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I have a Nikon D7000 with a 50mm Nikkor prime lens. I would like to try some exercises to try and capture images of e.g. architecture in soft light, or in cities in the morning etc, that are much nicer than photos I would capture with my iPhone 12. I basically can only autofocus and shoot at the moment.

For example, exercises that show how careful adjustment of the new variables provided by the DSLR camera can make you take better photographs than on an iPhone, particularly concerning lighting effects on architecture/landscapes.

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    A D7000 with a 50 mm has been my favorite set-up for many years! It is superb for portraits and low light conditions but also a very good walk around lens because it is quite light and easy to carry. I thought I would use it about 10% of the time when I bought it, but ended up using it 95% of the time and my 18-270mm was mostly gathering dust in the closet. It usually needs auto focus micro adjustments though to get anything sharp at a large aperture. You can use live-view to work around that.
    – Orbit
    Apr 7 at 6:33

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The first thing I would note is that for architecture and landscapes, you're unlikely to see a huge difference between a DSLR and a phone except in terms of being able to better pull details out of the shadows because of the higher bit depth and having better pixel-peeping-level image quality because of the larger sensor providing better light gathering. Landscape photography tends to involve subjects that are far enough away that you're shooting at infinity focus-wise, so depth of field is meaningless.

There are exceptions, of course, such as when there are architectural elements in the near field that are interesting (e.g. statues in a courtyard), or where the ability to change to a more wide-angle or telephoto lens lets you get a shot that a cell phone can't capture (e.g. shooting the spire of Notre Dame with a telephoto lens or taking a shot of a building with limited distance to the next building with an ultra-wide lens).

Either way, you're seriously limiting the usefulness of a DSLR by limiting yourself to a single prime lens, and that length of prime in particular.

Although the focal length is different between that lens (50mm focal length with 75mm-equivalent angle of view) and a cell phone (typically about a 25mm–30mm-equivalent angle of view), you'll be limited in how much of a difference you can achieve, because you're not taking advantage of what makes interchangeable lens cameras powerful — the ability to use different lenses with dramatically different focal lengths.

And a 50mm prime is great for portrait photos in semi-controlled conditions (where you can be close to the subject) to experiment with depth of field and framing, or for doing walk-around photography to concentrate entirely on improving your framing. But for what you're trying to do, particularly on a crop body, it seems like a poor match. You'll have to get a long way from your subject to get a shot of a building with a lens whose 35mm-equivalent field of view is 75mm. And indoors, you'll end up stitching a dozen shots more often than not.

With only a single prime lens, the only experiments you can really do involve aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (unless you want to do experimental stuff like deliberately making the subject out of focus). You can't do a lot with distance, because the size of the subject changes so much with distance that you miss the potential for dramatic differences.

So I would recommend that you consider adding a couple of lenses to your collection. I'm a Canon shooter, so I can't say what exact lenses you should pick. The following advice is based on the range of the lenses and the fact that your camera is a crop body. You should read about the various lenses yourself before settling on an exact model.

But basically, I would add:

  • A general-purpose zoom lens with at least a 4x range (for a crop body, the two lenses that seem to fit the bill are the 16–80 and the 16–85).
  • A longer zoom lens that tops out at... let's say 300mm or higher. (I count ten current lenses from Nikon that qualify.)
  • For landscapes and architecture, an ultra-wide lens that can capture more elements in a single photo. For a crop body, the 10–20mm or 10–24mm seem like they would be good choices (again, based only on their zoom range).

That will give you a lot more flexibility.

But whether you're using a zoom lens or switching between several prime lenses with different focal lengths, these same experiments will yield interesting results:

  • Experiment with reducing the ISO and/or exposure so that you can use a wider aperture to get a shallower depth of field.
  • Shoot people walking past you at night with long exposures, tracking their motion with the camera. Try to achieve as crisp a shot of the subject as possible while creating a strong motion blur in the background.
  • Change the distance to your subject (whether that's a person, a building, an architectural element, a statue, or something else entirely), using the zoom to keep the framing of your subject consistent, and notice how focal length affects the depth of field, and thus the softness of background elements.
  • Change the distance between you and your subject, using the zoom to keep the framing of your subject consistent, and notice how the perspective changes — specifically how background elements become occluded by the subject as you get closer, and how background elements farther from the subject disappear beyond the edges of the frame as you get farther away.
  • Shoot some sports and observe how shutter speed (or limits on shutter speed, if you prefer a more automatic setup) affects subject blur.

Note that if your subject is a building, many of these things may require driving because of the scale involved, and may or may not be possible in every situation because of other buildings that prevent you from achieving an adequate distance. This is why ultra-wide-angle lenses are so popular for architecture and landscape photography. :-)

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  • Create pictures with different shutterspeeds. 1/1000 sec - 1 sec
  • Create pictures at different apertures: f1.8 - f22
  • Create pictures at aperture f1.8 at different distances. Same for f2, f2.8, f4

Look for yourself what differences you see in the pictures.

Read a good book or website about the exposure triangle e.g. https://fixthephoto.com/exposure-triangle-in-photography.html

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    Be aware that shooting at sunrise/sunset can involve rapidly changing light levels (OP noted "cities in the morning"), so taking multiple images in those conditions will show differences due to settings, but also differences due to light available. Sunrise/sunset pics should probably be worked on after familiarity is gained with what settings will do to change the images, so the changes can be made quickly and with some confidence & expectation of being in the right ballpark.
    – FreeMan
    Mar 31 at 18:07
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The sad truth is that on cityscape or landscape pictures, unless you're intending to view them on something much larger than a computer screen, the phone will do just as good a job and may even offer a better selection of fun 'enhancements'.

Your 'proper' camera will score under difficult lighting conditions, and if you want to use a large aperture for differential focus. (But even then, today's phone cameras have some neat tricks available.)

Your 50mm prime lens will score for absolute definition. Noticeably so on pictures that aren't to be viewed as 20"x16" prints? Maybe. A zoom lens will let you get shots the phone camera couldn't. I don't think phone cameras offer optical zoom yet?

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The first thing I would notice is the field of view. Take a picture of distant things with each lens on the phone and the camera standing in the same place and pointing in the same direction. The field of view of the camera will be smaller than the phone, much smaller for the wider two lenses and somewhat smaller than the narrow one. In the old (film) days a 50mm lens was considered normal because it approximates the field of view of your eyes. Most phones have a much wider field of view, corresponding to an effective 25mm lens or so. This is nice because many people want to take photos of groups of friends indoors and you can't step back far enough with a narrower field of view. It is also nice because short lenses have don't need as close focusing so the pictures come out sharp. The iPhone 12 has three lenses. The middle one is about 25mm effective. One is much wider, 12.5mm, and one is narrower, 50mm , but all are wider than your Nikon. With your D7000 and the sensor it has, your effective focal length is about 75mm, so the field of view is narrower than your normal one. You will see smaller details in the picture but less range side to side. You can buy other lenses to get other fields of view, but this is an important thing to notice.

Now take a photo with the camera of something 10 feet (3 meters). Step closer with the phone until you get the same things in the image. You should need to be about 3 feet (1 meter) away. This is another way to see the field of view difference. I would claim that the phone field of view is the new normal because we all have phones. The ability to control the field of view is the first thing I want from a real camera.

The next thing to play with is exposure times and depth of field. Others have described that very well. One thing to be aware of is that when the scene is dark your phone can take a number of exposures, move them around to take out the motion of the camera, and add the light it received to make a nice shot. Your camera may have a mode for this, but it is probably not automatic. The phones have done a lot to make the automatic mode take pictures people like.

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  • I assume you meant "all are wider than your Nikon". :-) (It's obvious from the next sentence, but....)
    – dgatwood
    Apr 1 at 18:08
  • @dgatwood: You are right. Thank you. Fixed. Apr 1 at 18:30
  • 50mm lenses on 36x24mm format cameras do not approximate the field of view of human eyes which is approximately 180° horizontally and 110° vertically. It (more or less) approximates the magnification provided by the human eye compared with the magnification provided by a typical film SLR viewfinder.
    – Michael C
    Apr 5 at 19:24
  • It also seems you are conflating field of view with angle of view. FoV is measured at a specific distance from the camera based on AoV. FoV will be different for the same lens with the same AoV when measured at a different distance from the camera.
    – Michael C
    Apr 5 at 19:29

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