Learning to master a DSLR is a great place to start for anyone wishing to enter the media or art worlds. Whether you want to become a filmmaker or journalist, or are still shaping your ambitions, understanding how DSLRs work can open up many interesting career paths.
So if your university offers the chance to borrow and use these cameras, take it! You’ll learn so much working with faculty and technicians who have the expertise and passion for sharing what these amazing cameras can do. Their enthusiasm for passing on these skills is sure to inspire you. To find out more, here’s a brief introduction to the DSLR to show what they’re about and all you have to gain.
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Why choose a DSLR?
Despite the competition from smartphones and mirrorless cameras, DSLRs are still the best tool of choice when studying photography and videography (and a firm favorite among many professionals). Why? They’re versatile and practical, excellent for getting the creative juices flowing, and have features that you just don’t get on other cameras – brilliant battery life, an optical viewfinder, and full exposure control, to name a few.
“But my phone is smaller, quicker, easier,” you might think. Of course, smartphone manufacturers will often claim that their cameras can match DSLR image quality in a compact package, but phones are limited by shorter battery and memory capacity, dodgy built-in audio recording, and even worse zoom. In the real world, smartphones are a handy creation tool for mobile journalism and social media content, but they don’t cut it when filming professional productions or capturing high-res images.
While phones do a lot of the hard work for us, thanks to their automatic point-and-shoot approach, that’s not always a good thing. DSLRs boost your technical and problem-solving skills, encourage experimentation and reward your dedication and continued effort with some incredible effects. It’s no surprise that creative engagement rockets when using a DSLR vs a smartphone, without the distractions that happen every time a notification pings through.
Better image quality
The sensors found inside full-frame DSLRs are so much bigger than a smartphone or compact camera, meaning they let in more light for better dynamic range and low-light performance – think sharp, high-contrast photos. DSLRs have both a viewfinder and LCD screen for creative composition, and their good old-fashioned battery life is perfect for powering through day-long shoots. Add fully interchangeable lenses to that mix, and they’re pretty hard to beat.
Moving from student to professional
DSLRs put you in full creative control because they allow you to set the exposure and focus, rather than relying on Auto modes to 'guess' what the settings should be. You’ll soon become a confident photographer or videographer by following these steps.
Basic DSLR skills
- Beginners should get familiar with the dials, buttons, and menus – where they are and what they do
- Tell the camera how much control you want over settings by using the mode dial
- Choose Semi-automatic exposure modes like Aperture and Shutter priority as a good compromise between control and speed, while you’re learning the ropes
Advanced DSLR skills
- Experiment with the camera’s sensitivity to light (ISO), the depth of field (how much of the scene is in focus), and the exposure length
- To create beautiful bokeh background for a portrait, set a wide aperture. To film a scene inside or in low lighting, boost the ISO
- To progress further, play with the camera’s clever autofocus modes, and swap out lenses for macro, cinema, and even telephoto options
The DSLR is your enabler to becoming a media pro, and experimentation is key for understanding how the whole DSLR system works together. You’ll know you’re getting good when you can use the camera manually, interpret the light in a scene, and use composition in clever ways to consider color, leading lines, and framing. These are key skills for a career in media, whatever your specialism and subject.
How to learn videography
The practices of filmmaking composition aren’t too different from those of still photography, and you can create drama with framing. One of the biggest differences is of course camera movement – not great for photos but essential for dynamic storytelling. For smooth and steady video when shooting handheld, a gimbal is a great tool.
Essential video production skills also include learning the importance of sound, how to record audio, and even trying out different mics – like a studio, shotgun, and lavalier – to suit your environment. From choosing a frame rate to understanding T-stops, it’s simpler than you’d think to go from shooting stills to capturing cinematic video footage using a DSLR.
Which DSLR camera is best?
A good question! The major names in the DSLR business are Canon and Nikon, and you can’t beat the range of lenses available for these two brands. Both have models for beginner, enthusiast, and advanced users, offering powerful 4K and even 8K video capabilities that make them ideal for multimedia degrees. You buy into a camera system, so it’s a good idea to pick a brand and stick with it. That way, any lenses, and accessories will be fully compatible too.
Although pro-level DSLRs can be too pricey and complicated for some courses, it’s important to choose a camera that won’t be outgrown either.
Image via Nikonusa.com
For example, the advanced Nikon D850 ($2500) delivers 45.7 MP resolution, value, and decent video specs. To get the most from this camera, you can enable “zebra striping” to indicate overexposed areas and focus peaking to highlight what’s in focus.
Image via usa.canon.com
For enthusiasts, Canon’s EOS 90D ($1,200) offers 4K video resolution, plus full HD 120fps for smooth slow-motion filming. Like the D850, it’s got a 3.5mm microphone input for clear audio recording.
Media courses are your gateway to success
If photography or videography is already your passion, you might be wondering; how can I turn that passion into a career? The benefits that come with media degree courses are definitely worth considering. Whether using DSLRs is a core module of the degree or an optional extra, you'll be learning skills that will create some exciting career options for the future. It will involve learning the technical and personal skills required by the industry with support from inspiring, knowledgeable staff, building up a portfolio of work, and collaborating with other like-minded people. What’s more, many universities lend out DSLR camera kit to their students free of charge to support their learning and assignments.
So there’s a lot to be said for DSLRs – no wonder they remain a firm favorite among professionals needing a creative and flexible system to capture their ideas. Master a DSLR and you will be developing foundations to take your media career in any direction you wish.
About the author
Lauren Scott is a professional journalist and photographer. In the tech industry for over ten years, Lauren has covered camera news, reviews and exclusive interviews. She is currently Managing Editor of Digital Camera World – one of the world’s leading photography websites – having previously served as Editor of the global magazine Digital Photographer.