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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tis the Season - My Standing Advice on Buying a First DSLR - updated 10/25/2010

Every year about this time I start getting a flood of emails asking me my advice on buying a camera.  Anyone is more than welcome to email me and ask specific advice, but you should read this first.  My standing advice:  Start simple and build as your skill builds.  Equipment is not a replacement to skill.  You also have to find how you use a camera.  Some people are obsessed with wide angle shots. I like to zoom in as close as possible and fill the frame. Just style differences.

Generally stay away from two lens packages you find on eBay and Amazon. Why? They usually give you a bunch of crap and crappy lenses.  Not always, but usually.  Screw on filter style lenses are no one's friend.
Buy quality stuff and you will be happier and have less stuff.

If I was looking at buying my first DSLR and I just want to make pretty pictures without a lot of thinking I would look get:

1. Nikon D3000 10MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens ($509)
2. Transcend 8 GB SDHC Class 6 Flash Memory Card with Card Reader TS8GSDHC6-S5W ($25)
3. Hoya 52mm UV (Ultra Violet) Super Multi Coated Glass Filter ($27)
4. Nikon 8072 Microfiber Cleaning Cloth ($10) or any good cleaning cloth. See if an eye doctor will give you one for free.
5. Domke 740-6BK 1-Inch Web Strap without Swivel (Black) ($17)

The first two are necessary to make the camera work.  The UV filter is a good investment because it will protect the front of your lens.  Scratch the filter, throw it away and buy another.  Scratch the front of your lens, throw it away and buy another.   Its a $27 insurance policy.  Do not buy the cheapest UV possible.  That Hoya is a good middle of the road filter.  You wouldn't have to get the Domke strap, but I don't like being a walking advertisement for Nikon.

If I wanted to learn how to use my camera I would look at getting a used D80 or D90 and a 50mm 1.8 or 60mm 2.8 lens from eBay.  Why? The D3000 won't autofocus either of those lenses.  I am a big fan of non-zoom lenses.  They make you think more. The more you think the more you are in control of your picture.  Thinking is what makes your image into something more than just a snapshot.

If you want a case I would look at:
Lowepro Apex 120 AW (Black) ($44)  If you are only going to have one lens, which is what I recommend in the beginning.  or
Lowepro Nova 160 AW Camera Bag ($46) if you are going to eventually get a second lens. 

Camera bags are a not really that important.   Im serious on this. Its a way to keep all your crap together, but if you are out walking around taking pictures they are just another thing to lug.  I never transport my cameras in a bag and they are just fine.  Just take care where you set it down and it fine.  My cameras are not all beat up, dented or scratched.  The reason I recommend the two above is that they are water resistant bags.  So if you are out walking around and it starts to rain you have somewhere to put your camera and keep it dry.  Most bags that come in kits are worthless, cheap pieces of crap that only fall apart well.  If you were only buying the camera and one lens I would save the money and not buy a case at all. Shocking.  Save your money and buy a better lens. Keep the lens cap on your camera when you aren't using it and at all cost protect the back lens if you take the lens off your camera.

You don't need an extra battery unless you are going to be away from an outlet for more than a couple days.  I can shoot all day at a wedding and never get close to running out of power.
You don't need a tripod. Maybe eventually.  Start simple.
You don't need a need a card wallet - an 8GB card in the camera is most likely all you will need.

The manual that comes with your camera is a great resource on the functions of your camera.  If you want to learn more, Scot Kelby is a demi-god in photography education Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 ($45) or for something simplier The Betterphoto Guide to Digital Photography (Amphoto Guide Series) ($17) is the book I recommend to my photography students. If you want to get really good at photography you have to learn exposure - so you might as well start off right.  I would recommend Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera.

If you wanted to get a different lens look at the:

Nikon 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR ED Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras ($360) is a good lens. Has VR and a much better range than the 18-55mm that comes with the camera.

Nikon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras ($600) is even better. Optically it is nicer than the 105, though you don't get VR and for almost twice the price you would be better off with the 18-105 or the 18-200.

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon DX-Format Digital SLR Cameras ($850) Okay, you have gone way past the cost of the camera, but I am telling you this for a reason. The camera body matters very little. The lens you put on it is much more important. At $850 it is every lens you will ever need.  It will work on every nikon camera you will ever buy.

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR [Vibration Reduction] Zoom Nikkor Lens ($225)  VR is money well spent on any lens. It will help you get clearer pictures by taking some of the shake out of your camera.

When you want your indoor pictures to look better buy a flash.
Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras ($220)

Problem with the flash built into your camera, any camera, is that it put light out directly at your subject. Your pictures look like, well, you used a flash.  You need a flash that you can bounce off the ceiling.  Much better light. But that later. Though I would buy a flash before I bought another lens come to think of it in terms of usefulness.

All the links have my Amazon affiliate code in them, so if you are ordering from Amazon and don't have someone better to give the commission to I'd appreciate the kickback :)

I should go back to being a camera salesman. I forgot how much I like talking about this stuff.

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