Buying Your First SLR

I get asked the following question quite a lot:

I want to buy an SLR, what one shall I get?

In my software engineering life, clients often approach me with a description of software they want me to write. What you really want is for them to describe the problems they are having that need to be solved. That way you might be able to design a better (simpler) solution. I’m sure it applies to every discipline, but a simple method for finding out the root problem is to just ask Why? a lot.

The trouble is, I get asked this question quite a lot and asking Why? to everyone multiple times takes too long so I’m just going to ask them all here as a default response to future question askers…

  • Are you actually interested in photography? If you are and you’re willing to learn how to use it properly, getting an SLR is a great idea. If your rationale is that you think it’ll just take better pictures on “auto” then I’m afraid it doesn’t. You really have to learn how to use an SLR before it’ll start giving you better pictures.
  • Most SLRs don’t shoot video (although they are starting to). Is this important?
  • What do you want to do that a compact camera does not do?
  • Do you want an SLR because you want a special camera for taking high quality photos?
  • Would you use it as your only camera? Would you be happy carrying a big lump of camera everywhere you currently take a compact? In reality, you may end up taking fewer pictures than if you just took a quick compact everywhere. Is this acceptable?
Here are some tips should you just want to go ahead and buy one…
  • I’d say choice is between Canon and Nikon (some argue Sony but I wouldn’t). Lenses and flashes etc. are not interchangeable between brands, so whichever one you pick, you’re kinda stuck with forever. (I’m on team Canon).
  • Good lenses are quite pricey. You can just get the body with a kit lens (probably about ~18-55mm range) and that’ll be fine for most situations. “Kit lens” basically means a cheap entry-level lens but you get a lot of bang-for-buck.
  • Consider buying second-hand. My first SLR (Canon 400D) is now half the price I paid for it 3 years ago. I’m not sure if that’s the average rate of camera depreciation (I couldn’t find any stats, can anyone else?) but it still takes good photos.
  • If buying new, don’t listen to sales guy that says you need a UV filter to protect the lens or some special insurance policy. Save your money, you should just be careful with it.
  • Ignore features like megapixels / max ISO / shutter rate etc. when comparing. This is just a sale arms race and they’re all more than good enough. Go in a shop, pick one up. More important features are: Does it feel comfy in your hand? Do you like the screen size/res/contrast? Does it focus quickly & quietly between dark objects in foreground & background? Is it too heavy/light?
  • Stating the obvious, but read some reviews online.
  • I buy all my stuff in Bristol Cameras on the top of corn street. Decent prices and it’s nice to be able to take something back rather than post (not needed to yet, touch wood).
If you pick a camera or get stuck between the final two choices, please ask me again…

2 thoughts on “Buying Your First SLR”

  1. Good advice Matt, I’m sure. I’ve always suspected that once you’ve bought your first SLR (and read all the reviews, and bought the magazines, and subscribed to the newsgroups, and joined the clubs), then you’re well on your way to buying your second SLR. It’s becoming like that with bikes for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *