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Photography Basics: Cameras

Boudoir Photogaphy Camera Basics

If you are just getting started with boudoir photography you will have a lot to learn. Enter the Photography Basics series. In this series, I will be giving you the run down on the basics of photography. Who would have guessed it based on that name right?

First up in the series is cameras. Here I will be talking mostly about DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) and mirrorless cameras. While your phone works on most of the same principles it is severally limited due to its small sensor and fixed lens design. Topics for this post are:

  • How cameras work

  • Film vs Digital

  • Sensor Sizes

  • Megapixels

  • Frames per Second

  • Crop Factor

  • DSLR vs Mirrorless vs Point and Shoot

Other topics I will be covering in future posts are lenses, understanding exposure, shooting modes, camera settings, and basic editing. Also, at times there might be terms that you don’t understand yet. Keep reading as some of them will be explained later.

How Cameras Work

No matter if you are using a film camera, digital camera, or a cell phone, all cameras work based on the same principles. Light coming from your subject enters the lens and then passes through the lenses aperture ring until it hits the shutter. When that shutter opens, light hits the sensor or the film and the scene is captured.

Film vs Digital

Film cameras work by capturing the scene onto a roll of film that has to be processed in order to create a photograph. The downfall of film, in my opinion, is the inability to change your film speed between photos. If you have a roll of 100 ISO film on your camera and need to shoot in a darker environment you would have to change the film or use a flash, which isn’t always possible.

With digital it is all done electronically. No worrying about changing the film or keeping it away from X-Rays, sunlight, or anything else that might damage it.

In my book, digital is the best choice for anyone who is just starting out in photography. It is more forgiving for beginners thanks to adjustable ISO, ability to delete pictures, and being able to see your changes in real time as you change your settings. Plus, you can always change over to film later after you have the basics down if you want.

Keep in mind, camera film is becoming harder to find. With the advent of digital cameras, film systems have become less popular and as such manufacturers are finding it harder to justify continuing to make them. It’s all about the bottom line after all.

Sensor Sizes

There are many different sensor sizes out there each having their own pros and cons. The two most popular in the DSLR and mirrorless market are full-frame sensors and ASP-C sensors.

Many entry level DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have APS-C sized sensors. They are cheaper and smaller than other options making them perfect for this use. These sensors are also used in high-end sports and wildlife cameras.

Full-frame cameras are great in low light, produce a shallower depth of field, and have a cleaner image than APS-C sensors. Those factors mean they are used by people who value those qualities in a camera. Which is why you will see a lot of professional photographers use them.


Megapixels represent the amount of detail your camera can capture in a photo. The higher the number of megapixels the more detail you will see.

It would be easy to think the more megapixels the better, but that isn’t always the case. Your average cellphone only has 12 megapixels and that is perfectly fine for posting on social media or printing out a 5” x 7” print every now and then. If fact, if you are never going to print anything more than a 12” x 18” photo you won’t need more than a 20 megapixel camera. Need more assurance that megapixels don’t matter as much you might think? Go ahead and watch the video below.

Where megapixels do count is with cropping your images or you require a lot of detail. The more megapixels you have, the more you can crop your photo and still have a printable image. Wildlife photographers use this to their advantage all the time as it can be difficult or dangerous to get close enough to allow for the perfect shot. Fashion photographers need a lot of detail in their photos so you can clearly see all the elements of the clothing the models are wearing.

Frames per Second

Cameras are limited to the number of photos they can take in a short amount of time. My Canon RP can take 5 frames per second, while a Sony Alpha A1 can take up to 30 frames per second. That is a lot of photos all at once!

The question is do you need the ability to shoot 20 or 30 frames per second? For boudoir, my opinion is no, you don’t. I get by just fine with 5 frames per second. There are times that having 10 frames a second would be nice, i.e. when I am trying to capture my son running down the soccer field during a game. The biggest downfall to having a high frame rate is having to cull (pick the best and deleting the rest) through them all after you are done to find the good shots.

Crop Factor

When you are using a sensor that isn’t full-frame you will need to be aware of crop factor. Crop factor is the ratio of a cameras sensor size compared to a 35mm film frame. This is due to 35m film was the standard during the film era.

Crop factor affects two variables when you shoot.

First is focal length. When you put a lens with a 50mm focal length on a crop sensor camera you have to multiply the lenses focal length by the crop factor of that sensor in order to get the full-frame equivalent focal length. For most APS-C sensors it is 1.5, while for Canon it is 1.6. So if we have a crop factor of 1.5, that 50mm lens becomes a 75mm full-frame equivalent lens.

Second, depth of field. Just like with focal length you have to multiply your aperture by your crop factor in order to get the full-frame equivalent depth of field. Let’s say that 50 mm lens we used a minute ago has an f/1.8 maximum aperture. Multiplying 1.8 by 1.5 yields a 2.7 full-frame equivalent depth of field.

All of this means a 50mm lens at F/1.8 on an APS-C sensor body with a crop factor of 1.5 will give you the same look that a 75mm lens at f/2.7 will on a full-frame body. If you are confused by focal length and depth of field, see more on these in the Photography Basics post on lenses.

DSLR vs Mirrorless vs Point and Shoot

When looking into inter-changeable lens cameras you will find two choices, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. The big difference between these models is the removal of the optical view finder from the DSLRs that used a mirror and prism system to allow you to compose your photo. Hence the name mirrorless. Removal of the mirror allows a mirrorless camera to be smaller and lighter then their DSLR counterparts. At one time, there was a heated debate about which was better but not so much anymore. Due to changing sales figures, camera manufacturers have largely dropped their DSLR cameras and have focused on mirrorless going forward.

Point and shoot cameras differ from DSLR and mirrorless cameras due to their fixed lens design. Meaning you cannot change them. Usually point and shoot options are smaller than their interchangeable lens counterparts as well and smartphones have largely replaced the basic point and shoot cameras in the current marketplace regardless. I recommend avoiding point and shoot cameras, with one exception, as they do not give you the same control and functionality that you will find with an interchangeable lens style and if you really want a point and shoot invest in a good smartphone instead.

The only point and shoot camera I do recommend is a GoPro. While technically an action camera and meant more for video work, the GoPro excels at water photography. If you are at the beach or lake and want to get some cool shots around, in, or under water a GoPro is hard to beat.

Final Thoughts

Cameras are complex machines, but once you understand how they work you can use them to take great images. For the next article in the Photography Basics series click the link below.

One last thing. If you are enjoying this blog and wish to support the work I do here, consider using the Buy me a Coffee button at the bottom of the page to make a one time donation to show your appreciation.

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