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cyndyh's avatar

What should I look out for when purchasing a new digital SLR camera?

Asked by cyndyh (7588points) August 25th, 2008

Are there certain brands that are more compatible with more different lenses? Aside from the camera, what accessories would I want? This is for a semi-serious amateur photographer who’s interested in learning a wide range of techniques. We’re looking at a camera that’s in the $400—$600 range. Also, what experience have you had with camera specific batteries versus standard AAAs and rechargeable AAs ?

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12 Answers

BronxLens's avatar

The Olympus Evolt E-510 (voted best camera of 2007) w/ the 2 lenses (14mm-42mm & 40mm-150mm) is one heck of a deal for $640 + shipping.

Note that th E-520 just came out. Because it hasn’t been as tested as the 510 I would hold on for now.

PS If you find other models to consider, you can compare side-by-side their features here

sndfreQ's avatar

While the exact question has not been previously asked here, I found a ‘plethora’ of questions using the search and typing “digital camera” that had information on specific cameras, price points, and features.

On a personal note, about 18 months ago I bought a Canon Rebel XTi for my wife (EOS 400D), and she loves it for the features and price (10.2 megapixel, canon glass, with full set of lenses and adapters, I paid roughly $1200, but that was 18 mos. ago). Recently I saw that exact camera stock, with the standard lens new for $375.

windex's avatar

You can compare different cameras here http://www.dpreview.com/

Great site

cyndyh's avatar

@sndfreQ: Where did you find it at that price?

@All: I’ve been to dpreview. I’m trying to narrow down the options further. I also don’t know what lenses I’d want or other accessories. For example, I can see lens threading information at dpreview, but I don’t know what that will mean to me in practical terms.

sndfreQ's avatar

@cyndyh: I meant to say that it was a re-stock, forget which store but online (possibly Samy’s or B&H etc.); ebay too has a lot of B-stocks/refurbs, if you trust that kind of thing…

willbrawn's avatar

I just bought a Canon 450d XSI. I picked this one for a couple reasons. I was looking at an Olympus and a Sony around the same price range. The Canon felt best while holding it. And it also had models above it that were more pro cameras. The Olympus and Sony were nice but they didn’t seem to offer a large upgrade selection. Hope that makes sense.

Basically I wanting something to grow with and stay with the same brand.

Spargett's avatar

Get either a Nikon or Canon entry level DSLR. Then invest the money in the lenses. When you buy, get it from Amazon. Anything cheaper is prob a super-turbo shady grey market deal. I’ve been through it, save yourself the trouble and trust me. Amazon.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

joeysefika's avatar

I have a Nikon D40 and its absolutely perfect; then, as Spargett said get yourself a nice selection of Lenses. It comes with a 18–55 then i bought a 70–300. Don’t bother buying Nikkor lenses they are overpriced compared to something from sigma, a very good producer. A plus with the Nikon is that you know that it’s not going to break. My dads had a film SLR for the best part of 20 years and its still functioning perfectly. Although the D40 is only 6.1MP this is plenty. The main thing that people coming from POS to SLR cameras don’t realize is that megapixles don’t matter. 6.1MP will create 3000×2000 pixel shots that look perfect. If you have a bit more to spend a D40x or D60 have larger sensors and have 10 and 12 MP respectively making for some very high res shots. You can pick up a D40 for around $400 – $500 which is very good value for such a great camera.

XCNuse's avatar

D40 is a great and VERY cheap camera, and.. you can use lenses on it that date back from almost 40 years ago.

If you plan on taking pictures and taking larger prints, go for the D40x then, the extra MPs of the x version will deffinitely help along with that, I’ve discovered that the hard way unfortunately, wish I did go for the D40x, but for my 24×36 print.. it’s plenty sharp for everyone to enjoy.

You brought up batteries, I usually can go on about cameras but you can read some of my posts prior, as for batteries no one really brings them up.
Batteries for what? You say AA etc, do you mean for like a flash head?
Other than flashes you probably won’t use AAs or anything, cameras have rechargable batteries which btw the D40 battery is amazing, i can think of many times that i didn’t have to recharge it and took pictures for a solid week.

For external things like a flash though, rechargables are the best way to go, they hold power longer, and can put up with faster recharge rates, especially in power dumping that you find in flashes. Alkalines are bad for this, it destroys their life, as they have awful rapid depletion ratings.

Other than that you don’t need AAAs most likely, unless you’re going to get a third party remote for your camera which might use two AAAs, but that doesn’t really make any difference as that’ll last forever.

Just know that it isn’t the camera or the equipment, it’s the artists eye behind the viewfinder that makes all the difference, and for a beginner tip, go out and expiriment, don’t sit around asking questions, just do it!

Don’t worry about all the little factors, you’ll learn as you go along, and you’ll learn a lot.. very easily.

Evan's avatar

There have been a lot of good responses on here, so I guess I’ll just fill in a couple of things that I think might help more generally.

1) – I second the suggestion about Nikon and Canon, as they are probably your best bet, though I wouldn’t rule out Olympus completely, either. Unlike clothing, there are certain items where the branding really does just make big difference. :)

2) – For a starter camera, megapixels really don’t matter, once you’re past that threshold of around 6 or 7 MP. Much more important are things like light sensitivity, and image quality at various ISO settings (which as I’m sure you noticed, dpreview often demonstrates in pictures).

3) – While you may someday decide to upgrade to a better camera body, the lenses will always be good, hence the recommendations above about focusing on good lenses.

..3b) – As per what lenses to actually get, it depends a little bit on money. While standard lenses tend to have better focus, zoom lenses are a lot more versatile. I would recommend getting what is often called a “framing” lens as your first, which is a zoom lens that ranges from around 28 or 32mm to around 70 or 80mm. This will help a lot in terms of framing your shot, and focusing on the artistic element that XCNuse just mentioned. If you wanted to get a second lens, I would go for something like a 70 or 80mm up to somewhere around 300mm, just to give yourself some range, and after that maybe a fixed wide-angle, like a 15mm or 17mm, just cause those can be a lot of fun.

4) – batteries – the post above gives a decent, if technical, response about batteries.. but the one thing that I would add is that certain cameras have the option of adding a AA battery pack to the bottom of the camera to replace the Lithium Ion battery that might come standard with the camera. Whether or not you do this is kinda up to you, depending on what you like and what’s comfortable.. it’s nice to have the extra space to grip the camera body, and it can be convenient to be able to purchase simple AA batteries if you’re in a jam, since they’re by far the most common batteries that you’ll find anywhere.

—lastly, Amazon is fine, but there are plenty of other decent online retailers out there, most notably B&H Photography, which has (you may well know) been around a lot longer than Amazon. :)

Also don’t worry too much about all the technicalities, and from a former professional turned pleasure photographer, the two most important things to pay attention to, in my book, are good lighting and the rule of thirds. And to have fun doing it!

jaredg's avatar

If you haven’t held the camera in your hands, that’d be the first thing I’d do. The coolest, most feature rich camera in all the world that seems too heavy or doesn’t feel good between your fingers will sit in a bag or on a shelf. There are cheaper paperweights to be had.

The second thing is think about the kind of pictures you’ve taken in the past. If you prefer portraits, group shots, or landscapes, get a shorter lens, something like the 18–55 others have mentioned. A longer lens is good for when you stop and think, “gosh I wish could get a little bit closer to that building/person/animal/car/flower/sculpture”. You can always start with one lens and add another one later. Lusting after gear is an indicator of photo enthusiasm.

If you want a lens that will take a beating and last years and years, you’ll want Nikon or Canon lenses (and one of their cameras). While a friend of mine recently took some killer pictures at the aquarium with a Sigma that was half the price of an equivalent Nikon lens, I’ve never heard a photo enthusiast sing the praises of an 10 or 20 year old Sigma, Tamron, or Tokina lens. Yes, that’s supposed to be a mixed message. As long as you don’t buy a poorly designed lens, you will never go wrong buying Nikon or Canon. Conversely, you may find yourself spare-changing for camera gear.

Photo enthusiasts can also be very brand loyal and often give up eating in order to buy photographic equipment, and should be treated in the same way as addicts, wine aficionados, and other difficult sorts. :)

I don’t think there are too many DSLRs that take standard (AA, AAA) batteries. Buy two of the custom rechargeable ones and when you drain one, recharge it just like you would your cellphone and put it back in your bag the next morning. Battery maintenance is like dealing with junk email, a modern curse.

If you have the time and a few more bucks to spare, see if your local community college offers an introduction to digital photography. Some camera stores offer classes as well. A few weeks learning about what the “rule of thirds” is and what that mode dial on your camera is really good for will take your photographs to the next level.

cyndyh's avatar

I want to thank everyone for their responses here. I’m going to a camera shop tomorrow evening, with my husband and daughter, to hold some cameras and see how they feel. I’m still trying to get my head around all the options, but you’ve helped me narrow down a few of them. I plan on sleeping on it at least one more day after that. I’ll let everyone know how it goes. Thanks again.

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