It’s like a chicken and egg quandary. What do I do? Should I buy an expensive Digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera first and hit the ground running, or do I learn the basics of photography before I plonk down the serious cash. Photography is an expensive hobby in some parts of the world, including mine because a good DSLR camera does not come cheap. It’s quite a steep jump in terms of cost and skills from ordinary point-and-shot cameras.
Learning the basics of photography makes sense, because it helps not only in photography but also in understanding the type of camera one eventually buys. Thanks to a few camera simulators available on the web (and also on smartphones), you don’t have to stay on theory. You can in fact try out the basics virtually when it comes to aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal length et al.
The SLR Camera Simulator (CameraSim)
The SLR Camera Simulator is probably the best online camera simulator of them all. It is an essential bookmark if you are a photography rookie. You can start of from the The SLR camera explained section which is a cool interactive display of how a DSLR works. It is a step-by-step walkthrough of what aperture, shutter speeds, and ISO settings are all about. It takes just about 2 minutes to learn.
The DSLR Camera Simulator is a virtual camera where you can twiddle around with the different settings and combos. Click the blue “i” (the help mode) to learn about the camera controls. In photography, everything starts with the light. So, keeping that at different points, you can tweak the other controls to click the “perfect” photo of the little girl. You can also check the tripod option to see how it enhances photos (and whether you should invest in one).
CameraSim is also available for purchase on iTunes. We have covered this app in greater detail here – Learn & Practice Camera Exposure Settings With CameraSim.
You can try out aperture, shutter, and ISO settings on three different pictures (dogs by the roadside, a close up of a tree, and river rapids), to see how they affect the three photos. With this virtual camera made in Flash, you don’t have to click to see the final result but you can observe the change as you move the sliders. You should also experiment with the aperture setting to see how the depth of focus changes.
The depth of focus is very difficult to replicate in virtual apps like these. Virtual cameras also don’t do the motion blur (that comes with a higher shutter value) that well, but still helps to understand what’s needed for a perfect shot.
The Camera Simulator is also available as a free iPhone app.
The SimCam is not as fancy as the above two apps. It relies more on pre-sets under a dropdown to show you the correlation between different settings. For instance as the above screen shows, you can learn the basics by changing the shutter speed and the F-number from the dropdown. The tool is effective enough to show you that photography is a lot about compensation…if one factor is naturally high, you have to compensate elsewhere to get the perfect shot.
Also, try out the Camera Shake tool to learn how to spot and avoid camera-shake, something that’s quite common if you don’t own a tripod.
In the end, these three are just simple simulators. The SLR Camera Simulator does the best job out of the three in my opinion. For instance, it does a far better job of displaying the balance needed between distance from the subject and focal length. The camera simulators help you get hands on with the settings before you get hands on with an actual camera. You can always come back and benchmark the settings for use in your real-world camera.
Here are two more of our photography posts that should help:
Learn Digital Camera Exposure Settings Using Your iPhone
Basics: Aperture and Shutter Speeds for Beginning Photographers
How did you learn the basics yourself? If you are a crackerjack photographer, send in your tips. It would be an education for beginners. Do you know of any other online camera simulator worth the click out there?