Ten Tips on How to Choose Your First DSLR Camera

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?

1.  Price

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).

4.  Resolution

“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.

9. Auto-Focus

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)

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43 Responses to Ten Tips on How to Choose Your First DSLR Camera

  1. Thanks. I will surely use the info while buying one.

  2. frozeefa says:

    Now i am thinking if its essential to indulge myself with a DSLR..Man i am so frickle minded.. But seriously without this post, i wldnt have known owning a DSLR can be such a baby..

    I rather spend on something else..i wont mind if there was an offer..

    On the other hand, its a good investment 🙂

    Thanks for sharing sis 🙂

    • nadia says:

      Frozeefa, if you buy a DSLR now, make sure the husband is extremely cooperative. You can manage either Zahra or the DSLR 😀

      But seriously though, if you want to take really good pictures of the baby, I would suggest you buy a very good point-and-shoot camera. They cost less than a DSLR, are much smaller, and take extremely good pictures.

  3. Ubaid says:

    i want a dslr but *sigh* 20k short 😦

  4. Pingback: Ten Tips on How to Choose Your First DSLR Camera | Tea Break

  5. masood says:

    Great…and 10 more reasons to make my decision worthy and I feel that this camera also shows the dignity to hold:)

    • nadia says:

      Oooh, that’s absolutely right! I love how the Nikon D40 feels in my hands, plus I can take pictures of anything – even a dried twig – and people look on in awe (specially back home) 😀

  6. Raheel says:

    Generally, while photographing what matters more is not the camera, but the eye behind the camera.
    Yet DSLR has the flexibility and charm.

  7. Great tips Nadia, Thankyouu 🙂
    Number 10 is very important, it really does depend on you.
    I bet everyone reading this will now want to get their hands on a dslr!

    • nadia says:

      Thank you so much, Smiley! I’ve met some people who would ask – after looking at some of the pictures that I’d taken – “What camera do you use?” And when I tell them that it’s Nikon, they’re like, “Ah okay.”

      I feel offended. Like the pictures came out the way they did because of the camera brand.

      Then I show them some old shots, and they comment, “Wow, such vibrant colors. Nikon is really good!” And I’m like, “I took those with my Kodak point-and-shoot”. 😀

  8. Assalamoalaikum,

    Oh and before you get confused, Raheel, my brother and I are the authors of the same blog…

    JazakAllah for the tips, I have bought a DSLR some time ago, but the shake problem IS there.. grr, InshaAllah waiting to upgrade to a better one soon. Though the EOS 500D is really new so far..

    • nadia says:

      Walaikum Assalam. Thank you for the clarification; I was about to get confused 😉

      I’m sorry to hear about the shake problem. Once you upgrade, don’t forget to post a review on your blog 🙂

      And welcome to the Purple Journal!

  9. Mezba says:

    Thanks for this! Extremely helpful. Now I know how expensive a hobby it can be! 🙂

    I am still debating Canon vs Nikon. I had a Nikon point and shoot sometime back and returned it because I didn’t like the pictures it was taking, and switched for a Canon instead and was quite happy with the results. And all my friends here have Canon and swear by it.

    And then I look at your Nikon pictures and re-think again.

    I am most interested in shooting panorama and HDR pictures (so for me I need a camera that can shoot the same image in 3 exposures).

    • nadia says:

      You are most welcome, Mezba!

      It’s best to go and hold both brands with your own hands. They say only then you’ll know 🙂 Either way – Canon vs Nikon – you can’t go wrong.

      I love HDR photography too! But I’m not quite ready to get into it. However, from what I have read online, it seems that Nikon D3X is the favorite camera of HDR photographers. Then you’ll need a wide angle lens ( Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF which is my dream lens).

      And apart from Photoshop, you’ll need Photomatrix too.

  10. Niyaz says:

    These are really useful tips for buyers 🙂 , but for me it vl take some years to handle DSLR …since I’m a kido in photography can’t even handle a small cybershot 😦

    • nadia says:

      Thank you, Niyaz! You are definitely not a kiddo; I’ve seen some of your pictures on Facebook and the composition is great! Keep practicing on your Cybershot in the meantime. It’s a very nice camera.

  11. Although the camera itself is good, MashaAllah, most of the DSLR’s aren’t comletel y immune to Shake. If I rest my camera on something or hold it firmly and press myself against the wall, it really helps, but most of the shake problem for me occurs in night photgraphy, where crisp images mean shake and no shake means higher ISO 😀

    Anyway, I would sugge st a tripod. It is a must unl ess the camera is MarkI. I am not accustomed to Nikon or other cameras, I ONLY use Canon Cameras or Nokia Phones, the basic and boring !!

    Oh and I will definately buy NIkon next because the lenses are almost half the price! and cameras are cheaper too and the quality is almost the same of the photos!

    • nadia says:

      If you’re shooting outdoors in bright light, shake shouldn’t be a problem. But in low light situations, even high end cameras don’t produce the crisp images unless you mount it on a tripod. So you are right about tripod being a must-have. The one I have is not the big, sturdy type. But it’s doing its job 🙂

      I’m not sure whether Nikon lenses costs half the price compared to their rival brands. What I do know is that lenses are truly expensive. I will have to work with my kit lens for now.

  12. uneekmuslimah says:

    Thanks a lot for the tips Nadia. I was just thinking abt these things because in future I do want to buy a DSLR Insha Allah. 🙂

  13. u r late…. i already bought it last yr Nikon D60

    *hi5 ma Nikon buddy*

  14. Haris Gulzar says:

    Man! Photography is an expensive hobby :-O. How about an excellent and an outstanding mobile that has a small tiny camera in it as well :-P. A talking camera you know (Y) :-D. I’d post the pictures I plan to take with my mobile camera, if ever I buy one :-D… (Yeah the mobile I currently have doesn’t even have a camera in it (Y) :-P)

    • nadia says:

      Very expensive! However, an excellent and outstanding mobile phone will do a lot of things a DSLR can never do. AND since the one you have doesn’t have a camera *shock* *horror* you better spend your hard-earned money on a phone than a camera 😀

  15. Joud says:

    Great post, I’m sure it’ll be a great help to loads of people inshaAllah! 😀

  16. Anonymous says:

    I won’t comment any thing ’bout the photography stuff ‘cuz thats not my cuppa..
    rather i would like to say that….the new theme of your blog is looking extremely refreshing !!

    really nice..

  17. frozeefa says:

    yeah sis…i think i rather get a gd quality camera..wow looking at the amt of monery spent on the maintenance..i rather get her smtg educational…more worthwhile for me at this point of time…meantime enjoy taking snaps and do continue sharing those beautiful pics…:)

    • nadia says:

      Yes, I agree with you on that. We need to set our priorities straight.

      Also, keep posting those beautiful and fun pictures of Zahra on Facebook. I love going through them! 🙂

  18. I agree with one of your reader comments totally! It is like caring for a baby… that’s why in the end I settled for having the real baby… the lens baby will come later when my son is a little older I guess… 🙂 But a very comprehensive guide to someone like me who might want to venture into photography! Thanks for the post!

    • nadia says:

      Taking care of/handling your DSLR is indeed similar to caring for a baby (except that you can pack your camera away after cleaning it) 😀

      I’m glad you liked the post. Thank you!

  19. Janit says:

    Nice tips Nadia…. i especially liked the last one. 🙂

  20. BellaNaomi says:

    Thanks for the tips…photography is my hobby and to be spend on my spare time and holiday.

    I just got a 50D canon, and I love it!

  21. Asma R says:

    Oohh I just got a DSLR, a Nikon D3000, and I’m in LOVE<3
    haha, I have yet to decide it's gender, and I have a lot to buy for it…maybe you can do a review of the accessories? Love the post, thanks 🙂

    • nadia says:

      Congratulations on your first DSLR! LOL @ I have yet to decide its gender 😀 Even though I’ve decided that mine is a boy, I still haven’t named him. And I too have a lot to buy; there’s so many interesting lenses and accessories out there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit our budget yet. So I will have to wait for sometime before buying a new lens.

      If you do not have a cleaning kit and/or a tripod yet, I suggest you purchase those first. And please post pictures on your blog soon 🙂

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