How to choose your first DSLR Camera
DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras are becoming more common these days. While Smartphones continue to evolve rapidly and give better results, their smaller sensor size will always be a limiting factor due to which they will never come closer to the amount of control a DSLR can give. With rising purchasing power, lot of people want to buy a DSLR. A lot of our readers ask us questions around which DSLR camera should they purchase? Or should they buy a Canon or a Nikon DSLR? Or they are confused with all the specifications mentioned in different DSLR models on e-commerce sites. If you are one of these, this article is for you.
Suggested read - Best entry level DSLR cameras in India - Complete buying guide
In this article we will answer all these questions and equip you with basic information on what criteria to keep in mind and how to choose your first DSLR camera. These are points you should know and keep in mind before buying your first DSLR. Note that we are not giving you a specific answer to which DSLR model to buy. We are showing how you can take your own decision and choose the right DSLR. So let us see different specifications you would come across while browsing DSLR cameras on e-commerce sites. What these specifications mean? Should they matter to you and what decision you should take? Let see all these points in detail below -
The minimum megapixel we have seen in DSLRs is 18 MP. Now we all know that this is less than some smartphones but that doesn't mean you need more megapixel. Megapixel is not a metric to measure quality of image, it is a metric to measure size of image. With a 24 MP DSLR you will be able to print bigger images but 18 MP is just fine for printing even A2 size images. And we assume since you are a beginner in photography, you would have no plans of printing anything bigger than this.
Verdict - Megapixel should not be a criteria while choosing a DSLR as you do not plan to professionally sell your photographs or print hoardings. 18 megapixel is just fine for you. Anything higher is better but not really necessary.
In all beginner level DSLRs you would come across terms such APS-C CMOS sensor. What do they mean?
Sensor size - APS-C refers to size of sensor. Sensor size is very important deciding factor in a camera. Bigger the size, more light it can capture. APS-C means a specific size which tends to vary slightly across different manufacturers. This size is much bigger than smartphone cameras and point and shoot cameras but smaller than full frame cameras. Full frame cameras are professional cameras which cost much higher. APS-H and Four thirds are some other smaller sizes some manufacturers use.
Type of Sensor - This refers to CMOS or CCD or similar such terms. These are technologies used to manufacture sensor chips and the way they work. They do affect the image quality but are not in your control. Most cameras you will find these days will be CMOS.
Verdict - While both sensor size and type play a major role in image quality, a beginner's DSLR would usually have APS-C CMOS sensor and you have to go with it. When you upgrade someday, you can plan to move to Full frame.
You must have seen terms like DIGIC 4+ or Expeed 4 processor in specifications of cameras. What do they mean?
These are integrated circuit chips and keep evolving just like Pentium and AMD chips. An image processor does tremendous amount of work after you click and before the image gets stored in internal memory. Canon calls its image processor DIGIC while Nikon calls it Expeed. Number is used to show improvement over a previous version which means 5 is better than 4 and 4+ is better than 4.
Verdict - Image processor plays an important role in how your images get processed. A higher version is obviously better so choose as advanced image processor as you can within your budget.
AF points refer to auto focus points. Ever wondered how auto focus works? To simplify, there are pre-decided points in your camera where it will check things like contrast, light, color or infrared rays and if the object is in focus. So more the number of such points, more accurate, easy and faster your auto focus will be. This is especially important if you shoot moving objects like birds, children, cars or sports.
Also note that a focus point can be single point or a cross type point. A cross type point is better than single point. Beginner's DSLRs usually have one cross type point in center while advanced DSLRs will have many cross type points.
Verdict - Number of autofocus points is an important criteria. More the number of autofocus points, better it is. 11 AF points is better than 9. Also more the cross type autofocus points, better it is.
ISO as you might already know is sensitivity of sensor to light. More the sensitivity of sensor, more you can see even in dim lights. However you would see noise at higher ISO levels too. Beginner's DSLR usually have ISO range 100 to 6400. A DSLR model that gives you a broader range say upto 128000 is better suited to click pictures in low light.
Verdict - Higher the ISO range of your camera, better photos you will get in lower light. So choose a camera with higher ISO range that falls within your budget.
FPS stands for Frames per second. What this means in photography is, if you are shooting in burst mode, how many images will your camera be able to click in a second. If you shoot moving objects like birds, wildlife, sports etc. it is difficult to click an image at the exact time. Shooting number of images in burst mode and then selecting the best one makes it much easier. But the processing time of each camera varies and thus number of images you can shoot in a second varies. Beginner's DSLR usually has 3 to 5 FPS and it increases as you go to higher models.
Verdict - Higher the FPS, better it is to shoot objects in motion. So choose a camera with higher FPS that falls within your budget.
You might be surprised to know that there are commercial movies shot on DSLRs which are released in theaters. Specifications to keep in mind are resolution and FPS. Full HD is the norm of the day so 1080p is necessary. 720p and 480p would usually come with all DSLRs. Also important is frames per second for videos. 24 or 30 FPS is what our eye perceives as normal but higher FPS can be used creatively to create slow motion or time-lapse; so they are always an added advantage.
Verdict - A minimum of Full HD should be the specification if you plan to shoot lots of videos with your DSLR. Various options to adjust FPS can be a bonus.
LCD screens of DSLR camera are usually used to see clicked image or video and sometimes used to frame the shot and click. Their specifications usually tell you about the size and resolution of the screen. Though a bigger size and higher resolution of screen is beneficial, this should not be the criteria for choosing a DSLR.
What can matter is if the LCD screen is touch screen. Since a lot of people graduate from Smartphones to DSLRs, they are used to touching the screen to focus and keep pinching the screen to zoom-in. Many beginner level DSLRs have started adding such touch screen which you can opt for. What also helps is a tilt screen which lets you place cameras in awkward positions and allows you to see through the LCD screen.
Verdict - Having a touchscreen on your DSLR camera can be useful especially for beginners. Screen size and resolution is not something you need to be too fussy about.
A lot of DSLR cameras these days come with NFC, Bluetooth or Wifi capabilities. NFC stands for Near field communication which allows you to transfer images to your NFC enabled smartphone by placing both close to each other. You obviously understand the benefits of bluetooth and Wifi. Not limited to sharing images, you can even see what the camera is seeing and shoot images through a smartphone app. This eliminates the need to have a tilt screen mentioned in earlier point. These are definitely useful features you should look for.
Verdict - Having a DSLR camera which can connect to your smartphone through app is highly beneficial so ensure you get these features.
Which brand of DSLR camera should you choose? While there are number of options such as Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Pentax etc.; we would recommend going with either Canon or Nikon. The main reason for this is that both of these brands are widely available, have number of service centers across India, have wide variety of lenses for you to choose, have various models at every step for you to upgrade and have right price points.
Note that investment in a DSLR camera is a long term commitment. Once you buy, say, a Canon, you would most likely be a canon customer for rest of your life unless say Sony comes and sponsors all your gear. The reason for this is that each manufacturer designs proprietary products. Though overarching technology and features might remain same, once you have learnt the controls of one brand, you will find it difficult to adjust to any other manufacturer. Also lenses of one manufacturer do not fit directly into camera body of another manufacturer. You can use an adaptor to fit them but they have their own limitations. Considering this, a Canon or a Nikon seems to be a safer option compared to the rest.
As far as Canon vs Nikon is concerned, there is no absolute answer to this. Experts supporting each brand can easily be found and there is no clear winner here. Both have some pros and cons and as a beginner if you blindly pick up any one, you will not be disappointed.
PURPOSE OF BUYING A DSLR
Now that you know quite a bit about how to choose your first DSLR camera, we hope you plan to buy it for the right reasons. 'My friends own a DSLR so I want one' or 'I can afford it so I want one' are not the right reasons to buy a DSLR. If you plan to shoot photos with a DSLR just like you do with a mobile or point and shoot, you do not need a DSLR camera. If you plan to shoot in auto mode, then it is better to continue using a point and shoot or mobile phone.
A DSLR camera needs you to be serious about learning photography. The major advantage a DSLR camera gives is the ability to control various aspects of photography and the wide range of control it gives. Buy a DSLR camera only if you plan to use the power it gives you. To compare it to cricket, you do not need to buy a costly season ball cricket bat, pads and gloves if you plan to play cricket with a tennis ball on a street. You only buy those cricketing gears if you are serious about being a better cricketer. Same applies to photography gears.
If you would like to get serious and learn photography, get in touch with us for personal tutoring sessions and regular review of your work.
Photography is a relatively costly hobby. DSLR is not the only thing you will have to buy. You will need lenses, camera bags, probably lens filters, lens hoods, tripod, remote control, extra batteries etc. and then one day you would want to upgrade it all. It is often that photographers get into GAS - Gear Acquisition Syndrome.
As a beginner you need something like Rs.25,000 to get started with the most basic DSLR + one lens and you can build on top of this gradually. Of course if you can afford to spend more, buying a higher end beginner's DSLR at around Rs.75,000. There are other models between this range too which can suit your budget.
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Hope you are in a better position to understand the features you need to keep in mind before buying your first DSLR. Do you think there are any other points one should keep in mind? Do let us know your thoughts in comment section below. Also read our next article which talks about different entry level DSLR camera models and a detailed comparison of them helping you finalize the specific DSLR camera you should buy.