Photographer: Events, Weddings, Portraits – Austin, Texas

Which Digital SLR Should I Buy?

I’ve had several friends recently ask me the following question:

Can you recommend a good digital SLR camera to start out with (as a newbie to photography)?

So I thought it might be fun to blog about the subject. I’m certainly not the expert on the subject but I do feel that I have some good information that I can share from the experiences I’ve had as a photographer.

About 10 years ago I started planning my first trip abroad (to the United Kingdom: England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales) and started asking myself what kind of camera I should take. I knew very little about photography at the time and didn’t know where to start. I mentioned my problem to a friend who quickly begin diagramming how a single lens reflex camera (SLR) works and explaining the possibilities of cameras to me. And before my eyes a whole new world had opened up.

My friend eventually persuaded me that I needed to take along a SLR camera for my epic, once-in-a-lifetime trip to the U.K.; unfortunately, I didn’t have the money needed for the camera that was needed. But as luck would have it, my parents had hidden away an old camera that I could learn on. The camera I’d be using was an early 1980s Pentax ME-Super – a sturdy, well made 35 mm film camera that was capable of taking very good photos.  So I set out to learn how to use it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, you may be asking yourself, “I don’t even have a camera yet! Which one should I buy?” And that’s going to be the million dollar question for you. Only you can determine which camera is best for you. I can tell you this: you will probably go through more than one camera while learning if you are somewhat serious about learning photography. The good news is that you don’t have to buy an expensive camera to take good photos. If you visit your local book and magazine store you’ll find tons of magazines promoting the latest cameras and equipment. But you don’t need what’s in these magazines. What you need right now is to develop some skills and understanding of photography.


Photographed with Canon EOS 30D Digital SLR



Now, I’m not going to make a recommendation that new photographers should have to start out using film or slide film like I did. Here’s why. Although I have respect for those who use film, to the new photographer it can become a slow guessing game trying to figure out if you exposed the shot correctly or not. It’s no longer necessary to wait until your film is developed to see if you’ve ruined the shot; just simply look at your digital screen after snapping the photo and you can see what went wrong (or what you did so well)! Additionally, you can spend a fortune in developing or film chemical costs, so why do it if it’s not necessary? Now, if you still want to shoot film, go for it; it certainly has it’s rewards.

So what’s the advantage of using an SLR or digital SLR camera over a regular pocket point-and-shoot? Flexibility and precision are the two things that come to mind. SLR cameras allow you to be creative with your subject. Imagine creating a “star trail” photograph with and extended exposure or shooting a sporting event and capturing multiple, successive frames as a football player leaps to catch a ball.

When determining what brand of camera to purchase, I recommend choosing between Canon and Nikon. They are both well regarded cameras that are used by professionals world-wide. Both brands offer a huge selection of lenses and equipment that will likely match the camera that you choose (which will become important later on). Unfortunately, I only know what I read about Nikon, and since I use Canon equipment I will speak to that particular brand. I personally shoot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark ii. Now before you go off to purchase one you need to know that you don’t need a 5D to take great pics. While perusing used equipment on Craig’s List today I found some relatively inexpensive Canon EOS 20Ds, 30Ds and 40Ds (a step down from the 5D) that are a fraction of the cost. These are relatively inexpensive, and from someone who’s owned all of the above mentioned cameras at one time or another, I can tell you they are good cameras that take good pictures.

But, if you have more than $500 to spend and you cannot stomach the idea of used equipment, then you might consider purchasing a new Canon 50D (around $1,000 – November 2010) or one of the Canon Rebel Series cameras (less expensive). Most of the cameras I just mentioned offer lots of great features that you won’t find in a point and shoot, along with superb quality images.


Photographed with Canon EOS 30D Digital SLR



One other tip I can give is to read real people’s reviews of cameras and lenses (yep, you will need a lens too!). I look to Amazon for great, seemingly-genuine reviews on all kinds of stuff, including camera equipment. Many users are eager to share their experience of using a particular camera or gadget. Take advantage of this real feedback.

You really only need one lens to start with and there’s a good likelihood that you’ll end up with a “kit lens”. Professionals hate kit lenses because they are usually mass produced, cheaper lenses included as a combo with a camera (and perhaps other stuff). One example of this with Canon is the 18-55 mm lens, which were frequently coupled with Canon’s 20D & 30D, and later dumped on the open market for almost nothing. But I think these lenses are great to learn with and should not be underestimated.

Another lens that you might pickup inexpensively is one of the 50mm prime lenses. These are relatively inexpensive and yet capable of taking your photos to a whole other level of quality (which is what prime lenses do). These also tend to be “faster” lenses, meaning they operate better in low light, which you’ll appreciate soon enough.

If you have some money to throw at lenses and you don’t want to go the cheap route, then don’t. Purchase Canon’s L-series lenses (I’m sure Nikon has something similar), which are considered professional because they typically are faster lenses which provide higher quality images. You might change your mind though after you see how much you are going to pay. Bob Atkins has a ton of information about Canon on his website which is great if you want to know more about a series of lenses and cameras.

Ok, so you’re clueless and even more confused. For around $700 (at the moment) you can purchase a brand new Canon EOS Rebel T1i with a 50 mm f1.8 lens (sold separately on Just assume that you’ll want to upgrade in the future, so think long and hard about the camera that you purchase, because you’ll want to make sure that there are good lenses out there that you can couple with it.

Now what do you do once you have your camera? I recommend joining a photo club or taking a class. Getting involved in photography groups and classes puts you in a position to exchange good ideas with others and puts you on the hook to participate in assignments and actually get out there and shoot – which is how you are going to become a better photographer faster. Check out MeetUp to find a group of photographers in your area or take a look at the local community college’s website to determine if they offer non-credit photography classes. Once you get some knowledge and experience under your belt and you decide you want to take it further, contact a professional in your area and ask to assist him/her on one of their shoots.

Don’t forget, with the right knowledge, you can take great photos with just about any camera. Oh, and have fun! That’s what it’s all about, right?!


Photographed with Canon EOS 20D Digital SLR

























Photographed with Canon EOS 20D Digital SLR




One response

  1. If you’re going to devote your free waking life to photography, and are willing to tote a bag of gear and a tripod everywhere you go then by all means gear up with a DSLR, but before you do, get a good Prosumer camera

    December 23, 2010 at 12:14 am

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