Guide to Buying Your First DSLR Camera
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You have been taking photos of your family with your point-and-shoot camera or your phone for a while now. And while these photos are good, you want more. You want more control over your photos and you want to step up your photography game. You are ready to buy your first DSLR camera! ...now what?
Let's first start with what a DSLR is. DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. These cameras are digital versions of Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras that use film. Reflex refers to the method of which these cameras capture their images. These cameras are what the pros use, but that doesn't mean they are limited to professional use only. There are many different models and brands, from entry-level (which you will likely be starting with) to high-end professional-level. Because of this, purchasing one can be overwhelming if you don't have an idea of what to look for.
Here are some factors to consider:
What is the sensor type?
There are two types of sensors that you will see when looking at DSLR sensors: crop sensors and full-frame sensors. Full frame cameras capture images with roughly the same dimensions as film cameras (those SLRs we talked about above), which is 24mm x 36mm. Crop sensors, on the other hand, are slightly smaller, with the "crop factor" being dependent on the camera model. It may have a factor of 1.3, 1.5, 1.6; it's dependent on the specific camera you are checking out.
Most entry-level cameras have a crop sensor. There is absolutely nothing wrong with crop-sensor DSLRs. There are even professional-grade cameras, such as the Nikon D7100, that have a crop-sensor. While a full-frame sensor is going to have better light capabilities and offer the opportunity for an even wider view, you can create amazing photos and capture your story perfectly with a crop-sensor camera.
How many megapixels?
The megapixel rating tells you how many pixels will make up the images you take with your new camera. To a certain point, this determines image quality. It also determines how large your can print your photos with good quality. If you would like the ability to print 16x20 inch photos, for example, you need to have 28.8 megapixels for a good quality print. There are calculations that can be used to determine the required megapixels for print sizes. I always recommend printing your photos, but if you are only planning to post your photos on the internet or view them on a computer, you can get away with a lower megapixel rating.
What is the maximum ISO?
In basic terms, ISO represents sensitivity to light. It is one of the three factors that make up the exposure triangle, with aperture and shutter speed. The higher you crank up your ISO when taking a photo, the brighter that end photo then becomes. However, turning up your ISO may also product grain, or noise.
The higher the maximum ISO of the camera, the better said camera will perform in low light situations. This is especially helpful for indoor photos in low light, such as a photo of your child rocking in their glider before bed, or for action photos, such as your kids running through a sprinkler.
How many auto-focus points are there?
One of the main benefits of purchasing a DSLR is gaining more control over your images. You are better able to control your focus point and what the main focus of the image is, especially with manual mode. With more auto-focus points on your camera, you have a better chance of capturing the focus you are trying to achieve. Your subject is more likely to be close to a focal point with more points available. This is especially helpful with moving subjects (i.e. your kids that never...ever...stop moving!).
What is the video resolution?
If you plan to use your DSLR for video, this will be something to consider. Higher-end DSLR cameras are typically able to record in full (1080p) HD, which is 1080x1920 pixels. Some entry-level DSLRs record in a lower resolution, such as 720x1280 pixels, or 720p HD. That being said, 720p is still great quality and this shouldn't be an ultimate deciding factor if you are just planning on recording video for personal use.
Is wireless connection an option?
This is an extra benefit to a DSLR camera, but is very convenient. Many options now allow you to connect to the camera via WiFi. This is convenient for uploading images. I love to use this feature to upload photos directly to my iPhone. This is not an essential element to your new DSLR but is definitely an awesome perk if your chosen model has it!
What is the brand?
Between photographers, this always tends to be a debate. You've likely heard Nikon and Canon both discussed most frequently when it comes to camera brands. However, they are not the only brands available from which to choose (Sony is another brand increasing in popularity). I am not going to discuss brand as it really is just personal preference. However, for the sake of simplicity, the models I am going to mention are Nikon and Canon. Let’s look at some of the options available to you.
Here are some entry level models to consider:
Nikon's D3400 is a great entry-level DSLR to start your photography journey. It is lightweight and small, which is great when you are carrying a million other things when out and about. It has a crop-sensor and 24.2 megapixels. It has a maximum ISO of 25,600 and 11 auto-focus points. Video resolution is 1080p and it has a built-in monaural microphone.
The Nikon D5600 is another great entry-level DSLR to consider at a slightly higher price point than the D3400. This model has the same megapixel rating as well as the same maximum ISO. A few major benefits differentiate this model: the number of auto-focus points, wireless, touch screen, and microphone. This model has 39 auto-focus points against the D3400's 11. This is a great benefit to the D5600. This model also has wireless capabilities and a touchscreen, which helps with ease and efficiency. It also has a stereo microphone and the option to use an external stereo microphone if you so desire, which can be a huge benefit when shooting video with your DSLR when it comes to sounds quality. Check out both cameras and make your own comparison on Nikon's website here.
Canon EOS Rebel SL2
Canon's EOS Rebel SL2 is comparable to Nikon's D3400. It has a crop-sensor and 24.2 megapixels. It has a maximum ISO of 25,600 and 9 auto-focus points. It has video resolution of 1080p.
Canon EOS Rebel T7i
The Canon EOS Rebel T7i is the next level up as far as entry-level DSLRs for the brand. This model has 24.2 megapixels, a maximum ISO of 25,600, and 1080p video resolution as well. Both Canon models compared here also have built-in wireless, a touch screen monitor, and the ability to use an external microphone via a built-in port. However, the T7i wins in regards to auto-focus points, with 45 vs. only 9 with the SL2. With the added benefit comes a higher price point. Check out both models and make your own comparison on Canon's website here.
What about lenses?
Many DSLRs have a kit option, which includes what is known as a kit lens. These are typically 18-55mm lenses. In theory, this sounds like a great deal. However, I believe you are better off purchasing the body alone, and purchasing one or more affordable, higher quality lenses separately. You will get more for your money taking this route, in my opinion. The best starting point when it comes to prime lenses is a 50mm lens. This lens is often referred to as the "Nifty Fifty," and for good reason. It is typically the most affordable and is quite versatile. It can be used in many different situations and is fast. It is small and light, too, so it's easy to carry with you. Below are two 50mm lenses to consider, one for Nikon and one for Canon.
Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 50 mm f/1.8
You now know the basic specs to check out when purchasing your new DSLR, as well as a few options of what model to start with! You will be documenting your family’s history better than ever with this new tool in your toolbox! Comment below and let me know what you decide to purchase! I can’t wait to hear.
Once you have your camera in hand, will you know how to use all of the fun buttons and dials on that thing? No? That's okay! I will soon be launching a course on how to use your DSLR to document your family's story. Learn camera basics to use your camera to its full potential, as well as how to compose your photos and capture your family's legacy in the best way possible! Subscribe to my e-mail newsletter to be the first to join once it launches!