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Maybe it’s an upcoming gift from a loved one or maybe you just decided it was time to “take my photography to the next level”. Or maybe it is another reason that has you shopping for a new DSLR. At any rate, you have started your hunt online and off and will soon be making a large investment in a camera.
Undoubtedly you have come across one of the age old debates: Canon or Nikon. As I carry a Canon with me, I get knowing looks from other Canon owners when the “Which brand should I go with?” question comes up in a group setting. They assume I will tout Canon’s superiority and Nikon’s inferiority. But that’s not the case at all.
The first thing I tell anyone looking to buy a new DLSR is to go to a store and see how they feel. Grab a Nikon and a Canon. And a Sony and Olympus and Pentax too. This is what stores are for and why they are better than just shopping online. Here are some things you should look for while handling the camera:
This is one of the most important aspects of any camera. Pixel counts and auto-focus modes are great to debate, but if the camera does not feel good to hold, you will not be wanting to pick it up six months from now and you will have wasted your money on the latest, greatest Wonder Camera(tm) just because it had a lighting optimizer feature that online reviews told you you could not live without. Not only should the weight be appropriate for your build, but the grip should also be comfortable. I have talked people into ‘lesser’ cameras because they found that having smaller hands means something like a Canon T3i is more comfortable than a Canon 5D Mark II.
Second on my suggestion list is to play with the camera’s menus. All manufacturers have different paths through the dozens of features packed into the electronics of modern cameras. While I have learned Nikon’s menus and can navigate fairly well, I prefer Canon’s. Sony, on the other hand, rocks the menu world for new photographers with some great contextual information. With the camera in your hand, see if you can easily change the ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture, White Balance, drive mode (especially self timer), focus mode, exposure bias and metering. Those are some of the most used functions and if they don’t seem intuitive to you, or easy to find, using your camera becomes more of a chore. And most of us like to avoid chores.
Cameras are becoming more and more robust in their features. The marketing departments at each company shout these ‘must haves” to us through magazine ads and online. 4D Matrix Metering. Hypersilent focus modes. 12 frames per second. And on and on. I’m going to play the part of grumpy old curmudgeon for a moment and tell you you need to be able to adjust the shutter speed, aperture and ISO and that’s it. I know that’s simplistic, but it is true that the majority of the most masterful shots seen in the last 100 years of photography were shot without all those special modes.
Good metering is important but so is your ability to look at a scene, judge the highs and lows and shoot accordingly. All you really need is spot metering, good judgment and practice. I know that’s not as fun as having 349 metering points which handle all the thinking for you.
What I’m trying to say is, don’t get into the ‘need’ game. Admit they are ‘wants’ instead and be realistic about how much all those modes will help you. All of those automatic modes you see on top of the camera; Portrait, Landscape, Night Shot, etc… all of those can be replicated with knowledge of how to use a camera and adjusting shutter speed, aperture and ISO (and the flash in the case of Night Shot).
If you DO need some bells and whistles, write them down. The things you can’t live without. This will help you when you go to the store or ask more experienced photographers what you should buy.
This is an important question because it helps determine a number of parameters, like price tag. Want some shots around the house of the kids playing? You don’t need a Nikon D3X, even if you have the funds to buy it. You won’t go to Camera Hell if you overspend but you can put your money to better use by not going top-of-the-line. Do you earnestly hope to make money with your camera, perhaps shooting children’s sports on the weekends? Then you will want to stretch your budget because you will want a camera that can take a bit more abuse and maybe has a faster frame rate.
Again, list the types of photography you really want to get into.
Armed with answers to these questions, you can help those helping you pick a camera because you have narrowed down what and how you want to photograph. It’s also important to have a feel for the equipment (including anticipated lenses, which another post altogether) as I mentioned and that’s where your local store comes in. I asked for suggestions of reliable and knowledgeable camera shops on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and have compiled a short list from around the USA and the world. This list is by no means complete and I will add to it as comments come up, so let me know if a store has what it takes for a referral.