I am an entry level photographer and planning to buy a dSLR camera soon. Main purpose is to take photos of nature, wildlife, weddings, and flying/moving objects. My budget is somewhere around $1300 (including lens). I'm looking for advice about parameters to consider while buying such as sensor type, AF points, megapixels, frames per second, view finder coverage, etc... Can you anyone provide guidance on these parameters such as which are more important, how to tell when it is better, and the like?
There are plenty of similar questions that demand highly and restrict things with a completely unrealistic budget. No wedding photographer would show up with a lens worth under $1000, nor with a single lens or a single camera. Getting a semi-acceptable wildlife lens is also not possible for much less than your entire budget.
There is good news and bad news: Used cameras provide great bargains because they drop in value quickly. However, used lenses keep their value. Therefore you will have to raise your budget significantly or buy the camera and rent the lenses. Now how to choose:
- DSLRs now all use CMOS sensors. You can go with a cropped-sensor (APS-C) or a full-frame one. Full-frame sensors provide lower image-noise but cost more and generally require more expensive lenses. I'd say a recent APS-C sensor is good enough.
- AF-Points. Many photographers use just a single one. They autofocus and recompose which becomes quick to do with lots of practice. However, when shooting subjects that move erratically, it wont cut it and here the more AF-points the better. Most cameras offer at least 11 but it goes as high as 61 which increases the odds of the camera keeping a moving subject in focus.
- Megapixels determine how big you can print. More megapixels equals larger prints. You need to figure out how large you want to print and that tells you how many MP are needed.
- Frames-per-second are how fast a camera can shoot continuously. When shooting moving subjects such as people, animals, birds, etc, it makes a huge difference. The faster you can shoot, the more chances you have to get the perfect photo at the height of action. Even shooting a relatively still person, the continuous drive helps get more shots where the subject is not blinking or has an un-photogenic expression.
- Viewfinder coverage: 100% is best because you see everything exactly as it will be shot. If you get anything less, you will will simply have to do a lot more cropping to account for unwanted objects (people's heads, hair, poles, wires, etc) at the edge of your frames. It can be rather time-consuming if you shoot a lot.
- Brand: For cameras it is a non-issue, for DSLR it is very important to choose the right brand as it controls which lenses you can use. Crucially for renting, very few stores rent anything but Canon and Nikon gear. Some do but they are the minority.
Now if you were to get the most of everything above, you would end up with a very expensive camera. What you need to decide is what is more important for you. Certain options appear only on some very expensive cameras. The great thing about DSLRs is that you do not have to buy all your lenses at once. You can buy a used camera and maybe you will be able to afford ONE decent lens for one of your needs. Then when you have more budget, buy the next lens and so forth. Until you do, rent the ones you need for each event.
These days, you pretty much can't go wrong with any of the leading major brands (Nikon, Sony, Canon). Given your budget, I'd suggest that you pick the previous generations of any of them. I'm a Canon guy, and have two Canon 7D's and also a Sony NEX-7 (for travel and walk-around shooting). You can pick up a brand new Canon T4i (current generation of consumer DSLR) for < $600 on eBay (I recently bought one for my son)7. I bought a used 7D body for $1000 on CraigsList. There are lots of options. You can spend a LOT of time trying to identify the "perfect" camera, or you can get started.
Check sites like Digital Photography School if you want to read lots of reviews and get lots of tutorials.
I agree with the previous answer that the lens is at least as important as the camera body. That said, there are lots of excellent consumer-grade lenses (like the Tamron 18-270mm telephoto zoom or the Canon 18-200mm telephoto zoom) that are readily available, both new and used, and would provide you with excellent results as you learn your craft.
My suggestion would be - based purely on my irrational bias toward Canon - either a brand new T4i and a couple of lenses, or a used 7D for around $1000 and then one decent consumer lens. If you search eBay and Craigslist, you'll find some excellent options for either.
The advantage of the T4i (or any of the new crop of cameras) is that they do a fantastic job of HD video. The 7D (and the equivalent Nikon and Sony cameras) also do a very good job of video, so the trade-offs are slight.
I can pretty much guarantee that no matter what you start with, you'll be wanting to upgrade relatively soon, as you learn more and increase your skill and expose your preferences. Start with something you can afford, that has the features you need (they ALL do), and build up from there.