Photography 101: Consideration When Purchasing Your First DSLRBy Chris Nitz
Have you been debating on investing in your first DSLR? Maybe you are ready to buy, but you have no idea where to start, or what to spend your mountains of cash on. No worries, this is a big step for many people. With a bit of planning, you can get a great DSLR setup that will help you grow in this wonderful world of photos. Let us look at just how you might want to consider your future shopping endeavor.
The first part to any shopping spree is figuring out a budget. You may think this is as easy as looking at your bank account, jotting down the remaining balance, and running off to the store. Before you speed off to the camera store to spend the remaining balance in your bank account, consider a few things that come with investing in a DSLR. The first thing you want to do is setup a camera budget. This is the amount you will spend on the camera and lens alone. A trick here is to budget a third of the amount for a camera, and the last two thirds on a lens. More on this later.
Outside of the camera budget, setup an accessory budget as well. Remember, the DSLR you are eyeing up may not take the same memory card as your point and shoot camera. Memory cards are relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things, but it is still an additional cost. You may also need to look at getting a sturdier tripod as a DSLR weighs quite a bit more than a point and shoot. Lastly, things like camera books, cleaning cloths, new filters, and even extra batteries need to be considered when deriving a budget.
One last piece of advice on budget setup, leave some wiggle room before you head off to the store. This will allow you to pick up something you may have forgotten to budget, like a new camera bag. The most important part of this budget is to set it up and stick to it. Remember, you will be adding to your gear as time goes on, so it is not necessary to try to grab everything in one trip.
Now that you have a budget figured out, it is time to shop for camera gear. You may expect me to tell you to buy this brand or that brand, but in all honesty, I will not be telling you what to choose. There are plenty of good brands on the market, and this is a highly personal choice for so many photographers. Everything from Sony, Pentax, Nikon, and Cannon have whole forums of people squabbling over what brand is best.
Here is how you decide what is best for you: research. Shop around, hold cameras, click the shutters, browse the in camera menus, and just get an idea of what you are getting into. You may find it best to go with a brand that is supported by a local camera store. If you have friends with camera gear, it might be of interest to choose the same brand as they have. This trick will allow you to share gear like lenses while you build up your own camera gear.
Another key is to check out image quality for yourself. Some good sites online will allow you to rent a camera for a nominal fee. This is great if you are stuck debating between two brands. You can rent a body with a lens and go do some field-testing with it. This can go a long way in helping you choose a brand.
The idea is to choose a brand you are comfortable with and will like for the long haul. Remember how I said you should only set aside one third of your budget for a camera body. The reason why is because a camera body is a relatively short-term investment. You are just moving into the DSLR arena, so you will inevitably want to upgrade within a short time period as you grow and hone your skills.
Lenses equal the long-term investment
Your brand choice ultimately ties into lenses. Lenses are going to be a long-term investment. There are people shooting on new cameras with lenses that are 50 years old. This is why two thirds of the camera budget should be allocated to lenses, and why choosing a brand you like up front will save you so much more headache down the road.
Another major reason for buying good lenses is picture quality. That is right, your image quality is not all wrapped up in camera sensors, megapixels, brand, or anything else advertisers try to sell you on. A great photo comes from skill and the glass in which that image is captured. Sure, those other items do play a role in the image, but the glass is where the quality starts. Think about it for a moment, the image passes through the lens before it ever touches a camera sensor or turns into megapixels. Good lenses equal better quality photos. This is only enhanced by the skill of the photographer.
Be warned, lenses are expensive. If this is your first journey into DSLR photography, you most likely will not need the lenses that come with price tags in the thousands of dollars. You should expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a good starting lens though. The lens that comes in camera kits are often adequate, but buying a lens separately allows you two advantages. First, you can buy a lens of better quality. Thus you end up with better looking photos. Second, you can choose a lens tailored to what you enjoy shooting most. Maybe you like shooting macro photos, or you enjoy capturing wildlife. Buying the lens separately allows you more to buy a lens tailored to your shooting style.
Accessories make the outfit
The last part of shopping for a new DSLR comes with accessory shopping. Beware of memory card types and restrictions of your chosen DSLR. If your current memory cards will work in your new DSLR, beware of sizing issues. DSLR images are much larger than those from point and shoot cameras. Where an image from a point and shoot camera maybe 2 megabytes in size, the same image might be 20 megabytes in size from a DSLR. Make sure you account for this, as shooting five photos before filling up the memory card will quickly put a damper on your shooting fun.
I would recommend getting an extra battery, UV filter, and lens cleaner at the minimum. The extra battery will most certainly come in handy quicker than you anticipate. The UV filter works great as a lens protector, while providing some minimal benefits when shooting outdoors. Lastly, the lens cleaner will help you keep your lens clean from finger smudges and dust while keeping your lens scratch free.
Where to buy all of this stuff
Once all your research is complete, it is time to buy. There are plenty of options here. If you are new and have no idea how long you will be using this gear, investing hundreds of dollars on gear may not be a wise decision. To help cut the cost, consider buying used equipment while you get your bearings. You can find great used deals at a local camera store, or online at places like B&H or Adorama.
If new and shinny is the way you want to go, watch for deals as many manufactures run specials for buying certain camera bodies and lenses. These specials can save you hundreds of dollars, and allows you to buy the camera body and lens combination you find best for your needs. When I bumped up to a Nikon D90, I got the camera at $100 off and the lens I bought with it was another $300 off, all thanks to a special Nikon was running at the time.
Wrapping it all up
Let me sum up all this rambling. Setup a budget for a camera body, lens, and accessories. Of that budget, plan the total camera cost with one third going to camera body and the remaining two-thirds going to a lens. Research, try, and fondle different cameras from different manufacturers to choose a camera that is best for you, NOT what some Internet forum tells you are best. Camera bodies are short-term investments while lenses are long-term investments. Shop and compare prices before dumping your hard-earned money on new gear. Most importantly, stay within a budget while having as much fun as you can.
This is where you would expect me to tell you about my life, how awesome I am, or why I am so superior to other people in this line of business. I would enjoy telling you how I have wrestled grizzly bears 10 feet tall. Maybe you would like hearing how I have taken on Velociraptors in my days as a young man. Even better is the story how I have traveled to the furthest reaches of space to stop catastrophic alien invasions. The problem will be that you might not believe my awesome stories.
I will keep these awesome stories for the campfire though. I’m just a man, taking pictures, trying to make a living. I ditched my education in computers in favor of pursuing my passion for photography. I enjoy a good cold beer on a warm day. I have a fondness of the outdoors.. I have enjoyed years capturing life’s unscripted moments. Hopefully, I can enjoy many more years of slacking off without fear of those grizzlies taking me out before my time.
My Philosophy is to capture those non-scripted moments. To capture the little details that this world really has to offer. From weddings to insects, I enjoy capturing the life, the details, and the moments that come and go in a flash.
Photo/Video Credits: © 2010 Chris Nitz
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