A Guide to Buying Your First DSLR

guide to buying your first dslr camera
A beginner’s guide to buying your first DSLR camera

In the market for a new camera and overwhelmed by all of the choices? This guide to buying your first DSLR for beginner’s will help you navigate many of the choices out there. I was once in your shoes and ended up spending a lot of unnecessary money because I was just so excited to buy a camera and get started. However, I did not really know anything about what I was buying. Hopefully I can help break this down for you a little in case you are finding yourself in the same situation I found myself in.

First let’s talk about the advantages to owning a DSLR(digital single lens reflex) camera. If you are reading this, you probably already know that buying and learning to use a great camera will take your pictures to the next level. Whether you are eager to learn a new hobby and capture better pictures of your life, a mom wanting to capture these precious fleeting days of childhood for your kids, a business owner wanting to be able to photograph your products or create content for your marketing, or an avid traveler who wants to document their adventures, you are in the right place.

First and foremost, the image quality on a DSLR camera will far surpass the phone camera you are probably currently using. Don’t get me wrong, phone cameras have come a LONG way. However, there are still many scenarios when your phone camera just isn’t going to cut it. While some of your phone photos might look great on your phone, have you ever actually zoomed in on those photos and looked at the quality? Have you ever tried to print or enlarge those photos? It might look decent on your small device, but photographs and memories weren’t meant to only live on our devices. They were meant to be printed, hung on the walls of your home, put in albums, held in your hands, and cherished for the generations that will follow you. The higher number of megapixels on a DSLR will produce higher resolution images. This makes a big difference when you are wanting the kind of quality that will print beautifully.

DSLR’s also have an incredible ability to handle low light situations. Take a peek at some photos on your phone that were taken in dark lighting. Notice just how much more the quality of the photograph deteriorates. On top of that, you are also going to have a better ability to focus and capture moving subjects. Gone are the days of blurry photos due to moving subjects or squirming babies. Anyone who has ever tried to take a picture of a wiggling baby or a busy toddler on their phone knows the struggle I am referring to here!

A lot of newer DSLR cameras come with wifi capabilities as well. This will allow you to transfer photos to your smartphone and edit/share instantly straight from your phone. This is a fun feature to have when you take that amazing photo and want to have instant access to share with friends or post to social media!

When you start shopping you will notice that there are multiple brands to choose from when it comes to buying a DSLR. Is there one brand that is superior? My opinion is that it just comes down to personal preference. I admire many incredible photographers that shoot with different camera bodies. As you improve and learn more about photography you will find that the higher priced models do come with some nice perks, but for a beginner I wouldn’t get hung up on this. Think about what your budget is and spend what you are comfortable with. The best way to start learning to take better pictures is to just start. Buy the camera that falls in your budget, practice a ton, and rock the gear that you have. If you find that you love this hobby you can always upgrade later. A basic entry level DSLR is going to run you around $500. I personally started with a Nikon camera. Nikon is what I have stuck with, especially after investing in so many lenses to go with it. While Nikon and Canon are two very popular brands, there are a ton of other brands to choose from as well: Sony, Pentax, Olympus, Panasonic, and Samsung just to name a few.

There are also two major categories of DSLR cameras that you will find when shopping. Cropped and full frame sensor camera bodies. When describing a camera as either cropped or full frame we are talking about the size of the camera’s sensor. To help break this down for you, the bigger the sensor, the more light the sensor can receive, therefore increasing the quality of your photos in low-light conditions. Those more expensive models you see have full frame sensors. The more expensive cameras are going to perform better in low-light situations. When shooting in low-light you have to increase your ISO setting (the camera’s sensitivity to light) and when doing so you will start to see noise in your images. Noise is the word to describe the speckled looking grain that appears on the image. The more you zoom in the more you will notice that the image looks grainy. Some people love having that grainy look to their images. So again, it all comes down to personal style and preference. Full frame camera models can handle higher ISO settings, making the noise in your images far less noticeable than with cropped sensor cameras.

This was all a foreign language to me at first. My first camera I started shooting on was a cropped sensor camera. Honestly, at the time I didn’t even know there was a difference and also that was what I could afford at that stage. Back in 2014, my first camera body was a Nikon D7000. It became important for me to upgrade my camera body when I started shooting weddings and in home newborn sessions. Not always knowing the lighting situation I am walking into, it is awesome to know that I have a camera that can handle those low light situations and still produce beautiful pictures. My first camera upgrade was to a full frame Nikon D610 and from there I upgraded to the Nikon D750, which is what I love and still shoot on.

I’ll speak specifically to Nikon here, since that is personally what I know. However, if you check out other popular brands, you will notice a similar pattern to their camera lineup.

Click here to see the breakdown of Nikon’s current cropped sensor (DX) models.

Click here if you want to see the full frame(FX) lineup.

If you are really on a budget, you might consider buying a used camera. You can find cameras listed online on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace. Of course, there is always a small risk when buying used gear from someone you don’t know. So that is something you will need to take into consideration. A good question to ask when buying a used camera from someone is what the camera’s shutter count is. Think of it in comparison to how you would ask what the mileage is when buying a used car. You should be able to do a quick internet search to see what the expected shutter count for that camera model is. Then you will have a general idea of how much it has been used.

There are also many online retailers that will allow you to rent camera gear with the option to buy the gear if you end up loving it. I’ve rented a few times from lensrentals.com and have always had a good experience. Another idea might be to ask around to family or close friends. I think you would be surprised how many people own a DSLR that is just sitting and collecting dust. Maybe they would consider selling it to you or letting you borrow it so you can practice on it and find out if you love it or not.

A DSLR allows you to change your lenses. Most likely when buying your first camera, you will get a lens or two that comes with it. These are often referred to as the kit lens, because they come with the camera when you buy the bundle. One of the things I wish I would have learned early on was that once I got serious about taking pictures, I was never going to touch that kit lens again. If you are able to purchase just the camera body alone I would recommend that. Then you could buy a lens separately. Most people will tell you that the lens you use is more important than spending a lot of money on a fancy camera body. If you have the money to spend, invest in good quality glass and you will definitely see the results in your images.

So here’s the deal, if you want to be able to create those soft blurry backgrounds in your pictures, it is your lens that is going to help you achieve this. That background blur I am referring to is called bokeh in photography lingo. It’s the reason that portrait mode on the iPhone was and still is so popular because it gave people the ability to create a blurred background to their photos. My recommendation if you are investing in your first lens would be to go for a prime lens. A prime lens is not going to allow you to zoom in and out. It has one set focal length. So, you will be doing the zooming in and out with your feet, but there are so many benefits to owning a prime lens.

The first prime lens I invested in was a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 and that lens is still in my camera bag today. When reading about photography you might hear it referred to as the “nifty fifty.” It is a pretty common starter lens because of how affordable it is. That lens did not leave my camera for a long time when I first started learning photography. A prime lens will allow you to control and set your aperture which is what you are going to need to do if you want to consistently create that beautiful bokeh that separates your subject from the background. I will create a separate post on the specifics of buying your first lens because I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information in one post!

Here is the link to the lens that I started with, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4. Another option that is a little more affordable and still a great lens is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8.

Feel free to reach out and ask questions! I am happy to help! Seriously, there is no such thing as a silly question. I wish I would have been more willing to reach out and ask for help when I first started. I could have saved myself hours and hours of googling and trying to understand it all in the beginning.

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