Without a doubt this is the most common photography question that I get this time of year. As we approach the holiday season and the amazing Digital-SLR technology continues to decrease in price, more and more people are considering a purchase of a SLR.
Although some people are referring to Digital SLR cameras as D-SLR, I think it’s time to drop the D! Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras (as opposed to TLR – Twin Lens Reflex) have almost completely replaced Film cameras. Searching the web, I can only find 5 film SLR cameras that can be purchased, and three of the five are targeted at students who are taking photo classes.
These are the people who want a bit more creative control over what they are shooting, as well as additional flexibility in lens choices and quality.
Based on my totally unscientific conversations, my sense is that this group is made up of people that have previously owned a film SLR and also have a digital point and shoot.
There are very few instances when I can offer advice and unequivocally know that it is good advice, but here it is –
1. First decide how much you are going to spend –
• Put a total dollar limit on the amount you want to spend since it is easy (and I mean VERY easy) to get carried away with an additional lens or two, memory cards and a card reader. Based again on my totally unscientific research, my sense is that there are several price points in which you will have cameras from several manufacturers and great alternatives. The price points are: $750; $1,200 and $2,000.
• With your budget in mind, go to a camera store! Not Best Buy, not Wal-Mart, and not Target. This is your opportunity to become a more informed consumer, so you want to talk to sales people who understand photography. You want to talk to people who are passionate about photography and particularly those who want you to have a successful photo experience. If you have a friend who is a photographer and they are willing to join you, invite them along!
• Within your price range, look at Canon, Nikon and one or two other brands. Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples when you compare them. Some may have several lenses and other things included in a kit, but you should be looking at comparable priced cameras – this should be below your total budget.
2. There are a few key features that each of these cameras must have:
a. Inter-changeable lens;
b. At least 10 Mega-Pixels;
c. Ability to control shooting modes, beyond programmed modes, including: Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual.
• Don’t worry much about the additional features such as, frames per second, start up time, number of focus points, ISO range and others, at this point you are likely only comparing things that will have nominal importance to you, and in each price range these attributes will be quite similar. However the higher your price point, the better the features will be. One key attribute will be the increase in the number of frames per second (fps) that you can shoot.
3. Finally, here is the deciding factor, which camera feels the most comfortable in your hands, the most intuitive and the easiest to use? Pick it up, see how easy it is to access the controls, see if you understand it or immediately feel compelled to pick up the manual.
I shoot Canon and I have for years. The functional set up of the camera is completely natural to me. It is easy to pick up and shoot. Nikon’s are in many ways set up exactly opposite of Canon. I am not advocating one over the other; both are great cameras, just different. As you consider which brand to buy, keep in mind that substantially all professionals that shoot this format choose either Canon or Nikon. Beyond the sheer quality of the products, from a professional standpoint, you are buying a matched system and not just a camera. Personally, I rely heavily on Canon Professional Services for equipment loans and repairs.
Most of these cameras are sold as Kits, with a zoom lens that is typically a moderate wide angle to a medium telephoto. If you are considering getting an additional lens with your camera, instead of getting a longer lens, consider getting what has always been considered a normal lens. A 50mm, f1.4 lens from Canon is about $370 and is really a great value. Although, the zoom included as part of your kit will give you the same focal length as this lens. However, an f1.4 lens will let in almost 8 times as much light as an f4.0 lens and will dramatically expand your ability to get good photos in low light situations.
Where to buy your D-SLR? If you are an online shopper, consider B&H Photo Video or Adorama. However, for the first time D-SLR user, many local camera shops offer classes with the purchase of a camera. This will go a long way toward having a successful experience with, and ultimately getting the most value from your new camera
The good news is that the technology has come so far that you can’t really make a bad decision. Have fun with what ever you decide upon, always remember keep shooting, those photons are free!
Somehow I couldn’t post to the blog without a couple happy snaps.
First we have Aussie Luke McKenzie on the Queen K heading back to transition at the Ironman World Championship and being shadowed by the media truck. Try to see what gear they are using and if you can tell if they are shooting stills or video.
Finally, this is not a yard sale of photo gear, it is the finish line photo area taken in the time between the Men’s and the Women’s finish at last week’s Ironman Arizona! Indeed we are a pretty trusting group!