I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Camera’s don’t take pictures; people do.” Sure, that’s true, but you still need a camera to create a permanent record of your visual experiences. It’s also true that the more sophisticated the camera, the more creative control you can have over your photographs. However, all digital SLRs, from entry-level to high-end, share many features and functions. Some are obvious, and some happen behind the scenes.
Let’s take a look at some of the less frequently discussed features that can help you to get the most out of your digital SLR camera—as well as your creative experience.
1. Camera Care
Your digital camera is a precision piece of equipment, and it should be handled with tender, loving care. To ensure years of use (even though an updated model will probably be introduced every 18 months), here are some things to remember.
Never leave your camera around anything with a strong magnetic field, such as a television set, a loudspeaker at a rock concert or an electrical motor. Keeping clear of antennas that emit strong radio signals is a good idea, too. Strong magnetic fields and radio signals can damage image data.
Magnetic fields also can damage memory cards, as can static electricity. Airport X-rays, however, don’t damage digital cameras or memory cards.
High heat and severe cold can cause a camera malfunction. At very low temperatures, the LCD panels might not work, and you can run out of battery power quickly.
2. Be Sensitive To Your Image Sensor
When you clean the sensor, you’re not really cleaning the sensor, but rather the low-pass filter that covers it. When you clean this filter, use only products designed specifically for photo-sensor cleaning, and follow the instructions very carefully.
When I’ve shot in dusty conditions, such as when I was photographing the sand dunes in Namibia, I cleaned my sensor every night. Better safe than sorry is my motto.
3. A Shutter’s “Mileage”
Would you buy a used car without knowing the mileage? Of course not. When it comes to buying a used camera, it’s also important to know its “mileage,” that is, the approximate number of shutter activations it has been through. And if you’re buying a new camera and plan to take a ton of pictures, it’s important to know its estimated mileage, too.
For example, the Canon EOS 40D has an estimated 100,000 shutter activations. That may sound like more /images than you’ll ever take, but a sports photographer could take that many pictures in a year—or sooner. Higher-end digital SLR cameras have more durable shutters. The shutter in my Canon EOS-1D Mark III, which I used to photograph this series of whale tail photographs in Antarctica, has a life expectancy of about 300,000 activations.
Before you head out on the road with a new or used camera, check its mileage. Some cameras offer counters. For those that don’t, you have to rely on the previous owner’s honesty. And speaking of honesty, “driving conditions” also are a factor.
Don’t panic if you do plan to shoot hundreds of thousands of pictures. Shutter replacements cost between $250 and $500, which isn’t bad when you own a high-end digital SLR that cost more than $5,000.