Friday, December 21, 2012

So, you want to be a photographer...

With one weekend left to purchase Christmas gifts, I thought I would throw together a quick DSLR camera purchasing guide as photography equipment is always a favorite gift in my home.

There are two things you should keep in mind as you are researching your purchases or creating your wish list:
  1. What are your needs?
  2. What is your budget?
First off, you can't go wrong with major brands like Nikon and Canon. Overall, one is not better than the other.  The only comment I will make is that I have read that there aren't as many choices for lenses or accessories for Sony and Pentax but that doesn't make them bad cameras.  I only know Nikon so while I may sound biased, I really don't have the knowledge to make suggestions when it comes to other brands.

If you've never owned a DSLR camera and are interested in photography, I would recommend starting with a basic, entry level camera.  I would also suggest skipping the whole kit lens package purchase and buying the camera body only.  (Assuming that the body only is less expensive.)  The reason for this is that kit lenses typically aren't that great and once you start using other lenses, your kit lens will most likely sit around gathering dust.

Some camera purchases come with big dreams and at some point into their photography journey, people realize that it just isn't their thing.  There's nothing wrong with this but it's my main reason for suggesting a basic camera.  You can always upgrade your equipment later.

Here's a sample of what I would recommend for someone new or fairly new to photography:

Nikon D3100 or D5100 camera
Nikon 50mm, f/1.8 lens

Keep in mind that some of the entry level cameras do not have built-in auto focus motors.  This means that your lens needs to have an auto focus motor or you won't be able to auto focus, which would be a huge inconvenience.

A lot of photographers state that they are "natural light" photographers, which is all fine and dandy but for me, half of the time, there is little or no natural light, which is why I absolutely love my speedlight.  I have a Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, which has been replaced by the SB-700 model.  My suggestion is to purchase a speedlight with a head that swivels so that you can bounce it up and slightly behind you.  There are speedlights that cannot do this.  And if you are interested in seeing what a speedlight can do for you, please read this post I wrote last year.

I'm still using my Nikon D7000 with no near future plans to upgrade.  It's definitely a great camera but not one I would recommend for newbies.  Keep in mind that the D5100 and the soon to be released D5200 use the same technology and have similiar ISO capabilities as the D7000.  Nikon recently released the D600, which is full frame.  The D7000 has a crop sensor.  I've read reviews stating that the D600 blows away the D7000 but at a price tag of $2,000, I think I'll stick to my D7000.

It's been over a year and I still haven't decided upon a replacement lens for my Nikon 35mm, f/1.8.  I still use this lens as my "everyday" lens but it is useless if I attempt to shoot wide open, which means with an f stop of anything less than 3.5 (1.8 - 3.2, although sometimes 3.2 is okay.)  I've recalibrated the lens in my camera several times and it continues to give me focus issues, mainly back focusing. But at 3.5 or higher, it's fine.

The thing with inexpensive lenses like the 35mm is that they are inexpensive.  They are constructed with plastic, which makes them lightweight but also easier to break or fall apart.  So buyer beware - these lenses may work well in the short run but chances are you will be replacing or upgrading at some point.  They usually aren't considered long-term lenses.  

Don't discount third party lenses either.  Some of them are of really good quality and cost much less than their name brand counterparts.  I currently have and use a Tokina 11-16mm, f/2.8 lens.  It's a great wide angle lens that costs a fraction of the Nikon 14-24mm, f/2.8.  No doubt that the Nikon lens is superb and worth its cost but I really don't want or need to carry around a $2,000 lens.  

Here are some other photography related gift ideas:

  • Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson
  • Tripod
  • Travel tripod
  • Remote shutter
Lenses for my wish list:
  • Sigma 30mm, f/1.4
  • Tamron 28-75mm, f/2.8
  • Tamron 17-50mm, f.28

Good luck shopping!  


BreezieGirl said...

Your lens wish list looks a lot like mine :)

And your post reads a lot like an email I recently wrote to someone inquiring about cameras/lenses.

I think the only other thing I'd add as a suggested gift idea for the newbie would be a functional camera bag. If you don't have a bag that you'll want to carry/use regularly, you'll find that your camera will get left at home a lot and then it doesn't do anyone much good. :)

Wendy said...

I also really, really want a 28-75 but there's pretty much no chance I'll get it! I would like the 35mm 1.8, also- but now I'm a bit nervous about the focus. I wonder what the deal is what that? Do you have a 50? My 50 is my walk around lens but I would like something a bit wider.

Sarah said...

YES - a functional camera bag is a must!!

Wendy - I don't have a 50, which is why I use the 35. It worked great when I first got it but I've used it for years now as my primary lens. From what I've read, it could be b/c it's so inexpensive - not built very well. I really have no idea.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah! I love your pictures so much and currently doing research for my first "big girl" camera! So excited. I have looked at your recommendations above. I should look for the body only of the D3100 and then the 50 mm f/1.8 lens and those two things should get me started?! Thank you!!!

Kelly Ritter