Buying a DSLR camera is a pretty big commitment for the average amateur photographer. It’s a step above and beyond point-and-shoot camera in both price and capability. Buying a DSLR is a commitment, and one that can end up burning you if you don’t ask the right questions up front.
Like any technology, there are variances between brands that make all the difference for the average user. One person might find Canon’s advanced video capabilities appealing while the next person may prefer the quick autofocus systems commonly found on lenses made for Nikon cameras.
Here are five questions you should ask yourself before deciding on a DSLR camera.
ISO Noise Performance
ISO in digital cameras is a measurement of the sensitivity settings on the image sensor. Back in the film days, higher ISO meant more film light-sensitivity. Lenses can do a lot to adjust your need for ISO on a digital camera, but low-light shooting typically means either opening your aperture up as wide as it’ll go or reducing the shutter speed which can introduce image blur. Not every lens has a wide aperture, and it’s for that reason ISO settings exist. You can boost the brightness of a dimly lit scene without sacrificing shutter speed or a wide depth of field.
The problem with ISO in digital photography is that it introduces noise. It looks a lot like film grain, but image noise can make an otherwise crisp photo appear fuzzy and poorly defined. A camera with good ISO noise performance will maintain image clarity above and beyond an ISO setting of 1600. A good noise profile will give you more reliable photos in varying lighting conditions.
Full-frame cameras have a sensor that measures 32 mm x 24 mm. This is called full-frame because it matches the size of the popular 32mm film standard. Many lenses are made to project a clear image across a full-frame sensor, though not every camera has a sensor that measures up to the standard. Many low and mid-range Canon DSLRs have a crop ratio of 1.6 which means every shot is cropped at about 1.6x the size of full-frame image.
Because of this, a 50 mm prime lens will actually resemble an 80 mm focal length lens on a 1.6x crop frame camera.
There are lenses that are specially designed for crop-frame cameras, and you should do your research on the availability of these options prior to making a purchase.
Lens Mount Support
Because DSLR cameras have interchangeable lenses with proprietary mounting systems, your choice of camera can be a much longer commitment than the initial purchase.
Think of the camera as a couch in your living room. Sure, you could pick a couch of any color and design you want, but your choice of curtains, rug, lampshades, and coffee table will often depend on the couch you decide on. The same goes with DSLR cameras. Your lenses are built for the particular mounting system that comes with the camera.
Take some time to research the cost and availability of lenses for your DSLR. You might find that Nikon and Canon lenses vary quite a bit in both price and capabilities.
Taking photos of sports and/or nature means having a fast camera to capture the moment as it happens. A camera with a burst rate of 3 frames per second is considered slow in the DSLR world. A good mid-range DSLR should be expected to reach between 4 and 6 frames per second.
The highest-quality DSLR cameras can reach burst speeds of 10 FPS or more, consistently. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a camera with a slower burst rate, but if you really intend to take shots of race cars circling the track or football players tossing the pigskin down field, it helps.
Is the Interface Intuitive?
A lot of the DSLR user experience comes down to the software. Take time out to get to know you the camera’s software before making the purchase. If things are hard to find and/or difficult to get to, you may end up missing that perfect shot in the field.
Are buttons aligned in a way that makes sense to your personal style of shooting? Does the camera feel natural or cumbersome in your hands? A good match should be easily held for long periods of time without making the user feel uncomfortable.
Balance is also an important consideration. If the camera isn’t balanced, you might find yourself having difficulty keeping it steady in the field. It could feel heavier than it actually is, leading to fatigue.
No matter what your reason for buying a DSLR, remember that these cameras are best used as an extension of yourself. If you don’t feel absolutely comfortable with a buying decision at the store, you certainly won’t feel comfortable with it when you’re shooting.
Image: Calgary Reviews