1. Price – a good place to start when thinking about buying a DSLR is obviously price. DSLRs price range in price from some quite affordable deals at the lower end to extremely high prices at the professional end. Set yourself a budget for your purchase early on but make sure that you keep in mind that you’ll need to consider other costs of owning one including:
Lenses (some deals offer ‘kit lenses’ but you should consider upgrading – see below for more on this)
Batteries (all models will come with one but if you are travelling you might need a spare)
Memory Cards (some models come with one but most are inadequate in terms of size. Even if you’re lucky enough to have one included you’ll probably want to upgrade to at least a 1 gigabyte card).
Camera Bag (some dealers will throw one in – but once again don’t expect a high quality ‘free’ bag. Your DSLR is something worth protecting – invest in a good bag)
Filters (at the least you’ll want to get a UV filter for each lens you purchase – but you might also want to consider other types down the track also).
Extended Warranties (there’s a variety of opinions on whether they’re good or not – but they’re worth considering)
2. What will You use it For? – when you head into a camera store to purchase any type of question the first thing most sales people will ask you what type of photography you want to do. It is well worth asking yourself this question up front as it will help you think through the type of features and accessories you’ll need.
Will this be a general purpose camera for recording ‘life’? Are you wanting to travel with the camera? Is it for sports photography? Macro Photography? Low Light Photography? Make a realistic list of the type of photography you will use it for (note I said ‘realistic’ – it’s easy to dream of all kinds of things you’ll photograph – but in reality most of us only do half what we think we will).
3. Size – DSLRs are all more sizeable than compact point and shoot cameras but there is a fair bit of variation in size between them also. Some photographers don’t mind carrying around weighty gear but if you’re going to use it for on the go photography (travel, bush walking etc) then small and light models can be very handy.
4. Previous Gear – the attractive thing about DSLRs is that in many cases they are compatible with some of the gear you might already have.
This is particularly the case for lenses. The chances are that if you have a film SLR that your lenses might well be compatible with a DSLR made by the same manufacturer. Don’t assume that all lenses will be compatible (particularly older gear) but it’s well worth asking the question as it could save you considerable money.
If you have a point and shoot camera you might also want to look at the type of memory card that it takes as some models of DSLRs could also be compatible with them. This probably won’t be a major consideration as memory cards are considerably cheaper than they used to be but it could be a factor to consider.
5. Resolution – ‘how many megapixels does it have’ is a question that is often one of the first to be asked about a new camera. While I think ‘megapixels’ are sometimes over emphasized (more is not always best) it is a question to consider as DSLRs come with a wide range of megapixel ratings. Megapixels come into play as you consider how you’ll use your images. If you’re looking to print enlargements then more can be good – if you’re just going to print in small sizes or use them for e-mailing friends then it’s not so crucial.
6. Sensor Size – Another related question to consider is how big the image sensor is. The term ‘crop factor’ comes up when you talk about image sensor size – I’ll upack this further in a future article as it’s perhaps a little complicated for the scope of this one. In general a larger sensor has some advantages over a smaller one (although there are costs too). But I’ll unpack this in a future post (stay tuned).
7. Future Upgrades – will you be in a position to upgrade your camera again in the foreseeable future? While entry level DSLRs are attractively priced they tend to date more quickly than higher end models and you run the risk of growing out of them as your expertise grows and you thirst for more professional features. Ask yourself some questions about your current level of expertise in photography and whether you’re the type of person who learns how to master something and then wants to go to a higher model that gives you more control and features. It’s a difficult question but you might find it’s worthwhile to pay a little more in the short term for a model that you can grow into.
8. Other Features
Most DSLRs have a large array of features that will probably overwhelm and confuse you at first as you compare them with one another. All have basic features like the ability to use aperture and shutter priority, auto or manual focus etc but there’s also a lot of variation in what is or isn’t offered. Here are some of the more common features that you might want to consider:
Burst Mode – the ability to shoot a burst of images quickly by just holding down the shutter release – great for sports and action photography. DSLRs vary both in the number of frames that they can shoot per second as well as how many images they can shoot in a single burst.
Maximum Shutter Speed – most DSLRs will have a decent range of speeds available to you but some will have some pretty impressive top speeds which will be very useful if you’re into sports or action photography.
ISO Ratings – Similarly, most DSLRs will offer a good range of ISO settings but some take it to the next level which is useful in low light photography.
LCD Size – It’s amazing how much difference half an inch can make when viewing images on your cameras LCD. I noticed this recently when testing a camera with a 2.5 inch screen after using my own 1.8 inch one. While it might not change the way you shoot photos (people tend to use viewfinders at this level to frame shots) it certainly can be nice to view your shots on a larger screen.
Anti Shake – in the past few years a range of new DSLRs have been announced by manufacturers having on sensor Anti Shake/Vibration Reduction/image Stabilization feature on its sensor. While it’s been common to get ‘image stabilisation’ technology in lenses the idea of it being built into camera bodies is something that is attractive.
Dust Protection – another feature that has started appearing in the latest round of cameras is image sensor dust protection (and in some cases self cleaning for image sensors) – something that will help alleviate a lot of frustration that many DSLR photographers have. To this point this is a feature that is mainly on lower end DSLRs but it’s bound to appear on new professional models also.
Connectivity – Getting photos out of your DSLR and into a computer or printer generally happens these days via USB but some people like Fire Wire and/or Wireless.
Semi-Auto Modes – As with point and shoot cameras – many DSLRs (especially lower end ones) come with an array of shooting modes. These generally include ‘portrait’, ‘sports’, ‘night’ etc. If you rely upon these modes on your point and shoot you may well use them on your DSLR too. Higher end DSLRs often don’t have them.
Flash – Generally professional grade DSLRs don’t offer built in flash and just have a hotshoe while entry level DSLRs include a built in flash.