How to Buy the Right DSLR Camera
Before reading this post you may want to read this previous post:
Things to Consider When Buying a DSLR Camera.
What's More Important the Camera or Your Lenses?
Price range has to come first. But this is not a simple issue. Because you are considering a DSLR, the most important feature isn’t the camera. It’s the lenses that you will use. By far, over the years you will spend more money on lenses than on camera bodies, unless you’re a sucker for every camera ad in the magazine. So first choose which manufacturer’s lenses you want to use. This decision will lock you into a brand for many years. Once you own half a dozen lenses, it’s very hard to divorce the brand for the latest new feature from the competition. None of your existing lenses will fit onto the new brand, and you will have to spend a fortune to make the switch (just like real life, isn’t it?).
Camera Bodies Come and Go But Your Lenses are Forever
Now here’s the good news. Having chosen a brand, the same lenses, with some minor exceptions, will fit onto all of that manufacture’s bodies. And to add to the excitement, lower priced bodies often have most of the features you’ll want. The expensive “advanced amateur” and “professional” camera bodies emphasize materials, such as magnesium instead of aluminum; water and dirt protection; and specialized functions, like very high bursts of images within a few seconds. These are essential for shooting Amazon wildlife, but are not that useful at Disney World.
First, let’s talk about the three levels of bodies that may be available from a manufacturer.
How to Approach Buying a DSLR
So now, let’s consider the approach to use in buying a DSLR. I’ll assume we are interested in consumer or advanced amateur models. If you really like photography, I mean like as in, “I’ll be getting up at three AM, dear to shoot the pigeons at sunrise”, like photography. Then you may want to consider advanced amateur models from Canon or Nikon. For the past twenty years, these two manufactures have been dueling for the professional and semi-pro market to the point that few professionals use any other brand. These companies have the money to develop new and better lens designs, more feature laden camera bodies, and the marketing to keep the cash flowing. Use a Nikon or Canon and you will get the best quality for your money, period. That said, don’t think that these two are your only choices. There are awesome cameras and lenses coming from a dozen other manufacturers. If another brand feels right to you, go for it. Just remember, whatever your choice, you’re getting married to it and a divorce can be expensive.
Starter Lenses and Your Camera Body
Oh yes… money is the key word. The top lenses are expensive, as well as the latest bodies. But over the long haul, investing in any of the top brands will serve you well, indeed. If this is your desire, I suggest starting with a good zoom lens in the moderate wide-angle to moderate telephoto range, perhaps 24mm – 70mm. Later you could augment this with a longer telephoto zoom such as a 70mm – 200mm. Next buy the body. This is less of a decision since it is meant to last just a few years until you wish to get a newer model with the latest features. Here price is the most useful factor. Since you spent a good deal of money on a quality lens, get whatever the checkbook will allow for the body.
Beware of the Camera "Bundle"
Notice I didn’t suggest that you get a body and lens together as a set. These “bundles” are inviting, however the lenses included are usually of a poorer quality. Although, in all honesty, I have a couple and use them often. The main reason I suggest that you buy the body and lens separately is to choose the high quality lens. This will last your lifetime, and then you can pass it on to one of the kids. Professionals often say, “Put your money in the glass”. Only go for the bundle if money is too tight to opt for the good lens just now. The “kit” lens from the bundled set will serve you well until you can afford to upgrade.
Stabilization Feature: Camera Body vs. Your Lens
The features desirable in a DSLR are not very different from the pocket cameras. You want at least eight megapixels, a quality LCD screen, and image stabilization. How that stabilization is achieved is something you need to consider. The process of stabilizing the image has taken two divergent paths. Some manufacturers, such as Canon have chosen to put the stabilizing mechanics into their lenses. The disadvantage of this approach is that a little more money is added onto the cost of each lens with this feature. Other manufacturers put the mechanism into the body. This means that you pay only once and all of your lenses will produce stabilized images.
So why pay for stabilization in your lens? Because only if the stabilization is in the lens can its affect be seen in the viewfinder, a very good feature for long telephoto work. Stabilization in the camera body is only apparent once the picture has been taken and can be viewed on the LCD screen or in a print. There is also a case to be made that having the stabilization in each lens means you achieve the optimum stabilization for that particular lens configuration.
So which way should you go? Again it depends on all of the other factors I mentioned earlier. If you choose Canon for their optics, you have to accept the fact that you will pay for image stabilization when you buy lenses. If you like Olympus, (a great consumer brand, by the way), you have to accept that their stabilization is in the body, and won’t be seen through the viewfinder before the picture is taken.
Weighting in on Camera Weight.
Like the pocket cameras, a DSLR should feel good in your hands. As the price increases, so does the weight. This is due to more glass with wider maximum apertures, metal bodies instead of plastic, and add-on options such as vertical grips with extra capacity battery chambers. The result is that most professionals have developed large biceps or hire Sherpa footmen to carry their equipment. If weight is a discomfort to you, stay with the consumer bodies and less add-on gadgets.
Tips to Get the Most Value When Buying a Consumer Camera.
At the risk of alienating landscape photographers everywhere, here is one of the secret ways to get great daylight shots of those jaw-dropping vistas. First, let me explain the problem. Our eyes are very good at quickly switching our concentration to different points within a scene. As we focus on the foreground with its deep shadows, our eyes quickly open to let in more light. When we concentrate on the bright sky, with the setting sun bouncing off of the cumulous clouds, our eyes narrow to reduce the light. As a result, we always see the world in front of us correctly. Cameras can’t do that. They take in the entire scene even though the range from darkest shadows to brightest sky is too much for the sensor to handle. Our pictures, therefore ether have shadows with no detail or skies that are overexposed and all white.
Graduated Neutral Density filter: Sunglasses for Your Camera
4. Finally, I want to mention the other things that must be in your bag as you leave the store.
When you get home, plug in the batteries to charge, read the manual, and dream of all of those wonderful three AM trips to photograph the pigeons at dawn.
Related Blog Posts:
The Smart Way to Buy Lenses for Your DSLR
How to Prevent Condensation and Keep Your Expensive Lenses Safe
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I've completed a few photo tours of our great country and lived to write about it. To read about my misadventures along the way, please visit my blog Travels into Wild America.
A word of warning. You may want to be near a box of tissues and a bathroom. Tears of laughter are frequently reported.
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