Hi Janice: I have been buried at work lately, and have been traveling back and forth to Florida. Headed back for Christmas a week from today. Finding less and less time for forum and photographic activities. However, I will add just a couple comments.
Contrary to popular opinion, "raw" is not an acronym (JPEG for instance, and and TIFF stand for phrases, like "Joint Photographic Experts Group,": and Tagged Image File Format"). I see so many people capitalizing it as "RAW" which is technically incorrect. In this case "raw" refers to the (perceived) state of the image. Each camera manufacturer has their own raw file format which is the way the camera processor converts and stores the image information from the signals captured by the sensor. Interestingly, from what I have read, all raw images are really a rudimentary form of the TIFF format.
Doesn't really matter. What Al said is the most important part. Raw files are "unprocessed" images. If you shoot in JPEG or TIFF (many cameras allow that as an additional choice), you are letting the camera processor make decisions about the image for you that you cannot "undo" later in post processing software. And, particularly these days, the post processing software is so good that you really don't want to give up the opportunity to make your own conversion choices.
Sounds like you like to make cookies. Some explanations use the analogy of baking to explain this. Shooting in JPEG or TIFF is the equivalent of a "baked" image, where raw image files are kind of like cookie dough.
I actually wrote an explanation of this on my Blog a couple years back: http://lightcentric.wordpress.com/2009/08/09/why-you-should-shoot-raw-and-some-of-my-other-prejudices/
I am excited to see you making the "plunge" to a DSLR. What these cameras do is let you start to "make" photographic images rather than take snapshots. You have a lot of control over the way the image is captured and once you begin to understand the relationships of shutter speed, aperture, focal lengths and depth of field, you can really begin to be creative. Shots like this
are not by accident; they are planned, with a knowledge of all of the above "controls" that a DSLR style camera gives you.
Like Al, I have a series of articles on my Blog addressing fundamentals, like shutter speed, exposure, etc. (In fact, writing a series of long, e-mail tutorials to my sister when she bought a DSLR, was the genesis of my blog). I would start here: http://lightcentric.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/how-f-stops-work/
, and work through the series.
Like Al (we may be more alike that we banter about
), I started with a "small" megapixel camera - the Nikon D100 (which was 6.1 megapixels, just like the D70). The are capable of making great images. We are into megapixel overkill these days. My good friend and working pro, Ray Laskowitz purposely eschewed the highest megapixel new offering from Sony because it was just overkill. The sweet spot these days is probably something between 12 -16. But the real improvement from these earlier models is the noise-handling capability of these new sensors. The newer ones are incredible in low light situations, and at higher ISO settings. The D70 will do admirably with modest (100 - 400 ISO) settings and good lighting conditions.
There is one other investment I would strongly encourage that you get yourself a good quality tripod.