So You’re Looking to Buy a DSLR, Eh?

As DSLRs become more affordable, more people are rushing to their local camera store and picking up their very own camera to try their hand at photography.  I’m being asked more each day, “what camera is best for (insert price here)” and “I’m going to get a camera this week, what do you recommend?”  Although you would think that I could spit out an answer without thinking about it too much, I wouldn’t feel right doing that.  When someone comes to me with a question, I feel the least I can do is give my best answer based on the information I’m given. So what do I do?  I answer their question with the following queries of my own:

– Are there any particular features you want the camera to have?

– How much are you looking to spend?

– What do you intend on using the camera for?

Once I have these answers, I’m almost always able to help out.

Canon vs Nikon:

Let me settle this before we get into the whole debate.  Canon is better. 😉  Just kidding!  Neither brand is truly ‘better’ that the other.  What it boils down to is what you are used to.  I’ve always shot on Canons, so I know how they work and how to get to all the functions.  If I had started with Nikon, I probably would prefer Nikon (thankfully, I didn’t start with Nikon).  From my experience, Canons tend to be less expensive and they have a much larger selection of lenses when you start to grow your collection.  So in the end, pick whatever you want, it’s more about the photographer, not the camera!


Step 1 – Features:

Before you we jump into deciding what kind of camera you want, we should probably know some of the main features available on digital cameras.  Keep in mind that this is a small list of features, but these are all features that you should pay attention to.

Manual Controls: These are typically ‘modes’ the camera has that allow you to control exposure settings such as the aperture, shutter speed and ISO.  These are normally found on the dial of the camera and can be labeled as Av, Tv, A, S, P, and M.

Interchangeable Lenses: The advantage of having interchangeable lenses is that you can extend the length of optical zoom your camera has.  Cameras have two different kinds of zoom, digital and optical.  Optical is achieved through lenses and digital zoom is achieved through essentially cropping the picture.

Megapixels: Don’t be fooled by the megapixel myth.  More megapixels does NOT mean a better camera, it simply means more pixels in the photograph.  The quality of the pixels is (part of) what decides the quality of the images the camera produces (I.E. my iPhone takes 8mp photographs, but I’ll take the 6mp images a Canon PowerShot S3 over my iPhone any day).  So if you see a camera for $400 advertising 20+ megapixels, you can bet the image quality is going to be mediocre at best.

Image Stabilization: This may not sound like it’s going to do a whole lot for you, but image stabilization is a really neat feature to have one your camera.  This helps reduce blur in an image if the camera is shaking during a photograph.  It really comes into play when it is darker outside and you’re using a flash.


Step 2 – Identify a Budget:

I’ve divided budget into pricing brackets.  I have found this to be the most effective way to look at what kind of camera the person is going to be able to buy.  Prices I’m using here are for new cameras simply because it’s too hard to find a consistent price of a used camera; therefore, new prices are going to be the best benchmark for this particular purpose.

Bracket 1 – $100 – $300: Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Point and shoot cameras are designed to do exactly what you think — point and shoot.  These cameras are very popular as a cheap way to get into photography, or for a family to have to snap pictures on their vacation or during the holidays.  They have their place in the photography realm, but if you’re looking to get into photography, odds are you’re going to want at least a step up from this.

Ian’s  list of approved cameras in bracket 1:

Bracket 2 – $300 – $500:  High level point-and-shoots/low end DSLRs

This is a tough bracket to define.  You have to pick your poison with this one.  You can either go with the high end fancy point and shoot, or start your days with a real DSLR with interchangeable lenses.  Most of these cameras are going to have manual modes and will allow you a little more creative freedom with your photos.

Ian’s list of approved cameras in bracket 2:

  • Canon PowerShot SX50 HS– $399
    • 12.1 megapixels
    • 50x optical zoom (with image stabilization)
    • Manual modes
  • Canon PowerShot G15– $449
    • New version of one of my favorite Canon point-and-shoots the G12
    • 12.1 megapixels
    • 5x optical zoom (with image stabilization)
    • Viewfinder (no more taking pictures by looking at that crummy LCD screen!)
    • Manual modes
  • Nikon CoolPix P510– $329.95
    • 16.1 megapixels
    • 42x optical zoom
    • Manual modes

Bracket 3 – $500 – $800: Consumer-Level DSLRs

This is where you really start to take control of your photographs and unleash the ability to do just about anything you want!  These cameras all come with interchangeable lenses and have manual modes (so no need to list that below).  Most of these cameras will come with what is called a “Kit Lens.”  This is either an 18-55mm or 18-105mm lens.  Both are great lenses to get started on.

Ian’s list of approved cameras in bracket 3:

  • Canon EOS Rebel T3i– $579 (with 18-55mm kit lens)
    • 18 megapixels
    • Swivel LCD screen – a feature I wish every camera had.  Prevents you from scratching your LCD as easily. Canon is now implementing this on more cameras. (Go Canon!!)
    • Full 1080p (30 fps) HD video (fantastic video quality!)
    • Prestigious DIGIC 4 processor
    • You can get this camera in many different lens bundles including 18-135mm or 18-55mm & 75-300mm.
  • Nikon D3200– $596 (with 18-55mm kit lens)
    • 24.2 megapixels
    • 1080p HD video
    • The ability to connect to computers via wifi with external adaptor
  • Canon EOS Rebel T4i– $799 (with 18-55mm kit lens)
    • 18 megapixels
    • Swivel LCD touchscreen
    • 1080p HD video
    • High ISO ability (great for lower lighted scenes)
    • Personally, my favorite in this price bracket.

Bracket 4 – $800 – $1200: “Prosumer” – Professional Level DSLRs

These are going to be cameras that come with special features that will be used for particular types of photography.  Some may be better for low lighting, others for sports photography.  But don’t get me wrong, any camera can be used for any purpose, certain cameras just make your life easier for certain tasks.

Ian’s list of approved cameras in bracket 4:

  • Canon T4i– $994 (with 18-135mm kit lens)
    • 18 megapixels
    • Swivel LCD touchscreen (eliminates the cluttered buttons on back)
    • 1080p HD video
    • High ISO ability (great for lower lighted scenes)
  • Nikon D7000– $1,196 (with 18-105mm kit lens)
    • 16.2 megapixels
    • High speed photography (6 frames per second up to 100 shots)
    • Full 1080p HD video
  • Canon 60D– $1,099 (with 18-135mm kit lens)
    • 18 megapixels
    • I like to think of this camera as a more professional grade version of the T4i.  The body is a lot more study, and just overall feels better in your hands (personal opinion, of course).
    • 5.3 frames per second continuous shooting
    • Fantastic video, full 1080p HD
    • My personal favorite in this bracket.

Bracket 5 – $1,200 & Up: Professional Grade DSLRs

This is the final bracket I’m going to talk about because I feel that once you get into wanting to buy $3,000 and $4,000 cameras, you know what you’re looking for and you don’t need to ask me what the best is.  Hell, I don’t even have a $4,000 camera!  I know what I want though 🙂  These cameras are going to be very high quality cameras and they will do just fine for just about anything you’re going to want to shoot.

Ian’s list of approved cameras in bracket 5:

  • Canon 60D Bundle– $1,239.50
    • Comes with 3 lenses (great collection to begin with)
    • I like to think of this camera as a more professional grade version of the T4i.  The body is a lot more study, and just overall feels better in your hands (personal opinion, of course).
    • 5.3 frames per second continuous shooting
    • Fantastic video, full 1080p HD
  • Canon 7D– $1,699 (with 18-135mm kit lens)
    • 18 megapixels
    • 8 frames per second (very ideal for sports)
    • Advanced auto-focus system
    • This is my 2nd body and I love it! Very fast, use it for both sports and concerts!
  • Canon 5D mark ii– $2,599 (with 24-105mm kit lens)
    • 21.1 megapixels
    • Extremely high quality ISO noise reduction (not grainy when you’re in low light)
    • 3.9 frames per second
    • Film quality HD video (Act of Valor was filmed entirely on the 5D mark ii)
    • My primary camera for everything except sports.  I have different lenses though.


Step 3 – Usage:

Not all people know what their camera will need to do the job they’re looking to do.  If you’re going to be shooting sports, a camera that can shoot 6-10 frames per second is going to be a life saver.  I used to try and shoot sports on a 5D mark ii (3.9 fps) and I hated it.  That was probably 75% of the reason I picked up my 7D.  I bought my 7D the day I went to shoot the Under Armour High School All American Game, and I could’t be happier I did that!  So here is a list of what you’re going to want in your camera to shoot certain types of photography.

Video – When it comes to video, Canon is ages ahead of Nikon. Some of the better entry level Canon DSLRs for video are the T3i, T4i, 60D, and 7D.  All of these cameras are going to give you phenomenal video quality!  Also, if you’re getting into video, definitely consider getting the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens.  It’s a great lens for film and the 1.8 aperture gives you fantastic depth of field for just over $100!

Portraits – Normally this doesn’t require any special features.  Some accessories that you might want to pick up are a reflector and an external flash.  Both of these have proven to be extremely handy tools to me!

Landscapes – Once again, not a whole lot of features you’re going to need to do landscapes.  I would suggest that you make sure your camera has manual modes so you can start to play around with exposure photography when you’re ready for that.  If you plan on doing this, you’re also going to want to pick up a tripod.  I also recommend a neutral density filter.

Objects/Automotive – For objects or automotive photography, you’re going to want to make sure that you have a flash on your camera or (better yet) try to get ahold of some studio strobes!  This is going to make your live a thousand times easier!

Sports – Sports photography is one aspect where you’re going to want to check the camera spec before buying if you intend on doing this.  Make sure the camera shoots at least 6 frames per second or greater or you’re going to be miserable.  You’ll consistently miss photos unless you get your timing perfect.  I’m not saying that you can’t do it with anything slower, but having gone through the experience, it is much more enjoyable when the camera helps you out a little bit!

Concerts – Concerts are a tough one!  To do successful concert shoots, you’re going to want a camera that performs well in high ISO situations, because you’re most likely not going to be able to use a flash.  Concerts are some of the most fun events to shoot in my opinion, but they can be a pain in the butt if you don’t get a little help from the lighting guy/gal.



So that’s it!  I hope that you found this article to be insightful and I hope it cleared up a lot of questions for the people looking to buy a camera this holiday season.  If you still have questions that you’d like to ask, feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected], or chat me on Skype with the username IanRothStudios.  I am on Skype all the time, so that is probably the easiest way to contact me.

If you found this article to be helpful, shoot me a tweet and let me know!  I love hearing feedback from readers and I reply to every tweet I get, so shoot be sure to let me know what you think!  Also, feel free to contact me on facebook!


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