Digital SLR cameras, also known as DSLRs, are very hot items right now. Interchangeable lenses, higher fidelity photos, and the feeling that screams “Look at me, I’m a professional!” even though you’re really not, are all valid reasons people are buying DSLRs these days. For a list of more reasons to buy a DSLR, read our article “Why Buy a Digital SLR Camera?” in the Photobird Daily.
DSLRs vary widely in their feature sets and prices, from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, so it’s a good idea to understand how to choose the best DSLR for your needs. And by all means, if you’re buying one for the prestige, don’t skimp; buy the most expensive one you can find!
With so many DSLR cameras available, how do you choose? Yanik’s Photo School compiled a great list of 10 tips to consider when shopping for a DSLR. He didn’t put them in any particular order, but I will list them in order of importance.
Here are the 10 tips for buying a DSLR.
1. What will you use it for? This is the most important question, and will help you decide if you need to spend less than a thousand dollars or more than a thousand dollars on your DSLR. If this is your first DSLR and you’re going to use it for your photography hobby, it’s wise to start off with a DSLR that costs only a few hundred dollars. Later, after you have more experience and a better understanding of what you need in a DSLR, then you can spend more. If you’re on your third or fourth DSLR and you have your own successful photography business, then you probably already know what you need and probably don’t even need to read the rest of this article.
2. Price. If you’re a professional photographer, or you just need an ego boost, obviously you can justify spending thousands on a DSLR. If this is your first DSLR, you’ll need to consider whether you can spend a few hundred dollars or more on a DSLR. Keep in mind that it’s not just the DSLR body that you need to buy, but everything else that goes along with it, such as lenses. Lenses can sometimes cost more than the DSLR body, which is definitely justified because the lens (also known as “glass”) can be the most important part of the DSLR ensemble. Don’t forget accessories such as flashes, tripods, new lenses, memory cards, backup storage, new lenses, new computer, new monitor, and oh, I almost forgot, new lenses; it all adds up. You basically need to be comfortable with a budget for everything, not just the DSLR.
3. Lenses. As you know, DSLR lenses are arguably the most important part of the camera. The camera body that you use will change as digital camera technology improves, but you’ll most likely keep your lenses. They’re a huge investment, not only because you’ll keep them for a long time, but also because they can cost more than the camera body itself. So be sure to look at the lenses available for your DSLR before you buy it to make sure the available lenses are the ones you need with the quality you’re looking for. You may also want to consider companies that allow you to rent lenses; we’ve written about them before in the Photobird Daily.
4. Upgrades. As mentioned above, you will likely upgrade your camera body as digital camera technology improves, so you not only need to look at the lenses that are available for your camera, but also look at the current and past camera bodies that the camera manufacturer has produced over the years. Have they introduced new cameras and new technologies at a rate consistent with your needs? Maybe you feel like you need to be on the cutting edge of camera technology and need to upgrade your camera every 6 to 12 months. Or perhaps you can wait to upgrade every few years, especially as prices of older technology plummet. Also consider that camera companies with larger selections of DSLR cameras increase your chances that they have the right camera for your needs.
5. How does it feel? Your DSLR must feel good in your hands or else you won’t enjoy shooting with it. Be sure you spend enough time with each DSLR model you’re considering to make sure it feels good to you. Also be sure to test drive its various dials, buttons, and settings, including the settings in the LCD screen, so you get to know the camera well. In fact, to be certain a DSLR is right for you, I recommend borrowing it or using it for at least a day in situations that you actually plan to use it in. You don’t want to spend time pressing buttons in the camera store only to realize later that you overlooked a feature that you need but the camera doesn’t actually implement that feature well.
6. Your local DSLR network. Consider friends and family members that already have DSLRs. It might be worth buying into the same DSLR system as them so you can borrow each other’s lenses and accessories, which will save all of you some money.
7. Sensor size. More DSLR cameras are now available with larger sensors, which means more megapixels and bigger pixels for better image quality in low-light situations. Going back to item #1 in this list, you’ll need to consider if your photography will benefit from using a DSLR with a sensor the size of 35mm film.
8. Sensor cleaning. Every time you change your lenses on your DSLR, you expose the sensor to the outside world, which includes dust, dirt, and other bad things that can land on your sensor and mar your images. You’ll eventually get what is known as sensor dust or sensor spots on your photos. You can remove them by blowing air on the sensor, but that doesn’t always work. You can brush the sensor clean, but that risks damaging it. You can also have it professionally cleaned by an authorized technician, but most new models have a self-cleaning sensor that works very well. Consider investing in a DSLR with a self-cleaning sensor especially if you have lenses that you expect you will be changing frequently.
9. Live view. Traditionally, you had to look through the viewfinder to see what you were about to capture with DSLRs. Newer DSLRs have live view which enables you to look at the LCD to see what the photo is going to look like, similar to the way people with point-and-shoot cameras frame their photos with their LCD screens. Live view is not necessary for most uses and doesn’t seem to be widely used, but it can come in handy when you’re shooting in awkward positions or shooting macro or astrophotography.
10. Memory cards. Most low-end DSLRs use SD (Secure Digital) memory cards while most high-end DSLRs use CF (CompactFlash) memory cards. If you already have a bunch of SD memory cards from the point-and-shoot digital camera you were using, you could consider buying a DSLR that uses SD memory cards, but I recommend you reconsider. Memory cards are so inexpensive these days that it doesn’t make sense to hinge a camera purchase that costs a few hundred dollars on an accessory that costs $30 to $40. Keep using your SD cards with your point-and-shoot camera (that you’ll likely continue to use even while you use your DSLR) and get new, larger, faster CompactFlash cards for your DSLR. If you decide not to use your point-and-shoot camera anymore, you can give the SD cards away with the camera.
Now that you know what to look for, start your shopping spree with Amazon.com’s list of the best selling digital SLRs. The Canon Digital Rebel XSi, shown above, is currently the top selling DSLR at Amazon.com.
After reading this article, if you think you might be better served with a regular point-and-shoot digital camera and not a DSLR, then be sure to read my article “Top 10 List for Buying a Digital Camera” in the Photobird Learning Center.
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