So you are going to take the plunge and buy your first "big" camera. It's an exciting step, but there's so many choices out there, how to you decide what to buy? Here are my tips on buying your first DSLR.
Decide on a budget. Photography equipment is expensive and generally, the better the equipment, the more expensive. So, make sure you have a price point before looking. It will help narrow down your choices. I also like the website DPReview which helps you compare features of different cameras: http://www.dpreview.
Don't sweat the features. Cameras nowadays are so filled with features, it makes it hard to decide what is important and what is not. I tend not to worry too much about them except for the number of focus points (more is better), the frames per second (again--the more the better), the megapixels (12 or more is great), and how far up the ISO goes (the greater the number, the better). I will also see if lenses I'm interested in are compatible with the camera body.
Buy a brand you recognize. Most semi-professional to professional photographers buy either Canon or Nikon. There are other brands out there, but I always go with something that will be around when I want to upgrade or add new lenses. It's a good idea to ask around and see what brand your friends have. Then, you can borrow equipment from them and visa versa. My aunt and I both own Nikons. It's been fun to work with her equipment whenever I visit. Once you've decided on a brand, you usually stick to it. Lenses and accessories are not interchangeable between different brands of cameras.
Be wary of "kit" lenses (and kits in general). Kits are bundles that often include the camera body, 1 or 2 lenses (also called "kit" or "stock" lenses), a bag, sometimes a DVD or other accessories all for one price. Usually the kit lenses aren't the greatest. They take okay pictures and are good for the beginner, but after a while, you realize that kit lenses don't give you that nice blurry background. Plus, they can't take nice pictures in low light (like indoors, at a gym, at twilight, etc.). Then again, it's nice to have a couple lenses that zoom and cover both close and far away objects, even if they don't do a great job in low light. I started out with a kit and it was good to start on, but I quickly learned I had to upgrade my lenses to get better pictures. I haven't used my kit lenses in years. (Oh, and I got rid of most of the other stuff in the kit too.)
Consider a prime lens. Most photographers will spend more on lenses than they will on camera bodies. Unfortunately, pro lenses are really pricey, but there are a few nice lenses that aren't that expensive and can be used to make wonderful pictures. These lenses fall in the prime lens category. That means they don't zoom; they just have one focal length. So, if you want to "zoom in" with a prime lens, you've got to move in closer to your subject. To "zoom out," you have to move backwards. That's the down side. The plus side is that you can make the lens opening open very wide to get those blurry backgrounds and to take pictures in low light.
A great starter prime lens is the 50 mm f/1.8 lens. It's the first prime lens I bought. Other good prime lenses are the 85 mm f/1.8 (a telephoto lens) and the 35 f/1.8 mm (more of a wide-angle lens). I also have the 28 mm f/1.8 lens. Be aware that if you buy the Nikon prime lenses, the auto focus on certain prime lenses doesn't work with certain DSLRs, so double check the compatibility before you buy.
Try it out first. If you can borrow or rent the camera and lens you are interested in, then you'll know whether or not you really want to buy it. My favorite place to rent is Aperturent. I love their service and the quality of their equipment. If you are in Atlanta, you can pick up your orders locally! They also ship all over the country.
Learn your camera. Buying a DSLR is an investment, but it's not worth a lot if you don't learn how to use it. One of the first things I did when I was learning photography was to take a workshop. I also read (and still read) a ton of books, blogs, and websites about photography. I offer both photography workshops and lessons if you are in the Atlanta area. If you aren't, you may want to look into my online mentoring package.
Marchet's DSLR Essentials List
If I were to put together my own kit, this is what I would choose for a beginning photographer. (It's also a great list if you are looking to buy a gift for someone who has the camera, but doesn't have all the necessary accessories.)
- 1 DSLR camera body. (The body usually comes with the battery and battery charger.)
- 1 50 mm f/1.8 prime lens (make sure the camera body and the lens are compatible!)
- 1 UV filter (protects your lens!)
- 2 memory cards (I like the 8 and 16 GB cards the best.)
- 1 lens cleaning cloth (like the one you get for eyeglasses) and cleaning solution (found in most camera cleaning kits)
- 1 camera bag (I like the holster variety.)
- 1 mini hard drive for backing up/archiving
- Local camera shop like PPR Atlanta (The people are usually very knowledgeable and you can try out the camera in the store before you buy it.)
Favorite places to buy camera equipment
Once you've decided what to buy, you have to figure out where to buy. Sometimes you can get a deal by buying used equipment. I bought my first pro camera from another photographer, and it's been great. I also look at buying a older model to save money. My favorite spots to get camera gear are listed below. Most of them also have used equipment for sale that include a seller's warranty (something you won't get off of Craigslist).