“I’m buying a new camera, what would you recommend?”.
This would have to be the number one question I’m asked at Click Love Grow!
It’s exciting right? Getting your first DSLR or upgrading to something a little more serious! But its hard to know where to look for info about the camera that would suit you best!
You can turn to google for help deciding which model… but it can be so technical you’d be forgiven for thinking you need an engineering degree and a dictionary to decipher it all! So let’s have a closer look, in plain English, to help you make an educated decision without tearing your hair out!
There are many brands of DSLRs, but for the purpose of keeping it simple this post will look at Canon and Nikon as they’re the two most popular brands and offer the most accessories on the market. They’re both fabulous quality and whilst I’m a Canon girl myself, I have lots of photographer friends who happily shoot Nikon.
Both makes offer three levels:
Entry Level/ Beginner: Cheaper, lighter and easier to carry, smaller sensor format (otherwise known as a crop sensor or APS-C), generally has pre-programmed auto functions.
Enthusiast/ Semi-Pro: Larger more robust body, better quality LCDs to review images, generally same size sensor as entry level/beginner models, faster more sophisticated auto-focus system, more auto focus points, better images in low light, higher frames per second.
Pro Models: Full frame sensor, durable bodies with weather sealing, exceptional ISO performance for shooting in low light, much higher image quality.
And to help you decide which level camera and in turn which model is right for you, there are a number of questions you can ask yourself first:
1. Do I Need a DSLR?
Are you interested in learning to use your DSLR in manual mode? A DSLR used in auto will generally take no better images than a cheaper, high end fully automatic compact camera. So if you intend to stick with auto, it may just be worth sticking to a high end compact point and shoot.
The benefits of a DSLR over compact cameras is that by using it in manual mode you have complete control over the effect you produce with your images. The other benefits are that you can also add to your kit with various lenses such as wide angle, telephoto, macro or zoom, so that you can create specific effects depending on what you love to capture.
2. What Is My Budget?
Ok, so being honest, your budget is likely to be one of the biggest deciding factors… if it weren’t an issue I’d simply recommend heading towards the high end cameras!
Expect to pay upwards from around $500 AUD for an entry level DSLR with a standard kit lens. Prices go up as you move into enthusiast and pro camera bodies and lenses. Most enthusiast cameras are sold with slightly better kit lenses, and along with pro camera bodies, can be bought as body only which is a preferable option if you already have lenses you want to use with it, or intend buying a better quality lens than a kit lens.
3. What Do I Want to Photograph?
Have a think about what you’ll be photographing most! If you just want to be able to take control of your camera and take better photos of the usual subjects (family, friends, travel) and you have no intention of ever going pro, and have a small budget… an entry level camera may suit you.
If you have a particular interest in portraits and you think you’ll be shooting indoors a lot using natural light a lot, then you’re going to need your camera to perform well in low light situations. This specifically refers to how grainy the images turn out when shooting at very high ISO, and enthusiast and pro models will handle this far better than an entry level camera.
If you’re upgrading because you want to capture fast sports action, you’ll need a very fast shutter so you would need to check the burst rate of a camera body (how many shots the camera can take in one second, measured in Frames Per Second (FPS)). I suggest aiming for at least 5 fps or higher.
If you’re buying a DSLR with a view to studying and becoming a photographer, it would be worthwhile to consider your future needs as you’re likely to outgrow an entry level DSLR very quickly.
4. Do I Need a Kit Lens?
Even more relevant than the camera body are the lenses you choose, because there are different focal lengths to suit different purposes.
Before you buy anything I recommend reading our lens buying guide.
Related: Lens Buying Guide
Here’s a general guide on lenses and what they’re best suited for:
- 12-35mm – Landscape and architecture photography, street photography
- 35-50mm – Street photography, documentary style photography, lifestyle photography, portraits
- 50-135mm – Portrait photography
- 135mm-300mm – Wildlife and sport photography
Kit lenses are an inexpensive “starter” lens, and only come with entry level and enthusiast model cameras. If your budget is conservative and you’d like to try DSLR photography before committing the bigger dollars that are generally required for better quality lenses, then a kit lens is the way to go. Bear in mind if you fall in love with photography you can expect to outgrow those kit lenses very quickly.
If you choose instead to bypass the kit lenses from the get go, assuming you’ve already established which focal length you want, you’re not limited to Canon lenses for a Canon body, or Nikon lenses for a Nikon body. A more affordable option are Sigma, Tamron and Tokina which are excellent quality lenses.
The first lens that I always recommend to new photographers is the 50mm 1.8 ‘Nifty Fifty‘ as it’s inexpensive and as you can see from my guide above, 50mm is a really versatile focal length.
5. Which Brand?
Generally speaking Canon and Nikon are on a par in quality, and choosing one over the other is a matter of personal taste. One thing to consider is Canon tends to have more affordable options in their lens range than Nikon. Third party lens suppliers such as Tokina, Tamron and Sigma also make lenses specifically for Nikon and Canon.
That said, start as you mean to go on… when it comes time to upgrade your camera body, it makes sense to stick with the first brand you settled on, so that you don’t have to replace your entire collection of lenses at the same time.
Let’s Look at the Options:
This list of cameras is a quick guide indicating the range that is currently available on the market and where they sit in capabilities and price, from Beginner to Enthusiast to the higher end Pro models… start your research here and then compare what you think will suit you best!
Canon and Nikon also offer top range Pro-level cameras that are up around $8000+ AUD
6. Sensor Size
Ok so you’ve asked yourself those first 5 important questions, and that has enabled you to narrow the field. But it has probably raised questions for you around the terms full frame and crop sensors.
DSLRs have different sensor sizes, depending on the manufacturer. Full frame refers to a sensor that is the same size as the old 35mm film sensors, and crop sensors are smaller.
This simply means that cameras with a full frame sensor generally produce better images and have better low light capability (so they perform well at very high ISO settings). The downside is they are physically larger and therefore heavier than cropped sensors, and more expensive. For cropped sensors, the main thing to be aware of is that your lenses will have a longer reach.
This in no way means that crop sensor cameras don’t take a good photo… full frame sensor cameras are simply another step above.
In trying to decipher which camera body is full frame or a crop sensor Canon and Nikon label them as follows:
- Canon – Full frame (nice and easy!)
- Nikon – FX
- Canon – APS-C
- Nikon – DX
7. Megapixels Schmegapixels
You might be wondering why I didn’t mention megapixels in the list of considerations above. I left it out deliberately, because it’s simply not that important! In the days when digital cameras first appeared, megapixels were all that because we had so few available to us (my first digital camera was 3mp!). But these days digital cameras have 24MP available (at the time of posting… technology is moving so fast by the time I publish this article there may have been upgrades!).
So what does 24 megapixels even mean?
24mp = 24 million pixels of colour detail
And that’s already more than we need. To put it into perspective, when printing images, you want 240 pixels per pinch for crisp imagery. So lets say you want to print an 11×14 inch image.
(11inch x 240pixels) x (14inch x 240pixels) = 8,870,400 (or 8.87 megapixels)
So that means even a 10mp camera would manage to print as large as most people tend to print for personal use. So today’s cameras are more than enough for our needs and a few megapixels either way are not worth basing your decision on.
Let the Shopping Begin…
Consider this as a guide at which to start your new DSLR search. Start with determining your budget, consider what you’ll be using your camera for, and ask yourself if you think you’re likely to outgrow an entry level camera.
Happy shopping! Come back and let us know what you bought in the comments!
If you want to use your fancy DSLR in manual mode, let us show you how step-by-step, with fun challenges to practice on and feedback on your images… pop your name on the waitlist for our next Enthusiast Photography Course.
If you’re already confident in manual mode, check out our Advanced Photography Course and let us help you elevate your photography skills to the next level!