How to choose your first DSLR Camera

So far you have been using a simple point and shoot camera, or your phone camera to take really good pictures. Now you would like to upgrade. Or are you one of those photographer friends who is bombarded with questions like “Can you help me choose a DSLR camera?” As much as you love cameras dissecting what is there in a market is not really your thing? With the amount of options we have now, are you confused on what to get?

Worry Not! 

This article will be an informative guide that walks you through the process of choosing a DSLR camera

Now lets start from the very beginning.

What is a DSLR Camera? 

A Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, unlike a point and shoot model, uses a mirror behind the lens to direct light toward the viewfinder. This means when you are looking through the viewfinder, you see exactly what the image sensor will capture. A point and shoot sort of translates the image into a video version and shows that to you on the LCD screen i.e. they directly record light on to an electronic sensor. With a DSLR you have the ability to change lens, use it for various purposes and you get full manual control of all the functions available in the camera. You have a wide array of options at your disposal. But you are perplexed with the amount of information you need to learn before you can choose the right fit for you… We shall give you the right amount of pointers and base to cover. 

So there are certain parameters one has to consider before buying a camera. The first and foremost one would be to identify your genre of photography. There are quite a lot of types of photography depending on what you want to capture and how you want to capture. There is Astro photography which is  where one takes pictures of astronomical objects in the night sky. There is Candid photography, probably the most popular one which is used in weddings and events a lot nowadays. There is Fashion photography which is sought after for advertisement purposes. There is Wildlife and Landscape photography that involves working with natural and available light.
The list goes on… But narrowing down on a genre would help you immensely focus on honing your abilities and take better images. Also it helps you choose the right kind of gadget that would serve your purpose properly. So onto the million dollar question…

How to choose a DSLR Camera?

  1. Choosing the right sensor
  2. Fixing the required resolution power
  3. Finding the right FPS & Shutter speed
  4. Appropriate number of Focus Points 
  5. The Camera screen options
  6. GPS and Geo-Tagging 
  7. WiFi connectivity
  8. Storage options

Which sensor best suits your needs?

Before answering that question, we need to answer what a sensor is and how it affects your image quality. Basically wikipedia defines an image sensor is the one that detects and conveys information used to make an image. 

To put it in simpler terms, a digital sensor is the thing that replaced the film from our old cameras. Sensors are photosensitive and capture the light which in turn is what you see through the view finder. 
Here you can choose based on the shape and size of the sensor, the price value and the crop factor. Going more specific, we have two types of image sensor formats.

One is the APS-C Sensor (Advanced Photo System Type -C) which is almost equal to the size of the classic film negative. This is smaller in size and most beginner level cameras have this sensor. Now the APS-C sensor has a size ratio of 23.6 mm X 18.6 mm and is a lot cheaper on the price point. The quality of the image from an APS-C sensor is higher when compared to a smaller sensor due to its larger size which allows it to collect more light. If you are just beginning your journey with photography, an APS-C camera is a good place to start.

The other one is a Full Frame Sensor. This is the one that is found in all professional level cameras. The Full Frame sensor is 36 mm X 24 mm which is 2.5 times the size of the APS-C and is on the expensive side. 

Major advantages of this would be the cheaper cost and crop factor of 1.6. Now a Crop factor is the ratio of a camera sensor’s size to a 35mm film frame. For example, if a 200 mm lens is mounted on a Full Frame sensor you get a field view of 200 mm. But if the same lens is mounted on a APS-C you get a 360 mm view instead of 200 mm. This would be a good point to consider if you are into wildlife or bird photography where you need a higher field view. 

Frame size for APS-C and Full Frame

One of the major drawbacks of the APS-C sensor is its performance in low light conditions. Even with a high ISO, there will be a lot of noise in the picture. Although that could be corrected in post processing, the detailing of the image might get lost. So if you are shooting interiors especially with a wide or ultra wide angle lens, this would not be a good option as it would affect the focal length and you might not get the desired image 

The advantages of a Full Frame sensor on the other hand is that it is very useful in reproducing even the minute details. It’s low light performance is very good. With a higher ISO there will be lesser noise compared to APS-C. Hence this is more recommended for Astro Photography and night time photography.  The major disadvantage being the high price point. Full Frame camera’s cost is twice as that of a APS-C one. 

How much resolution would you be requiring?

A megapixel is actually one million pixels and a pixel is the smallest controllable element of a picture represented on a screen. 

On contrary to what most camera advertisements preach, megapixel is not that important while buying a camera. This in itself is a long and separate topic altogether. Basically the megapixels you need depend on how you are going view your image. You would need a higher resolution if and when you are going to view it on a big screen or print out a big sized image. So lets not get there now. But in terms of choosing a camera with respect to megapixels, it doesn’t matter as long as you are okay with all the other features available in the camera. A moderate number should be sufficient. 

Finding the right FPS

Frames Per Second (FPS) is the number of times the image on the screen is refreshed each second. The basic principle is the higher the FPS, the more number of images one can click in a second. Now wildlife photography would require higher FPS as every single frame is important and needs to be recorded. A basic DSLR comes with 8 or 9 FPS. A higher end version comes with 16 or 18 FPS. This is also related to shutter speed. The higher the shutter speed, the better an action is frozen. Higher FPS means higher shutter speed and it also means higher price range.

Speeding cyclists photo
When you want to capture speed and action

How many Focus Points would you be need?

Focus Points are what the camera uses to focus on a subject. A basic DSLR will have 9 focus points. If you require more control in composition, you need more focus points which is available in high end models. Having a lot of Focus points is particularly useful if you like to take lots of action shots where the subject is not going to be stationary.  With a higher number of AF points, you can cut down on the chances of the subject being away from a point of focus.

Screen Options

Nowadays most cameras come with touch screen and that has almost become a default option. There is also the option of getting a camera with an articulated screen. This would be useful in situations where the camera is not at eye level for the photographer, like when the photographer wants to see the composition better on the screen without altering the position of the camera much. For low-level photography where the camera’s position is closer to the ground, for interior photography this screen is very helpful. 

WiFi & NFC 

Near Field Communications (NFC) is needed to transfer the images to another device without the usage of wires. For quicker assessment of the images as and when you click it, you need to have connected the camera to a laptop or a PC. This could either be via Bluetooth or WiFi. The viewing is better on a bigger screen and helps in saving a lot of time transferring images from the device later. With WiFi connectivity you can use your mobile phone as a shutter remote as well, just an added perk! 

GPS & Geo-Tagging

A GPS is very useful in a camera when you need to constantly mark which photograph was taken where. GeoTagging is an up and coming trend in Photography. This is very suitable for travel and landscape genre or for the ones who like to share the geographical location a bit more accurately. The information is stored in the metadata of the image. One does not have to manually update the information, the camera does it for them. 

Storage options

Memory card is one the most important things a photographer needs. If you are someone who needs constant backup, look for a camera with two card slots. One would be for SD and one would be for CF. Most Full Frame / Professional cameras come with dual card slot. 

In today’s market we get hundreds of options while buying gadgets. With the amount of increasing innovation, every day a newer version is released. It is up to us to choose the right kind of camera that fits our need and purpose. So before you buy your first DSLR Camera, do answer the below questions to get a better clarity and narrow down on a specific model.

  • What kind of a photography are you going to do?
  • What sensor can you afford for the kind of photography that you are interested in?
  • What resolution do your images need to be? 
  • What kind of subject are you interested to photograph? 
  • How fancy does your camera need to be?
  • Are you going to need WiFi and GPS in your camera? 
  • How many photographs would you be taking at a go? 

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