The Day Tour of Cambridge

I always thought that it takes the knowledge of places, a camera, and later some quality storytelling to create a good travelogue. But, here’s what I found I could add to the list: a friend. I was lucky to have Geoffrey walk me around Cambridge (Cambridgeshire, the old name). And, while we did enjoy the day tour, the chilling wind and the last five minutes of Rugby (Six Nations, 2018) blew the wits out of me.

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Let me start with the windy weather. The Saturday morning I underestimated the wind and wore my sleeveless jumper. Though the Sun shined bright throughout the day, the winds kept getting the better of me. And, for the creative sake of it, I will say that for all the while I kept walking my nose kept running.

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We began the day strolling through Jesus Green Lido. The park shares its borders with the river Cam on one side and the Jesus College on the other. We walked on the quayside until we could, then we broke into a part of the city. Walking is the best way to experience any city, especially this city.

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In Geoffrey’s words, the name of the city is a combination of the words Cam, which is the river that flows through the city, and bridge, which connects either side of the river. Oxford comes from oxen and ford—ford means a shallow river.

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Just a thought: what if the word “shire” in Cambridgeshire has any connection with the Hindi word Shahar, which means an urban settlement?

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There are a lot of old buildings in the city. Most of the old buildings have plaques that display the year of their construction—an age-old style; even Indore, my hometown, has buildings like that. Some buildings are as old as 1754. Maybe even older. The good thing is, the new buildings follow the design principles of the old buildings. This maintains the architectural aesthetics of the place.

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After the Round Church, we decided to step into Caffé Nero. Over the coffee, Geoffrey and I compared the photographs we took—for an inspiration from the other’s works. Given that it was windy outside, a hot brew served its purpose reasonably well.

After the break, we walked past the Trinity College, which has the Newton’s Apple Tree. [Spoiler Alert: It is not the same tree under which Newton discovered the idea of gravity. Though seeds from the same Apple tree have planted this one here.]

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While strolling the local weekend market, we stopped by a souvenir shop. We didn’t intend to buy anything, but we weren’t expecting what came next. The lady shopkeeper sat there soaking the gleaming Sun. She was getting only a little share of sunshine from between two buildings. She looked at us and said, “Enjoy the sunshine while you can. Don’t blame me later for not telling you.” True that inspiration can come from any source.

Throughout the city, I could find people taking photos. I even got a compliment for managing with a sleeveless jumper in that windy weather. This Southeast Asian guy didn’t realize that I wasn’t a local.

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A side note: I am not a shopping person. But, I did visit places like the Poundland and Primark. The variety of products and the price range suit the budget of the middle class. That’s a given for any city. What’s special for Cambridge is that all major shopping destinations are about 15 minutes to half an hour of walking distance.

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All major colleges in the University of Cambridge face the small area from the Fellows’ Garden to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Quite logically, the other side of the colleges is the Backs. The view from the rear of the buildings is comparably picturesque. [In the week that followed, Chris, a friend-cum-lead, helped me tour the Backs. We took some nice pictures there, too.]

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Facing the Backs is Clare College behind which stands the Cambridge University Library. Yes, the same place that has a copy or record of every single work published from Cambridge.

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I must say that I felt alive even as I walked past the colleges of the University of Cambridge. The energy that flows through the streets over the weekends is noticeable. If I were to compare it with India, I would say that it is Kota of the United Kingdom. But then, why compare!

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When we walked past the Cambridge Corn Exchange, Geoffrey shared the history of the place. It is interesting how even after money becoming the medium of exchange it is still the word “Corn” that continues to be the term coined for it.

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The word “interesting” reminds me of something. If you are in the local market, don’t forget to buy “gifts for interesting people”. See how those words make you think that the gifts are as interesting as the receiver of the gifts. I got some yogurt-coated candies for my daughter—not from the same shop though. The ones that have dried Banana or Cranberry are mouthwatering. If you are in Cambridge and wish to munch on your way through the city, get yourselves some. They have a reasonable shelf-life, too.

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It is a British tradition to say sorry even if someone bumps into you. Chris says that in Britain you notice people singing their way through the crowd “sorry… sorry… sorry… oops… sorry… sorry… sorry” in rhythmic high-low-high-low notes. I must have caught on this habit because I remember saying sorry… only to realize a split second later that I had bumped into and was apologizing to a chair. Yes, I know!

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Every country, every city has its own way of greeting people. Cambridge greets people with a combination of colleges and pubs. Other than university education if there is anything that defines Cambridge then I’d say it is three “Ps”: parks, pubs, and punting. Mathematical Bridge, where we stopped next, is opposite to the Anchor pub. And, most likely, there too, you will see people punting over the Cam river. A short walk down from the Anchor pub is the Darwin College of Engineering. It is notable how so many prominent personalities have had a part of their lives spent in this city.

We spent the longest time of our day-long tour at the Anchor pub. We initially chose to sit outside to enjoy the weather, but in due course changed our minds. That way, I got some relief from the weather, Geoffrey got his much-needed Rugby dose and we both got the food. I even gave my expert opinion as we watched the post-match analysis.

 

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Picture credit: Geoffrey

 

After the lunch, we set out to walk through Grantchester Meadows into the city walking past the James Dyson University of Engineering, the Judge Business School on the Trumpington Street, and Grand Arcade. As the dusk began to set it, we chose to skip two stops: The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Fitzwilliam Museum. I still managed to get some pictures around the areas.

While neither of us wished to end the day by spending time in a city mall—all malls are the same—we ended up at Costa Coffee, in Grand Arcade, because most of the coffee shops were either full or about to call it a day. I am not sure why we refer to it as “calling it a day” while it isn’t even a day anymore after dusk sets in. Quite a funny observation. Anyway, Geoffrey had ordered for large coffees. So, we continued to talk until the coffees lasted.

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With the dusk setting in and the temperature beginning to steep further down, we decided to curse the weather—another British tradition—and “call it a day”.

This memorable, short tour of the city has a lot of for me as a takeaway. Let me summarize the day-long tour:

  • Best guide: a friend
  • Best time to visit Cambridge: any, particularly February-March
  • Best companion: a camera
  • Best munchies: yogurt candies
  • Best food: any, as long as you top it with a beer
  • Best modes of transport: walking and punting
  • Best gear: well, surely not a sleeveless jumper if it is windy and February

Much like me, you too wouldn’t feel an outsider in Cambridge for long. Not because it is a global city. But because of the faces that smile back at you, prospering local markets, tourists looking for authentic local flavors, and the welcoming giggles of toddlers that attracts you as an outsider. The city grows more on you if you know a “local”.

I didn’t cover everything. I couldn’t. But then, I realize that if I cover everything in one visit, what will I plan the next visits for? Considering that I meant business when I flew into Cambridge, the city has intrigued me enough to shift the target of my next visits. As I head back home, I remain a travel bug hungry for more.

How do I Understand and Use Shutter Speed?

I am continuing from where we left off when we previously talked about photography. This post is a part of the series of posts on Photography Basics, a series born out of my interest in the subject. In this series, I write and share with you what I get to learn about the topic. The impressions are entirely mine, and you are free to differ. (Though I don’t wish you to.)

Shutter speed is one of the most important things to consider in photography; the others being the aperture, focal length, and ISO. So far we’ve covered aperture in detail. Before we get to talk about shutter speed, we must first understand what a shutter is.

What is Shutter?

Shutters are like curtains. And, what do curtains do? They control the amount of light entering a room. Similarly, shutters help control the amount of light falling onto the imaging sensor through the lens. The basic mechanism in cameras is that when you click the shutter button, or tell the camera to capture an image – by releasing the shutter (that’s what it is called, technically), the camera opens and closes the shutter to expose the imaging sensor to the light. The imaging sensor captures this light and produces an image that is then written into the memory card and displayed on the LCD panel of the camera.

What is a Shutter Speed? And, what are fast and slow shutter speeds?

Shutter Speed is a representation for the length of time for which the shutter remains open. But, why speed? Speed, in photography, is more than just a figure of speech. Understand that the imaging sensor, by default, captures the image for only a frame of time. In some advance-level DSLRs, this frame of time can be as fast as 8000th of a second. But, you can regulate the image by manipulating the amount of time for which the shutter lets the light pass through to the imaging sensor – hence, fast and slow shutter speeds.

A fast shutter speed means that the imaging sensor is exposed to the light for only a fraction of a second; that the shutter opens and closes speedily (as speedily as 8000th of a second, as we just discussed). So, the light is exposed to the imaging sensor for only a short amount of time. So, if you see photographs of people hung in the air as they jumped, it was probably the camera that captured them at higher shutter speeds. Here’s a picture that my friend Arun shared with me specially for this post! Arun is a blogger, too. I love reading his blogs IdleMusingz and Lulling Lores.

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Whereas, a slow shutter speed means that the shutter remains open for anything longer than a second (technically, anything slower and longer than a 100th of a second should be called slow shutter speed). Today’s cameras can have slower shutters that open for as long as 30 seconds to capture one frame. That’s actually slow. And, then there’s this bulb mode, where the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter button is in the released position. It is like 30 seconds of slow shutter speed multiplied by the amount of time the shutter button is released – something of that sort. But, that can be controlled by an intervalometer, which, as the name suggests, can be used for taking pictures at regular intervals.

How do I apply the understanding of shutter speed while capture images?

To capture an image, as you already now, you need the right focus, an aperture that lets in sufficient light onto the imaging sensor, an ISO that’s set to sufficient light sensitivity, and a sufficient shutter speed to capture the details. Irrespective of what or where you are capturing, you will need a combination of all these.

If, for example, you are shooting in the dark (or want to create a dramatic effect that shows flow), to set your camera to capture for longer shutter durations, because to capture a sharp image you will have to let in more light onto the imaging sensor. But, this again is subjective.

I prefer to shoot in the Aperture Priority mode. So, all I am supposed to do is control the aperture. The camera system controls the other elements based on the aperture I choose. This means that if I choose f/4, the camera system will analyze the scene and then set the other values automatically for me. Typically, a 2:1 ratio is associated for the aperture and shutter speed calculations.

How do I create special or artistic effects?

To capture images creatively, you have to learn to adjust your creativity to match the capabilities of your camera. There are lot of techniques available on the Internet that I found were easy to try. The motion blur effect that you see in all those utterly-clichéd photographs (Sorry, but no sorry.) of waterfalls, seascapes, and clouds are the result of slower shutter speeds. Here’s what I captured on my way to Harihareshwar (Konkan area), some years back.

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Feeling dizzy looking at the picture? Me too!

You can combine a relatively slower shutter speed with panning to create a motion blur. Some photographers use this technique in sports and automotive photography. For those who don’t know about panning, it is a technique where the camera is fixed to a tripod and then moved from one point to another keeping the motion horizontally parallel to either the ground or the movement of the subject.

Are there any rules?

Yes; Keep the shutter speed inversely proportional to the aperture. The wider the aperture, the slower the shutter speed. Otherwise, you may end up over exposing or under exposing your photographs.

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That one’s from my Flickr profile.

I am still experimenting with the shutter speed: My Canon IXUS HS is a Point & Shoot, which powers up to only about 3 frames per second. So, I don’t have a lot of ground for a high speed action. The truth is:  Your creativity is your only limit.

Until next time, happy clicking!

What is Aperture?

This post is a part of the series of posts on Photography Basics.


I’ve been reading about it ever since I decided on nurturing my interest in photography. And, the more I read about it, the more I feel the need to read about it. Of course, experimentation follows reading – in fact, experimentation trumps reading – but it is always good to know things before you try them. And, hence this post.

In photography, what is aperture?

In simple terms, it is the hole/space through which the light (and hence the image) travels through the lens onto the imaging sensor and, if available, through the viewfinder. The aperture is one of the most important points to consider while capturing images. The other important points are the focal length, the ISO, and the shutter speed.

Basically, it is the right setting of the aperture that helps you bring either everything into the focus or only the subject by blurring the background. But, how does that happen? That happens because the aperture controls the amount of light entering into the lens and onto the imaging sensor. And – unfortunately – here’s the catch! A large aperture doesn’t mean more light onto the sensor. In fact, it is the opposite; A small aperture means that the lens is open wide enough to pass abundant light onto the imaging sensor.

How does the aperture affect the depth of field?

You can control the light entering the lens using a diaphragm. A diaphragm is a device (if that is the right word) that functions much like the pupil in a human eye – Diaphragm controls the diameter of the lens opening. The structures within this diaphragm are called stops. Each stop represents are definitive number that defines the opening of the lens.

The lens aperture is typically written as an f-number, which is also called f-stop. This f-stop represents the ratio of focal length to the opened aperture diameter. The following picture, which is taken from the Wikipedia page for aperture – which I think best describes the concept – represents the range of aperture. Remember that lower the aperture number, larger the opening of the lens.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Lens exposure per f-stop: Wikipedia (Image Credits) best describes the concept of aperture. Look how the aperture settings change for each f-stop

 

Wikipedia mentions, “Reducing the aperture size increases the depth of field”. This means that you will choose a smaller aperture number when you want to cover everything between the subject and the photograph’s actual plane of focus, with the subject and the plane of focus included. For a shallower depth of field, and to isolate the subject from its plane of focus (Yes, for that creamy bokeh!), you will use a large aperture – typically something like f/4.

Let me make it simpler for you:

  • If you want the entire picture in focus, use the following formula:

Entire Area in Focus = Greater DOF = Smaller Opening in Lens = Higher f-stop

(f/8 through f/16)

  • If you want only the subject in focus, use the following formula:

Only Subject in Focus = Shallower DOF = Larger Opening in Lens = Smaller f-stop

(f/5.6 through f/1.4)

You can have f-stops that are smaller than f/1.4 and larger than f/16, but I am only using those figuratively here – to give you the idea.

How does the understanding of aperture affect my photography?

Switch from the automatic mode on your camera. If you are using a DSLR, switch to the “A” mode from the “PASM” modes available. For those who are new to this setting, the DSLR allows modes other than the two at the extreme ends of the spectrum – the Automatic and the Manual modes. The PASM here stands for Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual Mode. For those of you who are using a point and shoot (P&S) camera, use the manual mode and set the aperture. You will have to dig into the menus, because every P&S has its own style of menus.

Select Aperture Priority as the mode for shooting. Aperture Priority is like a semi-automatic mode of shooting – but with a difference. Based on the aperture you set, the camera calculates and chooses the best possible ISO and shutter speed. You can use this to practice and master your understanding on aperture. Once you are habitual with the change in the shutter speed and ISO based on the aperture you choose, you can experiment with the Manual Mode, while changing any of these elements – Experimentation, as I said, trumps theoretical knowledge.

Do “fast” and “slow” lenses have anything to do with aperture?

A little background before we come to that question… Lenses come with either fixed aperture or variable aperture. For example, the 70-200mm f/2.8 denotes that across the focal length of the lens (70mm and 200mm, respectively), the lens will maintain fixed aperture of f/2.8; and the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 means that at 70mm, the lens will get you f/4.0 aperture and at 300mm, the lens will get you f/5.6 aperture.

Let us go back to the basics now. The lens aperture, as we discussed, denotes the lens opening diameter (managed by the diaphragm). A larger opening – which means a smaller f-number – will help you capture a lot of light, and a lot of details in your image. So, for a smaller f-number, opt for faster shutter speed. If this is too technical, read how simply Wikipedia defines this for you, “The aperture is proportional to the square root of the light admitted, and thus inversely proportional to the square root of required exposure time, such that an aperture of f/2 allows for exposure times one quarter that of f/4.”

Note that for both the fixed and the variable aperture lenses, we consider the maximum aperture opening as the most useful. This value of the maximum aperture opening is also called the lens speed. Lenses with aperture openings equal to or wider than f2.8 are called faster lenses. These lenses will give you faster focusing (usually, in combination with sharper picture, better detail retention, and faster shutter speeds). And, because you can focus faster with these lenses, they are called “fast” lenses. The lenses, though, are typically expensive.

I hope I have understood the concept of aperture, and that I was able to reproduce my knowledge correctly. I’d like you to let me know if there are any improvements.

Happy clicking!

What are the Advantages of DSLRs over Point and Shoot Cameras?

This post is a part of the series of posts on Photography Basics.


From all the question I’ve had on the subject, this one was perhaps the most common: What’s the advantage of a DSLR (or a mirrorless) over a Point and Shoot digital camera? This post lists down the points I gleaned.

Though it is true that the new Single Lens Translucent Mirror (SLT) or Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILCs) are technologies that are different from the DSLRs, for the purpose of the post we will consider those as part of the DSLRs. I could have used the Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILCs) as the differentiating category, but the sensor size is smaller than the commonly used APS-C in the popular SLTs and MILCs by Sony. And, the sensor does make a difference to the picture quality.

If you are a novice, and are yet to explore the limits of your Point and Shoot (P&S) digital camera, I recommend that you to look into the controls other than the Automatic mode to learn photography. This will help you learn about the things that your P&S is capable of doing, other than clicking pictures and shooting videos.

So, here are some of the advantages of DSLRs over P&S cameras:

Speed: I use a P&S. And, I’ve noticed that those of my friends who use a DSLR are able to start their cameras and shoot pictures, while my P&S just starts and focuses correctly. I’ve noticed a considerable difference in the focus speeds, too. In fact, the time lag between the shots is considerably lesser in a DSLR. The time lag is on account of the processor writing the captured data into the memory card.

Focus and Auto-focus: Though today’s P&S are equipped to focus faster, there’s still no way you can manually set a focus point. Of course, there are settings like spot metering that can help you restrict the area of focus, but setting focus manually can help you get shots even when something stands in front of your subject. Also, you cannot lock the focus point once the focus is set correctly. With DSLRs, you can do that, too.

Lens: I know how frustrating it is to not be able to change the lens. And, the basic-level P&S do not provide enough zoom, too. Besides, even if they do, I would compromise because of the variable aperture (and hence on the low-light photographing capabilities, if any). And, not having the capability to change lenses means that you can neither upgrade the lenses that you use on those cameras nor can you experiment with your photography.

Large Depth of Field (DOF): The P&S can never provide a shallower DOF, unless you are using the advanced P&S, which still are no match for full-frame DSLRs as far as the beautiful, creamy bokeh is concerned. The lenses on a P&S are designed to provide you zooming capabilities. But, because those lenses are fixed and come with the in-built variable aperture, you cannot manually set the parameters of the camera to capture images.

Lack of Controls: A P&S has lesser controls on the body. Of course, the controls are still there, but are limited and are rolled into the menus. So, for each shot, you have to dig into the menus to change the settings. This is time consuming.

Image Quality: This is purely subjective to opinions. Some say that the quality is more than enough. In fact, I am one of those who stand by this argument. But, the truth is, the sensor size is perhaps too small to capture the details. And, all the copper wiring and circuitry in the sensor is placed just too close to receive enough light to capture the details. This affects the image quality, mostly negatively, and pixels and white dots appear in the images that are capture in insufficiently lit conditions. And, that is why I will not go for the advanced point and shoot or the interchangeable compact system camera (CSC), because irrespective of how good my lenses are, I will not be able to get good quality low-light images. After all, there are, and will always be, some images that I would wish to capture in low light.

Should I go for a DSLR?

Big question. And, to answer that, we must break the requirements in parts. What are the requirements: Events and Weddings or Casual and street photography? If you are serious with photography, if you have tested the limits of your current P&S (and feel that it is time for you to upgrade), if you think that you can invest more money into the ecosystem (for example, batteries and chargers, external flashes, tripods, memory cards, and remote release cables), and if you have interest (or want to make money capturing) events or weddings, go for a DSLR.

What all should I buy?

It depends on your requirements. Consult a pro. I am an enthusiast photographer – this in one way increases my challenge with what equipment I buy, because I love experimenting with my equipment. I will probably never take up this hobby as a profession. Consequently, I do need a high-end camera. I might go for a full frame camera. But, I will certainly buy one macro lens, one fixed aperture zoom lens, one prime lens, a tripod, a shutter release cable/remote, a couple of filters (UV and ND), and – may be – a tele-converter. But, this is not a definitive list; I might skip one or two things. I think the question zeros in on what your requirements are. A pro knows what industry or vertical they specialize into, so they will go for equipment and lenses that deliver quality in only that vertical. But, for people like me, the sky is the limit. Or, maybe not.

Right, so back to where we started. I hope I have been able to help you find an answer to your question; I hope you now know what you can and might buy. I would love to hear from you!

What are “full frame” cameras?

This post is a part of the series of posts on Photography Basics.


I like to share what I learn. And, photography is one topic that I talk about quite often, these days. Here’s the answer to one question I researched for, recently…

As this skilful artistry of photography evolved after the invention of the camera, for some unknown reason, the 35mm became the standard size for all film cameras. All the film cameras, like the Yashica I used when I was a kid, contained film rolls that sized a picture at 35mm (width) and 24mm (height). And, this trend continued as we moved over from the film cameras to the digital cameras.

Based on the timeline, it is somewhere back in 2002 that the first digital “full frame” cameras were introduced. And, because the Canon’s marketing guys needed everyone to get attracted with a larger sensor on a camera, they chose to refer to it as “full frame.” Although, “full frame” is not technically correct, because there may be a time when a new sensor develops with larger dimensions.

There are different sensor sizes available on different cameras. Some of the commonly used ones, in the descending order of the sizes, are (in WIDTH by HEIGHT):

  • 35mm “full frame” format, which contains a 36mm X 24mm sensor
  • The “cropped sensor” APS-C size, which contains approximately a 23.5mm X 15.7mm sensor
  • Micro Four Thirds, which contain approximately 17mm X 13 mm sensor

What difference does the sensor size make?

The simple answer is: The bigger the sensor, the more light it captures. And, the more light a sensor captures, the better your photograph looks; even in low light. But, just having a bigger sensor does not make either your photographs better or you a better photographer. There will still be the other elements and the skilful artistry that unique to only you.

A full frame sensor gives you about 84° angle of view on a 24mm lens. But, an APS-C sensor will give you about 1.5 times of the same image, and consequently about 63° angle of view on the same lens. This means an additional zoom-in into the subject. Such image sensor sizes are popular amongst the wildlife photographers, who would like to zoom closer to their subjects.

On a micro four third sensor, if the lens is compatible, a 24mm lens will deliver almost twice the zoom. Consequently, the 84° angle of view will look like 42° angle of view, and will produce an output of about 48mm.

Does the sensor size impact Depth of Field?

Yes, it does. The simple rule is: Depth of Field (DOF) is in an inverse proportion to the image sensor size. So, you get a shallower DOF for a larger image sensor.

What are the advantages of a “full frame” sensor?

From what I’ve read, there aren’t any advantages other than the following:

  • In comparison to the other, smaller sensor sizes, such as the APS-C, a bigger sensor captures more light. And, more light means more details. However, the image quality is a combination of the sensor size, the pixel count, and the sensor circuitry and image read-out mechanisms.
  • We read that DOF is inversely proportional to the sensor size. This means that for a 24mm lens, the DOF will be different for APS-C and full frame cameras.

Photography Basics

Lessons for the Novice Photographer in Me!

Photography has long been a subject of interest to me, and I will – someday – like to test the limits of my knowledge on the subject and the equipment (that is a camera). I would like to call myself a hobbyist photography reader, and not even a hobbyist photographer, because I hardly get to experiment with my currently owned point-and-shoot camera.

Based on what I have learned on the subject, I am bringing this new series of posts on Photography. I hope you will like reading posts from this thread. In this thread, I will talk on different topics – from what I learned or have read on the Internet.

Happy reading.