Getting Used to Your New DSLR!

Getting used to a new DSLR camera can be a daunting task, especially for folks moving from an APS-C to a full-frame sensor. Most of us that began our photographic journeys with a 35mm SLR felt a little “cramped” the first time we used a “crop body” DSLR like the original EOS Digital Rebel. We had to get used to the smaller, darker viewfinder and the much more narrow field of view. All of these things made us “adjust” our photographic “style” to accommodate the new medium, but adjust we did.

EOS 5D Mark II & EOS 50D

Today, folks that move from “crop body” DSLR cameras to their full-frame counterparts are experiencing a similar adjustment period and finding it a little disconcerting. Their favorite zoom lens doesn’t seem to “reach” as far as it once did and their wide angle lenses are not nearly as sharp around the edges as they once were. Many folks find themselves frustrated with images that just don’t seem as sharp and they begin to question their decision and the large sum of money they’ve just spent.

EOS 5D Mark II & EOS 50D

When I first started shooting with a 5D Mark II, I would swear that my 50D was producing sharper (raw) images using the same, high quality (L Series) lens. I couldn’t understand why my 5D2’s landscape shots at f/8 looked much “softer” than those taken with my 50D. I couldn’t comprehend why all my hand-held shots looked much softer than those taken with my 50D. What the hell was going on?

For those of you out there having this experience please know that you’re not alone. And please understand that it takes weeks and sometimes months to “learn” how to use your new full-frame camera and to “unlearn” some bad habits created by using a crop body camera. Here are a few key points to remember:

  • The higher the resolution your sensor is, the more sensitive it is to camera shake. The old adage of using a tripod below 1/125th of a second shutter speed becomes a vital rule when shooting with a full-frame DSLR.
  • Don’t let anyone mislead you. The depth of field obtained by a full-frame sensor is MUCH narrower than that of an APS-C sensor. Shooting at f/8 and “hoping” that everything in your scene will be in focus just doesn’t work on a full-frame sensor. Try shooting at f/11 – f/13 and setting your focus point 1/3rd of the way in the scene (hyperfocal rule) for best results.
  • Learn to zoom with your feet. Your 100mm lens is really a 100mm lens now, not the 160mm you’ve been used to. On the flip side, your 24mm wide angle is now REALLY wide!
  • Finally, the most important tip. Your 21 MP, full-frame sensor will distinctly present any shortcomings of your lenses in sharpness, contrast and chromatic aberrations. Trust me on this folks, your “consumer grade” zoom lens that you paid less than $500 for is NOT going to produce images on your new 5D Mark II that you’ll be proud to exhibit. Full-frame cameras really do need “professional grade” lenses.

One final thought on this topic. Practice with your new full-frame camera as much as possible. Make it your job to try different things and then review what works and what doesn’t during your post-capture processing. I’m a firm believer in the old saying, “Practice Makes Permanent, So Practice Right”. Use the correct shutter speed and aperture for each situation and immediately review your shots on the camera’s LCD screen to check for focus. Always use proper hand holding technique (Google Joe McNally “Da Grip”) and whenever possible use a tripod.

Learn how to make your new full-frame camera perform to it’s fullest potential and enjoy the journey. Learning for a lifetime is a gift from God!

13 thoughts on “Getting Used to Your New DSLR!

  1. Hi Jeff, I have been following your site off and on over the past couple months and have been soaking up the information you give out so generously. Thank you for not keeping secrets!

    I have a question I would like your input on as it has a lot to do with this post. I had used a 35mm film camera for years, then took a break after my Canon was stolen and woke up in the digital camera world. I have used a Canon SD1000 7.1 MP point and shoot just for the everyday family and vacation shots over the past couple years. I am now looking to purchase a DSLR and modest lens arsenal and am wondering whether to get the 50D or 5D2…crop body versus full-frame.

    Fortunately, money is not the object here. I am part of the marketing department of a medical device company and we want to start taking some pictures of our equipment in house. I know I am up against a bit of a learning curve, but I am a quick study and have explored every setting on my point and shoot Canon and at least am familiar with Canon’s way of organizing menus etc. Noting what you said about “getting lazy” and not following basic principles of photography due to the camera doing some of the work for you with the 50D and you having to unlearn that approach to taking shots, I am wondering if it would be better for me to skip that process and pick up where I left off so to speak with the full frame 5D2. What do you think?

    I am not a caveman when it comes to digital, I just haven’t tightened the belt enough to drop the cash for a full SLR set-up. You might be surprised with how I have been able to get by with the SD1000, and the quality of shots that I can get using the settings to their potential on that little camera. The quality of the shot and the resolution and lighting options are just nowhere near what I need for the shots we need for our marketing materials. The vast majority of the shots will be indoor (hospital, doctor’s office) under florescent light, close ups, and studio shots.

    Any recommendations on a camera body? And if you have time, I was pondering lenses as well, some I am considering is the Canon 50mm f/1.4, possibly the 24-70mm f/2.8 or 24-105 f/4L as well as possibly the EF 100mm f/2.8 macro USM. Any thoughts?


    • Luke,

      Thanks for reading. If money is no object and your primary use is for on-location and in-studio shots then the 5D Mark II is an excellent choice. The Canon 24-105mm zoom is also an excellent choice and it’s the lens that I use most often for product shots. If you’re starting from scratch I’d recommend looking at both Canon and Nikon systems before making your decision. Nikon’s D700 is another great full-frame camera and their tack sharp but inexpensive 70-300mm VR lens make it a great combo for product photography. You can rent each camera and lens for a week and then make a more informed decision for your company. I suspect you’ll end up with Canon gear but I am wee bit prejudiced after 30 years.


  2. Hai Jeff,

    Do you also have to use a tripod below 1/125 when you have an IS-lense?

    Why should I buy a f 2.8 lense? I understand that I have to use more often f 8 or 11.

    Get well soon!

    • Jacques,

      Thanks for reading. Image stabilization can help but any blurring caused by camera movement will be evident when viewed at 100%. As for the fast lens (f/2.8 or lager) the main reason is shallow depth of field or shooting in low light situations. I own only one “fast” prime lens these days and only use it for really low light situations.


  3. One of the first things I noticed when I borrowed my friend’s Nikon D700 Full Frame camera was that f/8 and f/11 became relevant again. With a cropped body, even f/5.6 can give a lot of depth of field as you noted above in your reply.

    Something I strongly suggest new full frame owners do is to research how other people set up their cameras. For Nikon, I got a lot of tips from Scott Kelby’s D’Town podcasts and Ken Rockwell’s online user guide.

    Ditto on the use of quality glass. Great post, Jeff!

  4. Jeff, can I just put up gentle opposition to the the “unlearn bad habits” part? Maybe it’s not a bad habit, but just something one does with the camera in their hands. Sure, there are full-frame and there are crop bodies cameras. I won’t say one is better than the other – sometimes it’s a matter of what your needs are and what you finances can afford. I don’t think it’s a bad habit to do something with one camera with success,when, to try to use it on a different one without sucess consititutes a bad habit. Merely an adaptation is needed.

    Very informative post, though. Which is why we all come to Serious Amateur Photography blog!

    • Hey Mark,

      Let me explain. These are MY bad habits. They may not be yours.

      For example, on a 10 MP crop body DSLR like the 40D with an image stabilized lens I could hand-hold a shot down to around 1/20th of a second and get acceptable results. This was never possible on a 35mm SLR using film and it’s not really possible on a full-frame 21 MP camera like the 5D2. When using the 40D/50D I “got away” with this and became “lazy” about shooting from a tripod. This bad habit of mine has caused me to miss several really nice shots in the past few months just because I was too lazy to setup my tripod.

      Another example is depth of field. I could shoot a portrait (or product shot) from 20 feet at f/5.6 and have almost everything in focus on my 40D/50D. Again, this was never the case using my old F-1 SLR and film and I’ve found it’s not the case on my 5D2. Using my 40D/50D I almost never hit the DOF preview button (yes, I’m that lazy) and this really bit me during my first product shots with the 5D2.

      In both these examples I “knew” the correct technique to get the shots I wanted but I’d become “lazy” about following the basic principals of photography I’d learned 30 years ago shooting film. The same applies to learning how to shoot with the Canon G10. It’s taken months to learn how to use this incredible little camera and it requires a very different mindset to create a really nice image.


  5. “Practice Makes Permanent, So Practice Right” is so true. Thanks for that one I hadn’t heard it put that way before. Great post and a good list of things to pay attention to for FF.

  6. Hi Jeff
    Useful and pragmatic post. I have seen that you have used your 5D most of the time lately; I guess that following your own advice (practice, practice, practice).
    I have recently bought a 1D Mark III and, while it is not an FF camera, it has a bigger sensor. I haven’t noticed so far a lot of a difference (other than getting nicer pictures) but still, your advise here is good for me.
    Thanks for the post.


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