Orquid "Phoenix"

Orquid "Phoenix"

by ceinmart

submit your photo


Hall of Fame
View past winners from this year

Please participate in Meta
and help us grow.

Take the 2-minute tour ×
Photography Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional, enthusiast and amateur photographers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am thinking of buying a digital SLR camera. What things should I be looking for?

share|improve this question
5  
There is already a good question about review sites: Where can I find reviews of and tools for comparing cameras? –  chills42 Sep 7 '10 at 19:24
    
1  
1  
And to perhaps save a little further clicking after reading that last one, you could go directly to How much do lens lineups vary across platforms? –  mattdm Feb 8 '12 at 19:24
    
it depends, what do you need? –  fortran Aug 13 '13 at 11:10
add comment

10 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Things to look for when buying your first dslr:

  • Price. Far from me to tell anyone how to spend their hard earned cash, but having an idea of what money you want to pay will help.

  • Ergonomics. Does the body feel good in your hands? What about when you have your lens attached?

  • What brand? I'm a fan of Canon. Nikon is equally awesome. There are other brands as well, but I recommend the big two: Canon and Nikon.

  • Beginner/creative modes. Since this is your first camera, having modes that do some automation will ease you into using an SLR.

  • Entry Level/ Prosumer Level body. If you have a sufficient budget, consider which would serve you better: Buying a more expensive body now, with features that you can grow with, or a less expensive body with fewer features, leaving you more cash more lenses. In terms of producing great images the chain of importance goes: Photographer >>> Lens > Camera Body.

My first dSLR was a Canon 20D, a prosumer body. I chose it because I have larger hands, and the 20D size and weight felt better (twss), and I wanted something I could grow with.

share|improve this answer
5  
Just don't blow things up with that Cannon of yours. –  Nick Bedford Aug 29 '10 at 1:28
2  
I suppose ergonomics also include weight... Because it does matter –  nanda Sep 7 '10 at 7:51
5  
This is basically a good answer, but I don't think limiting to Canon or Nikon is good general advice. They make fine cameras and it's hard to go wrong choosing one of those, but many people will find Pentax, Sony, or Olympus/Panasonic to fit just as well or better. The smaller brands often offer interesting features, lenses, and accessories the "big two" miss (or leave for their higher models). –  mattdm Jun 4 '11 at 19:51
1  
@mattdm: Smaller brands may or may not be better than the big two.. but sticking with canon/nikon is the best bet for a newbie simply because there are a lot more people using these cameras, which means that they will have friends they can borrow gear/lenses from.. also there are a lot more newbie centric manuals/articles/videos out there for Canon/Nikon than other brands. –  Sridhar Iyer Aug 30 '11 at 16:55
2  
@Sridhar — maybe, but it's not really that big of an advantage. The other brands aren't so obscure that good info is hard to find, and in fact most concepts are general. Again, you won't go wrong with Canon/Nikon, but it's not really important. (So I think making it important is bad advice.) –  mattdm Aug 30 '11 at 17:04
show 6 more comments

The general answer to this question is: whichever gets you done with worrying about what camera to buy the fastest.

For some people, that means get whatever low-end equipment you can afford to start playing around — get an entry-entry level camera which strikes your fancy plus the kit lenses (and hopefully a decent prime). Treat that as basically disposable and use it to figure out your style and needs for the next step. For others, it might mean skipping that and going right to the higher end — short-circuiting years of longing and painful not-quite-there upgrades, arguably saving money overall.

One can actually do very high quality work with any DSLR on the market today. If you're in this for the long haul, what you start with doesn't really matter; what matters is getting started. If you later feel you made a mistake, changing camera bodies within the same brand isn't a big deal. Changing systems can be more of a challenge, but if you go the low-end entry route you won't have as much to worry about, and if you go the higher-end route the equipment should retain pretty good resale value. So don't be too scared to just jump in.

I do understand the desire to research before making a big purchase. There's nothing wrong with that to some degree, but it's easy for people of a certain mindset to go too far — a warning I feel well-qualified to give because I personally naturally fall pretty far on the side I'm cautioning about. So, despite the bold text above, I am going to thrown out a few more things to consider; specifically, I think the following questions and their answers are some of the most helpful on this site for anyone making this initial DSLR decision:

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 for the first sentence alone. :) –  Mark Whitaker Aug 30 '11 at 15:17
add comment

Find out what brand of cameras your photo friends own. The relative differences between Canon and Nikon are fairly small (and probably don't matter until you get very advanced), so a big advantage when starting out is buying the brand the people you hang out with have bought. That gives you a source of free advice, plus the ability to try out cameras and borrow lenses to see how things work.

Don't overbuy. You can buy a really good camera in the entry level; even if you outgrow it, having a second body around is a good thing, or you can sell it and upgrade. If you get serious about this, you probably WILL outgrow it, so don't overspend. Buying more expensive cameras means buying features you won't need, use, or understand and might make growing into the hobby harder and frustrating. The Canon Rebel is a great way to get started.

Do you really need a DLSR? There are some really nice cameras that just don't happen to have interchangeable lenses. We've used the Panasonic Lumix superzooms for years, the current model is the DMZ-fz35) and it can turn out really nice pictures without many limitations. Another is the Canon G11. Consider whether you need a DLSR or whether you're really looking for a good entry level camera (how badly do you need/want interchangeable lenses?) -- some of these high end point and shoots match entry level in image quality and are less expensive and more convenient.

if you stick with a DLSR, figure out your lenses first, and don't cheap out on them. Assume you'll upgrade your camera body 2-3 times before upgrading your lenses -- if you pick your lenses well. So be willing to spend a bit more on lenses and buy a less expensive body. It's a good investment. Avoid "kit" lenses that come bundled with bodies. waste of money, IMHO.

I like as an entry level set something like the Canon Rebel and a good third party lens with a decent superzoom capability, like the Sigma 18-200 (I wrote a bit about why I prefer that lens to the Tamron I actually own here: http://www.chuqui.com/2010/01/a-few-thoughts-on-lenses/) -- the cost difference between the rebel with a kit lens and the rebel body only is about is about $250-275. You can buy the body only and the sigma for pretty much the same money and get a much better and more flexible lens..

consider renting a camera for a week with the lens you're considering. Make sure you like the results, make sure it's comfortable in your hands.

share|improve this answer
2  
Just something to mention about renting. If there is a Best Buy near you, they have a 14-day(sometimes 30, but check to be sure) no questions money back guarantee on their cameras. I purchased a Rebel-Xs there, played with it, took it on vacation, took 3000 shots, decided I liked it, then took it back. A month later I bought an Xsi online. I felt bad so I bought some accessories from BB, but the point is, it was a free way to really evaluate what it would be like to own that camera. –  BBischof Aug 28 '10 at 21:38
    
+1 for trying out a camera for a week. You can't really get a good sense of a camera in five minutes at the store (unless you're already familiar with similar models). –  mattdm Jun 4 '11 at 21:56
    
Under certain circumstances I would disagree with your statement about kit lenses. They are very cheap, so if someone wants a DSLR but doesn't have a large budget, they can still get a lens. Furthermore, the quality is still higher than most compact's lenses, so someone just upgrading wouldn't suffer too much. –  Evan Pak May 4 '13 at 23:25
2  
Some kit lenses are keepers. If you're in the market for a Canon 6D or 5D Mark III, the 24-105mm L f/4 that's "kit" with them is far from a throwaway lens. Plus, (at least on Amazon) the 6D body-only is $1900, the lens alone is $825, but the body+lens kit is $2400. You're getting the lens at a $325 discount. If you still don't want it, sell it used and make a profit! –  kenny May 6 '13 at 2:35
    
agree with you on the 24-105, but that's not a typical kit lens. I'm thrilled Canon matched it up with the 6d instead of a less expensive one, but the 6d isn't what I'd call a "first DLSR" camera, either, which is what this topic's about. –  chuqui May 6 '13 at 6:11
add comment

Things to consider when thinking of purchasing your first dSLR.

1. Can I afford a dSLR?

If you've never used an interchangeable lens camera system before, realize that the cost is astronomical in comparison with fixed-lens cameras, because the camera body itself is just the start of your purchases and the basis of your system. It is also (weirdly) the most disposable piece of gear these days, unlike film camera bodies. That's digital electronics vs. mechanical devices for you. A single lens can easily outstrip the cost of the body. Support gear, lighting gear, filters, bags, etc. It can all mount up with surprising ease. IMO, you probably need 2x or 3x the amount you spent on a body/lens kit to get a basic system with a dSLR. Think in terms of US$1000-$1500, not $500, for a basic dLSR setup.

2. Do I need a dSLR?

Four or five years ago, it was P&S vs. dSLR, so the decision was pretty clear. But today, there are quite a number of fixed-lens compacts with sensors and lenses rivaling dSLRs, and the entire class of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras has appeared. What and how do you plant to shoot? Are you ok lugging 20 lbs of gear with you? 5 lbs? 1 lb? Do you hike for miles into the mountains to reach your landscape shot? Do you need to be silent an unobtrusive for street shooting? Do you plan to work in a studio? How much 3rd party support do you need? dSLRs are larger and heavier, and are the best cameras for fast action responsiveness, and as more mature systems have the largest options for expansion, the best used markets, and the largest 3rd party support. By comparison, mirrorless systems have only been around for a handful of years--3rd party flashes, flash triggers, and lenses haven't caught up, yet. But they're smaller, lighter, seeing astounding amounts of innovation, and yielding image quality at the level of dSLRs, but have smaller overall systems and less 3rd party support from being so young. So, what/how you shoot will also determine which type of camera might be better for you.

Features come and go and play leapfrog across brands and models. All of the cameras are good. None of them are bad. What you have to look at is the system overall.

3. What lenses will I need?

Don't think of lenses as accessories for your camera body. We know, P&S cameras have trained you to think this way, but your camera body is actually the accessory for your lens collection. Sensors and bodies come and go. New camera body models are introduced and then depreciate at an astonishing rate. A lens, however, may not see a "replacement" for decades, if ever. Lenses often hold value in the long term, and in some cases, can even appreciate. Look to the glass. Canon and Nikon are often touted as being the best systems to look at simply because they have the largest selections and any 3rd party lens made for other brands are made for them, too. But Pentax makes pancake lenses. And Sony has Zeiss glass in its lineup. Learn about focal length, max. aperture, and what type of lens you might need for what you want to shoot. Then see if the mount system you're thinking of buying into has those lenses.

4. Am I OK with giving up P&S convenience?

The focus on most articles about "upgrading" from P&S to dSLR emphasize the gains. Not many talk about the losses. dSLRs, by default, don't do as much in-camera processing as P&S cameras. This is to give the photographer the choice of relying on the processor in the camera, or to tweak to taste by individual image with the RAW data. Are you prepared to get post-processing software and learn to use it? P&S cameras have small sensors and small slow lenses so that you can't misfocus easily. dSLRs let you misfocus all you want. That's how you get that bokeh you think you need so badly: having things out of focus. You'll have to master focusing the camera. P&S cameras have tiny lenses with very deep depth of field--so they can do macro. Bigger sensors and bigger lenses mean larger minimum focus distance. To do macro on a dSLR, you probably need a $400+ macro lens. You ok with that? Bridge P&S cameras have superzoom lenses that give you the equivalent "reach" of 500mm and 600mm lenses on a full-frame camera. Those types of lenses cost $1000+ on the dSLR side of the fence. You ok with giving up that reach? You will get a lot of gains from moving to a dSLR, but this isn't a straightforward "upgrade" in all areas: you are shifting from one type of tool to another. And of course, you're liable to be lugging a bag of gear around with you, not just slipping a camera into a pocket or purse.

Most anyone who shoots with a dSLR will also have a compact camera as well for the added convenience. For most it's not "or"; it's "and". Think of it like big red toolboxes (that you still have to buy tools for) and swiss army knives. Tools for the task.

share|improve this answer
add comment

So, I recently bought a used camera. To decide which to buy, I developed this technique:

  1. Make a list of all features that are important to you.
  2. Assign a point value from 1-10 to each feature. Give a 10 to something essential, a 1 to something that barely matters.
  3. Write down the stat for the feature for all of the cameras that you are interested in.
  4. Give no points to the camera that does the worst for a feature. Give 1 x the point value for the next worst. Give 2 x the point value to the next camera and so on. Do this for every feature.
  5. Add up all of the points for each camera, then divide this by the price.

This method is a little complicated, but it pays off. It made it clear to me which camera was the best deal.

share|improve this answer
    
Very nice. I like it. –  Water Cooler v2 Sep 22 '13 at 13:41
    
Thank you, @WaterCoolerv2. It worked well for me. –  Evan Pak Sep 24 '13 at 23:26
    
yep I like that too –  laurencemadill Dec 6 '13 at 19:41
add comment

Most cameras nowadays support much the same options for using an aperture priority or shutter priority modes, as well as your full auto options, so that isn't a great way to set them apart. Most of the major brands will give comparable image quality too.

When thinking about cameras specific to a task, you need to think about how you'll use it; In the case of landscape or wildlife photography you might want to consider features such as weather proofing, and differences between models. It is also important to consider weight if you're going to be carrying it around (along with lenses, tripods, waterproof clothing, kitchen sink, etc.)

share|improve this answer
add comment

The tricky part about landscape and wildlife is that they sometimes imply different, if not opposite requirements. Landscape often demands a camera/lens combo that can capture as wide a scene as possible. Wildlife usually requires one that can zoom as far as feasible to capture an elusive animal from a safe distance.

To take pictures of a large landscape you can either stitch several photos together, or rely on a wide angle lens (in the 15-30mm range for example). The size of the camera sensor here is important. If you have enough resource to buy a full frame (35 mm equiv) camera, you will be able to use wide and ultra wide lenses to their full potential. On smaller-sensor DSLRs, wide-angle lenses have smaller angles of view that depend on the corresponding crop factor.

Most consumer cameras use APS-C sensors, which effectively "zoom in" by a factor of x1.6. What it means is that your new 16mm lens behaves like a 25.6mm. Your 50mm like 80mm, etc. No matter how wide your lens actually is, you will not capture a scene as broad as if it had been mounted on a full frame camera/sensor. This is not all bad though, since a lens is usually optically better at its center anyway. Ultra wide lenses can also introduce a lot of unpleasant optical distortions.

There are two sides to this coin. What is detrimental to wide landscapes is good for distant wildlife though, because you can zoom even further with a telephoto lens mounted on a APS-C sensor. The crop factor still applies, this time to your advantage. A 200m zoom suddenly behaves like a 320mm, allowing you to get that much closer to a bird and use cheaper lenses.

You didn't mention your budget, so keep in mind that full-frame cameras are usually much more expensive than consumer APS-C cameras. They are bulkier and heavier as well, requiring sturdier tripods. They also demand better lens/glass if possible, since they are using the whole image circle.

I don't do too much landscape, but I take a lot of pictures of large abandoned buildings. In this scenario I really benefit from a 16-35mm lens mounted on a full-frame sensor. I do have a 70-200mm lens as well to shoot from a distance. If I'm willing to compromise a bit of optical quality I can always use small lens extenders to reach x1.4 to x2.0 further.

Of course, it's not one or the other. As jrista pointed out in the comments, you can capture perfectly great landscapes with a telephoto and go for a different, compressed look.

More:

share|improve this answer
1  
It should be noted that owning a telephoto lens by no means eliminates the option of photographing landscapes. I've been using my 100-400mm lately to take a lot of landscape shots, and the results are fantastic. There is a LOT of potential for telephoto landscapes, and categorically excluding landscape as an option for telephoto lenses is severely limiting the range of uses for such a lens. –  jrista Sep 7 '10 at 23:21
    
@jrista. I'm not categorically excluding anything, really: if you have a lens, who is to tell you what to shoot or not :) 100mm? Interesting. Can I have a look at the results online? –  sebastien.b Sep 7 '10 at 23:47
    
I might reword "what is 'bad' for landscape..." then. ;P As for examples, sure. I got the idea from Andy Mumford: nd-magazine.com/articles/art6.php. You can see some of my own shots here: flickr.com/photos/jon-rista/4947606210/in/set-72157624558290901 –  jrista Sep 7 '10 at 23:58
add comment

If you already have some lenses, make sure that the camera (body) you're buying will work with (all) your lenses! I found out the hard way that the bargain Nikon D5000 body that I bought as a backup camera wouldn't power my favourite Nikon AF 80-200 f2.8, so I have to manually focus it/

share|improve this answer
add comment

I was in your position a few weeks ago, and I guess most everyone here was sometime. Mostly I went like this:

Price? (new and used)
Sensor resolution?
Public release date?
Price?
Does it take SD cards?
ASA/ISO range?
PRICE!!!
Shutter speed limits?
Bulb mode?
¡¡¡PRICE!!! (HELLO? I'VE GOTTA BUY LENSES HERE!!!)
Noise performance?
External flash jack?
Flash sinc speed?

PRICE

In any case, that's me. But I think I've got you a few pointers (oh, also check if the camera is compatible with the newest lenses, I've heard that's a problem in CanonWorld)

(And if you were wondering, I got myself a Nikon D40 and two old full-frame lenses: a 50mm f/1.8 and a 200mm f/4) ("Garçon, zai vill haf a large zerving of portraits withz a side-dish of birds.")

share|improve this answer
add comment

I'll assume a $1000 budget. Adjust as required.
The best entry level DSLR is probably the good quality well known brand one that you determine will help you achieve what you want. All the top name brands perform well enough to start with and to learn on, there are some differences and some features that may suit you better, but without a personal "fitting" it is unlikely that anyone here will be able to say with certainty what will work for you. If you have a friend who already owns equipment of a given brand that may make a difference - as may the existence of a local club that focuses on a given camera brand.

The usual "safe" choices are Canon or Nikon (alphabetical order - either OK) but also very safe are Olympus & Sony and there are a number of entirely adequate other offerings.

No eg $1000 camera system would be the camera of choice for a professional wedding photographer BUT any wedding photographer worth their $ would be able to take reasonably good wedding photos using such.

If you especially value low light photography you may wish to look at good used lenses that have a reasonably large maximum aperture (f/2.8 or better). All camera makers also offer something like a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens at an utterly bargain basement price in terms of performance per $. Some also do a 35mm f/1.x but these are sometimes more costly enough to eat more of your $1000 budget than you can really afford.

Many entry level DSLRs have kit options with one or two low cost and relatively modest quality lenses. These are usually lower cost when bought this way than if bought separately and the quality is usually good enough to be useful while you are learning.

"Best brand" recommendations usually bring out brand purists and the arguments never cease. I'm going to mention one brand for a special reason - you can decide if it matters enough. I started with a Minolta SRT303b film SLR decades ago due to a friend's recommendation and have used mainly Minolta and then Sony (who bought Minolta's camera business) ever since. [I also have D700 Nikon but that's irrelevant here]. Optically and functionally Sony's DSLR line is similar in performance to Canon or Nikon or Olympus or ... . There is one major difference.
All Sony DSLR camera have "in body" antishake to provide image stabilisation. Most other manufacturers provide antishake mechanisms in selected lenses. Lenses with anti-shake cost a premium over lenses without it - in some cases the lenses may cost around double the non-equivalent stabilised lens price. As the Sony cameras have in-body stabilisation ALL lenses are stabilised. You get 2 to 3 stops of improvement by using Sony antishake (always turned on by default). This means that a Sony with only modest low light performance can compete in many cases with a very good low-light performance camera when photos are hand held and when hand stability is a limiting factor. My A77 Sony is 3 times worse noise-wise than my D700 Nikon, but hand held in low light the Sony is often a match for the Nikon (heresy!!!) due to the ability to use lower ISO and lower shutter speed. When subject movement is the limiting factor no camera stabilising scheme helps and the D700 'tramples' the A77 with ease. Whether this matters depends on what is important to you, but I have found that the ability to use ANY Minolta AF lens and have it stabilised as of right is very valuable. [eg The Minolta 500mm mirror lens is the only only 500mm AF stabilised mirror lens ever made].

FWIW - Sony make the sensors for the top Nikons, so much of the differences are in presentation and processing and not raw sensor performance.

share|improve this answer
    
Pentax also offers in-body image stabilization and a slightly different design philosophy / overall feel from Sony, so if this appeals to you I encourage you to check them both out. Anyone considering the brand name part of the question might be interested in What do Pentax, Sony, and Olympus DSLRs offer that differs from Canon and Nikon? –  mattdm Dec 31 '13 at 4:57
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.