For many beginner photographers, choosing which camera system to acquire is similar to choosing a mate for life. It’s unlikely once you make the choice, that you will jump ship and change sides. (Perhaps it’s more similar to choosing a mortgage than a mate.) I’ve compiled a very short list of items to consider if you are thinking of jumping on board the DSLR bandwagon.
I think the most important item to consider before signing yourself up to a DSLR system, is to determine what type of photographer you are. Do you like to shoot wildlife? Portraits? Adventure or action shots? Sports photography? Or do you want to shoot in a studio, or photograph food? What your ultimate goal as a photographer is, will directly impact your choice in DSLR system (or other camera system for that matter.). Think about where you will spend 90% of your shooting, and begin to build a list of items that would make that easier. Do you need low light performance in a studio setting? Do you need a rugged magnesium alloy body when shooting models? Do you even need to use f/2.8 glass? Is it more important to have better lighting control vs 3D tracking auto focus?
With your shooting style in mind, take a look at the major manufacturer’s websites and get as much information as you can on their offerings. If this is your first DSLR, it’s unlikely you will want to spend $4000 on a body. You will probably want something a bit more conservative to get your feet wet. (Not to mention, you may like a smaller body for being discreet.) Look for an upgrade path as you develop your skills. DSLR bodies are practically disposable, but good quality lenses will outlast you.
Speaking of lenses, I wanted to place this in it’s own section. While most people focus solely on the specifications of a DSLR body when making their purchasing decisions, we should not overlook the glass. Glass is perhaps the most important component on your camera. Place a low quality lens on a pro level SLR, you will get crummy images. Place a fantastic lens on a mediocre body, and you’ll get sharp images. The glass should be the biggest factor in your decision. Check to see what types of lenses each manufacturer has available. If you shoot portraits, do they offer a nice 85mm (or other) portrait lens? If you shoot wildlife, do they offer a fast 300mm or 500mm lens? Are their lens systems backwards compatible? Do you need a macro lens, or a fast prime lens, such as the venerable 50mm f/1.8? The available lenses will determine how far you can go with that particular system, so choose wisely and always remember where your photographic focus is. (ie: an underwater photographer has no need for a 400mm f/2.8 lens)
This may sound odd, but check the battery used in the camera. Batteries are the life blood of a DSLR. If you have a fantastic spec’d body, but a battery with less than stellar performance, you’ll be limited in terms of how long you can shoot uninterrupted. Most manufactures will use two or three types of batteries, depending on the model. Make sure they are of sufficient size. You can always add extra batteries as well.
Next, take a strong look at both your first choice for a camera system, and the competition. This is one of the fantastic benefits to a competitive society, the consumer get’s the benefits of the industry trying to one-up each other. Take a look at what each has to offer.
Finally, get the camera in your hands and get a feel for it. Nothing provides you better feedback, than to have the camera physically in your hands. You may find the mode dial does not feel right, or that the buttons lack a certain stiffness. If you cannot get yourself physically into a store, search online for reviews. A couple I recommend are :
Remember to focus on what types of images you would like to create throughout this decision making process. By staying true to your photographic goals, you will end up with a camera that will serve you well for years to come. And remember, the camera is a tool for you to create images, nothing more.