Do you need a DSLR? – Digital Camera Buying Guide

Digital SLR Buying Guide

Over the last few weeks I’ve been promoting my new online photography course – “Master your DSLR,”  and it was brought to my attention several times that many of you might not be sure what exactly a DSLR is.  For many beginners in photography this is where you take the leap from just taking snapshots to being a little more creative with your photos.  As part of my Digital Camera Buying Guide series let’s look at the “Big Daddy” which is the DSLR.

What exactly is a DSLR?

A DSLR  camera (Digital Single Lens Reflex camera) consists of two parts –  a camera body and an interchangeable lens.  The body houses the camera sensor (where the image is made), all the electronics and a mirror system that allows the photographer to see exactly the image that the camera is recording.  This camera body also has the ability to add on additional flash through a hot-shoe on the top of the camera but on most entry level DSLRs there is also a pop up built-in flash unit.

The interchangeable lens is what really makes the difference between an DSLR and and compact camera.  Usually a DSLR will come with a standard “kit” lens which will allow you to take a variety of shots at various focal lengths, from wide angle to telephoto.  If you require additional lenses for a specific purpose, these are purchased separately and they usually don’t come cheap!

There is also a plethora of other accessories that can be used with your DSLR to enhance your photography such as tripods, lens hoods, filters, lighting systems to name a few.

Why choose a DSLR?

If your someone who feels stifled by their Point and Shoot’s lack of creative control or someone who wants to really understand photography then a DSLR is really the only way you are going to learn and will ultimately be what will take your photography to the next level.  The size of the lens alone should be an indication to you of how much better your pictures can potentially be.  The beauty of today’s entry level DSLRS is that you can use them in full auto mode where the camera still does all of the thinking for you, through semi-manual shooting modes where you begin to have creative control, right through to full manual setting where you can control every aspect of the photograph.

One of my pet peeves is to see people wielding these big DSLR cameras only to switch them into Auto mode and use it like a big hefty point and shoot camera.  Why bother?  They are using about 10% of the camera’s functionality and paid a nice price for the privilege.  If this is you I suggest you get out of your comfort zone and start experimenting!  Sure your gonna end up with a few dodgy pics in there along the way, but it’s only with this experimenting that your gonna LEARN anything about photography and eventually you will improve.

Buying a Digital SLR

Buying a DSLR is a considerable investment so it’s important to do your research and find the one that’s going to be best for you.  The two top brands that are always competing head to head are Canon and Nikon.  Personally I’m a Canon girl – always have been always will be I think!) but that’s only because that’s what I started out with.  Nikon are equally as good and in some models boast superior features.

Some things to consider which might help you make your decision:

1. Has anyone in the family/ friends got either a Canon or Nikon.

This is important to consider as you might be able to swap and borrow lenses from them and they might be able to help you out with technical problems

2. What feels good in your hands?

Some say Canons are for girls and Nikons are for boys.  While this is not true, some of the entry level Canon cameras may feel small in a guys hands and where the buttons are etc. will have an effect of the cameras ease of use for you.  So although I’m a great advocate of shopping online, I  also feel that its a good idea to get your hands on a few cameras before you buy.  Ask a  friend or go to a specialty store to get a feel for the different models.  You might be surprised at their weight or by how light they are.  Some people like a lightweight and others want to feel they are getting their money’s worth by the pound!

3. Special deals or twin lens kits.

In some stores you will see cameras bundled as twin lens kits with the standard lens bundled together with an additional zoom lens and sometimes a kit bag, a book, a card etc.  These can be really great deals but this depends on whether or not you really think you’ll need that particular zoom lens. For example, landscapes might be your thing so in that case it might be more prudent for you to invest in a super wide angle lens at some point.  Be aware that just because a lens has a huge focal length – i.e can zoom in really far away, it doesn’t mean its a great lens.  There are lots of factors to consider so only buy what you need for now and buy the best you can afford – it should last you quite a while.

4. Finally, think about factoring in the cost of some education to learn how to work the thing.

There is no point in spending a lot of money on a fancy DSLR only to stick it in Green Auto and to try and learn about photography from the user manual.  You will drive yourself batty!  Buy a book, read a blog, take a course for some direction but put some effort into learning about your camera and you’ll be rewarded with unique photos for the rest of your life!

Happy Snapping!

PS If you feel like your someone who could benefit with a little guidance on using your DSL R to it’s potential, check out for my online courses which will help you do just that!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Eyal Gurevitch - April 27, 2011

Very nice.
Though not only Canon and Nikon do the job well.
Sony has excellent affordable DSLR systems (I say as a devoted Canon user myself).

TravelPictures - May 7, 2011

I have a question, since I’m a beginner photographer I would like to know which digital camera is better (which makes higher quality photos), a Nikon, a Canon or a Fuji?

Dan - May 17, 2011

Although I love a DSLR, there are several compacts that are very capable. Look for manual override of every setting as well as the usual shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual modes. Without these, you will never be better than the camera.

watercolor portraits - June 24, 2011

You can buy the best DSLR … if you don’t have talent is useless.

Scott@digitalcameras - June 29, 2011

I agree. Maybe the biggest difference between merely beginner’s-photography (which can be great-dont get me wong), anfd a DSLR – levle photographybeginners in photography this is where you take the leap from just taking snap is th elevel of creativeness and inspiration. I reviewed the Canon EOS ti1 / rebel ti1 and also the Canon 5d mk11: both cameras give a lot of room for creativenes with lighting, zoom, etc.

Luke - July 28, 2011

I’ve been into photography for about 8 years now and get asked questions from beginners constantly. This is a great starting point article for beginners.

“One of my pet peeves is to see people wielding these big DSLR cameras only to switch them into Auto mode”

Yes, this and never takes the stock lens off of the camera.

SLR Photography

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Aws - December 16, 2011

I cheer Cannon.
MKII is best to use for vdo recorder.

canonef50 - January 12, 2012

Great! This is a great and informative post that you shared to us and this will be a great help to many of us. Keep it up and more power! 🙂

Nick Maine - January 26, 2012

Wow, where was this information when I was so desperate to find the needed information when purchasing a digital camera. I made the mistake unfortunately to buy one off craigslist. Buy Beware, please avoid purchasing something off craigslist, unless you can actually go down to check out the camera.

amit - January 28, 2012

thanx have explained very much in simple language without using too much technical terms.good for beginers

Peter Jonasson - April 14, 2012

I totally agree with you Ingrid. It also frustrates me when I see people use a DSLR camera just to point and shoot. What a waste!

Julie - May 24, 2012

Hi, I would like to be an assistant photographer to get more experience in photography, does anyone need an assistant on the gold coast?

sizer sami - June 8, 2013

Can anybody tell me which model DSLR (at cheap price)best for beginner photographer ?? And how is Nikon D5200 Nikon D90 Canon 650D ??

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