Get the facts before you buy: 10 secrets of digital SLRs that you absolutely,
positively have to know now.
3) Absolutely Buy the Kit Lens -- Just Don't Make It Your Only Lens.
Their barrels are often plastic, they may have a not-quite-finished feel, and all of them are slow. They are the manufacturers' kit lenses for DSLRs, and they're also the best $100 you can spend on a lens. Typically 18-55mm (with most DSLRs, that's the equivalent of about 29-83mm in 35mm film format), kit lenses span a useful range from true wide-angle (for scenics, tight interiors) to short tele (for close-ups and portraits). It wasn't that long ago that serious amateurs would buy three lenses to cover this range.
As our tests have shown, kit lenses are generally quite sharp across the focal length range. But you do get what you pay for: They may produce noticeable distortion (especially at wide angle), and, with dim maximum apertures (typically f/3.5-5.6), they're not suited well to low-light shooting. But as lightweight, general-purpose lenses they're great bargains, so always buy the kit lens with a new DSLR.
Of course, the big draw of an SLR is its flexibility, so sooner or later you're going to want more lenses. You can go shorter, with an ultrawide-angle zoom (e.g., 10-22mm or 12-24mm), or you can go longer. You may opt for a high-speed lens (with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or wider), or, if you want to do very high-quality close-up work, a dedicated macro lens. Or you may want a funky, fun lens like a fisheye or a Lensbaby.
Camera makers with existing catalogs of "legacy" lenses designed for 35mm film cameras -- Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony (which takes Konica Minolta lenses) -- are adding additional digital-only lenses to their lineups. They have smaller image coverage to match the APS-sized sensors in their cameras. These are very good buys.
Pop Photo TIP: Don't buy another lens just because you think you might need it or because your know-it-all friend tells you should have it. Shoot lots of photos with the lens(es) you have, and it will become very clear which additional ones you need.
4) You're the Reason Your Pictures Aren't Sharp.
The most common reason for blurry pictures is hand shake. After that come subject movement and improper focus. Unsharp lenses are way down on the list of reasons for fuzziness.
So if you don't use a tripod, a genuine wonder of modern photo technology is optical image stabilization. Such systems make the light path in your camera zig when you zag. If you can handhold a camera steady enough at 1/60 sec for a sharp shot, stabilization will let you get a sharp shot at 1/15, 1/8, or maybe even 1/4 sec. (These are termed a 2-stop, 3-stop, or 4-stop gain.)
Most DSLR makers have adopted one of two types of image stabilization: lens- or sensor-based (see table, page 94).
Lens-based stabilization: Sensors in the lens detect your hand movement, then signal tiny motors to wiggle a group of lens elements to counter it.
An important advantage is sensory feedback -- you can see it happen. Another benefit:The mechanism is matched precisely to the lens in use. Some systems have a setting to stabilize the lens in the up/down direction only, letting you pan a moving subject smoothly. Stabilized lenses (but not digital-only ones) also work on the camera maker's film SLRs.
The disadvantages: Image-stabilized lenses tend to be pricey, with the least expensive starting at more than $400. They're also heavier (although not by much) than nonstabilized counterparts, and they use more battery power.
Sensor-based stabilization: This puts the motion sensors right in the camera body and moves the digital imager itself to counteract your shake.
Its supreme advantage is that it will work, with rare exceptions, with any lens you can mount on the camera. Other advantages: Lighter weight, less bulk, and somewhat lower power needs than lens-based systems.
Disadvantages: You can't preview the effect, since you can't view the image directly from the sensor (the few DSLRs with live preview lack sensor stabilization). And although such systems take the focal length of the mounted lens into account, they still can't be matched exactly to the lens, nor built into a film camera.
Pop Photo Tip: Great for most any kind of photography -- but especially low-light, candids, and wildlife -- image stabilization, whether lens- or sensor-based, is worth the investment.