Jon's DSLR Buying Guide: Part 1 – The Camera
I want to cover two important pieces of information before I go on. First, this will be a multi-part blog post. I’m splitting the camera, the lenses and the accessories into separate posts. Secondarily, I’m a Nikon guy and that is what I know best so all my examples will be for Nikon toys — but the information will be valid for ANY make. That being said, buy whatever make of camera that is right for you. Nikon and Canon are the two big manufacturers, but you can also get DSLRs from Pentax, Olympus, Sigma, and a host of others. Lastly, this is geared for the first time buyer with some assumptions that you’ve used a camera before. If you’ve never, ever, ever used a camera before… you might want to buy a point-and-shoot first and start learning there.
So, on to the camera. What to get? What can I live without? What specs are important? What is the must have feature? Where do I get more information?
So what specs are important? The reality is that while cameras have a LOT of features, functionality, gadgets, and gizmos… they all work in a fairly similar manner. Sure, you’ll get better picture quality with the more expensive DSLRs, but we’re talking about the entry level units here. So let’s take a quick look at some of the different specs:
- Megapixel — Contrary to what many think, Megapixel is not important. Unless you are shooting pictures to be printed on billboards… throw the megapixel out the window. I could get a GOOD 8×10 print off of a 6 megapixel and I could get a reasonable 20×30 poster from that same 6 MP image. Now all the DSLRs you’re going to find today are in excess of 10 megapixel (probably closer to the 12-16 megapixel range), so you’ll be able to print REALLY nice posters off of any image you capture.
- ISO — You will want to keep an eye on the ISO sensitivity, specifically the high end. Most good cameras should do at least ISO 1600, but many go to 3200 or beyond. High ISO makes your pictures noisey (which is shunned in artistic photography), but if you really want to get a picture of Little Jimmy playing T-Ball at night (without flash), you need ISO.
- Continuous Shooting Speed — Again, if you’re taking pictures of a fast event (sports, planes, races), you’ll want to be able to take a lot of pictures really fast. 3 FPS is more than enough for most events.
- Video — One feature I want to throw out there that I think people should junk (for purposes of research) is video. Many DSLRs can capture high def video and many professional videos are now being made with DSLRs rather than standard video cameras (for example “Like a G6” by Far East Movement was shot on a Canon DSLR with a ring light). Just because the pros do it, doesn’t mean it is good for you. I’ve used the video mode on my Nikon D300s and it is nothing like using a camcorder. Using a DSLR for video works for artsy videos, not generic stuff (like Little Jimmy at T-Ball) plus these DSLRs have some significant limitations when it comes to shooting video (ex: 5-20 minute time limit).
- Memory Card — Different cameras support different types of memory cards. Nikon/Canon use either SD-type (SDHC/SDXC) or CompactFlash. For all intensive purposes there is no differences between these two memory formats. The only reason you should care is if you have other devices (say a point and shoot) that also use SD/CF.