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5 Tips for Choosing Your First DSLR Camera (for Wannabe Momtographers)

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So, you want to be a Momtographer? From a mom-tog to a mother, I love being able to capture beautiful pictures of my family.  I love having all of the small moments forever documented. And I know you will too.

The little things. The little moments. They aren’t little. -John Kabat-Zinn

I bought my first DSLR camera about 9-10 years ago. My son picked up my point and shoot and dropped it into a kiddie pool. Whoops.  Honestly, that is one of the best things that ever happened to me.  I had no idea what I was doing when I was shopping for a new camera, but I knew I wanted one with interchangeable lenses.  So, that is pretty much what I told my husband, who was buying it for me as a gift.  A DSLR, didn’t matter the brand (but either Nikon or Canon) and one that had lenses.  Lots of them.  Any photographer who just read that probably gasped!  What?  No research?  Ha!  I did do a little, but when you don’t know much about photography to begin with, well, it isn’t that helpful. It would have nice to have had a friend in he know. So, I’m going to insert my self now. 🙂

So, How Do I Choose My First DSLR?

1. First, ask yourself, “How serious am I about photography?”

How much time are you already to devote to photography? It isn’t about the camera, so much as it is about taking the time and energy to learn something new. No matter what camera you buy, the camera doesn’t take the pictures. YOU do. Learning to shoot in manual will get you to a level where you can pick up a point and shoot, or an iPhone and take better pictures than any other Tom, Dick, or Susan off of the street. Knowing light, knowing how to use light to your advantage, and knowing what exposure to use in which situation will get you great pictures. Not the camera. So, are you serious about this? If so, keep reading, if not, any camera will take about the same pictures. iPhones are great! And getting even better. But learning to use DSLR will take your pictures to the next level. Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way….

3. What will I be using the camera for?

Other than for learning to be a photographer, what subjects interest you? What kind of photographer do you want to be? Momtog (like me!) Family? Portraits? Sports? Landscape? Macro? All of the above?Depending what area you lean toward, there may be a slight edge of one camera over another. That said, all of them will do the job. Especially in the beginning stages. I keep hearing the saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” And that is true! But if you are buying a camera, buy what you need or can grow into.

2. What Brand? Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, aaaah????

You’ve probably heard this before….nothing new here….go play with the camera. Which one feels the best in your hands? Which feels most intuitive to you? They are all different. I shoot with a Nikon D750. I have had a Nikon D40, D80, D700 (x2), and D750.  I have held Canon cameras and played around a bit with them, but Nikon seems the most natural to me. It feels like home.  I like where the wheels are to dial in aperture and shutter speed. I like being able to change out ISO on the fly.  I like how I can set custom white balance without going into the menu. It seems the most intuitive to me.  Other brands may seem more intuitive to you.  So try them all on and see which you like best.

3. What Specs Should I Look For?

If you are serious about learning to shoot in manual and you want to either one day be a professional or shoot like one as a hobbyist, these are the things you should look for:

  • Can it shoot in RAW?  This is an important question. The industry is making more and more cameras now that can shoot in raw. I believe for the most part that DSLRs all have this capability. If you are considering a mirrorless camera, make sure that raw files are an option. This allows you to edit your images in programs such as Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw will much more power than you can a jpeg. For a professional, this is one of the top specs on the list.
  • What is the ISO sensitivity?  This is a limitation that is one of the first symptoms of feeling “held back” by a camera. I knew that it was time for an upgrade when I started learning how to take low light images and my ISO would only go so high. And everything shot over “x amount” ISO was grainy and almost unusable. Make sure the camera you choose has ISO capable of at minimum ISO 6400. Anything less than that will become a challenge in low light.
  • What are the options for White Balance?  This is another biggie! Setting a custom white balance in camera is a big, big deal. My first camera had cloudy, shade, sun, florescent, etc. Well, for a professional, that is not enough to cut it. Being able to set a custom white balance either using Kelvin, or a gray card is 100% necessary. I prefer Kelvin some days, others I like to use a gray card. Both are really easy to access in my camera, which means I am more likely to use it.
  • Does the camera have video? I’m guessing that most cameras do now. My latest upgrade was from a Nikon D700, which does not have video, to the newer version of it, the Nikon D750, which does. And it’s awesome. I love having video on my DLSR. If you buy one without it, you may want it later.
  • Full Frame vs. Crop Frame? This is a big decision, because the price point between the two is a big jump. I think most photographers probably learned on a crop sensor. I did, and pretty much any colleage I can think of did too. If you can afford a full frame sensored camera as your first camera, I say go for it! But, there is nothing wrong with getting the best crop sensor you can afford either. Professional photographers shoot with both crop and full frame sensors. Many photographers have a crop sensor camera as a back up. It is not necessary to own a full frame camera to be a professional. The best camera you have is the one you have with you, right?

The most important areas when learning to shoot in manual, is learning to get good focus, set a proper exposure, and set white balance. All of which you tell your camera what to do. You want to be able to make those decisions for your camera, no matter which model you have.

4. Should I Get the Lenses That Come With a Camera?

NO! Absolutely not! These are called “kit lenses”. Do not buy a camera that comes with a bunch of lenses. There is a reason that pro cameras don’t come with them. Go ahead check, lol. The lenses that come in kits have variable aperture, which is not very easy to learn with. And will be lenses that will quickly sit in a camera bag gathering dust. ONE good lens is better than 20 frustrating to use lenses. Trust me!!!! Because I did this! I didn’t know any better. One of my favorite Oprah quotes is “When you know better, you do better”.  Take my word for it.

5. Buy the Most You Can Afford

This may go against what many photographers may say, but I do believe in having good gear, and having gear that won’t hold you back. Anticipate what you will need and get it. But, if you already have a camera, don’t go out and buy a new one! Out grow the one you have. If you are itching to buy something, get a fancy new lens.

Within about 3 years, I owned 3 different cameras. In retrospect, I wish I had jumped to the best that I could have afforded at the time, which would have likely have been the Nikon D300. It would have saved money in the long run because cameras lose value pretty quickly. On the other hand, lenses will last forever. I still have all of the lenses I’ve ever owned (minus those kit lenses) ha!, and will continue to own the same lenses, but add to my collection. They never go out of style, and if you decide you don’t use it as often as you’d like, lenses retain their value pretty well.

6. One More Thing : Buy from a Reputable Camera Dealer

I have bought all of my gear from either Nikon, Adorama, B&H Photo, or KEH. Don’t forget to check out my gear!

So, are you in the market for a new camera? Questions about specs? Let me know! Comments are welcome 🙂