How to choose your first DSLR

Purchasing one’s first Digital Single Lens Reflex is a real investment. It’s hopefully a sign of commitment towards the great art of Photography. It is an investment simply on the fact that with a camera body pricing from a few hundred to several thousand pounds Sterlings and same goes for the lens itself. So how can you make sure that this purchase won’t leave you with any regret once the euphoria of the new toy fades away? I hope this episode gives you some insights to make the best of your purchase study.

Your first DSLR will most likely determine which DSLR brand you will stick for many years to come, and here is why

For the sake of this episode, I will only mention the major camera brands such as Canon, Nikon and Sony. When using a DSLR, you need a lens that is not built-in the camera body. That may sound obvious because it is, but what I mean by this is the camera body is nothing without a lens. Lenses are built to fit specific camera brand: a Canon lens will never fit a Nikon camera body and Vise-Versa. Therefore when you choose your first camera body, you will have to buy a lens and most likely a few more before you will want to buy a new camera body. However, having spent several hundred pounds on a lens, you will surely want to make sure that your next camera body will be compatible with it. Therefore I said that while nothing is written in stone, your first DSLR camera body will determine the camera brand for your future purchases. You should ask yourself the following questions:

What is my budget for both lens and camera body?

As said above, purchasing a DSLR is an investment and before considering anything you need to decide what is your budget. If unlike most of us you do not have one then go for the most expensive, why the hell not? However, this rule of thumb is true: If you give a low-end camera to an experienced photographer, he will achieve a fantastic exposure, but if give a professional camera to a newbie, you can expect a rubbish result. If like most of us, you have a tight budget, be aware of this: While you need a camera body and lens to use a DSLR, the lens is more important than the camera. You can use the most expensive camera on the market, if you use a cheap lens, the camera will be limited by the quality of the lens. Of course, cameras are different from one another but not so much that you could perceive it when looking a the resulting picture. Expensive cameras offer you easier access to features (more button with less menu), more features like higher number of Frame per Second, bigger buffer to capture more exposure before it has to write the information on the memory card, the movie capability (shooting 1080p), bigger sensor (cropped vs. full frame), more processor power, more mega pixel, higher ISO, faster shutter speed. So as you choose your first DSLR, you might not need all the features at first and as you grow with your gear and build the experience you will want to upgrade to a camera. This is great since technology improves with time and whenever you are ready to upgrade you will get new things that were maybe not available at the time you bought your first DSLR or maybe was but only found in high-end cameras that cost several thousand pounds Sterlings. Look at the price of a Canon 20D that was first released in 2004  for around £800 and now cost only £100 on eBay. The LCD screen is tiny but was considered big for its time, same with the 8MB. So if you need to choose, I recommend you spend most of your budget on a great lens rather than in a fancy camera that offers many things you do not need at first. For me, I chose the Canon 60D because I was travelling to the USA and its price was the same as the Canon 550D in the UK which offers great features already.

Why do I want a DSLR?

Yes, what do you want a DSLR? Is it because you want to look like a professional/paparazzi with a manly toy, big lens and you even plan on getting a multi pocket cream jacket? Is it because you want to improve the creativity of your photography? Is it because you have been shooting for many years and believe you are limited with the digital camera you currently own? Who am I to judge? But what it is important you realise is that a DSRL is much bigger, heavier that any other digital camera. If you only want to capture fun time out with your friend in clubs on Saturday night, a DSLR might not be the wiser choice. For me it was because I had been shooting for many years with a Lumix (bridge) and while one can set everything like with a DSLR, it was only 6Mb pixels, a lot of menus to access features, limited to 1 single built-in lens (although I had bought some wide angle extension and zoom) and finally it could only shoot jpeg or tiff and I wanted RAW. Note: we will see in a near future episode the difference between jpeg, Tiff and RAW.

Does the camera I find online or at the shop address my expectations?

Once you know why you want a DSLR, you will be ready to check what is out there. You probably know by now that I am Canon guy and I won’t try to push you towards Canon at all. Across the camera makers, you can find equivalent models, just like you do with cars. At the end of the days, it all comes down to personal feeling. There are many websites out there that review all camera and make comparisons. My favourite ones are http://whatdigitalcamera.com and

Here are the few specifications worth looking at when comparing

-Memory card? Do you want to use Flash card or SD? If SD does the camera, enable you to use SDHC for more capacity? Does it accept more than one card at the same time? – Are you into sports photography? If yes then the number of Frame Per Second matters to you. It is the number of exposure you can take when keeping your finger pressed on the shutter button. I.e, my Canon 60d, enable me to do 5.3 FPS but the lowest end Canon DSLR EOS1100D does only 3FPS. – Are you into night photography? If yes you might be interested to be able to use a high ISO such as 6400 or even 12000 although be aware of the noise. – Do you need a very fast Shutter speed? The lower end DSLR will offer you like 1/4000sec. I.e My Canon 60D offers 1/8000sec. – Do you want to shoot video? While most DSLR on the market will offer the movie mode but the fashion is HD movies so you might want to check what camera offer what. I.e my Canon 60D does 1080p movies and can do also 60fps at 720p for some nice slow motion action. Note I will do an episode on that. – What LCD screen do you want? A swivel one that enables you to shoot self-portrait shot and video, shoot above the crowed or at the low ground without you laying on your tummy. – Want to do Exposure or white balance bracketing? We will review what this is in a future episode. For me, the Canon 60D had the swivel LCD screen, the rather fast FPS, the very high ISO, a fast Shutter speed and HD video capability.

Finally, how does it feel in your hand?

The online shop will often offer you the best bargain, but I strongly encourage you to go a street shop and grab it. Even bring your memory card the salesman won’t mind, and you will be able to check the result once back home. You need to check how it feels under your grip. Can you reach all the buttons easily? We all have different hand size, and for example, I do not like holding a Nikon camera. You want to make sure to be comfortable with the camera you choose. Do not make a compromise between features and comfort. What is the point of having a do-it-all camera if you cannot easily use it or safely hold it? For me, although I purchased my Canon 60d from B&H online, I did go to a few camera shops on the high street and feel the grip, test the camera and confirm my final choice.


The camera body needs to be your best buddy in your Photography journey. Hence choose it wisely!

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