Choosing a DSLR camera

If you are new to the world of DSLRs, you will probably be bewildered by choices available. I recommend you to buy a camera that suits your needs, keeping in mind of both short and long term needs.

There are two kinds of buyers in general:

  1. The first would compare models with similar specifications across the different brands.
  2. The second would choose a brand and then decide on the model from the preferred brand.

Choosing a system

You need to understand that when you buy a DSLR, you are not just buying a particular model. You are buying into a system. As you get more lenses and accessories for your camera, you are investing in a particular system.

Camera companies use proprietary lens mount that only allows attachment of their own lenses. For example, you can’t mount Canon lenses onto a Nikon body. The same goes for other accessories such as cables for wired triggers and flash.

When you buy a DSLR and start to accumulate equipment for the particular system, you are tied down to a particular brand. The only way to switch another brand is to sell off everything and start from scratch.

If you have friends who use the same system, I would recommend you to choose the same system. This would allow you to share equipment with your friends.

You benefit by not having to buy the same lenses if they are able to share it with you. And you have people familiar with the equipment teaching you how to use them.

They would benefit as well. When you purchase your next lens, you can choose a lens that none of them have. This would expand the group’s inventory of lenses.

Choosing a camera brand

Each camera brand has its pros and cons. You will need to weigh the different factors and decide which suits you better.

Nikon and Canon are the most popular DSLR brands. I believe this is largely due to the fact that both are reputable and well-established companies.

When you buy a camera, it is important to consider what the brand can offer in terms of after-sales services and the ease of obtaining accessories for the particular brand.

I am not familiar with the situation in other countries, so I speak from my experience in Singapore. I find that you can be assured of good after-sales and the availability of accessories for Nikon and Canon cameras in Singapore.

When it comes to brands like Pentax or Sony, it is harder to find accessories for their cameras compared to Nikon and Canon. Even things as essential to photographers like lenses can be hard to find.

On the other hand, Pentax manual focus lenses are cheap in the second hand market and they work perfectly well on their digital bodies.

As for Sony, their lenses can work with their new video cameras, making them a potential choice for people who need to do both still photography and videos.

Between Nikon and Canon, I find Nikon lenses to be a bit sharper than Canon versions. However, Nikon glass tends to be pricier compared to Canon lenses. There are some cases where Canon lenses are more expensive.

Interestingly, although Nikon has a better flash system, the Creative Lighting System, Nikon flashes are cheaper than their Canon counterparts.

Choosing a camera tier

Regardless of the camera brand, the cameras are divided into different tiers, catering to different niches in photography.

DSLRs can be divided into the consumer and the professional range.

The consumer range is made up of the entry-level tier and the enthusiast or “prosumer” tier. Entry-level cameras are for beginners or casual shooters. Enthusiast cameras target serious hobbyists and semi-professionals.

The professional range sit at the top of the pyramid, packed with power and features to meet the demands of professional photographers.

There are a few trends when it comes to choosing a camera tier:

  • Buying a camera to meet your needs. This means that if you are a beginner, you buy an entry-level camera because its features meet your requirements.
  • Buying a camera that more than meet your current needs. You know that there is room for you to grow as a photographer and you think that the hobby will last. Hence, as a beginner, you go for an enthusiast camera.
  • Buying a camera that fits your budget. It is not a matter of what you need. You want to have the best you can afford. You are an enthusiast but you can only afford an entry-level camera.
  • Buying the cheapest camera that meet certain needs and saving the money for better glass. Pragmatism rules here. Good lenses can last you for years. You rather invest the money in lenses than to spend on a camera body that might become obsolete few years later.

My recommendations

You might still be wondering how to choose a DSLR.

If you have friends who are into photography, check the brands that they are using. If they are using the same brand and they are comfortable with sharing equipment, you should buy into the same system.

Try the camera! It is important that you get a feel of the different brands and see which ergonomics you prefer. You will be holding that camera for hours and if you don’t like the feel of it then you shouldn’t buy it.

Choose a tier that would allow you to grow as a photographer. It is important that you ask yourself how far you would want to progress in this hobby. From there, pick a camera tier that allows for such growth.

Go for the highest tier that you can afford. If you start off with a slightly better camera body, it would be with you for a longer period of time as you grow in this hobby. Think of it as a head start.

Don’t scrimp on the camera body so that you can use the money saved to spend on a lens. I agree that it is important to invest in good glass but it is as important to spend more on your first camera body, especially if you think that you are serious about photography.

My experience

I will share my personal experience. I first got a Nikon D40 in 2008. Back then, I was a beginner and I bought a camera that would suit my needs.

Twelve months later, I upgraded to a Nikon D90. I did not prepare for my growth as a photographer when I got my first DSLR. After a year of shooting, I realised that the lack of an autofocus motor in the camera body and the lack of a built in remote flash trigger  need to be addressed. Hence the upgrade.

When I bought the camera, I was recommended to get a D700 instead. But I did not think that I would need a full frame sensor. So I stubbornly stuck to my choice of a D90. I bought a D700 only nine months after I got the D90.

I started to do more portraits and street photography. It became apparent that I wanted the shallower depth of field and better ISO capability that a full frame sensor would give.

If I had listened and gone with the D700, I wouldn’t have wasted money getting a D90. Instead of spending SGD 3300 on the D700 body, I spent SGD 4680 (SGD 3300 for the D700 and SGD 1380 for the D90 body).