Everything DSLR: Cameras, Accessories & Tips

For the new DSLR (digital single lens reflex) user, these cameras can be a bit intimidating: they're big, heavy, and have a lot of settings! Just choosing the right one for you can be quite a challenge. In the articles that follow, you'll find information on selecting a camera, choosing lenses, and learning to use your new equipment. Once you've read through everything, you'll be ready to take some great photos!

So You’re Buying a Camera!

Long popular in Europe and with professionals, DSLR cameras are now catching on with the American public. Offering larger pixels and more control than point-and-shoot or phone cameras, DSLRs make it easier than ever to capture great photos. Rather than being an all-in-one device, a DSLR (or SLR) camera consists of a body, which takes the photo, combined with a lens. A good lens can last for decades and be used with many cameras; of course, a good lens can also be quite expensive!

What to Buy?

DSLR cameras are available at a wide range of price points and capabilities. At the low end, you can buy a kit with a consumer body and a cheap lens for under $500; at the other end of the scale, a full-frame professional body can cost thousands of dollars, and the lenses can cost even more! For most people, including many professionals, a prosumer camera – in the ~$1500 range – is more than sufficient, but buying lenses can become downright addicting. For those who aren't sure they want to make the investment, the steady stream of new camera bodies means that slightly older bodies can be picked up used at a reasonable price.

You may notice that where this guide talks about specific brands, those brands tend to be Canon or Nikon; this is because those are the best known and most available brands. However, there are a number of other camera manufacturers, and the same principles discussed here will still apply.

Nikon D300s

Choosing a Lens

When it comes to real estate, you may have heard the guideline that you should buy as much house as you can afford (and, hopefully, not a bit more!). A similar rule applies to DSLR/SLR photography: buy the best lens you can afford! One excellent lens is worth much, much more than two or three merely good lenses for the same price. If given the choice between a newer body or better lenses, prefer the lenses; if you're serious about photography, there's a fair chance you'll end up buying a new body every few years, but a great lens can last a lifetime.

That said, if you're on a limited budget, there are a number of inexpensive lenses that can last a long time. A 50mm f/1.8, for example, can be found for around $100 (for either Canon or Nikon), makes a great go-to lens, and will likely get used even if you later start buying thousand-dollar lenses. The nice thing about prime lenses (lenses with only one focal length) is that you tend to get higher quality photos at a lower price than you do with zoom lenses.

Canon 100-400mm

Learning Digital Photography

Of course, the best camera equipment in the world won't do you any good if you don't know how to use it! Indeed, unless you're planning to put in the effort to learn how to use your camera, you'd be better off with a simple point-and-shoot: the photos will be of similar quality and the camera will be a lot cheaper and more convenient to carry around!

There are two parts to learning to take great photos: learning general photography terms and techniques, and learning how to use your specific camera. You should be familiar enough with your camera that you can change the settings without thinking about it, leaving you free to concentrate on getting the shot.

Terminology and Technique: Knowing Your Camera

What is an aperture, and why do you care? Knowing common photography terms only allows you to intelligently discuss photographs (and the process of taking them); more importantly, understanding the concepts helps you to create great photos. Understanding the various pieces of equipment you can use with your camera helps, too!

Silk tripod

Be Ready: Capturing Interesting Scenes

Aside from being familiar with your camera, it helps to know how you want to approach different situations so that when they occur, you can concentrate on setting up your best shot rather than wondering which lens you should be using. Much of this comes from experience, but you can get a head start by seeing how other people have approached a scene.

References

  • Images are from Amazon.com, where you can purchase most of the equipment discussed.