Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Buying a dSLR part one

One question I am asked often is which camera is best to buy. I will do my best to summarize my opinion when buying a dSLR [especially your first purchase].

1. How much money do you have to spend?
2. What do you plan to use the camera to shoot?

These first two questions are the most critical when it comes time to purchase a dSLR. Especially when it is your first purchase. When you obtain some experience using your camera, your second, third, and all subsequent purchases are easier.

Too often, folks look at the purchase of a camera as the most critical part of the purchase. However, [in my opinion] the purchase of the lens is more critical than the camera body purchase. I understand there are many different nuances and options associated to each camera brand and camera body. For this example we will use $1000 as the amount of money available to purchase the first camera [including lenses].

Many folks walk into their favorite big box store or warehouse club store [Costco, Sam's Club, etc.] and see all the boxes of nice new cameras on display. They are greeted with the Nikon D60 or the new D90 which includes two lenses, a case, and a free memory card with a price range between $650 - 1400. Another stack of boxes displays the new Canon Rebel with a price dollars under $1000 and they stand their wondering which camera to purchase.

What most people do not understand is the lenses bought in a kit might not meet their needs. Without fully understanding the purchase, they make a purchase after answering question one only. Most kit lenses will not meet the need of the family purchasing a camera to photograph little Suzie's volleyball game or dance recital. Why? The kit lens is too slow. With an aperture of 3.5-5.6 the lens will not be able to capture the low light events. Can the cameras perform at ISO 1600? Yes, but consider the fact the lens when zoomed to 200mm or in some cases to 250mm will be opened to f/5.6 which will not allow enough light in to 'freeze' the action. Therefore, all of the images will be blurry. After a few events the family will be frustrated and put the camera in the closet thinking they wasted $1000 of their hard earned money.

Knowing the answer to question 1 & 2 brings us to a possible answer. The family wants to spend $1000 total and they want to shoot family events [most are indoors or dimly lit stadium games]. My first suggestion is to visit many of the online stores [and I will list the few I used] and purchase a 'body' only first then one to two lenses depending on the ultimate amount of money they want to spend. I strongly recommend looking at purchasing used online from reputable dealers. B&H photo, Adorama, Cameta Camera, and a few select stores on Amazon.com that sell the body only.

Nikon D90 DX 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

Nikon D60 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) [at the time of this post a new d60 body only is less than $500]

Another alternative is to buy used from any of the above listed vendors [there are many others] or if you are interested in a Nikon you can purchase gently used camera gear from Nikonians.org. Which is my first recommendation when looking to purchase a camera. Over the past few years, I purchased three different camera bodies from members of Nikonians with no problems in the purchase or equipment issues. Typically, the camera body [or other gear] will come with the original box and paperwork. The purchase price is between the seller and buyer with no middle person getting a cut of the price. Therefore, the price is usually lower than from an online store. Keep in mind, there is usually no warranty left on the camera and the deal is an as is deal. If you choose to buy from Nikonians.org there is a used buying guide in the want to buy forum.

If you choose to go the route used you will be able to purchase a more 'robust' camera body used than you can buy a newer model new. For example, if you purchase a used D200 [which is an excellent camera] and at the time of this writing is an 'old' camera body you can purchase it from Nikonians for $700 or less. This same camera when first introduced a few years ago was close to $1800 new. Most of the images on this blog are shot with either the D200 or some were shot with my older D50 which can be bought from Cameta used for $200. [It is an excellent camera but it is an older style.]

Nikon D200 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

The image at the top of this post was taken last winter with my Nikon D50 hand held at ISO 800, f/9.0, shutter speed 1/3 second in Chicago. I was leaning against a pole and wanted to capture the motion of the traffic. Keep in mind it is the skill of the photographer and the photographer understanding their equipment that will make a memorable shot. The camera gear is only a tool.

More on this subject in the next post.

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