Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Buying your first DSLR

I had a friend message me around Halloween to ask about my recommendations for buying a new camera. I wanted to make sure to give her the most up-to-date suggestions so I started doing a little bit of digging and in the process have been creating this post to share with you. Here I'll share some of my favorite products, wish list items and my thoughts on purchasing the best camera for yourself your loved one during the holidays/tax rebate season.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links - thank you for supporting my blog!

Nikon D5500 on

The "Starter" DSLR
If you want my opinion on the "starter" SLRs it would be this - don't waste your money. The thing I look for on a Nikon DSLR body is the presence of the second dial above the grip. If you compare the image above and the one below you can see that one has a dial and the other does not (on the top left, front). I'd consider all of the Nikon D3000 & D5000 series to be "starter" DSLRs. Canon lists their Rebel series cameras a "for Beginners." If you learn how to use your starter dSLR you can get some very good images, especially if you have a good lens (we'll talk about that some more in a minute) but I feel like everyone in my photography classes who have bought one of these cameras has felt that they outgrew it quickly.

If you're looking to spend less money but get great pictures I'd suggest buying one of the cameras listed  below in "Advanced Point & Shoot". If you really want a Digital SLR then get a slightly older model of a higher quality camera.  One big reason why this body is less expensive than some of the other models is that the camera body does not contain an auto-focus motor (with Nikon brand lenses only the AF-S & AF-I lenses contain the auto-focus motor) so if the lens does not contain an auto-focus motor you will have to focus your shots manually.  Not fun. Especially if you are trying to take photos of your kids.  Also I suggest you avoid buying a starter kit. The lenses and other gear included in the kit are usually not very high quality. It's better to consider what you really need (or ask a friend!) and buy that.

Nikon D7200 on
The Amateur Photographer's DSLR
This is the type of camera that I started with for my first Digital SLR. My first DSLR was the Nikon D80 and it has been an amazing workhorse of a camera. Nearly 10 years later and it's still working perfectly. I've had to get it cleaned once, but that's all.

You may or may not find these mid-level DSLRs at places like Target who must be hoping to up-sell their customers, but this is the perfect camera for your first Digital SLR. If you're looking to buy one I'd consider the Nikon D90 or D7000 series or the Canon 60D or 70D. On the Nikon camera body I look for the second dial on the top left. The primary dial is on the back but the secondary dial makes shooting in manual mode a hundred times easier.

One big difference between the Amateur Photographer's DSLR & The Semi-Pro SLR is sensor format. The Nikon 7000 series and below are DX format and everything above has an FX format sensor, or "full frame" sensor - so you get a bigger picture. Nikon lenses are also sold in DX or FX  and alter how the lens operates on the body, it appears not all DX lenses work with FX bodies, and a DX lens on an FX body will crop your image. So it's something to be aware of.

Canon vs Nikon? I'd suggest going to a camera shop and playing with them both. I choose Nikon simply because it felt more intuitive.

Why am I showing primarily Nikon cameras? Because I use Nikon cameras I'm the most familiar with that brand. I have nothing agains Canon or any other brand, I'm just a little less familiar with the details of their brands. Also the Nikon website is a thousand times easier to navigate.

D600 on
The Semi-Pro DSLR
My Semi-Pro SLR is a Nikon D700 and in ideal conditions with an identical lens it is about equal to my D80. I wrote a blog post comparing them here. The thing about a nicer camera is 1) a bigger sensor and 2) more flexibility. I can shoot much better quality images in less than ideal conditions. This is pretty much true down the line - the better your camera is the greater variety of conditions in which you can get a high quality image. The current cameras available at this level are the Nikon D600, 700 & 800 series and the Canon 5D/6D series. This is more camera than the average parent who wants to take great pictures of their kids would want but if you are thinking about starting a photography business then this is a great camera to own.  With this camera you pretty much have to learn shoot in manual mode because there is no auto mode. It has aperture-priority mode and shutter priority mode and a couple of other modes but no auto mode. If it's time to take the training wheels off this one may be for you.

This is a topic on which I get lots of questions with and one that can be crazy confusing. But when my photography students upgrade their lens I notice a lot of improvement! I am only going to mention some tips about lenses in general and then I'm working on a separate post just about just the Nikon lenses and maybe I can get my sister to write a post about Canon lenses.

Focal Length - when we talk about a lens this is usually the first thing we mention. There are basically two types of lenses - "fixed" and "zoom" lenses. Fixed lens,  also called a "prime" lens, means that it has no zoom. The most popular types of prime lenses are the 35mm, the 50mm & the 85mm. (I wrote about focal  distance in a blog post here). A zoom lens means that you can zoom in and out with your camera lens.  I have an 18-55mm lens and a 55-200mm lens and I love them. They are more versatile then a fixed lens but usually you have to sacrifice some width in aperture and that is a big deal.

Aperture - this is the next thing usually listed in the lens description and it controls how much light the camera lets in. The lower the number the wider the aperture. This is one of the biggest factors of at the price of the lens. For example a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens is about five hundred dollars* however the average price for a 50mm f/1.4 is around a thousand.

Sometimes max aperture is in a range - like my 18-55mm lens has a max aperture in the range of 3.5-5.5 that means that at 18mm the max aperture (or the widest my lens will open) is f/3.5 and at 55mm the widest the aperture will open is f/5.5 (if this is super confusing to you I demonstrated this in the blog post I mentioned earlier) This is definitely something to consider when purchasing a lens for your camera.

*  you can get them for less, but that is about the average price

Quality - some lenses are consumer-priced to make buying gear for your camera more affordable. Each brand has their own series of lenses that range in affordability and quality.  I'll discuss this more in my post about lenses. Lens quality directly correlates to image quality. If you can afford a mid-range lens definitely buy that. Unless you're doing photography professionally you probably don't need the most expensive lens.

Nikon CoolPix on

The Advanced Point & Shoot Camera
If you're looking to upgrade your camera but have a small budget I'd recommend you get an advanced point and shoot camera. The Nikon CoolPix & the Canon PowerShot or something similar make a great investment. For about $200 you get a terrific, easy to use camera. There are also advanced camera systems that include interchangeable lenses but I can't speak as to how good they are or aren't.

Nikon compact Coolpix on

The Compact Point & Shoot Camera
If you're looking to spend about $100 or maybe a little less your best bet is the compact point and shoot. I recommend spending twenty bucks or so more and getting a nicer camera from a good brand. The Nikon compact Coolpix or the Canon compact PowerShot are both great choices. Sony also has a super cute little compact point and shoot.

After you've bought your new camera
Be sure to read the manual. It might be hard to get through but it'll answer a lot of questions! You can also take a photography class to help you learn to use your camera better!! I offer classes to teach general photography concepts, learn to shoot in manual mode (my most popular photography class!) as well as classes in how to take better pictures of children or taking better photos for your business. Or if you would like some one-on-one instruction I also offer online mentoring sessions.

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