Lens Buying Guide
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“Which DSLR camera should I buy?” would have to be the number one question I’m asked at Click Love Grow.
It’s exciting right? Getting your first ‘proper’ camera, or upgrading to something a little more serious. But how do you figure out which camera is right for you?
You could turn to google for help deciding… 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!
And to help you decide, there are a number of questions you should ask yourself first:
Are you interested in learning to shoot in manual mode? A DSLR or mirrorless camera 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.
However, the benefit of a camera with full manual mode over a compact camera 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.
Related: What Lens Should I Use?
If you already own a camera with manual mode and you’re looking to upgrade, give some thought to whether you need to upgrade the body, or your lenses.
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. Meanwhile entry level mirrorless cameras start at around $800 for body plus 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. This 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.
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, 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 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 planning to become a professional photographer, it would be worthwhile to consider your future needs as you’re likely to outgrow an entry level camera very quickly.
Even more relevant than the camera body are the lenses you choose, because there are different focal lengths to suit different purposes.
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 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 end up deciding to buy a camera body and separate lenses (ie. not kit lenses), I recommend reading our lens buying guide.
So you’ve asked yourself those important questions, and hopefully they’ve enabled you to pinpoint what features you want and need.
DSLR and mirrorless cameras generally fall into three categories, each offering different features, which makes it so much easier to narrow down your options:
Ooh what’s this about full frame and crop sensors I hear you ask?
In short – 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 exceptionally well at much higher ISO settings than the entry level cameras). 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 their DSLRs as follows:
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 30+MP available (at the time of posting… technology is moving so fast by the time I publish this article there may have been upgrades!).
30mp = 30 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.
When it comes to choosing a camera with full manual mode, you have the choice between a DSLR and a mirrorless (or Compact System) camera. DSLRs are based on the old film SLR cameras, and use a mirror system to reflect light onto the camera sensor. Mirrorless cameras are the new kid on the block, and as the name suggests, they don’t have a mirror, which means the light directly hits the camera sensor.
Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than DSLRs which make them a good choice for travel, but they tend to come with a higher pricetag, while DSLRs are cheaper, and offer a greater variety of options in terms of both body and lenses/accessories. DSLR and mirrorless cameras are both available in crop sensor and full frame, and both offer entry level, enthusiast and professional models.
Mirrorless cameras currently only offer a small range of lenses and these tend to be quite pricey, but lens adapters are available which enable DSLR lenses to be used on a mirrorless camera. This is a more cost-effective solution for those who already own a DSLR and are considering making the switch to mirrorless.
Mirrorless cameras are regarded by some as ‘the way of the future’, they are quieter and less prone to camera shake than DSLRs and tend to have more advanced autofocus systems. However, they have a comparatively short battery life compared to most DSLRs, which can be a limitation.
There are many brands of DSLR and mirrorless cameras, but for the purpose of keeping it simple we looked at Canon, Nikon and Sony. They’re three of the most popular brands, and they offer the most accessories on the market. Lastly, they’re all fabulous quality and whilst I’m a Canon girl myself, I have lots of photographer friends who happily shoot Nikon or Sony.
In terms of DSLRs, 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. However, third party lens suppliers such as Tokina, Tamron and Sigma also make lenses specifically for Nikon and Canon. They are generally more inexpensive whilst still be excellent quality.
When considering mirrorless, Canon and Nikon both have several decent options on offer, while Sony have positioned themselves as a strong contender with both full frame and crop sensor mirrorless cameras in their range.
Above all, 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.
Ok so hopefully by now you have narrowed your choice down considerably!
The following is a list of the most recent Canon, Nikon and Sony camera models, available on the market as at 2020, in each of the three categories:
Canon and Nikon also offer top range professional level cameras that are up around $8000+ AUD
Consider this a camera buying guide at which to start your new camera 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!
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