The very first time that I held an SLR camera was when I was 16. It was my father’s Pentax, a very handsome film SLR camera. It was an expensive hobby, specially for a college student, so I decided to let go of photography. Years later, however, I finally received my very first digital camera: Kodak EasyShare M753, a 7-megapixel point-and-shoot. I took it to my honeymoon, where I was able to take beautiful outdoor pictures.
A couple of years later, I felt like I wanted to experiment more with photography and Kodak just didn’t help anymore. A lot of my pictures felt dull and flat, and macro shots were too blurry. That’s when the decision to step into the world of DSLR was taken. I knew I wanted a Nikon – though I’m not sure why – because Canon, Pentax, Olympus, etc are all equally impressive cameras.
So how does one choose which DSLR to purchase?
I had already made up my mind about Nikon, so when we – I took my husband along since he was paying for the camera and the celebratory dinner that followed – were at the shop, I really had to consider the price tag. Photography is my hobby, not profession. And so, I didn’t want to spend a fortune. Also, we’re talking about an SLR here, which basically means that at one point or another you will want to upgrade your kit lens. We bought my Nikon D40 for AED 2000 (including a UV filter, camera bag and memory card). It comes with the standard 18-55 mm kit lens. And now – only 6 months later – I’m already giving random hints to the husband to buy me another lens (which, by the way, costs the same as the camera itself).
Therefore, you will need to – eventually – spend a good amount of money on lens(es), UV filters (a must-have), camera bag (because the one that came with the camera can’t fit the lens(es) you later bought), more memory cards, spare battery (just in case), a basic cleaning kit, and a tripod (another must-have).
2. Decide what you need the camera for
With so many camera models out there, it’s a good idea to narrow down your options by thinking about what’s important to you, and what you want to do with the camera. For me, I decided that I needed a camera for general photography – mainly outdoors. Many entry-level DSLRs – like my Nikon D40 – has the point-and-shoot simplicity, which means it comes with auto mode (sports, landscape, nighttime, macro, etc).
If you want to shoot wildlife or sports, you’ll need a fast camera with a high frame rate, and will probably want one of the smaller sensor formats. If you shoot in very low light you’ll need a camera with the best possible high ISO performance and in-body image stabilization.
3. Size does matter
Not all people who own an SLR use it as often as they would use their point-and-shoot cameras, simply because the former is too bulky to take on trips. If you buy an SLR to get stunningly sharp photos, remember that you’ll have to carry it – and its flash accessories, lenses, memory cards, and tripod – along with the diaper bag, lunch, stroller, and toys when you go out. Also, those who pack a month’s clothes for a weekend getaway will find that an SLR takes an enormous amount of space. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter how great a camera is if you can’t be bothered carrying it around with you because it’s too big or too heavy. Also, there’s always the risk of theft while you’re traveling (specially if you lovingly place your camera in a bag that clearly reads: NIKON).
“So how many megapixels does your camera have?” This is the second most frequent question a lot of people ask me, after inquiring about the brand of camera I use. Megapixels come into play as you consider how you’ll use your images. So depending on what size you’ll print your pictures, you can make a decision about how much megapixel you need in your camera. If you’re looking into making large prints then more can be good – if you’re just going to print in regular, album sizes or use them for your blog then even a 6 megapixels camera – like my Nikon D40 – will do the job.
5. Anti-Shake System
If you take pictures in low light or with long telephoto lenses it can easily be ruined by blur caused by the camera moving during the exposure. Image stabilization (IS) systems are designed to counteract the motion of camera shake and reduce (or eliminate) the resultant blurring. At the moment Sony, Pentax and Olympus offer in-body sensor stabilization, whereas Canon, Panasonic and Nikon offer stabilized lenses (including standard ‘kit’ lenses).
6. Dust Protection
Because the lenses are interchangeable, an SLR camera is prone to catching dust on its sensor. I only have the kit lens so far, so there hasn’t been the need to remove it. But the fine particles of the desert sand still managed to enter into the sensor. The most common dust protection technology is the sensor-shift cleaning that vibrates dust off the sensor. My Nikon D40 doesn’t come with the self-cleaning, dust reduction whatever-it’s-called, so I bought a nice bulb blower to simply blow away the dust particles without touching the sensor. It works great.
7. Try Different Cameras Out
I didn’t know anyone close enough to borrow their DSLR. Instead, whenever we’re out at the electronics’ shop, I’d hurry over to the camera section and hold different cameras. Though I have already made up my mind about Nikon, I still held other brands to see how they felt in my hands. I learned that Nikon felt the most comfortable. If possible, borrow someone’s camera and try to see for yourself whether it feels right in your hands.
8. Do you want to take videos?
There will be moments that you would prefer to record in video format rather than a still photograph. My Nikon D40 can’t record videos, but that is perfectly fine with me because the husband always brings his video camera with him on trips and I always have my compact Kodak point-and-shoot in my handbag that makes records decent videos. You might want to consider this option in your DSLR so that you don’t have to bring an additional video camera along. Some of the newer DSLRs have a movie mode, usually HD.
My Nikon D40 does not have an in-body auto-focus lens motor. With the kit lens, I can auto-focus. But in the near future, I will need to spend extra on lenses with built-in motors. But then, I just realized that I hardly use the auto-focus functionality at all! I almost always focus manually. That is one of the features that make me feel that I’m shooting with an SLR. Besides, the auto-focus sometimes focuses on the wrong spots.
10. Realize that no matter which brand you choose, the final outcome will highly depend on you – the photographer.
Choosing a camera based solely on brand is great if you want to show it off, but not if you intend to actually use it. So choose wisely as you’ll likely be stuck with it.
( I read this quote somewhere, but don’t remember where)