What digital SLR camera should I buy?

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question, I’d be relaxing on a beach in Tahiti right now!  Unfortunately, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer.  The camera that best suits you is dependent on a number of factors including your lifestyle, skills and level of enthusiasm.

However, I can give you an idea of what to look for when you hit the camera stores!

Do you want to take some nice portraits of your family at Christmas time? Or perhaps you just want your holiday snaps to be sharper? If your new digital camera is just for fun – any of the entry-level digital SLR cameras are good. They’re easy to use and have automatic and program settings (as well as manual settings if you want to have more control).

If you are really passionate about photography and prefer taking more creative images (landscapes, macro, flash photography, streetscapes) you may want to upgrade your digital SLR to the next level.  Here are few questions you should ask before purchasing a digital SLR.

Does it have manual settings? I’m a big believer in using manual settings – i.e. setting your own exposure. Although the in-built metering systems are pretty awesome these days, there are still some lighting situations where they can run into trouble.  I prefer to pick my own exposure settings so I can determine how the final image will look.

What is the resolution?  High-end cameras usually have larger sensors with high-resolution counts (over 10 pixels).  However, unless you are printing a billboard-sized image, you won’t need tons of pixels. A 12 mega pixel sensor can print a high-detail, 16”x20” print – which, trust me – is a very large size photograph to hang on your wall. Also be aware that the higher your pixel count, the more space your image files will take up on your computer.

Does it have spot metering?  Although all digital SLRS have their own in-built metering systems, I think it pays to have more control over your exposure. Unlike the inbuilt metering system, which takes exposure readings from all parts of the frame, spot metering allows you to meter your exposure from a specific part of the frame. This enables you to make more creative decisions with your exposure.

Does it shoot RAW images?  RAW files basically contain the raw unprocessed data from the camera’s sensor, allowing you to manipulate the exposure, colour temperature, saturation and more. For example, if you take an image that is too underexposed, you can correct the exposure. Pretty neat, huh? You can then convert them to jpg images.

What is the ISO range? The higher the maximum ISO (the light sensitivity of the sensor), the easier it is to take photographs in low light.  As a wedding photographer, this is very handy when you are in a room without much natural light!  It’s super good for bridal preparation or reception photos. However, be aware that high ISOs can sometimes come with issues such as noise and patterning.  These problems tend to be reduced though with the higher-end digital SLRS.

What is the maximum shutter speed?Athough most DSLRs have a reasonable range of shutter speeds, it’s best to buy a camera with a high top speed if you’re interested in sports or action photography.  Freezing the action is much easier when you have 1/4000 second!

What lens should I buy? Buying a new lens could be a blog post on its own! However, my number one rule is to choose a lens that has a wide maximum aperture (i.e. f2.8, f2.0). This will allow you to shoot in low-light conditions without using a flash.

Does it fit into my budget? Your budget should always be a consideration –  who wants to be eating noodles every night so you can get a high-end digital SLR?  However,  I do think you should buy the best that you can afford. Trust me, you will see the difference.

So that’s my thoughts on the issue! Of course there are lots of other things to consider when buying a DSLR, but these are what I consider the basics. Hopefully they’ve helped you narrow your choice down a bit. Good luck!

I’ve had a few different cameras over the years, from the (pictured left) Canon EOS 300D (circa 2003 when 6.3 megapixels was considered the height of technology) and my new baby, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III (pictured right). 

Samantha Shannon