How to Buy Your First DSLR

first dslr SL1500  image So you wanna upgrade to the big time, huh? Your tired of taking photos with your 5-year-old point & shoot camera. You want a good camera, a big camera, a camera that give you the functionality you need to create great images, a camera that gives you the option to change lenses. Well then a DSLR is the only way to go. An entry-level DSLR will put you in the lowest bracket of the highest tier of camera gear. From there you can upgrade to the DSLRs that professionals use. But first let's start with the things you need to consider before investing in your first real piece of camera gear.

Setting a Budget

It's important to set yourself a budget when looking to buy a DSLR. There are three main levels of DSLRs: entry-level, semi-pro, and professional. The costs of these are about $400-$800, $900-$1,700 and $2,000-$10,000, respectively. Yeah, they get pretty pricey. But as you can see, for as little as $400, you can buy a camera that will introduce you to the whole line of DSLRs. The $10,000 camera and the $400 camera will give you the same basic controls that you need to create great photos. All of them let you manually change the settings, which is really all you need. So don't be put off by the words “entry-level”, “amateur”, or “cheap”. These DSLRs really are perfect for any beginner.

Choosing a Brand

Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Fujifilm, Sigma: here are a few of you options. Is there a difference between them? Yes. Perhaps not so much in their entry-level cameras, but definitely in the ways and extent to which you can upgrade and expand your camera and gear. Some brands don't have the wide availability of lenses that others do. Some don't have great professional DSLRs. So look at what kind of brand fits you before you invest in one. Canon and Nikon are obviously the big names here, with Sony making a pretty good run in recent years. Canon and Nikon both offer great affordable entry-level cameras that you will be satisfied with. Opinions vary on the brands, but it is often said that Nikon has better ergonomics and is easier to figure out how to use. Canon, on the other hand, has a greater arsenal of lenses at hand, and they are widely available. So feel free to do some research, but be careful not to be persuaded by biased brand lovers.

Things to Look For

Most any DSLR is leaps and bounds better than the best point & shoot camera. The advantages are many: bigger sensor, better low-light performance, faster focusing, less shutter lag, interchangeable lenses, more manual control, and on and on. So really, just about any entry-level DSLR will do you. The thing is, you won't really know what you want or need until you start shooting with a DSLR. Once you've used one for a while, then you might decide that you want a camera with better ISO performance or that can capture images for HDR processing or has an intervalometer. Entry-level cameras won't have the build nor the robustness of more professional cameras, but they're the perfect way to get started. They may vary in megapixel count, but this isn't a big deal. Megapixels don't really matter all that much unless you decide to print some giant photos like professionals do for large companies. So what is there to look for? Price, how the camera handles, and your future ability to upgrade and/or add new gear and accessories.

NIKON Prime Lenses CANON Prime Lenses SIGMA Prime Lenses
Nikon 24mm f/1.4 Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX DG
Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM
Nikon 35mm f/1.4G Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS Sigma 300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF

Accessories to Start With

Don't think that an investment in a good DSLR and good lens will be the end of your purchases. In fact, it's only the very beginning. Soon, you'll likely find yourself (like most) drooling over new lenses, tripods, cameras, bags, and other accessories. It's extremely easy to get caught up in the gear hoarding that usually comes as a symptom of buying a new DSLR. So be prepared to spend some more. To begin with, here are a few things that you might find very helpful to start out with: a good prime lens, a camera bag, a sturdy tripod, an air blower (for cleaning dirt and dust off your lens/sensor), and a comfortable camera strap. Of course, there are plenty more things you can invest in, but these will help get you started with a (hopefully) hassle-free experience so you can begin to learn your new camera.


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Written by Spencer Seastrom