So you’ve seen your friends get great results from their fancy new DSLR camera, and you want to do the same. You love the way you can blur the background to really make the people stand out. You like being able to get in close to the action, without physically having to jump into the enclosure with the lioness and her new cubs.
It’s time to buy your own!
But how do you go about choosing from the plethora of options available for first time DSLR users, and how do you know when enough’s enough?
Here’s my suggested list of top 10 things to figure out before you get your credit card warmed up!
Tip 1: Pick a brand and stick with it!
DSLRs are not like cars. With cars, when you need a new one, you start all over. It doesn’t matter if you’re going from Subaru to Subaru, or Ford to Holden, because it’s out with the old and in with the new. With DSLRs, the brand you choose now is probably going to be the brand you stick with. You might want new features that come out in a year or two, but you can probably get them by buying a new body and keeping your existing lenses. If you change “systems” down the track, it can be super expensive to start all over again. So choose your brand wisely!
An important reason for this is…
Tip 2: Where are you going with this?
Do you just want to take better photos of your kids? Or do you want to be the go-to family photographer for birthdays and events? Do you want to work on your skills and improve over time?
The reason you should think about this now, is that your decision about your first camera can either save or cost you money in the long run. Buying an entry-level, basic DSLR will give you a great advantage over your current point-and-shoot. But if you want to get into the art of photography a bit deeper, you might want to consider spending a bit more now, to give you greater flexibility and creative control later, without having to upgrade your equipment too quickly. And if you’ve chosen your brand wisely, enhancing your kit down the track can be done seamlessly and more affordably.
Tip 3: What frustrates you when taking photos with your point-and-shoot camera?
Think about the times when your point-and-shoot just doesn’t cut it. Does it not get you close enough? Do the shots come out blurry when you take photos of your kids on stage in the school auditorium? Maybe you need a bigger zoom, or a camera with a higher ISO capability. Write a list of “frustrations” with your current camera, and then make sure your shiny new DSLR is designed to address those issues.
Tip 4: What environments will you be taking photos in?
Similarly to Tip 3, try to think about when you take most of your photos, or when you would like to take photos. Sometimes I take a photo with my iPhone and think, “Why on earth did I spend so much money on my camera gear when I can get results like this from a phone???” The thing is, in perfect lighting conditions with the perfect subject, even the most basic of cameras can take a great shot. If you’ve got high hopes for getting awesome close-ups of the bride and groom exchanging vows from your seat 20 rows back, chances are that’s going to point you towards a particular lens (think telephoto!).
Tip 5: What’s your budget?
You can get some pretty awesome equipment for pretty awesome prices these days, but it’s still a considerable investment. Figure out your budget and stick with it. Chances are there’s something great out there that won’t break the bank.
Tip 6: Do you need it all now?
I often tell people who are looking at their first DSLR to get a decent but basic kit that will serve them for their general needs, and play with it for a while. It might be all you ever need. Or maybe you’ll soon start to build a wish-list of features, such as closer focussing to get great macro shots, better lighting for portraits at night-time parties, the ability to turn the sky a deep rich blue that makes your shot look like a postcard. Once you know your camera (and its limitations), then start expanding your kit. If you try to get everything you think you’ll need straight up, you’ll probably end up spending too much money and have a heap of gear that never gets used.
Tip 7: Don’t forget accessories.
When planning your purchase, don’t forget to budget for the necessary extras like memory cards, protective carry bag, lens cleaning cloth etc. Many people are surprised that new cameras don’t come with memory cards, but it’s a bit like buying a film camera and expecting a supply of film to be thrown in. And while we’re talking about memory cards, don’t go cheap on those. I use Sandisk exclusively, and have never personally had a problem with data corruption or lost images.
Tip 8: Plan to protect your investment.
When you get home, before you open the box, make sure you ring up your home and contents insurer and get your equipment added to your policy. In most cases, you will need to specify each individual item as a portable extra (or whatever terminology your insurer uses), so that it is covered when in use outside your home, as well as for theft and loss.
Tip 9: Don’t buy online…
This is a tip, not a rule, but I think it’s super important. For two reasons.
One. The advice and customer service you receive by supporting a local camera store is invaluable. I know that not every salesperson in every camera store is wonderful and knowledgable and helpful, but many are, and there’s just nothing like a hands-on comparison between brands and models to help you decide.
Two. Yes, you can save $$$ by buying from a grey-market importer online. But what happens if you need to make a warranty claim? Many of these sellers offer a standard one-year warranty, but it’s not always a genuine manufacturer’s warranty, and could cost you heaps in time and money getting it fixed by their nominated repairer (i.e. it might be Joe Bloggs up the street, who tinkers with camera gear in his spare time; or worse, back to Hong Kong!).
There is lots I could say about this, but I’ll keep it short: I am not an advocate of going into your awesome local camera store and picking their brains, handling the gear and trying to beat their price down to match an importer (who has minimal overheads and provides you zero service), and then going and buying it online anyway. I know you would never dream of doing that, but I’ve seen it happen plenty of times. Enough said.
Tip 10: It’s not a magic wand (unfortunately).
Your camera is a great asset to help you on the road to taking better photos – you’ve got to like it, be comfortable holding it and feel good using it. Choose something that feels right. But don’t expect that buying a DSLR will anoint you with miraculous powers to turn out professional and award winning images every time. The equipment you use is only part of the story – the rest is up to you. Get to know your equipment and what it can do. Get to know what it can’t do too, so you can find strategies to improve.
PS. For what it’s worth, I shoot Canon and have never had a moment’s regret with the brand.
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