With the holidays approaching, I’ve had several people inquire about buying their first DSLR camera, so I decided to write a blog post about that very topic! In order to determine which camera is best for you, you first have to understand that it’s about getting a camera that works towards the goal you have in mind for it. This requires thinking ahead – will this camera work down the road and grow with you, or will you need to be prepared to upgrade at some point? News flash – cameras are NOT cheap!
Ask yourself this question – what do I want to use this camera for? Is it for travel, sports photography, bird watching, weddings, pictures of your kid… you get the point! For instance, if you’re wanting to take better pictures of your kid, a crop-sensor (APS-C) camera will be more than enough for you. Adversely, if you’re shooting weddings, you will require a full-frame sensor. The sensor is more important than the megapixels. You’ve probably heard the term megapixels from someone that owns a camera before, and it generally goes a little something like this… “how many megapixels is that Canon, Bob?” haha! I honestly couldn’t even tell you how many megapixels my camera is.. I’d have to Google it!
The megapixels are the tiny dots that make up the picture, and the sensor is the part of the device that captures the light creating the image. Both important, but the full-frame sensor has more than double the surface area, allowing in more light, which increases the quality of photos in low-light situations.
As a child I owned various point and shoot cameras and starter DSLRs, but when I got into photography with the intent to learn manual mode so that I could start shooting weddings, I started with a crop-sensor camera – the Canon EOS 70D body – which is about $1200 new, and upgraded to a full sensor shortly thereafter – the Canon EOS 5D Mark iii – which is about $2,800 new. My goal was to become a wedding photographer, and for that I really needed the full sensor, but for learning manual, a good crop sensor camera did the trick, and I upgraded about 6 months to a year later!
More important than the camera body I believe, is investing in good glass. Important things to know about lenses.. every one of them has an f-stop and focal length.
The focal length determines how far or how wide you can get with the lens. For instance, a 17mm lens can produce a very wide shot, whereas a 200mm lens can produce a very close up shot of your subject. So for weddings, I might use a 17mm lens to perhaps get a picture of the entire church building, and a 200mm lens to stand at the back of the church and zoom into the couples hands as they exchange their vows.
The f-stop determines how wide the aperture can open. For instance a 50mm lens with an f-stop of 1.2 is going to be much brighter than one that can only reach f/4.0.
Basically, what I’m saying is that the lenses dictate what type of shots you’re going to take, whereas the camera body is slightly less important when you’re just starting out.
For basically any beginner, I would recommend a 50mm lens as your first! I had the 50mm f/1.8 which starts around $130 new and eventually moved up to the 50mm f/1.2 which starts around $1300 new. The 50mm is referred to a lot as the nifty fifty. It’s most photographers first lens, and their go to lens.
Something else to consider when buying your first DSLR and subsequent lenses is whether you want prime lenses or zoom lenses. Zoom lenses do exactly as they say, they zoom. You can go between one focal length and another. Whereas prime lenses have a set focal length, and you have to move your feet to zoom in or out.
All of my lenses except for two are prime lenses. I also started exclusively with prime lenses. I started with prime lenses and tend to stick with them because: a) they produce significantly sharper images than zoom lenses, b) prime lenses generally have lower apertures which creates stunning bokeh (that blurry background), c) they’re better to learn on – because they have lower apertures – so it’s easier to miss your focus, making it so that you have to practice a little harder at nailing your focus, and d) because of the wide aperture, you can get better quality shots in low-light situations just from your aperture versus having to up your ISO which results in a grainy photo.
That being said, a lot of people want to buy kits for their first DSLR. I was one of them! I actually purchased one at Costco, and ended up returning it after I did my due diligence online. Those lenses just weren’t going to get me the type of pictures that I wanted, for all of the reasons I listed above. So again, I go back to.. what is your goal for this camera? You also have to consider how practical it is that you’re going to carry around several lenses and a camera body on the regular. It might be more practical for you to have a zoom lens than several prime lenses. There’s no wrong answer here. It’s just a matter of what you’re looking to do ultimately with the camera once you have it!