The Digital SLR Handbook – Introduction

The other day I took a long hard look at the digital SLR in my hands; it happened to be a Nikon D90, a good mid-range camera and not by any means the most complex. Here’s what I found:

9 control buttons on the back of the camera; 4 buttons on the top plus a Mode Dial (with 11 possible positions); 4 more buttons on front plus a focus mode selector (there are 7 different focusing modes altogether, including manual and Live View options). There’s also a choice of 11 focus points). Then there are two command dials, main and sub, with various functions on their own and at least 11 when used in conjunction with other buttons.

And then there are the menus, six of them, with over 90 menu items, many of them boasting multiple options and in some cases sub-menus with yet more choices. The Custom Setting Menu alone has 41 items, each offering anything from 2 to 10 options.

By this point, calculating the total number of permutations of different settings and parameters was way beyond me. It certainly runs into thousands, more likely millions. And that’s without mentioning the number of different lenses – well over 50 from Nikon alone, plus many more from independent makers – not to mention flashguns and other accessories.

That’s both the bad news and the good news.

It may look like bad news, because it’s only too easy to feel overwhelmed by all these choices, possibly to the point where you don’t make any choices at all and just leave the camera at default settings. This might be okay if you’re an average photographer taking average photos of average subjects under average conditions. But it’s my belief that none of us, and especially not readers of this book, are average.

And that’s why the feature-rich nature of a camera like the D90 is also good news. Any digital camera, even quite a modest model, offers a range of options that simply didn’t exist with film. As for the digital SLR, it is arguably the most powerful, versatile and flexible camera yet developed. It can do just about everything that you could do with film, and a great deal more. It can be exactly the camera you need it to be.

And the even better news is that this book is specifically intended to help you find a clear path through it all. It should help you, first, make sure you have the right D-SLR for you and, second, make sure you’re in a position to make the most of all the imaging power and creative flexibility that lurks inside every D-SLR, waiting to be unleashed.

But there are some things this book can’t tell you. Above all, only you can decide what kind of photographer you want to be. This means not just what kind of pictures you want to take, but also how involved you want to be in the process: are you happy to let the camera make lots of decisions for you or do you want to assert your independence at every stage, with all that implies? More input may mean a bit more effort but it also means a lot more control, more creative satisfaction and greater confidence that your pictures are going to look exactly the way you want them to look.

Using your DSLR to its full potential means thinking about how you want to operate; the now-usual term for this is workflow. This might sound high-faluting, but we all have a workflow already, whether we call it that or not. And we always did. However, as with most things, digital means more choice, and this makes it both more necessary, and a bit more challenging, to establish a workflow that suits you.

Workflow covers the choices you make before you shoot (possibly even before you buy a camera!), while you’re shooting, and after shooting. This book is not primarily about the post-shoot side of things, but this is such an integral part of the digital process that there’s no way we can ignore it; all the more so because what you want to do after shooting will have a bearing on what you do before and during. If you want to spend the minimum amount of time at the computer afterwards, it’s doubly important to get the camera set up right before you shoot. And vice versa.

And if the term ‘workflow’ sounds too much like, well, work, and you want to shoot for pleasure, take a lead from the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic. Establishing a workflow that’s right for you doesn’t have to be hard and it should make the whole business of shooting with your D-SLR both more rewarding and ultimately more enjoyable.