Buying your first DSLR can be the most satisfying purchase, even if you are just a teeny-weeny bit inclined towards photography. Like any other purchase, the camera purchase can be a daunting task, considering the number of choices available and the price range they come in. I always advice my friends to follow few guidelines before buying their first camera.
Introspect – What do you expect from photography?
Answer these questions for yourself – What is it that you want to capture? Do you need a camera to click pictures of your family and occasionally the places that you visit on your regular family vacations? Do you want to carry it in your pocket or back-pack? Are you interested in indulging in photography as a full time hobby or just want a balance between good image quality and time spent?… and the most important question – How much time and money you are ready to spend on photography?
For a person who wants to click photographs on vacations and wants a general carry around camera, compact cameras are the best option. Sony, Nikon, Canon, Panasonic and many others manufacture excellent cameras that offer value for money. They save images as jpg which can be used directly out of the camera. DSLRs are a bad choice for such people though I have seen many of them buying DSLRs, thinking that the quality of photographs will improve on its own. DSLRs offer very little range of focal length variation (zoom) which most vacationers find very limiting. After understanding this limitation, there starts a futile quest for purchasing more and more lenses and expensive camera bodies. The backpack sizes increase and yet the photographs remain of low quality. If you are a vacationer, go and buy the best compact camera you can find.
I love photography. However when I go out on vacations, there are times when I carry just a simple compact camera. (Both the photographs in this article are from that inexpensive compact camera). It is matter of using a camera to its best rather than hoping that the camera will provide the best photographs. After all, the photographs are made by the people behind the camera. Camera by itself just happens to be a tool.
DSLRs are excellent choice for people looking at some level of serious indulgence in photography. Mirror-less cameras are another new breed of cameras that can be quite attractive for their small sizes. Decide your needs before buying any camera.
Decide your budget
Do not go overboard. Decide an amount of money that you can comfortably spend on your first camera. This should be the upper limit that you should be spending on everything related to your first purchase. Do not take a loan, do not use your credit card or use EMI option to pay for it. Just collect whatever money you comfortably can and feel justified in buying your camera. Remember that camera is not the end of your world. Consider it as just another consumer electronics item and then buy it. So decide your budget and then purchase your first camera.
Allocate your budget
There are many things to consider while buying a DSLR. First and foremost are the camera body and the lens. Most inexpensive models come with kit lenses which are sufficient for most users. Unlike the past, these kit lenses are value for money and provide good image quality. I do recommend buying a normal prime lens instead of a kit lens but if the bundled kit lens feels good to you, go for it. There used to be time when buying a camera actually meant buying a good lens and an inexpensive camera to complement it. However, now the things have changed. The camera is also as important as the lens. The change has happened because of the film being replaced by the sensors. Now a good camera plays an important role in providing good image quality. So buy a good camera along with a good lens.
There are ratios which people have worked out to allocate your budget. I have a different way of allocating the budget. First and foremost, reduce the total amount you are ready to spend by about 10%. This 10% of the money will go for buying a camera bag, cleaning accessories and maybe even a spare memory card. Now for the remaining 90% money, buy one lens which you feel will be good for you for a long long time and an inexpensive camera body which supports the lens.
Decide on your brand
Do not fall into the Canon vs Nikon battle (Nikon or Canon?), or for that matter any such arguments. Just step out and explore the shops in your region. Find out the availability and location of service centers. Check out the popularity of the various brands. It is better to opt for a popular brand in your region rather than going by online reviews. A locally popular brand translates into easier availability of lenses and accessories. There are chances that you might even find used accessories easily. Used lenses can make an excellent option for some.
Choose a camera lens
Lenses are an investment. They last a life time. My oldest lens is older than me and I still use it. I have used some of camera lenses for over four different camera bodies that I changed from time to time. The cameras changed but the lenses remained the same. So choose a good lens. I always recommend a normal prime lens as the first lens. Obviously this is not good for wildlife or for those super-wide landscapes but it does help in improving photography a lot. The forced angle of view tends to shape visualization skills. If you are planning for an all round zoom lens, do give the kit lenses another thought. Though they are not as sharp and as fast as similar expensive lenses, they do manage to give decent images and that too at a fraction of the price. The low weight is another added advantage.
Choose a camera body
Camera is important but not as much as the lens. So save on camera body. Paying extra to get wireless connectivity, high fps, more and more auto-focus points, more megapixels… it is all foolishness. This just a mad rush and infection from a disease called ‘consumerism’. Instead use that money for buying things that actually impact your photographs. Camera bodies that have dedicated buttons for most functions are better than those where everything is embedded deep in menus. These are easier and more comfortable to use. Low noise at high ISO shows better sensors inside. Nikon has cameras that lack autofocus motors, if you are planning on using lenses with built in motors, this is a good option. If you are interested in legacy lenses then choose a compatible camera body. Look for rugged camera bodies within your budget. Do not run after the latest models. Just remember to click raw. This will take care of most of the shortcomings that you might face with old sensors. Click raw and post-process!
Another consideration is the size of the sensor. DSLRs have two major sensor sizes – 35mm film size and the APS-C size. The 35mm film used to be a very common frame size in film cameras and so the camera makers started calling the smaller sensors as ‘crop sensors’. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that crop sensor cameras are taking something away from you. Sure, full frame sensors are larger in size but then if you want a larger size, there are cameras with sensors larger than the standard 35mm frame. Search for medium format cameras then, if your pocket permits them. I am not discouraging full frame cameras but before you buy, understand all the plus and minuses and make a well informed decision. Don’t be influenced by salesmen and internet forums. (Full Frame or Crop Sensor?)
These are some of the accessories that you should immediately buy after purchasing your camera and lens –
Lenspen microfiber cloth – this is by far the most absorptive microfiber cloth that I have come across. Very good for wiping off those oily fingerprints from your lens.
A thick make-up brush – To clean up dust from the camera and lens body surface
Blower-bulb – Just in case your sensor gets dirty
Camera bag – To put everything in and carry it around comfortably. I do not recommend hanging your camera all the time around your neck. When you do not want to use it, keep it safely in your camera bag. Buy a light-weight and waterproof bag. Though leather and canvas camera bags look good, these are not meant for extended hours of use.
Camera strap – Stock camera strap works fine for most of the cases. I however like canvas or linen based straps which can be washed as and when required. (Camera Straps)
Software – Use free options or the ones provided by your camera manufacturer. Do not purchase a software initially. (Best Image-Editing Program)
(An old kerosene lamp – photographed using an inexpensive compact camera)
What to avoid?
These are the common purchase traps that most first time users fall into-
Buy only one lens at a time – Do not buy a bundle with more than one lens at a go. Just because the camera supports multiple lenses, it does not mean that you have to buy many lenses at the first instant. Buy just one lens initially, learn to use that, get comfortable with that and then understand its limitations. Buy your next lens based on your experience and requirements. (Next lens to buy?)
Sets of filters that you don’t need. Do not go ahead and buy all sort of filters for your lens. They end up lying unused most of the time.
Tripod – Do not purchase a tripod initially. Go for it once you feel the real need for it and are comfortable with the thought of lugging it around. (Buying a Tripod)
Where to buy from?
Online shops give excellent discounts but I still recommend buying from a regular, brick and mortar kind of shop in your region. Even if the camera model is not available with them, request them to get the model for you. Sometimes the pricing in these shops might be higher than the online stores but then there is something that is missing in the online stores. The relationship! Build strong relationships with the store people. They will then feel more than happy in helping you out in case of problems and will also be able to provide you better deals than even the online stores. Buying from them also supports your local economy and improves the after-sales service experience. Even if you are not convinced, still visit a couple of shops and feel the difference.
Online stores are fine for accessories, cleaning kits etc. When it comes to high value items like cameras and lenses, I trust the local stores. I did try purchasing some lenses online but the anxiety and the lack of local support is not worth it. Combine it with the online frauds that happen, and you’ll really be thankful to me for sticking with the shops in your town.
Second hand cameras and lenses can provide really good value for money if you know where and how to look for.(Buying a used DSLR and Buying a used lens ) Online forums are fine as long as you can get someone to physically verify the items on sale and the seller has a good reputation on the forum. I have found some real treasures in the used goods’ market. Take help from your photographer friend if you want to buy your first camera from the used market. Do not tread into this area on your own.