Hi there! So, you're interested in starting out in DSLR photography, but have no idea which camera to get? If so, please read on!
The question of "Which DSLR camera should I buy?" or "Brand X vs Brand Y, which to get?" are actually questions that come up almost daily here on CS - there's a LOT of information and good advice out there, and so I'll try to consolidate them here. First, I'll try to discuss the core question - "Which to get?". Then I'll spend some time discussing some of the more common questions/myths out there.
So let's get started!
What camera to get? - This is actually a very BAD question to ask. After all, do you let other people tell you what clothes to buy, what food to eat, what car to buy, what house to buy, who to date/marry, etc? No, right? In much the same way, a DSLR is a very personal choice. It is YOU who will be shooting with it. You are the one who needs to feel it in your hands, the ergonomics have to feel right for you, and be able to easily figure out where all the important buttons and switches lie. This is different for EVERY person! Some will say the Canon grip is comfy, others Nikon, others Sony, etc etc etc. Remember, it's a personal choice! Don't let yourself get brainwashed by salespersons or your so-called friends!
So what do you need to know first? Your BUDGET! DSLR photography is not a cheap hobby - you also need to consider the cost of a dry cabinet (I would always recommend this over a dry box with silica gel), filters (mainly UV filters to protect your lens, should not cost more than 30-40 SGD), a spare battery, cleaning cloths, memory cards, a rocket blower (to clean sensor dust) and a tripod, maybe even an external flash. Once you have budgeted those, you know how much money you have left for the camera itself.
DO NOT just anyhow buy from a shop that tries to sell you some useless, overpriced "conversion lens" for "wide angle and macro". Believe me, it's a total waste of money. Buy from the recommended shops. We discuss them in our Priceguides section, which is here:
So what brand? Nowadays (as of October 2010), consumers have more choice than ever before. A quick list of the popular brands:
Each of the brands has pros and cons over others. This is why it is CRUCIAL that you do your own research first!!! Understand what each brand has to offer. You may be in for a surprise when you find that one brand or model may offer many more features than another at a lower price.
IMPORTANT: ALL DSLR cameras are good for "landscape, sports, portraits, street, events" photography. ALL of them. None is better than the other when you're talking about entry-level cameras. What matters is what lens you are using (all brands have good lenses) and your own skill. There is no DSLR that is better at portrait shooting than another, or better at sports than another, etc. At least not in the affordable, entry-level DSLR space, which is what we're discussing here.
You need to be able to understand what features one camera offers over another. You need to be able to understand what I'm talking about in the following questions, and if you can't understand a term even after I have described it, please google the term and learn. These are things you really need to know in order to maximise your skill and understanding of photography.
1. Do I need built-in antishake or not? Some camera makers like Nikon and Canon only offer image stabilization/vibration compensation on specific lenses. Others, like Sony, Pentax, Olympus, have DSLR bodies that have it built into the body, making all lenses stabilized. Is this important to you? Some people prefer in-lens, others in-body. Realistically, both perform similarly.
2. Do I need video? Some DSLR cameras can take videos, but is it really necessary for you? If your intention is to only shoot pictures, and not videos, you may be able to save money by not buying a "white elephant" feature. Also, some cameras have very slow AutoFocus in videos, making good Manual Focus skills important; but they may offer more manual controls in the video taking options (like many Canon DSLRs). Others (like the new Sony SLT cameras) have very fast Auto Focus in video mode, but less manual controls in video.
3. Do I need fast autofocus in live view mode? Do I even need Live View? Live view is the ability to see what you will take on the LCD before you take the picture, much like a normal point-and-shoot. It can be very very handy for macro shooting, or for taking "over everyone's heads" shoots at events, etc. Sony (and Olympus I believe) have DSLR cameras that can focus in live view as quickly as when using the viewfinder (using phase-detect autofocus), while other camera makers use a much slower contrast-detect method. This may or may not matter to you - again it's a personal choice. You may even want to be a "traditionalist" and get a camera that does not have live view at all.
4. Do I need an articulating (tilt and/or twist) LCD screen? This is closely related to question 3. One of the benefits of live view is the ability to accurately frame "over the head" or ground/waist level shots without needing to look through the viewfinder. But this (in my opinion) is not helpful without also being able to adjust the LCD screen so that you can see what you're about to shoot. So it's good to understand the value of this - personally, I find it very helpful on cameras that have liveview.
5. Do I need an in-body autofocus motor? If you are considering Nikon cameras, consider that the budget range like D40, D40X, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000 have no in-body autofocus motor - so only the (slightly more expensive) lenses with the autofocus motor built into the lens will be able to autofocus. For the others (most notably older legacy lenses) it's manual focus all the way. Again, this might not be an issue to you at all!
6. What lens should I get? This is a good question. In general, for anyone starting out, or even many experienced shooters, the standard 18-55 or 18-135 or 18-250 kit lenses are more than enough for your everyday shooting needs. I would also recommend an affordable portrait lens, usually a 35 or 50mm f/1.8 lens. Once you have been shooting more and understand your own style and preferences more, you will know what lens you will want to add on to your collection.
FUD means fear, uncertainty, doubt - these are usually ill-informed, sometimes plainly silly statements made by other people/friends/sales people to push you to buy a certain brand. Remember, it should be your personal choice what to buy, not theirs!!!
The usual things we hear:
"Buy the same brand as your friends, can share lenses!!" This one's funny - it almost NEVER happens. VERY FEW people would be willing to lend their beloved, precious, expensive lenses to others - and in case of damage, then what? Friendships have ended because of this. So think hard if this is really a valid reason. Maybe getting a different brand will allow you to bring new ideas / capabilities into your circle of friends.
"Buy Brand X or Brand Y, they have the most lenses!" Well yes, sure, they may have 500+ lenses to choose from. But realistically, you will most likely only ever use 2-5 lenses, and all brands cover this range. So what if Toyota makes 200 different models of cars when you want to buy an Audi, right?
"Brand X is good for portraits, Brand Y is good for events" Again, why? This makes no sense. You will not, with the naked eye, be able to tell what camera took what picture. All cameras are good for any job - it's the skill of the photographer, and the lens he uses, that makes the difference. As for the lens: Remember, all brands have good lenses. Make sure you pick the right lens for the job.
"Don't buy Brand X, only buy Brand Y or Z!!" This is a common thing you hear. If it's from a salesperson, it's because Y and Z give them the highest margin. If it's from friends/other photogs, it's obvious they don't actually know what they're talking about - they're just ignorant, or insecure about their own purchase and so need to get others to buy the same brand to make themselves feel better. Again, don't listen to this nonsense - all camera brands make great cameras, you need to find the one that makes you go "This feels great!!!". RESEARCH!!!
This is already a lot to absorb, so I'll stop here. But there is still one core lesson that I hope you have learned: Whichever DSLR camera you buy should be your own personal decision. It should be the one that suits your budget and needs and feels "right" in your hands. In the end, brand does not matter at all, your pictures will do the talking, and all cameras can produce great pictures. They are just a tool, you are the artist - so go and create art!