In last week’s post I discussed photography as a necessary skill for future journalists in an increasingly competitive field. As a follow-up I’ve decided to create a guide on purchasing an entry-level DSLR camera and all of the equipment that’s required to operate it.
Comprehensive guide for purchasing an entry-level DSLR camera
What is a DSLR camera?
In a nutshell a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera allows a photographer to view their subject in the viewfinder and directly through the lens of the camera. When the shutter is triggered, the mirror inside of the camera swings upward so that a sensor allows the photographer to view exactly what’s being displayed before taking the photograph.
Is it worth the investment?
In my previous post I touched upon the pro’s and con’s to using a DSLR camera rather than a smart phone. There is a significant difference in that DSLR’s will have better sensors, apertures and lenses that will produce better quality photos regardless of skill level. Photographers also are able to utilize a wide range of interchangeable lenses that allow for use in a number of situations. Beyond using automatic settings, the largest gap in image quality between DSLR’s and smart phones will stem from properly learning how to utilize manual controls and the several modes that most cameras offer.
Specific brands to consider
While I’m not very knowledgeable on all the latest models that come out every year, there are certain reputable brands to purchase from. The two biggest names that everyone knows are Canon and Nikon (mentioning their names can cause heated debates in the photography community). These two companies are leading the market in terms of quality and their extensive product lines that cater to any level of photographer.
Another contender is Sony; it wasn’t until recently that Sony made a name for itself in the DSLR and mirrorless camera industry, but the company has made major strides in the quality of their DSLR’s to make it a more serious contender when compared to Nikon or Canon.
Pentax is also really underrated in the camera community and offers great, affordable lenses and camera bodies with numerous features that are more than enough for anyone who isn’t a semi-professional photographer.
Which model is right for me?
In all honesty it’s very rare to find a bad DSLR, regardless of brand or model. A few specific models to consider for an entry-level DSLR are the Nikon D3300, Canon Rebel T5 or Pentax K50, but there are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration before buying any DSLR.
One of the biggest factors that should be considered is your budget. Initially I considered spending $600 on a camera, but through research found that I didn’t need (or know how to effectively utilize) the features of a camera at this price range. In 2016 my K-50 ran about $200 used and I spent an additional $60 on two adjustable zoom lenses and I haven’t found any reason to go with a different DSLR since then.
DSLR’s offer a variety of features that may vary depending on the manufacturer, which requires more research so you’re getting the most bang for your buck. My K-50 body offers in-body stabilization, dual wheels, a pentaprism viewfinder and a weather sealed body. However, it also weighs more than other camera bodies and isn’t that good at capturing video compared to the Nikon D3300, which has a higher megapixel count and is better at capturing videos. Used lenses for the K-50 are also harder to come across compared to Nikon and Canon because Pentax isn’t as popular of a brand. A good resource to utilize when comparing features between different cameras is Snapsort.
In the end it really depends on personal preference, as hobbyists who don’t plan on becoming professionals may not gain anything from the features that higher end Canon or Nikon cameras offer in comparison to Pentax or less popular brands. Most entry-level DSLR’s also have nearly all of the same features so it’s really up to you on what handles and controls the best.
Upgrade path for future use
Another factor to take into consideration when purchasing a DSLR is the ability to upgrade your camera in the future. As an example my K-50 uses K-mount lenses that can only be used with Pentax models. Canon lenses are also designed to work only with their respective cameras and not with other brands.
If you plan on upgrading your camera in the future, it’s important to look into the upgrade path for that specific brand to make sure that your lenses are compatible with future bodies so that you aren’t stuck with hundreds of dollars in old lenses that you’ll never use again.
Which lens is the best?
Lenses come in several categories ranging from wide angle, narrow and standard views. Lenses can also zoom or are set at fixed distances. The standard lens to purchase for most beginners is an 18-55mm zoom kit, which allows for versatility in a number of situations. However, fixed (or prime) lenses are often cheaper to purchase than zoom lenses, perform better in low lighting and have sharper quality at the expense of forcing the photographer to physically position themselves for the shot.
As a journalist I’ll use my 75-200mm zoom lens for versatility while switching to a fixed lens for close-up shots, but the primary thing is to know what you need depending on the situation. Another consideration when purchasing a lens is the aperture, or f-stop number. The lower (or smaller) the f-stop number, the better the lens is at gathering light, allowing for better photos. This comes at a price, as the lower the f-stop is, the more the lens will cost, so try to find an affordable lens with a lower f-stop that suits your needs.
Other items to purchase
Once you have a body and a lens picked out, there are three other important items required for the camera; a bag, a backup battery and a SD card.
The biggest thing to watch out for is the speed class of the SD card that you plan on purchasing. There are three different class categories: speed class, UHS speed class and video speed class. Speed class is ranked from 2, 4, 6 and 10, with 10 being the fastest write speed when transferring photos to your computer. The UHS speed class is defined as either U1 and U3, with U3 having the fastest write speed. I would recommend purchasing a UHS speed class 3 SD card with 32 gigabytes of memory and a backup SD card. You most likely won’t need more than 32 gigabytes unless you shoot more than 1,000 photos at a time; the SD card also offers read speeds of up to 95mb/s and write speeds of up to 90mb/s for when you eventually download your photos onto a computer.
Best places to buy equipment
I typically avoid brick and mortar stores such as Best Buy and Microcenter because cameras are relatively expensive when purchasing from these locations. Amazon is a good resource for supplementary items like a bag and an SD card, but it’s also more expensive when shopping for lenses and camera bodies. If you’re buying new equipment B&H is one of the top places to purchase from. Adorama is also highly recommended with prices typically on-par with B&H.
I didn’t need brand new equipment so I shopped online at Keh, a pre-owned camera store that carries more than 50,000 used cameras, lenses and photography equipment. The company has specific grading criteria for their used equipment and they inspect everything that they sell for potential damage and cosmetic defects when determining how “used” merchandise is.
The grading criteria are listed next to the gear that you’re purchasing, which gives a good idea for the condition of the equipment. I was initially nervous when I spent $300 on used and fragile equipment online, but I was pleasantly surprised at the nearly new condition of my K-50. I’ve received nothing but excellent and inexpensive gear from Keh and they will also purchase your used equipment.
That’s a wrap for my guide on purchasing an entry-level DSLR camera! In the future I plan on writing a more comprehensive post detailing all of the features on a DSLR regarding aperture, shutter priority, exposure and how it all affects your photographs. In the meantime if you have any camera advice, recommendations or resources you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment below!