Q&A #2 – Considerations when Buying a DSLR (Podcast 64)

Martin Bailey Photography Podcast

Q&A #2 – Considerations when Buying a DSLR (Podcast 64)

Today I’m going to give guidance on which Digital SLR to buy in response to a question that listener Joshua Lopez was kind enough to record using the MobaTalk Comment System that you can find on the top page at martinbaileyphotography.com. I’m not going to be able to answer with a direct recommendation, because which camera is right for any individual depends on so many factors, but I will try to give some good, impartial advice on what to bear in mind when buying a Digital SLR.

Thank you very much Joshua. Sorry it’s taken a while to get around to answering this since you recorded the question a number of weeks back. I was waiting for another question which I now have received, so here we go with my answer.

I don’t think it would be correct for me to just say, go with Nikon, or go with Canon, as there are so many factors that come into play when choosing a camera that I would need to sit down and talk with you for a few hours to be able to really give you any good advice. Also, because I’m a Canon user myself, I’ll be naturally biased towards Canon gear. This is not just because I like my own gear, but because I’m used to using it. I have been shooting with Canon gear for 15 years now, and so using it is second nature to me. I have only ever held Nikon or other manufacturer’s gear a few times, and never shot with it, so it’s impossible for me to give first hand advice on the merits or demerits of this gear. As people that have been tuning in for some time will know, I only talk about stuff that I myself have first hand experience with or knowledge of. So, what I’ll do here is discuss the sort of things that you might want to bear in mind to enable you yourself to make your own decision.

I really do have to say first and foremost that most of the 35mm Digital SLRs on the market today, from Canon, Nikon, Sony or any other manufacturer will give you excellent results. With Canon and Nikon pushing the technology to it’s limits while competing with each other, it’s just not possible any more to make a digital that is not up to at least today’s standards, and expect it to sell.

So let’s talk about the factors to bear in mind when thinking about this. Especially if it’s your first digital SLR let’s check if you already have some good quality lenses or accessories for an SLR of any particular maker? If you already have an investment in Canon, Nikon, Sony or any other manufacturer’s gear, then it might make sense going for that maker’s DSLR body. However, note that I said good quality lenses and that it only “might” make sense to go with that maker. The reason for this is that, for good or bad, digital imaging allows you to view your results pixel for pixel, and this really shows the imperfections in cheaper lenses. When I was talking my wife into allowing me to buy the Canon EOS D30 some five years ago for a ridiculous amount of money, I remember saying that all I need is the body, because I already have three lenses covering my needs. Well, what happened was I replaced all three of them within the first year of owning that camera. The only lens that I regretted letting go was a 24mm F2.8 prime lens, which I need to put into the mix to get enough money to buy the 100-400mm L lens, but apart from that, my standard and telephoto zoom that I’d used happily for some ten years with my film SLR just didn’t cut it with digital. So I’d suggest taking a look at the quality of the lenses you have in any particular makers range before sticking to that maker based on your current inventory. Also remember that the Sony Alpha 100 and I’m sure any other DSLR bodies that come out in the Sony range will allow you to use Minolta, or Konica Minolta lenses if you have any. Again, bear in mind the quality of your current glass though before allowing this to effect your decision too much.

If you don’t think you’ll ever particularly want to print your images out at very large size or the main aim of your photography is say for Web publishing, where the images will be sized-down substantially, you won’t be able to see many of the imperfections that lower standard lenses introduce, so it might not be a consideration. What you really want from the camera is another very important factor. Are you going to be using the camera to make professional images that need to be printed at large sizes, or is the camera just for family and holiday snaps. The number of pixels a camera will provide is really no longer such an issue as it was years ago for standard including most professional use, even if you want to print out your images at 13×19 or larger. 13×19 prints are as sharp as tacks from anything larger than a 6 mega pixel camera, and because most of the new cameras on the market now are at least eight, and most over ten mega pixels now, it’s really not much of a worry point unless you’re considering an older second hand model. If you are, unless you really know you’re only going to output to web or small prints, try to get something at least 6 mega pixels.

Some people only want a camera that allows a certain amount of control over the shooting parameters, but really will just leave it on automatic or the P mode and shoot away. Thinking about this though, one of the big factors in earlier low end Canon DSLRs used to be that you could not use the Mirror-Lockup feature for example. Many people that always shoot hand-held and will never need the mirror-lockup feature would never have even missed it, but for many serious photographers the mirror-lockup feature is an essential feature. Now though, even the lower end models have this feature and many other features that were left out of earlier models to keep them apart from the higher end models. The only thing I can think of that really still applies is that most high-end DSLRs don’t have built in flash. If you want something in-built so that you never have to worry about carrying around an external flash unit, it’s important to keep this in mind. This is not really to keep the low and high end models apart, more that higher end camera users don’t even want a built in flash.

Actually, going back to a lens related note, it’s also important to consider what type of lenses you would buy, and although most makers have a very full range, if you want some specialists lenses, like Tilt/Shift lenses, or high magnification macro lenses, check that they are available from the manufacturers you are considering, and maybe rule out the ones that don’t have the lenses you’ll need. After all, the camera body that you decide on will probably end up being the cheaper part of the equation once you buy more than a few lenses. In fact, the body is also going to be the most replaceable part of your investment, as the technology is growing so fast right now, I find that most people end up replacing their body much sooner now than years ago when holding on to the same camera body for 10 years or so was not uncommon.

Another thing to consider is the crop factor. If you’ve only shot with compact digitals until now, you probably won’t really notice a difference initially, but if you want to shoot wide, sweeping landscapes at 24mm or wider, then you’ll need to buy a 10-22mm lens or something like that to get this coverage with a crop factor DSLR. The first lens I bought for my D30 five years ago was the 17-35mm F2.8 to be able to shoot wide angle. The truth is though, on a 1.6X crop factor camera, 17-35 actually only become 27-56mm, and 27mm is not that wide. It’s also very debatable as to whether or not the 10mm digital only lenses are really good for true wide angle work, because they just have to bend the light too much, and although they’re very sharp, they can give rise to some pretty nasty distortion and the 10-22mm Canon EF-S lens that I had also had pretty bad Chromatic Aberration when used wide open. So if you really want to shoot the sweeping wide open scenes, a full-size sensor DSLR might be the way to go. If you’d only shoot very wide on occasion, and can handle the down-side of the 10mm lenses for the odd shot, then it might not be a big consideration. Of course, on the other hand, the 1.5 or 1.6 crop factor is great if you are shooting telephoto or macro. Not only will it get you much closer with a shorter focal length, you’re only using the best part of the lens when using full 35mm size lenses.

The size of the camera is important too. I don’t have particularly large hands, but they’re big enough for me to find the Rebel series of Canon camera too small to hold comfortably. I found the D30, 10D and my current 5D to be just right. I actually even found the 20D to be a tad on the small side. So whatever you consider, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting into a camera store and actually holding cameras from a number of manufacturers. Also note that a camera will handle very differently when it has the battery grip attached. Not only do they extend the grip, making it easier to handle a smaller body with bigger hands, battery grips also have additional buttons to shoot with the camera in vertical or portrait position, which I find very helpful. Also, if necessary you have the option to remove the grip when travelling if weight is a consideration. This might also be a consideration for the body itself. If you want to be able to carry the body around with a zoom lens attached so that you always have something with you, a smaller body might be more suitable. I find that I don’t carry my 5D around with me very much unless I’m out shooting. With my 20D I used to take the battery grip off fit the 17-85mm lens and the semi-hard cover to it, and drop it into my bag “just in case” much more often.

There are also considerations such as the loudness of the shutter unit. If you shoot weddings, or timid wildlife, you might find that some cameras shutter speeds are a little on the loud side. Although some photographer’s like to hear a nice solid clunk when they trip the shutter, I like my camera to whisper to me, not shout. The Canon EOS 20D for example had a very loud shutter unit which I never liked. People would turn and look at me when shooting in a park for example, which has never happened to me when shooting with any of my other cameras. I also disturbed some birds when shooting, and noticed them look at me then fly away shortly after starting to shoot, so it’s a serious consideration. Again, you really need to get into a store and check this for yourself if it might be a problem for you.

What I would suggest make a list of features that you just couldn’t live without in a camera, then visit dpreview.com and select “Buying Guide” then “Side-by-Side” from the menu on the left. This handy tool allows you to select multiple cameras from a list on the left, and move them into a new list of cameras that you want to compare, then it builds a table to enable you to view all the cameras you’re interested in side-by-side to see detailed specifications and which have the features you require, and which do not. You can also then see the features that the cameras have that you might not have thought of originally, but may find that they’d be useful to have after all. You’ll also see that there are user ratings and street prices for the cameras as well, so you should find this useful in deciding. I’ll put a link in the show notes too, but this is just dpreview.com.

Although there are many other factors that I haven’t touch on here, hopefully this will help steer you in the right direction with regards to making your decision Joshua, or any one else that might also be currently faced with the same dilemma. The important thing is to get something that suites your needs from both a feature and ergonomic perspective, and above all else, remember that it’s you that takes the photo, not your camera. The equipment is just a means to an end.

Start Wrap-up: I would also imagine that there’ll be lots of other people with additional advice. If you have anything to add or feedback about this advice, please do post it to the martinbaileyphotography.com forum for Joshua and anyone else interested to see. I’m sure there are many others asking themselves similar questions right now.

In the next episode I’m going to answer another question, about Hyperfocal Distance. What it is, how to calculate and some tools to help you, and how to put it to practical use in your photography. So stay subscribed, keep tuning in and tell your friends if you are finding these Podcasts interesting.

So have a great week, whether you’re out shooting, or whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes
Music from Music Alley: www.musicalley.com/

Hopefully this week’s episode will be of use to those of you facing the dilemma of which camera to buy from the now pretty large number of DSLRs t choose from.

To build a list of cameras to compare, go to http://www.dpreview.com/ and click “Buying Guide” then “Side-by-Side” from the menu on the left of the page.


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Michael Rammell

Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

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