Do you get completely confused by all the specs, model numbers and just sheer choice that is available in the DSLR world? I completely understand! Because just this week I went through the pain – and joy – of purchasing my first Digital SLR Camera. I’m excited. And just a bit nervous about whether I’ve done ‘the right thing’. But I thought that if I share my buying decision, as a complete and utter
idiot amateur newbie photographer, it might just help you too, if you are starting to think about buying your first DSLR.
Firstly, a couple of years ago I replaced my old trusty Panasonic Lumix with a shiny new Panasonic Lumix ZS100 Now this is a point and shoot camera that purports to do soooo much more as well. And I can fully testify that on the Intelligent Auto it is actually clever enough to take the most amazing snaps. It has a fabulous Leica Lens and an amazing 30x zoom. Plus it just slips in your pocket, so I always have it with me. And I thoroughly recommend it, or one of its close Panasonic Lumix relatives.
Although this camera does have all kinds of manual settings, and scenes, and lots of bells and whistles I have always struggled a bit to get off the auto mode and delve a bit deeper into the capabilities. Dare I say I find it fiddly? And not particularly intuitive? And there are loads of function buttons, but I haven’t really mastered which ones to press when. So when it boils down to it, it’s a lovely automatic compact camera that is always in my bag. But I made a resolution that this will be the year I step my photography up a level. How about you?
Buying Your First DSLR
So, here are the key reasons you might be ready to buy your first DSLR – it summarises where I am right now. You want some, or all, of these things:
- To turn your photography into something more than a few happy holiday snaps
- To get into the manual settings. Your point and shoot is great, but you are ready to get off the auto mode
- A camera that will help you learn and progress, and not be a barrier to learning new techniques
- Higher image quality than is possible with your compact or phone
- Something that will grow and expand with you as your skills improve, with the flexibility to change lenses
- In the end, after much agonising over the choices, I chose the Canon EOS 250D. Below I’ll go through what led me to the decision.
The Advantages of a DSLR over a point-and-shoot
Essentially, the best camera is the one you have with you when you want to take a photo. So the obvious benefit of your phone or a compact camera is they are small enough to carry around all the time. Therefore, it is worth reminding yourself of the advantages of a DSLR camera, and why you are going to opt to carry something bigger around with you.
- Larger Sensors – this is not the amount of megapixels or resolution, this is the sheer size of the phot0-sensitive digital sensor which will translate into better image quality
- Interchangeable Lenses – whatever you want to photograph there will be a decent lens which is perfect for the job
- Viewfinder – the DSLR uses a mirror so you have a viewfinder which is an almost exact representation of what will be captured by the image sensor so you will have more control than just using the LCD screen
- Advanced Features and Controls – as one shop assistant explained to me, point-and-shoot cameras do have the ability to modify settings, but they are designed in a completely different way to DSLRs. The DSLR is built from the beginning with manual control in mind, and the automatic settings are an added benefit. So the manual controls are more obvious, and have much greater ranges than on a point and shoot. This means you can more easily get much greater control over your depth of field, and lighting.
- Speed – DSLRs are known for their faster shutter and speed systems, and when you switch them on they are much quicker to be ready to shoot. My Panasonic takes seconds to turn on and fire up with a lot of whirring into action …. which can be frustrating.
What To Look Out For When Choosing Your First SLR Camera
This is where I started to get a bit blinded by science, and the sheer number of models and options. What I didn’t want to do is miss a key feature or option that I would really regret not having. On the other hand, at this stage it is important not to be talked up when there are some excellent entry-level models on the market with features that you could only have dreamed of just a few years ago. And to be honest, until you have made that step up, it is really quite difficult to know which features are going to be the most important to you. So here is how I narrowed down my choice.
- Price – to be honest this is going to be the first major deciding factor. Your budget will position you either at entry-level (around £300), step-up (around £500 – £700) and then the sky’s the limit. I made my mind up to go for the £500 mark, mainly because I definitely wanted a DSLR camera with a mic input. And to be honest, once you have set a budget, you really start to narrow down your options. Which makes life a bit easier.
- Image Quality – compare sensor size, lens quality, and the optics of the camera itself
- Features – Different cameras have varying usable ISO ranges, autofocus points and resolution (in megapixels). Most online stores let you compare several cameras at once, so you can line up these features and see which camera has what
- Design – actually go into some stores and hold the cameras. Cameras that are well reviewed might just not feel right to you.
Best of Three
So after working through the above, I found myself looking at three choices. The Nikon D5600; the Canon EOS 800D and the Canon EOS 250D.
Why those three? Well the Nikon D5600 and the Canon EOS 250D are both very compact designs. In fact the 250D is probably the smallest, lightest DSLR available at present. This is important to me because I want to carry this camera around a lot. Both are really well-reviewed as ‘beginner’ DSLR with guided interfaces, being easy to use. So hopefully with either you are going to progress your photography. (Look, I told you I was a complete amateur, so this is important!)
The most helpful person I spoke to was in the Nottingham branch of the London Camera Exchange because he really understood where I am currently at with my photography, and where I want to go next. His suggestion was the Canon EOS 800D, on the basis it is a solid and well-priced ‘step-up’ camera. He showed me through the settings and I was quickly able to grasp the basics of how to use this camera off the auto mode. He also pointed out that in terms of choice of lenses in future, Canon has the widest choice. And probably many more secondhand options.
To be honest I was very close to buying it on the spot … but went away to have a coffee and a pause for thought.
1 Down, 2 to Go
I very quickly eliminated the Nikon D5600.
- There is a locking mechanism on the lens which has to be pressed each time you use it, and I found that annoying (this is a feature that makes it very compact though).
- The Nikon has a very ‘graphic’ interface which might appeal to you, but I just preferred the ‘cleaner’ interface on the Canon.
- The LCD display is not a touchscreen. However, this camera is incredibly well reviewed, and the assistant in John Lewis, herself a very knowledgable Nikon user, pointed out that by a country mile it is their current best seller.
The Final Decision
And it turned out that Currys/PC World had an absolute Mega Deal on the Canon EOS 250D, with virtual a free 50 mm prime lens as well as the standard kit 18-55 mm zoom lens. Their deals change frequently, so on a different day you might pick something else. So in the end, that is the one I went for, and I haven’t looked back since. Happy days.
So now I have this shiny new camera, the pressure is on. Over the next few months I will post how I’m getting on. And if you follow me on Instagram then you can keep an eye on my latest images.