#PHOTO TIP – Upgrading from a compact to a DSLR

You’ve done it.

You’ve made the jump and replaced your compact camera with a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR) and in doing so you’ve embarked on a new adventure that will both inspire and frustrate you, but you’ll never stop learning.

You’re excited and you’re itching to get out there and start snapping with your new gear; but maybe now is a good time to take a brief pause and think about the differences between your new DSLR and the compact it has replaced.

Your new camera will, as you become familiar with it, take you to new heights as a photographer but there are a few pitfalls you need to watch out for.

Perhaps the biggest of these is the fact that you now have a selection of lenses to choose from; and that selection is likely to grow.

Choosing the right lens

The lens on your compact – because it was not interchangeable – was designed to suit all occasions; now it is up to you to make sure you have the right lens for each occasion, and then you will need to get used to the different characteristics of each lens.

Click here to read our Blog “What lenses will I need for wildlife photography”.


Blurred photos

Even though your camera has an incredibly clever auto focus system, you are still likely to get a few blurred photos in the early days.

Don’t worry, it’s not your new camera, it’s you; you need to learn to hold it steady.

It is almost certainly heavier than your old compact and the lens sticks out further so there is a bit more technique needed to hold it properly.

Don’t use a bigger lens than you need to

The bigger your lens is the heavier it is, and the heavier it is the harder it is to hold it steady. The smallest vibration or shake can cause your photo to be blurred.

Of course there will be occasions when you need your longest lens to get up close to your subject, but if you have a smaller lens that covers the same focal length, use it – it will be lighter and easier to keep steady – a steady lens means a sharp photograph.

Even though a long lens (say 400mm) will bring your subject nice and close, until you’ve had a bit of practice, there’s a good chance of camera shake.

Far better to use a smaller, lighter lens like a 200mm and the crop image to what you want.

A blurred photograph is almost impossible to correct, a sharp image can be cropped quite drastically and still look good.

Image Stabilisation/ Vibration Reduction

Most telephoto and zoom lenses now have a feature to help reduce the effects of vibration and camera shake. If your lens has this feature, learn how it works and use it.

Aperture and Shutter Speed

Most people use their compact cameras on a Program or Auto setting and never have to think about things like Aperture or Shutter Speed.

If you want, you can use your new DSLR with a Program or Auto setting; but you’ll be giving up a lot of control and, even if you are happy to do this, you should still be aware of the settings the camera is choosing.

Why?, because it will have a noticeable effect on your photographs.

Exposure is a combination of 3 variables: Aperture, shutter speed and ISO


Aperture is measured in something called f-stops, and in very basic terms is the amount the lens opens to allow light onto the camera sensor. The lower the number, the larger the opening.

Typically a lens will have a maximum aperture of f2.8 or f4, and a minimum aperture of f22.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is exactly what is says, the speed at which the shutter opens and closes to allow light onto the camera’s sensor.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second.

As your camera’s aperture opens wider to let in more light you can set higher shutter speeds.


In simple terms, the ISO setting controls the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light. The higher the ISO setting the less natural light you need to keep shooting. We’ll take a closer look at ISO in a separate post.

Picking the right combination

In most day time situations you have several choices about which shutter speed and which aperture to set.

For example: A shutter speed of 1/640 combined with an f-stop of f4.5 will give the same exposure as a shutter speed of 1/250 combined with an f-stop of f8.

Although the exposure will be the same, the photograph will have differences.


So how do you choose?


Depth of field

Depth of Field (DoF) is a term used to describe how much of your photo is in focus, from front to back.

A larger f-stop setting gives a greater depth of field.

Those shooting Landscape photographs tend to want the depth of field to be as deep as possible. Because their subject is not moving they can use a high f-stop setting and a low shutter speed.

Wildlife or sports photographers tend to want to make their subject stand out against the background and will often need to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action (avoid the subject being blurred because it is moving).

So, given a choice between the two aperture/shutter speed combinations mentioned above, the landscape photographer will choose 1/250s + f8

The wildlife or sports photographer would choose 1/640s + f4.5.

It will take a bit of time to become accustomed to how the depth of field can vary between lenses but the best thing to do is keep experimenting.

Keep Practising

Make sure that before you set off on your first safari you are familiar with your camera and lenses.

Photograph the same scene with each of your lenses – shoot with your zoom lens at a selection of focal lengths – until you can visualise how each lens will capture the scene. It will help you make sure you have the right lens on your camera in each situation.