Which DSLR should I buy?

Posted in equipment, photos at 2:14 am by wingerz

my baby

With Black Friday looming and Christmas around the corner, it’s a good time to look for deals on cameras. A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me for advice on purchasing a first DSLR, so I thought I’d share some thoughts. I am not making any specific camera recommendations because I haven’t been keeping up on all of the latest models.

Figure out whether you really need a DSLR. There are lots of good reasons for it, but don’t just get one to have a new toy. This mentality will most likely get you a boxful of expensive camera equipment that you won’t appreciate. Do you want to take more artistic photos? Do you just want to take better-looking photos in general? What sorts of subjects are you going to shoot? Do you want to make big prints? Answering these questions will help you determine which features are important to you and which accessories you’ll want to invest in upfront. It’ll also help you figure out whether a point-and-shoot can satisfy your needs. The Canon G-series (the latest is the G10) is a line of outstanding point-and-shoot cameras (and you can can plug an external flash into the hot shoe).
Figure out your budget. This is crucial. Sky is the limit when it comes to purchasing a camera and gear. Don’t forget to set aside money for extra batteries, memory cards, and a bag to lug your gear around with you. (And a flash and monitor calibrator, if you listen to my advice.)
Strongly consider an external flash. If you are planning to take a lot of indoor photos (and who doesn’t?), the ability to bounce the light off a ceiling or wall (instead of aiming it straight ahead) makes a striking difference. If I lost all of my camera stuff and had to reacquire everything, I’d get the 50mm prime first and this second.
Strongly consider a monitor calibration tool. Every monitor is different. When I first started goofing around with my images I didn’t know why all of my prints were oversaturated (they looked way too red). It’s because my monitor was too cool (in color), so whenever I made corrections I overcorrected.
Figure out what mount your friends have. Canon/Nikon (or something else, but these are the most common) – it’s not that important from a quality standpoint because they are all good, but it is from a lens-borrowing standpoint. Wouldn’t it be great to take your friend’s wide-angle on vacation? Or at least a test drive before getting your own?
Don’t buy more camera than you need. The more expensive models are only worth the money if you need the features. They have better build quality, are usually weatherproofed, can shoot more frames per second, have better sensors (for better low-light photography), and (slightly) better processors (The high-end models also have full-frame sensors). Some new models can also shoot HD video. The important thing to realize here is that a digital camera body is a computer, so in a few years you’re probably going to be upgrading anyway. For casual photographers it rarely pays to ride the front end of the technology curve. Just remember that a lot of really great photos were taken with the previous generation’s models.
Figure out what lens you want. Most first-time DSLR purchasers aren’t really sure what they want. On the Canon side, the 18-55 IS kit lens is a decent starter lens. The 50mm f/1.8 prime ($90) is also a no-brainer; getting a body and 50mm is not a bad way to go if you’re trying to save money. It’s great if you can postpone any decision to purchase an expensive lens until after you’ve had a chance to see how much you enjoy using the camera and figure out which end of the zoom spectrum you’re more interested in. I do a good amount of research at fredmiranda.com, always keeping in mind that many of the reviewers have a lot more money than I do. Three observations: you get what you pay for, IS is a very, very nice feature to have on a lens, and exceptional lenses are very heavy.
Do more with less. No matter what you get, there’s more to research and buy. Make a decision and be happy with it. Instead of reading more gear reviews, get out there and take photos.

My first DSLR is a Canon Rebel XT, purchased nearly two years ago when the XTi was already out. At $500 it was the cheapest body I could find at the time, and it’s served me well. It’s been a great camera to learn on, and even though I really enjoy photography, next time around I’ll probably stay at the low-end of the Canon line rather than jumping up to the 50D level.


  1. wilson said,

    November 25, 2008 at 4:59 am

    dude, you need to get this post to where even more people can read it (amazon maybe?). if i was buying a dslr, this would totally help me. good thing i’m not(yet) or else i’ll be even more in debt than i am now.

  2. AJ said,

    November 25, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Great writeup, dude!

  3. Luis Cruz said,

    November 26, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Figure out what mount your friends have. This is one of the tips that most sites seem to omit. I got a Canon because my brother had one, so I can borrow his lenses if I have to.

  4. Thiago said,

    November 27, 2008 at 11:06 am

    “IS is a very, very nice feature to have on a lens”

    Even nicer on a body. Especially for casual and amateurs shooters. The “big two” don’t have it…but the “other three” all have it, so this is something to keep in mind.

  5. Link Roundup 11-29-2008 said,

    November 30, 2008 at 2:59 am

    […] Which DSLR should I buy? ~wingerz A very down-to-Earth discussion about buying your first dSLR. So much hype is given to the biggest and baddest cameras out there, but most people don’t need all that. Here are some things to think about if you’re going for your first dSLR. […]

  6. Chris said,

    November 30, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Some excellent points well made. I’d also add that renting is a good way of checking out both bodies & lenses without shelling out hundreds.

    Your theme seems slightly broken in Firefox BTW, the container of your posts has overflowed into your sidebar :-(

  7. wingerz said,

    December 1, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Thanks to everyone for the comments and additional suggestions!

  8. Emily said,

    February 22, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Thanks for the info, it’s very helpful.

  9. karen said,

    May 18, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    I’m a realtor and need the wide angle for shots of homes. What mm lense should I be looking at?
    Also a grandmother so want to be able to take those action shots of grandkids. Love to do close up work (flowers, etc.) for relaxation.
    Money is issue like everyone these days. Current camera is getting tired. Any suggestions ?

  10. wingerz said,

    May 19, 2009 at 1:10 am

    Something in the 10-25mm range is a good wide-angle range. I bet that you’d be able to get decent results even with a decent point-and-shoot that lets you take long exposures and a tripod.

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