alternating gray and red pixels. This is noise. The photo on the right is from the Nikon. It was shot at whooping ISO 3200. Yet, the camera body is nicely black, almost totally noise free. Quite impressive!

image shot with Canon powershot at iso800 showing a lot of noise noise-free image shot with nikon d90 at iso 3200
Comparison in noise levels: image from Canon Powershot shot at ISO 800 on the left, and one from Nikon D90 shot at ISO 3200 on the right.

Lens and such

With the camera, I ended up getting the digital version of the 28mm-300mm Tamron lens I used with my old SLR: Tamron 18-270mm. I love these lenses! It’s a great lens for someone (like me) who like traveling or going hiking. You get landscape and close up, all in one lens. No need to lug around bunch of different lenses, or risk getting the inside of the camera dirty changing lenses in bad weather. The photos below show you the range of images you can get with this lens. Both photos were shot from the same spot.

tamron zoom lens at landscape 18mm tamron zoom lense at maximum zoom 270mm
Both of these shots were taken from the same place. Pretty impressive zoom!

You can also do some pretty nifty things with an SLR, like take long exposure photos. There is too much light pollution here outside of D.C. where I live to take star photos. But I tried a long exposure photo on my neighbor’s house. The photo below was taken just before midnight, with it being almost pitch black outside. It’s a 30 second exposure. It’s quite amazing how colors still come out right, even the sky is blue!

long exposure shot
Just playing with long exposure. This photo was taken in the middle of the night, while it was pitch dark outside. 30 second exposure.

I don’t plan to retire the Canon completely. The camera has been a trooper. It so often gets covered in flour and oil and still keeps on trucking. I’ll continue using it while cooking, or at least while preparing “dirty” dishes. But for the final photos, I’ll use the Nikon. I’ll also use it to shoot images for the upcoming Slovak Cooking cookbook. But more on that later…

And if you can, please donate to support Your donation will help cover the second half of the cost of the camera plus things like site maintenance. Ďakujem!