What to look for when purchasing your first DSLR camera

What to look for when purchasing your first DSLR camera

Our popular photography courses in Berkshire are a great starting point to develop your photography skills.  However, if you are just getting into photography, you may wish to purchase a camera before you join one of our courses.  One of the most popular questions we receive is how to buy a new camera and what to look for when purchasing your first DSLR.

There are so many options on the market when purchasing your first DSLR that it can become confusing when reading about megapixels and latest frames per second rate.  We wanted to create a handy guide where you can save this post and take it with you when you are perusing your latest DSLR purchase as a reference.

Camera Types and Options Available:   There are several types of camera out on the market. The Compact Camera, The Bridge Camera, The DSLR Camera and The Mirrorless Camera.  Each of these types have good features to each of them, but they all vary in uses.

The Compact is generally for happy snaps, pop in your pocket type of camera.  They tend to come with some control, but not much.

The Bridge camera is a good mini step from a compact camera, but isn’t quite a full step to the DSLR range.  It is essentially “bridging” the gap between the compact and DSLR.  They have control to Manual settings, but they are locked in as you cannot change the lenses on them, rendering them fairly static if you wish to develop your photography.

The DSLR is the fail safe option to really learn photography and grow your skills. It really is the camera of choice to develop with and there are 1000’s of options out there when you are starting your photography hobby.

The red herring here is the Mirrorless camera.  Similar abilities and technical options as the DSLR, but really half the size and weight.  They are fairly new to the market and are different to DSLR’s due to the fact they have no moving parts inside – no mirror having to move up or down to let light in to take your photograph. The price point is similar to DSLR bodies, however the lens price is near enough double.

Top Points to Consider When Purchasing your first DSLR:

  1. Budget.  In reality, you need to know roughly how much you wish to spend.  Most DSLR’s start from the £350 region and can go right up to £3000.  Only you can determine what your budget is and don’t be swayed by that brand new camera that has just came out and is £200 more than your budget.  Work out what you would like to spend first and then if something is on offer, or part of a bundle, perhaps it would be worth spending more.  Most cameras come in 3 categories; amateur entry level, semi-professional mid-range and professional high end.  Knowing your budget will help allocate what type of camera you can purchase, as well as planning what is going to happen in the future – are you simply buying for family photographs and holidays?  Stick to entry level.  Possibly considering moving into pro realms later on?  Consider semi-pro as a starting point or head straight to professional if budget permits to save you buying twice. 
  2. Research the cameras online.  See what companies such as Jessops and John Lewis have on offer, but then stick to one website rather than getting bogged down with 12 open tabs on your browser. Once you  have an idea of the camera that is suitable to your needs and budget, then shop around on price and offerings.  
  3. Online research “v” Shops.  You cannot beat visiting a camera store and getting hands on with your camera choice.  How does it feel in your hands?  Is it heavy – too heavy?  Or is it quite light?  Are the buttons far apart and you have to stretch to reach it if you have small hands? Is it what you thought it would look like?  Do you have mobility issues – will this camera help or hinder them?  You cannot beat holding the camera and feeling how it is in real life.  You also have some knowledgable staff in store who would be able to answer any basic questions and quite possibly offer an alternative as a different option.  Be careful not to get swallowed by sales patter and sales targets – be honest what you are looking for!
  4. Offers and Bundles.  Most cameras will come in a box with a camera, battery, charger and manual.  Be sure that your “bargain” actually comes with a lens as some cameras are sold as body only (just the camera).  Chances are that  your entry-level camera will come with a standard zoom lens called an 18-55mm.  This is a fine lens to get you started, but if you get the opportunity to purchase a bundle which contains a 50mm f1.8; then take it.  The 50mm is a static, non zooming prime lens which is a wonderful advancement from the basic kit lens that comes with your camera.  The 50mm has a wonderful quality to it in order to create a narrow depth of field – a total blurry background. Other points to consider with bundles if it includes a camera bag, memory card, tripod and spare camera batteries. These aren’t overly popular, but tend to come out around Christmas when cameras are being purchased as gifts.
  5. Warranty and Guarantee.  Consider where you purchase your camera from.  Most shops will honour a 1 year guarantee on electrical goods, where reputable retailers offer a 2-3 year warranty and you can often purchase an extended warranty on top of that.  Worth shopping around at that point to get the best offer.
  6. Don’t Forget Accessories.  We have seen it all on our photography courses, carrier bags as camera bags, metal coffee tins for lenses, socks as lens covers!  Ultimately, a camera bag has been designed in order to protect your camera and lens purchase.  It is so important to protect your investment from dust, lint, knocks and the elements.  A camera bag has suitable padding to stop knocks being fatal for your camera, just insure that you keep the lens on your camera – or you keep the base plates on the camera and lens, if you don’t, you are inviting a world of problems into the mechanics of your equipment.  Spare memory cards and batteries are crucial for your starter kit – there are lots of other accessories out there, but these are your fundamentals.

That is for the new market.

If you are interested in purchasing your first DSLR second hand and nabbing yourself a bargain, read on.

Budget comes into it, but for your money, you can get an older, better quality camera.  So perhaps the semi-professional cameras is 5-10 years older now, but might be the same price as the brand new entry-level camera. As a rule of thumb, try to stick to the newer models as the modern technology gives you better ISO, megapixels and robust software.

Checking over the camera. If you can see it in person, great – you can double check the following points to make sure the camera is in good health.

  • Take a memory card with you in order to test out the camera. Make sure you know whether it takes an SD, Compact Flash or other memory card make.
  • Look in every door and compartment to make sure they move, are not broken and check inside the battery section for any battery fluid or corrosion – instant no-no.  Check the memory card compartment to ensure no bent pins or anything that is wrong with that section, otherwise you will damage your memory cards.
  • A broken shutter is bad news for a camera, does the shutter sound as if it is working ok?  Does the image come out clear with the correct settings and no funny black or white marks on the image?
  • Take the lens off and put it back on again. Does it work?  If you take your own lenses with you, do they work and does the camera recognise that it is attached and working?
  • Some cameras have 2 screens – on top of the camera and on the back LCD. Do they work?  Also check the viewfinder information.  What happens when you change the settings, are they changing on the screen/viewfinder too?
  • Are there any major scratches or noticeable areas where the camera has been significantly knocked?  It is a good idea to still check the focus by focussing on a subject on autofocus, and then change the focussing point – make sure that the images are in fact in focus.  If you look through the viewfinder and it is fuzzy, you can change the diopter wheel to suit your eyesight (and make sure it is working!)
  • Be sure to ask how long they had the camera and how many shots it has taken (shutter count actuations) as this will give you an estimated idea on the life expectancy of your new, old camera!

Once you have your new camera, you will need to learn how to use it!  Join us on our monthly photography courses here – https://www.summers-photography.co.uk/courses/  If you have any questions you can always email us here at [email protected]

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