Buying your First DSLR
You’ve made the decision to buy a “fancy” camera, but now the question is what camera to buy? I’ve had a lot of people ask me for advice regarding what they should know about getting their first DSLR, so I thought it was time to write up some of my thoughts.
To keep things simple, I’m just going to write a brief comparison of Canon and Nikon. I think that both of these camera brands are awesome. You really can’t go wrong with either. It’s like choosing between Coke and Pepsi, both good just a little different depending on your tastes. There will always be a debate about which is better and I’ve come to believe that one isn’t necessarily better than the other, they’re just a little different.
The first question that I would like you to ask yourself is what you plan to do with your camera. If you plan to just stay on AUTO mode (or P or any of the other auto modes), it really doesn’t matter what kind of DSLR you choose. Make your decision on how the camera feels in your hands, possible previous camera brand experience and which name you prefer. I personally believe that an entry level DSLR and the highest end DSLR will create results that are virtually the same in the hands of a beginner on AUTO mode. Some photographers argue that a DSLR on AUTO mode is just a very expensive point and shoot camera. Yes, the images will be a little sharper and there won’t be that pesky shutter delay that you experience with point and shoots, but other than that the actual photos will be quite similar. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that mine definitely were and so are those of so many others that I know. We all wish that getting a DSLR will instantly make us better photographers, but that just isn’t the case.
Now that you realize that getting into Manual mode will greatly improve the awesomeness of your photos let’s talk about that.
The Manual Exposure Meter
When you expose in manual mode you are manually setting the apertute, shutter speed and ISO. I won’t get into what that all means here, however just keep in mind that aperture, shutter speed and ISO work together and therefore make up the exposure triangle. When you are “exposing” you have a meter that helps you see if the image is under exposed, over exposed or just right. The meter is the bar with smal dots and a – and + sign on each end.
With Canon, the meter is under exposed on the left and over exposed on the right.
With a Nikon, the meter is over exposed on the left and under exposed on the right.
One isn’t better than the other, they’re just a different way of doing the same thing. Ask yourself what makes the most sense to the way you think? How would you set up playing cards in your hand?
*Canon’s lowest ISO is 100 whereas Nikon’s is 200. A higher ISO may provide a few more challenges when shooting in very bright conditions. For example, it’s a sunny day at the beach.
Focus Points and Metering
This is an area that I feel Nikon has a slight advantage over Canon. On every DSLR you can toggle your focus points. Each little dot/ square is a focus point, the dot lit up is the area of sharpest focus. The image below is of an entry level Canon camera’s focus points. The Nikon cameras generally have more focus points.
If you continue to grow in photography you will likely start spot metering. This is when you are exposing to a very small (Spot) area rather than the exposure of the whole screen (evaluative). On a Canon the place that you have to expose is the centre regardless of which spot you would like to have as the sharpest focus point. On a Nikon the focus point also works as the spot metering point. This just makes more sense to me.
C (Creative Modes)
A Canon DSLR has several C modes on the function dial. This is something that Nikon cameras don’t have. When I started making the move from AUTO to manual I loved the creative modes. They allow the user to make partial manual adjustments without needing to have full knowlege of manual exposure. While this was great when I was a beginner, it’s something that I haven’t touched in a long time.
Ease of Use
Some people find that Nikon has almost too much detail and too many “windows” to toggle through, whereas Canon seems a little more simple and direct in the LCD navigation. This all comes down to personal preference.
Both Canon and Nikon are very comparable in price. Buy the best camera body that your budget can afford. The lenses are what make a huge difference in the look and quality of your images.
Some last but very Important Notes
The kit lens that you will likely buy with your entry level camera body won’t be great quality. It can be good for taking general photos, however they will look very similar to any photo that you would take with your point and shoot camera. If a salesperson tries to sell you more than one kit lens, DO NOT go for it! The big difference from ok to great photos is in the lens. **Invest in a 50mm 1.8 prime lens (fixed focal length so there is no camera zooming). This lens will allow you to get way more light into your camera so that you can take better photos indoors without your flash. It will also give you lovely blurry backgrounds, it’s also considered a portrait lens for this reason. The 50mm 1.8 lens costs between $99-$120 making it a very cheap lens with an incredible value.
Well there you have it, a few comparisons to help you with your shopping. I have a Canon and LOVE it! However, if I had started with a Nikon I would probably feel the same way. Just remember that when you purchase your first DSLR you are likely going to stay in the same camera family forever (or a very long time) due to lens compatibility.
In the end, don’t stress, don’t overthink it. You’ll make the decision that’s right for you. Both brands make excellent cameras!