Guide to Buying Your First Digital Camera or DSLR
When buying a digital camera, I feel that after visiting so many photographic websites and reading so much advice on what to buy, and by frequently visiting the photography forums online, I have to speak a little on this subject.
For the majority of the camera buying public, there are just 2 main categories that we fall into when starting out or upgrading our equipment in digital photography, the “Absolute Beginner” or the “Amateur” (or serious amateur also sometimes labelled as the semi pro).
Starting with the Beginner, or someone getting started in photography altogether (not just digital), the choice when buying a digital camera nowadays is quite overwhelming!
Everywhere you look there are cameras, and not just in the camera shops like the good old days, but on the internet, in mobile phone shops, in the papers, magazines and supermarkets. You can even get given a cheap digital camera as a free gift for buying something else in some places.
Nowadays, you even get reasonably powerful digital cameras up to 12 megapixels (!!!) in the newer and more expensive mobile phones…and they come in all shapes and sizes.
So where do you start, and how do you make the choice for buying a digital camera either for yourself or as a gift for someone else? It is really quite simple and there are 3 criteria you should look into:
- Quality – Do you want the camera to last at least a few years and not get damaged by a bit of bashing about? Then go for quality. A titanium or magnesium alloy body, not plastic, something that is quite heavy and feels robust in your hands, you can always feel quality!
- Features – Do you want reasonable quality video capabilities? High Definition Video? How big will you want to print the images that come from the camera’s files (how many mega pixels should it have)? Will you want to have at least some manual features so you can maybe get a bit creative? Or do you just want a simple, easy to use “Point-and-shoot” digital camera?
- Price – You should have a budget in mind of how much money you want to spend. My advice is to get the best camera and memory you can afford for your budget, and worry about extras later! Don’t be cheap because if you want reasonably good quality prints, you will find that by spending too little on a cheap camera, you may waste paper, printer ink and/or good money at your local processing lab. If you get a good make and model of digital camera now it should outlast a “cheapie” 4 or 5 times.
Please DO NOT be swayed into buying a digital camera that has all these “Non-Photographic” features, gadgets and gizmos. Any unnecessary features that are added means that some quality has been sacrificed in other areas. Buy a camera to be a camera, and nothing else (except video). I would also suggest buying one of the top brands such as Sony, Canon, Nikon, Olympus etc., even though they may cost a little more the difference in quality is well worth it.
Look for good features such as a reasonable optical zoom like 10-24x, NOT digital zoom. Digital zoom is simply a marketing tool; it is the same as zooming in on the photo once you get it onto your PC. I would say that 10-20X digital zoom is acceptable but I have actually seen digital video cameras with 1000X digital zoom, have you ever tried holding a camera steady at these magnifications, even with a tripod…and then check the quality?!!
Basically, I would suggest that you write down exactly what you want and need from your camera, go to a reputable dealer either online or on the high street and buy a good branded camera that has what you need for your requirements and budget. Don’t be swayed by the salesperson into buying more gear than you need. Read online reviews that come from people who have actually bought and used the camera.
My recommendation? I would take a serious look at B and H Stores in New York, no matter where you live. I have bought a lot of high end camera gear from them in the past and have had no problems other than spending more than I should. Their store is amazing…like the Harrods of the camera world but with excellent prices, service and value!
Now for the Amateur or Semi Pro. When you start to look at all the Semi professional digital SLR’s or Advanced digital compact cameras on the market, the choice when buying a digital camera is a little less but no less confusing. I would give the same advice here as in the previous section, think about what you will need the camera for, and how you think you may want to progress in this hobby, and of course, your budget.
The “prosumer” advanced digital compact cameras available nowadays are steadily catching up with the quality of the DSLR’s, although in my opinion, they can never catch them because as they get better, so do the DSLR’s. Plus, all the time they keep tiny sensors in these cameras, they will never match the DSLR for quality.
The optical zooms are fantastic and the sensors, although smaller than the DSLR, are very powerful and produce some stunning images, some even have “built-in” image stabilisers …nice!
Again, when buying a digital camera, I would advise to go for quality here. These cameras are a bit more expensive anyway and you will want one that will last and put up with a bit of bashing from your “creative photography” moments (rain etc)!
Once you have your advanced digital compact camera, don’t be swayed by all the latest upgrades, updates or releases. Just get to know what you have now, learn how to use it well and learn the actual photography side of photography, and not the technical side.
Once you feel happy with your progression and know that you want to move on, have more control and maybe even start to earn money from photography, only then is it worth considering upgrading to a Digital SLR.
The Semi Professional Digital SLR’s, such as the Canon EOS70D, EOS Rebel T3i or Nikon D90 and D5300’s, are fantastic things in photography. Many of the “die-hard” professional film photographers are seeing the changes and finally going digital. Many aspects of film are still widely used and may be for some time, as with large format film photography the detail is the finest I have seen (in 2011. In 2020, who knows?).
However, this latest batch of Digital SLR’s have now reached the point where, in my opinion, they match or out perform 35mm film. There has never been a better or more affordable way to get stuck into digital photography!
The BIGGEST thing to consider when buying a digital camera or your new DSLR kit, is to choose your brand loyalty.
Take a look at Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Konica-Minolta and Kodak etc., and then make your choice? Because as you progress and become more serious and enthusiastic, you will no doubt want to add more lenses to your kit. Zooms, Telephoto, Wide angle, Macro, Standard…there is a huge choice.
With the way technology is moving, you are much more likely to want to upgrade your camera than your lenses and believe me, it will be a lot cheaper to do so once you really get into this hobby! Just one decent lens in my own kit, the Canon EF70-200 2.8L IS USM, cost €2,000 (£1400) alone, but it was worth it.
The quality is outstanding and is my most used lens. A decent lens should, with care, last you a lifetime and I have now had this lens for 7 years. There is only a certain level of quality of its glass that you can obtain with optics so remember this when you are buying a digital camera.
What is my choice? Canon. I used to work for Nikon and had a keen preference towards them, I felt that their lenses were the best, but nowadays all my kit is Canon. They are currently one (small) step ahead with technology and their lenses (especially the nice white ones) are incredible!
Just look at the next major sporting event on television, how many “White” lenses do you see. Only Canon makes white, professional lenses.
Once again, when you have made your choice of camera, BUY it, ENJOY it and LEARN from it! If the sensor (i.e. 8MP of bigger) produces nice, big, high quality prints, why be tempted by the newer, latest upgrades?
Photography is all about “learning” and enjoyment, don’t be intimidated by all the technological jargon when buying a digital camera. As long as your camera has the features that you need, the quality to match and you can build a nice set of lenses over time, who cares if the latest release has 0.1% better white balance control, or flashing lights, face recognition, smile detection, swivelly screens and so on?
If you are new to these fantastic Digital SLR’s, I have built a section on this website that explains all the bits and buttons…
All the best and enjoy yourselves!