Like many consumer products, the best way to know you will spend your money wisely is to use the product before you buy it. You can’t do that with every consumer product, but you can with many compact and DSLR cameras. You simply rent the equipment for a weekend, familiarize yourself with its features and capabilities, shoot a number of photos, and then determine if it gave you the image quality and performance you require for your type of digital photography.
As mentioned in a PhotographyTalk.com article about how to buy a digital camera, your research should allow you to narrow your choices to 3 potential candidates. Renting camera equipment can be pricey, so to alleviate any strain on your wallet, schedule just one camera test weekend each month. This will more likely be necessary if you are trying to choose among DSLR models, whether they are entry-level, mid-range or professional grade. If you’re in the market for a lower-cost compact, then you might be extremely lucky to know one or more friends or family members that already own one of the cameras you are considering and will allow you to use it for a weekend. Better yet, they may even be willing to give you a few pointers.
It’s important to remember that you may have to rent more equipment than just a camera to conduct a thorough test and make the right choice. Again, if a DSLR is your goal, then you could have to rent a lens separately. As you move into higher-priced DSLRs, you may also need to test it with a flash, filters and a tripod before spending a thousand or two thousand dollars. Depending on how much equipment you rent, you may also need an equipment bag.
Other costs you don’t want to overlook are expendable supplies, such as batteries and memory cards. A rented camera may not come with them included, or you’re expected to return the camera with new batteries and a blank card. It’s a good idea to buy separate cards for your test shoots, so you can keep them.
You also want to make sure that your insurance adequately covers any damage or theft that may occur during the rental period. The camera rental company may provide specific coverage for a few dollars, similar to car rentals. You can also check with your homeowners’ insurance agent/company to determine if your policy covers rented camera equipment.
Once you rent the camera and other equipment, spend the first hour or two with the manual and the camera. Taking this time to become familiar with its operation will save you time in the field, so you can take more test images. As you learn about the features of the camera, you can make a list of shots to take during the weekend that relate to the kind of photography you expect to shoot with the camera once you own it.
One of the tests you can conduct before you start shooting (and while you’re shooting too) is to determine its comfort and feel in your hands. You don’t want to buy a camera that you couldn’t use and carry all day. In fact, schedule at least six continuous hours with the camera, so you know how it feels carrying it for a long period of time. During your comfort test, you also want to bring the camera to your eye to make sure that’s a compatible fit. Then, reach for the controls and buttons on the exterior and the focus ring and zoom ring on the lens to test that these movements also feel comfortable.
Spend most of the weekend shooting your list of test images, and any others that come to mind. Shoot at different times of the day: dawn, midday, dusk, twilight and night as well as exteriors and interiors. Don’t rely on the Auto mode to do everything. Throw the camera into manual too, so you understand how to select exposure settings, focus manually, etc.
Your final test is to download your images to a computer, if possible, and review the photos in terms of the camera’s performance and yours. Determine if it was capable of capturing the kind of images you want to shoot. You can also check many online resources to compare your images to professional tests and shooting results.
Keep in mind that this process will be a bit different for a beginner photographer shopping for a compact camera compared to a professional about to make an investment of thousands of dollars for a tool with which he or she generates income. That being said, it’s better to be a smart consumer whether you’re spending a few hundred dollars or more than $5,000. It may actually be more important for amateur photographers upgrading from a compact to a first DSLR to use this method. This is probably the largest leap from one camera technology to another that any photographer can make.
If you do have to rent a separate lens, then probably the best choice is a low- to mid-range zoom, such as 24–70mm, 24–120mm or 70–200mm. Any of them should provide you with enough focal lengths to shoot a series of images.
Photo copyright PhotographyTalk member dang
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