So you've decided you want to splurge a little and get a digital SLR. But the choices are overwhelming and you have no idea where to begin. What camera should you get? What lenses do you need? What accessories should you buy? What does bokeh mean and why should I care about aperture? All these questions and more can almost keep a person from diving into photography, but hopefully this section will allay those fears and convince you that it's worth it. When you see that picture or that grateful grin on a friend's face because of a shot you took, you'll never look back.
Nikon or Canon?
When you're spending $1,000, picking anything can be a stressful decision. The first and one of the most important decisions when starting photography is which "family" to go with. Most people who want to explore digital SLR photography choose between Nikon and Canon. This choice will determine all your future lens options (because lenses are only compatible with a family of cameras because of the lens mounts and sensors). A big difference between SLR cameras and point and shoots is that SLR cameras allow you to use interchangeable lenses and filters to create different effects and take extraordinary pictures that the limits of a point and shoot won't allow you to capture.
For newbies to digital SLRs, the choice usually comes down to the Nikon D70 and the Canon Digital Rebels. Both have received rave reviews and are great cameras. You honestly can't go wrong with either path, but ultimately I chose the Digital Rebel and joined the Canon clan.
The battle between Nikon and Canon camps can be compared to greatest rivalries like the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, the Hatfields and McCoys, "Great Taste"/"Less Filling". You don't have to take my word for it, but here are some forums that argue both sides.
- Flickr Canon DSLR Group Discussion
- Photo.net Comparison
- XT vs. D70 by Digital Review Comparison
- 300D Rebel vs. D70
- XT vs. D70 by Engadget
- 20D vs. D70 on Complete Digital Photography
Choosing the Right Camera
Once you've decided what family to join you need to choose the right camera model, Canon has two options: the Digital Rebel (XTi) and the 30D. Both of these fall around the $1,000 price range. The Digital Rebel XTi 400D is less expensive, but produces similar quality results. The body is smaller (perfect for female hands) and lighter (great for those long hikes). But the user interface is less intuitive and the body is less durable because it's made of plastic. The 30D is a few hundred dollars more expensive but has a great user interface with controls literally right at your finger tips. The body is more sturdy and solid with a nice grip, but that comes with extra weight and a bigger camera. The image processor is the same in both and they both take 8 megapixel pictures. If your budget is tight, you might want to consider the original Canon Digital Rebel XT 350D. It has a 8.0 mp sensor and is a great camera to start with and takes fantastic pictures. Learn more about each camera:
- Digital Rebel XT 350D
- Digital Rebel XTi 400D
- Comparing the 20D and XT by Bob Atkins
- 20D vs. XT at Complete Digital Photography
Body Only or Kit?
If you plan on taking pictures, you're going to need a lens. For those who have a Canon film SLR you may already have lenses you can use on the EOS digital SLRs. For others I definitely recommend getting the kit lens. Some sites offer alternative lenses with the body kit, but for a small price (less than $100) the kid lens is definitely worth it. The 17-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens has a versatile range. It's a perfect lens to learn with and once you outgrow it you can start investing in nicer "glass".
Now that you've got your camera, you'll need a few other things to get started and to take care of your investment.
First and foremost you will need a compact flash memory card. There are lots of brands out there but the biggest brands are SanDisk, Viking and Lexar. Because each picture from a DSLR requires a large amount of memory, the write speed of the compact flash card is important. The faster write speeds are usually a higher end line of flash cards like the SanDisk Ultra II and III or the Lexar 80x series. I recommend getting a 1 GB card to start with since they are relatively cheap now. I personally use a SanDisk Ultra II 2GB card.
Your camera will come with one battery, but you will more than likely need a spare battery when snapping hundreds of shots. I definitely recommend making a spare battery one of your first purchases. Eventually you might consider getting a battery grip (which holds two of these batteries). I personally recommend getting a Canon battery (BP-511A for the 20D and NB-2LH for the XT) and not a generic version. Generics can sometimes get only half the battery life of a Canon one.
Scratching your lens can be a costly mistake, the last thing you want to do is to damage your lens. Quality lenses can cost more than the camera body itself. In order to protect that investment you should buy a protective UV lens filter. It will keep your lens from getting scratched or cracking. I've already had one filter crack, and if it wasn't the filter it would have been the lens glass itself. Well worth the $15. Don't get too caught up in choosing a UV filter, trusted brands are Canon, Tiffen, and Hoya. Every lens will require a different sized filter to screw into the front of the lens. The kit lens, for example, uses a 58mm filter.
Now you'll need something to carry your EOS camera around in and protect it. I recommend starting off with a small shoulder bag that holds the camera and kit lens with a pocket for your spare batteries and memory cards. The two most trusted brands in camera bags are LowePro and Tamrac. My first bag was the LowePro Topload Mini.