What you need for DSLR photography

Here is an article I wrote for another one of my websites “actuallysimple.com”:

A DSLR Camera:
Digital SLR cameras have been out on the market for quite a while now. All current models would probably be a pretty decent camera for the majority of people, however try not to buy the cheapest thing available. The cheapest DSLR cameras can be lacking in features that might be important to you in the future such as: small mirror based viewfinders, lack of an auto-focus motor (meaning the lens must have a motor), limited number of auto-focus points, poor body construction quality, sparse physical control buttons, and limited lens compatibility. That being said, there are cheaper models that are generally solid functional cameras overall. It’s just important to do some research on features first at websites like dpreview.com or imaging-resource.com.

Keep in mind that local brick & mortar stores like Best Buy are not your only option when buying a DSLR. Many cities will have a few local camera shops that you can check out as well. Regardless, most any local store will charge you a premium, so if you are tight on money it’s best to look online for a good deal. If you are willing to buy used, there are sites like keh.com, adorama.com, and bhphotovideo.com that sell used equipment for the going market rate. Looking further in places like website forums for the specific brand you are interested in will give you the best deal. One last option would be talking with your photography friends and seeing if they have an old camera body they would sell you. It’s best to do your homework to see what the current value is before making any buying decisions.

A camera bag:
There are quite a few camera bag manufacturers, but it’s difficult to find them locally. Companies like Tamrac and Lowepro are big name companies with pretty solid bags. It’s important to decide what you want to have in your “kit” so you can buy a bag that fits your needs 80% of the time. Buying a bag that’s large with many areas for lenses will get old fast when you start lugging it around. Buying a bag that’s too small will be useless when you buy that new over-sized telephoto lens. Generally it’s a good idea to start with a bag that can hold a single camera body with a lens attached as well as compartments for two additional lenses. That way you will have a pretty solid bag that can carry a good range of glass. Take careful consideration of the strap that comes with the bag. Make sure it is solidly constructed and comfortable. You could also consider back packs, fanny packs, sling bags, and other types besides the standard camera bag to best fit your needs. Camera bags are like potato chips, you can’t have just one!

Memory cards:
Know what type of memory cards your camera will take. The two most common are SD (secure digital) and Compact Flash. It’s important to buy a quality card as you don’t want to have data errors crop up and end up losing important photographs. Also take note of the class (speed) rating on the card. The higher the number, the faster the card will be able to write data. That means you will spend less time waiting for the camera to write photos and more time photographing. As for size, buy what you can afford at the moment. Consider that prices will go down, so that 32GB card will be cheaper in the future. I tend to buy the card that has the best cost/size/speed ratio. I don’t like “putting all my eggs in one basket,” so buying an averagely sized card is a good way to avoid losing all of my photos if the card stops working on a photoshoot.

Lenses:
To start off, it’s okay to buy lenses with your camera. These are generally called “kit” lenses and are also generally not comparable to lenses you can buy separately in both visual and build quality. If you become serious about photography, you will quickly learn that lenses are the most important tool in your arsenal. Besides starting with a kit lens, see if your company of choice sells a prime fixed focus lens around 35mm or 50mm that has an aperture faster than f2.5 (eg. 2.5 or less). That lens will be the best purchase you can make photo quality wise. You will learn quickly that it’s easy to “zoom” with your legs rather than the lens ring. You will also probably be surprised with how nice and sharp your photos are.

A Tripod:
While not a necessary item, a tripod can open up a whole new world of things you can do such as long exposure and quality landscape photos. Many tripods are setup to screw to the camera with a standard lug with a flat-head. A good idea is to add a coin (say a USD quarter) to your camera bag as many tripods are specifically designed to use a coin for tightening the tripod head to the camera!

Cleaning cloths and a “lens pen”:
Buy a few micro-fiber and/or lint free cloths. They will be useful when cleaning lenses and the camera body. A lens pen is the brand name for a tool that helps you clean the glass of your lenses. One other item to buy would be a hand-squeeze blower that blows filtered air, which is great for quick removal of dust from lenses and the camera’s imaging sensor front filter.

Batteries:
Many cameras come with a Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. If your camera is one of them, consider buying a second battery. If you camera can take AA batteries, consider buying Sanyo Eneloop batteries batteries and a quality charger as they are very high quality batteries compared to other rechargeable AAs. I personally use those batteries in my older camera that takes AAs.

That should be pretty much it to get you started in DSLR photography.

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