When you have decided to get a bit more serious about photography, the first thing you will want to do is get your hands on a more professional camera – a DSLR, rather than a more simple point-and-shoot or your phone camera.
But how do you choose which DSLR to go for? There are a bafflingly large number of options on the market, with price points that seem to go from the reasonable all the way up to the ludicrous. Each of them screams about their various attributes, which might include things you don’t even understand yet! So, how do you make a choice?
Follow this step by step guide and you will have your shortlist narrowed down by the end of it!
Set your budget
The first thing that you should do is to set your budget. You will want a camera body with at least one lens, though two lenses would be better.
As a rule of thumb, if you have never tried a DSLR before, go for one short lens (something like a 50mm, which is a standard size for a lot of uses) and one zoom lens. A zoom lens can be anything from perhaps 120-180mm, or even right the way up to the thousands, which is best if you are photographing something really far away. If you aren’t interested in shooting wildlife, sporting events, or airplanes, you can err on the smaller side.
For all three items – which you can often purchase in a package deal – you might also want a case that can carry them safely, with padding and waterproofing. There are lots of different accessories you can pick up over time, but let’s stick with these items only for now.
For your budget, don’t feel that you have to go all-in at the first attempt. You will want to upgrade your camera every few years if you get really serious about it, so don’t worry about whether you are getting something ‘good enough’ yet. Anything will be good enough. Set a reasonable budget, taking into account the idea that you might not enjoy photography as much as you expected after all – just in case.
With your budget, you can now start shopping around. You can use sites like Amazon or specialised camera retailers to narrow down your search by price, so it’s a good idea to start there.
Choose your brand
Figuring out which brand you want to buy will probably make your head hurt, because there are a lot of options again and you likely don’t know what any of them mean at this stage. Canon and Nikon are dominant in the DSLR market, but there are other options too. Here’s a breakdown of each and why you might choose them:
- Canon: these cameras are considered to be more flexible than some, and the price points may be more attractive. There is one major downside to Canon-brand DSLRs, and this is that they often change around their whole camera body layout and menu options between models. This is very annoying and can mean you have to relearn a whole new system with each camera – but then again, it will make you adaptable and help you to understand how everything really works
- Nikon: these cameras and lenses can be a little more expensive, but on the other hand, you will pretty much know what you are getting every time. This brand focuses on improvements in the form of additions and tune-ups, rather than throwing everything out and starting again each time.
- Leica: this is an upmarket brand which is associated with classic photographers and the wealthy. If you want a DSLR to have a status symbol, go for it. If you actually want to take pictures, hold off until you can justify the expense.
- Sony: acting as a real dark horse in the camera world, Sony were somewhat overlooked until they started to build up steam over the last ten years. Now they’re one of the best-selling brands out there and often claim to have the best camera models (although the price reflects it, and Nikon and Canon have stepped up in response).
- Pentax: these cameras are less well-known, but the brand has been operating since the time of film and definitely still knows what it is doing. Some of their models have been rated particularly high in 2019.
- All the rest: not to be dismissive of the other brands on the market, as some do have great cameras on offer, but these are really your main brands. If you get a great deal on another brand, with a model that has good reviews, there’s no reason not to go for it.
Choose your camera
Now, you know which brand you want to shop for and you have your budget set up. There are a few things you can do now.
You could spend days obsessively comparing the details on every single model that comes up in your search results. Should you buy the cheapest one and focus on getting lots of different accessories that you might use? My answer is no – not until you actually know what you are doing and how those accessories might be used. That way you don’t end up like I did, owning a beauty dish with a fitting that doesn’t match any of your lighting rigs and has thus not been used once in the last ten years. Or a lens extender that you consistently forget you own until after the opportunity to use it has passed.
My advice is to stick to the basics. Single out the two most expensive DSLR options that fit your budget and your chosen brand. Compare them side-by-side. If the more expensive one really seems to have a lot more features that will make a difference, choose that one. If it doesn’t, choose the cheaper of the two.
There’s no point in putting down a lot of money on your first DSLR, as you’ll need to learn how to use it and what style of shooting you like before you can go for a more specialised model. Use these tips and then just go for it – don’t overthink it!