Here are some specific features to look for in a digital SLR camera body.

*Depth of Field Preview button. In my opinion, this is essential.

*High ISO noise reduction.

*Full range of shutter speeds, from 30 seconds and bulb to at least 1/2000 second.

*Spot meter capability.

*Full range of exposure mode options, including manual, aperture priority, and shutter priority.

*Continuous auto focus and focus tracking.

*Capability of using a cable release. This reduces photographer-induced vibrations.

*Multiple focus and spot meter points.

*Motor drive. Most new cameras can achieve at least three frames per second.

*Custom function capabilities that allow you to configure the camera for the way you like to work.

*Built-in or add-on vertical grip with shutter release. This feature makes holding the camera in vertical orientation much more comfortable and makes working in the vertical orientation easier and more efficient, particularly for photographers with bigger hands.

*The camera body feels right. This is very subjective. You should hold the camera in your hand and decide if you like the way it fits.

What haven’t I talked about? Sensor size for one. Most cameras costing $500 or more have very high-quality sensors that deliver more than enough information to make large prints. You can see a break down of common sensor sizes in the comments section of Part one.

I haven’t talked about battery life, since most modern cameras have batteries that last a long time. I haven’t covered other technical or specialty features because frankly, if you’re reading this with interest, it’s probably because you’re new at this. That means you should stick with the basics for now. Later on, you’ll know what to look for when the time comes to upgrade.

Should you buy Canon or Nikon? Olympus or Pentax? Any current, brand-name camera system on the market today will give you good results. Some things to take into consideration when choosing a brand are availability of lenses. Someday, you may want to add to your collection. Also consider things like image stabilization, ruggedness, custom features, and how easy it is to use.

What are your friends using? If many of your friends are using Canon, and you buy Canon, you’ll have a ready-made “technical support” group (as well as sources for borrowing lenses.) Likewise, if all your friends are using Nikon, buy Nikon for the same reasons.

There are lots of choices out there. If you stick with big brands that offer large lens lines, you’ll be fine. Don’t agonize over this decision. Remember, you can’t go to the store where Stephen King buys his pens, and expect to write great novels. You can’t go to the art supply store where Van Gogh bought his paints and brushes and expect to make great paintings. And you can’t expect to buy cameras with secret powers either.

Photography is about having a vision, a good eye, passion for the subject, great light, access, storytelling and heart. The camera equipment is just a tool designed to help capture the rest. I don’t know a single professional photographer who’s ever told me an editor refused to buy an image because the photographer used the wrong camera. It’s your eye, your vision, your ability to tell a story with the camera and your desire that matter most.

Now just go out and buy the camera, whichever one it is, and start shooting. Good luck.

Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. You mention Image Stabilization, but this (I think) can be a bit confusing (if I am correct). dSLRs like the Sony Alpha cameras offer image stabilization “in camera” where as Canon and Nikon leave the image stabilization work in the lenses. So when shopping for a “camera” you will not see image stabilization listed for the Nikon or Canon cameras.

    The theory is supposed to be (as I understand it), that it is cheaper to have the image stabilization in camera and thus not needing to buy Image Stabilized lenses, but everything I have read so far says that lens based IS (VR for Nikon of course) is best. (But like most things, I guess this is subjective)

  2. Scott, I leave NR and High ISO NR turned off – because it really slams the shot-to-shot speed and buffer capacity. Does it matter to have this on in camera when shooting raw?

    And if there is some relationship between the in camera NR and the raw processor- then (given that each camera maker has different takes on NR – Nikon for example go for more rough – but sharper) what intensity should we set the camera at? Low, Med, High.

    Or to use coffee lexicon – as I was thoroughly confused at the new star bucks naming scheme, regular, tall and venti? :-\

    Ta.

  3. Very good tips Scott. It’s important for people to understand that they have to look at more than the megapixels or brand name of the camera when looking for it. Also, you might want to make sure that your camera has bracketing in order to easily produce HDR shots.

  4. @Richard if I am shooting at the highest ISO on my camera I use NR in camera. It helps in my experience. I believe a minimal amount of correction is almost always best.

  5. @Richard if I am shooting at the highest ISO on my camera I use NR in camera. It helps in my experience. I believe a minimal amount of correction is almost always best.

  6. As a beginner, the best thing I did was buying an entry level DSLR (Rebel XTi) and a super zoom len (18-200mm from Sigma). This enable me to try different types of photography (e.g. landscape, animals, street, macro, etc.). As I gain experiences, I can decide on what I like to do and buy the right gears later.

    Scott is right, it’s not the camera that makes the image, it’s the photographer.

    The TWiP contests are great way to try different photography. They kind of pull me out of my comfort zone and try new things.

    Now, which camera (regardless of brand) is good for landscape photography?

  7. So the camera applies to NR before or as the RAW file is being made? That is, it is “Baked In” so to speak?

  8. So the camera applies to NR before or as the RAW file is being made? That is, it is “Baked In” so to speak?

  9. It took me awhile to learn this and now I try to pass it on to anyone that will listen. Camera bodies are disposable, it is the lenses that are the investment. I believe photographers are better off buying a less expensive camera body, like the Canon Rebel, and invest in the most expensive glass they can afford. I upgrade my bodies as soon as then new ones are available and eBay the previous model to cover some of the cost. The technology in the bodies is still growing by leaps and bounds with every generation, while my favorite lens, the Canon 70-200 2.8 IS L, is not expected to change much in my lifetime.

    P.S.
    There is a lot of new lens technology out there, especially in the P&S arena, so there may come a time that I sell all of my big glass, but I still believe that is not for many years.

  10. @Richard yes the NR is baked into the RAW file.

  11. Thanks Scott – this is a revelation…

    @Dave

    To a point. It is not so black and white. A uber lens on a crap camera does not make sense. Just as a crap lens on an uber camera makes no sense. Like all things, the answer is in moderation and a healthy respect and disregard for both camera and lens.

    I kept the same lenses and went to a better camera and I can take better photo’s. A lens has to do with image quality. A better camera allows you to flex your creative mind more – that is once you understand what it is that you want to achieve (Minds eye) and then what you need to do it.

    I think better advice for new photogs is to take a middle of the road approach to both. The Rebels/D40’s/D60’s if not bought for the size factor – become VERY limiting very quickly – hence why we have D80’s and 40D’s to use.

  12. @Scott – sorry one more thing…. what about long exposure NR. I have it off as well. How is NR approached for long exposure vs high ISO? What are the characteristics of noise that are created by long exposure vs high iso?

  13. @Scott – sorry one more thing…. what about long exposure NR. I have it off as well. How is NR approached for long exposure vs high ISO? What are the characteristics of noise that are created by long exposure vs high iso?

  14. […] Anyhow, it was reading the third part of Scott’s three-part article on choosing a camera that finally prompted me write this post. Have a read for yourself here. […]

  15. […] Anyhow, it was reading the third part of Scott’s three-part article on choosing a camera that finally prompted me write this post. Have a read for yourself here. […]

  16. @ Scott,

    really appreciate all the work you and the rest of the TWIP-Team are putting into the podcast, blog and flickr. I’m just starting to get a bit more serious about my photography hobby and already learned a lot in the 2 months I’ve been following TWIP.

    I really liked the three part piece on what to consider when buying gear and understand that a detailed discussion on sensors was left out to keep this short and focused.

    I did some further research on this topic and came across a two-part piece over at the Anandtech-Blog which I think does a fair job of explaining the technical details of sensors and is a good complement to this article:

    http://www.anandtech.com/digitalcameras/showdoc.aspx?i=3290&p=1

    Best regards and keep up the good work,
    Cris from Germany (danner00)

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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