( Note: This week, we have a guest post from Atlanta-based photographer Ingrid Owens. Enjoy! )
Are you on the verge on taking your photography to the next level? Thinking about making the jump to a DSLR? It’s a big investment and one that will impact your photography for sometime to come. I get asked all the time – “which camera should I get?” and as someone whose sold cameras in a retail setting for many years I know the answer to this question is not straightforward. Otherwise there’d just be one camera type right? Here are some things to consider to help you make your buying decision a little easier.
1. Full Frame vs Crop sensor
The first big thing you’ll notice about the various DSLRs on the market is that they are separated into 2 types.
Higher end DSLRs such as the Canon 5D Mark ii are considered Full Frame Sensor cameras. This means that their sensor is equivalent in size to traditional 35mm film. This also means that the focal length of whichever lens you are using will also be the equivalent to the “true” focal length so if you have lenses that you used previously with a film DSLR this you will get the same angle of view on a full frame sensor as your old 35mm SLR.
Conversely, a crop sensor camera such as the Nikon D3100 has a much smaller sensor than a full frame sensor. If you used the same lens on a crop sensor camera, your angle of view will be narrower hence giving you less width but more focal length. Most Crop Sensor cameras are sold with a dedicated kit lens e.g. an EF 18-55 which gives the same approximate focal length as a 28 – 80mm. Note that if you have these EF lenses already they are not compatible with a full frame sensor so if your trading up or plan to at some point you should take this into consideration.
2. Are you already invested in one brand or another
If you do have lenses that are compatible this will definitely help you make your choice between brands. Remember too that flash units and other accessories are usually designed to work with one brand in particular. Also I find that although the features and functions of cameras change as you go through the camera models in a particular brand, the menus and interfaces are pretty similar. If your already used to the menu on the Canon Powershot G12, it’ll be an easy transition to the Rebel’s menu.
As with all things technological, you should buy the best that you can afford today as tomorrow something better will come along. A DSLR is an investment and will serve you well for many years if it’s treated well by you. Lenses in particular tend to hold their value pretty well so don’t forget to factor this into your budget. An excellent piece of glass will be in your kit bag probably longer than the camera.
4. Body only or kit
The kit lens that comes with most entry DSLRs have come a long way. However they are still not as good as some of the speciality lenses you might want to consider. For example, if you travel a lot , you might like the convenience of having a bigger zoom lens plus a wide angle lens all in one. Or if you do a lot of portraiture no doubt you’ll want to invest in a bright portrait lens in addition to your other lenses. Sometimes it makes sense to buy body only and then buy your speciality lens separate. For most beginners thought it makes sense to buy the camera kitted with a general purpose lens.
5. Movie Mode
The ability of DSLRs to do high quality High Definition Video has changed the way many people use their cameras. If this is something that interests you, spend some time researching the differences between the brands and models. It’s not always the case that the more expensive models give a better quality video output – rather things like ease of use, length of video time change.
6. What else do I need to get started?
When buying a DSLR remember that your going to need more than just the basic camera. Lenses may be included or not depending on which model you chose. You’ll also need a high capacity memory card, tripod, filters, good kit bag to name but a few.
7. Canon or Nikon – the big debate
Can’t choose between Canon or Nikon? The truth is that they are BOTH excellent camera manufacturers. These guys have been in the business for a long time and creating optics and cameras is their main business. My suggestion is ask the opinion of people you know who already shooting with a DSLR. If your best bud has a Nikon ask if you can try it out for a day. It might be a good idea to go with a Nikon in this case as he may be help you out when you get stuck. It is important to try out as many different models as you can in person so you can get an idea of what feels good in your hand. Many of the entry level DSLRs may feel small in a guy’s hands but perfect for a girl. Some people like a weighty camera, others like it to be light and easy to tote. Your DSLR needs to be an extension of your body – make sure it fits!
Entry Level Nikon – Nikon D3100
Entry Level Canon – Canon Rebel T3i
A little more to spend… Try the Canon EOS 7D
Ingrid Owens is a photography tutor based in Atlanta, Georgia. Originally from Ireland she’s been involved the photographic industry all her life. Having owned and operated a camera retail store and print lab for over 20 years and she is very familiar with what makes a great photo and loves helping people how to do just that. She currently teaches in-person photography classes in Atlanta and also offers online photography classes
For lots more tips you can check out her blog at Beginners Photography Blog