I'm in the market for a new camera and I've been shopping around looking at various DSLRs. I currently use a Canon compact super-zoom camera, and shoot in manual mode 99% of the time, so the step to DSLR should be relatively painless.

I take a wide range of different pictures, from action shots to landscapes to nature macros.

I know this is a pretty wide open question, but I've been overwhelmed by the selection that is available and having never used a DSLR before I don't really know what I need or want.

How do I narrow down the options without making a mistake?

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    Depending on where you live, some places (i.e. Adorama) will let you rent pretty much any DSLR they carry, along with an assortment of lenses. Its always better to try before you buy :)
    – Tim Post
    Jul 16, 2010 at 13:57
  • I think you should rephrase the question to make it less subjective. I'd ask what features you should look for in a D-SLR, for example.
    – Edd
    Jul 19, 2010 at 16:15
  • 2
    "Could you rephrase that as more of an ethical question?" "Ok, is it right to buy a Chrysler?"
    – Shabbyrobe
    Aug 3, 2010 at 13:36
  • And see photo.stackexchange.com/questions/5883/… for advice on what level of camera to go with.
    – mattdm
    Apr 8, 2011 at 11:04
  • possible duplicate of What are considerations when choosing a DSLR brand?
    – mattdm
    Jun 2, 2011 at 10:20

7 Answers 7


The one that is most comfortable to use, and doesn't get in the way of taking pictures!

People can tell you what ones they prefer, but really you need to get your hands on them, try out the controls and the menu system, and make sure you're happy - you don't want to miss a great shot because your camera didn't feel natural.

For your specific styles of photography:

action shots of MMA fights

So you want something with good indoor/low-light performance, with decent noise handling at high ISOs, and a decent buffer for taking multiple shots one after the other?

nature shots (landscapes and macro for the most part)

Afaik, most SLRs will be fine for these, these days.

You'll want a good long lens for animal/macro shots - at least 200mm, probably more.

Whether to get a single 18-200mm or go for an 18-70mm and 70-300mm is something you'll get assorted opinions on.

With those things in mind, go read the reviews (as mentioned, dpreview.com tends to have good in-depth information), and come up with a shortlist based on those features and your budget.

Then go out and test all the cameras on the shortlist, and find the one you're most comfortable using.

  • yea, the lighting at the fight shows tends to be quite... bad. and my current camera the flash is useless in action shots b/c it sometimes will go right away, and other times takes a while to do it's thing. (could be from being dropped on concrete, or not).
    – Patricia
    Jul 16, 2010 at 13:43
  • I'd go for the 70 - 300mm on a APS-C crop sensor (that is, an entry-level DSLR), because that will turn the 300mm end of the lens into a massive 450mm.
    – nchpmn
    Apr 9, 2011 at 9:08

Don't spend too much money on the DSLR, if it's your first. Invest in good lenses. Most people are not aware that when buying a DSLR the cost is not just in the body. Choose a brand based on feedback that you get from peers and your own expectations, and stick with it. The lenses that you buy today can be used on your next DSLR tomorrow, while the bodies themselves lose their value technologically much faster.

In practice, expect a budget ratio of 50/50 between body and your first lens. You'll be tempted to buy a kit with a body and lens, but beware that even though kit lenses have become optically much better in later years they are still pretty limited in terms of zoom range, aperture and focusing speed and other features.

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    +1 again for pointing out the value of the lenses, they will be used longer than the body! Jul 15, 2010 at 21:31
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    +1 Yup, lenses will stay as you upgrade the body, and do a lot more to impact your images than your body does.
    – reuscam
    Jul 15, 2010 at 23:24
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    Which means that once you pick a brand, and invest in lenses, you'll be using that brand for a long, long time :)
    – chris
    Jul 16, 2010 at 0:47
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    Also if any friends/relatives have DSLR or an SLR and maybe own some lenses that should be factored into this discision Jul 16, 2010 at 20:41

The biggest decision in a DSLR purchase is choosing your brand, because that determines your lens choices (and the glass is more important).

For me it came down to Nikon vs. Canon because they have the widest lens selection and large user bases (and therefore more used lenses).

After narrowing it down to those two I chose based on the ergonomics. I chose Canon because it felt better in my hands, but I have a friend who chose Nikon for the same reason.

  • 1
    +1 as this is the reason I chose my purchase as well (which became the Nikon as it felt better than the Cannon)
    – Wayne
    Jul 16, 2010 at 0:38
  • To look at it another way, Nikon has the smallest lens selection. Because it has the longest flange to focal length distance, you can only use Nikon mount lenses on it. On a Canon, you can use either Canon or, with an adapter, Nikon lenses (albeit only using manual focus and aperture). If using something like Sony NEX, Olympus/Panasonic m4/3, or Leica M, then you can use virtually any lens from any manufacturer including Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony A, etc, albeit only in manual focus and aperture mode. Note that Canon EOS lenses with no aperture ring are useless on most other bodies. etc.. Feb 27, 2011 at 7:55

Since you're already shooting manual mode with a Canon, buying a Canon DSLR will require the least amount of adjustment for you as far as actually using the camera. Your question doesn't mention what sort of budget you're working with, but there are Canon EOS bodies retail for anywhere under $600 to thousands of dollars. Unless people are buying your photos, one of the EOS Rebel bodies or an EOS 50D might be the way to go.

You could also buy a second-hand camera and lenses, preferably in-person so you can go back in the event of problems with the gear. It's a good way to get quality gear (especially lenses, which can cost a fortune brand-new) at a reasonable price.

  • Is the Canon S5IS's manual mode really that similar in operation to Canon's DSLRs? Looking at the pictures on dpreview, I don't even see a wheel for shutter/aperture selection. I would bet that any DSLR is going to have roughly the same learning curve, including Canon's.
    – Evan Krall
    Feb 27, 2011 at 21:55
  • I was speaking more specifically about main mode dial (the bottom photo on the link you sent). I have a Canon S90, and it's got the same main mode dial as the Canon EOS Rebel. Because the original questioner has been shooting the SI5S in manual mode the vast majority of the time, I think she's right in expecting the transition to DSLR to be "relatively painless". Control wheels for shutter speed and aperture on a Canon DSLR will surface controls that are probably buried under some menus on her current camera. Mar 13, 2011 at 13:26

seriously consider renting some gear to try out options before you buy. Places like borrowlenses.com are great for letting you check out options without a strong commitment. Canon/Nikon is to a good degree a religious argument, I recommend you figure out which most of your friends use and then think about joining them; they'll be able to help you learn the gear, and you can probably borrow lenses from them to try out as well.

The recommendation to think about and focus on lenses is right on. The way technology is going, it's not unusual to be upgrading bodies every few years as your skill progresses; but lenses you buy now will be with you for a decade or more. When I started building my collection, I spent on a key lens, bought an inexpensive lens to supplemnt it, and went with a lower end body. Since then, I've added a couple of lenses, upgraded my inexpensive lens, and upgraded my body twice -- but the key lenses are going to be with me for a long time. So put your money in to the best glass you can, and it'll serve you well.

My purchase history (over four years)

Canon 100-400IS Canon kit wide angle lens Canon Rebel XT

Added: Canon 300/F4

Added: Canon 30d body

Added: Sigma 180 Macro

Added: Canon 1.4x teleconverter

Added: Tamron 28-300 (retired Canon Kit lens)

Added: Canon 7d (retired Rebel XT)

also bought a 480EX flash, added a 580EX, then bought a used 580EX II and retired the 480EX.

I've spent fairly heavily on top quality lenses, except for the wide angle where I decided go less expensive (I wanted a flexible street lens that would work as a one-body/one-lens pack for urban shooting that was small and light). In retrospect, I would buy the sigma 18-200 instead of the tamron -- I prefer the build quality of sigma over tamron, and the tamron isn't wide enough at the low end so I'm always fighitng it to get the shot I want, and the extra zoom at the top end doesn't really benefit me as much as I thought it would (more on this here: http://www.chuqui.com/2010/01/a-few-thoughts-on-lenses/ ). When I do upgrade my wide angle, I'll probably buy much wider and with less zoom, probably a high quality Canon like the 17-55 F2.8 IS (but the 17-50 F2.8 looks tempting and is much cheaper).

My current buying plans include another 7D and the wide angle lens. Then I'm going to start saving up for a 500mm....


To help you narrow things down a bit, lets talk about models. Camera manufacturers have many models, with increasing features and increasing prices. Canon, for example has at least five levels of DSLR:

1) Rebel (current T3i) 2) enthusiast (current 60D) 3) near professional (current 7D) 4) low professional (Current 5Dmark 3) 5) high professional (current 1Dx)

Nikon has a similar ladder.

Most folks start with a Rebel, its the cheapest entry point, plus, you can buy good lenses and use them as you climb the ladder and win the lottery.

It is important to know that a low-end camera body is not a long term "investment" as they are fairly inexpensive, and are highly computerized. Like all things computer, each year they get better, faster, and cheaper, so there is always a new model that replaces what you just bought. Assuming you keep shooting, today's best entry level (Rebel) will look long in the teeth in 3 or 4 years.

Lenses, they are much more likely to be used for a decade or more. Don't listen to anyone saying you can use lenses "forever" as that simply is not the case. You can often use them for a couple of decades, but I've been shooting with an SLR for 40+ years. My 40 year old lenses still work, but not on a modern body.

  • Choose a segment (beginner such as 1000D, beginner+, pro or top of the line)
  • Read reviews at dpreview
  • Buy the Nikon or Canon you fancy

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