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Breaking the MMA Lens – 3 need-to-know things about cameras (part 1)

They may seem technical but are actually pretty easy to understand. Whether it’s sports, portrait, street or anything else – these are the keys.

The camera needs light. After all, we see the light that reflects off things. The light bounces off an object into our eyes. That’s how we see. The camera works the same way. The light bounces off an object and into the camera.

Our eyes adjust to light in various ways. For example, our pupils become smaller or larger to let more or less light come into our eyes. The camera essentially does the same things. It adjusts to the amount of light.

When set to automatic, the camera adjusts itself. Sometimes the results are great and other times they’re not. We can adjust the camera ourselves, but we need to know what adjustments are possible. These are the three things to know:


Breaking the MMA Lens

Shutter speed is simple – it is how fast the shutter opens and closes on a shot. The faster it opens and closes, the less light can come into the camera. The slower it opens and closes, the more light comes into the camera. It’s that simple. The shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. 1/120 = a 120th of a second. Think of a second being a pie split up into 120 slices. 1/120 is one slice of that pie. That seems pretty fast, but in the camera world it isn’t particularly fast. Most digital cameras today go from 30 seconds to 1/4000th of a second and many variations in between.

Depending on the camera you have, the shutter speed can be set on a camera dial or on a set-up menu in the camera settings.

So, why is shutter speed important? Let’s look at a few examples. If you are photographing fast action you want to freeze it or the photo will look blurry. So, you use a fast shutter speed, say 1/1000th of a second and faster. If you have lower light and need more light to get into to the camera, a slower shutter speed might be the answer. A slower shutter speed in combination with some other settings (aperture and ISO) will also give you more detail. This is good for a landscape, where you want more detail.


The issue with slow shutter speeds is – how slow can you go? If the shutter speed is too slow, there’s more chance you’ll move during the shot. If you move, the camera moves and, oops, a blurry shot. With a DSLR the rule of thumb is: look at the size of the lens you’re shooting with. The size of the lens is generally equal to the slowest shutter speed you can hold the camera still for. For instance: on a 200mm lens you can only hold the camera still for 1/200th of a second. With a 60mm lens, you can hold the camera still for 1/60th of a second. With mirrorless cameras, you can probably go a little slower than that, but not much. Why, because there is no mirror in the mirrorless camera. A mirror shakes the camera as it moves.

If you are going to shoot at longer shutter speeds, you’ll need a tripod to hold the camera still. Tripods are very useful for some types of photography.


Breaking the MMA Lens
Figure 1 Slow shutter speed – 3.2 seconds. Increases detail and smooths out the water.

Race cars/Some sports: 1/2000 – 1/4000 sec

Bird in flight: 1/1000 – 1/4000 sec

MMA/Boxing: 1/1000 – 1/1500 sec

Still life/Portraits: 1/125 – 1/250 sec

Landscapes: 1/20 – 1/100 sec

Night shots: 8 – 30 seconds (those are not fractions)

Breaking the MMA Lens
Figure 2. Fast shutter speed freezes the action.

In the next part, we’ll talk about another need-to-know thing about cameras.


Joe LoBianco
Joe LoBianco
Joe LoBianco writes the photography column Breaking the MMA Lens for MMA Crossfire. New columns on the 1st and 15th of each month.

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