I just read Simon Dingle’s terrific post titled “Choosing a first DSLR” and it is definitely worth reading if you are thinking about buying your first DSLR camera. I sort of went through this process in December when I decided to splurge on a DSLR after years with Canon point and shoot cameras and my iPhone as my day to day camera.
I say that I “sort of” went through this process because I have had an SLR before. My first real camera was a Minolta 5000 which I received as a Bar Mitzvah gift from my parents back in the late 1980s. I think I still have my Minolta in my house somewhere but haven’t used it since cameras went digital. I took a few lessons about the technical stuff photographers who strive to do more than point and shoot should know and managed to forget much of it in the last two decades.
I did a lot of reading about camera brands and models in the months leading up to my purchase. As Simon pointed out, everyone has their own opinions about which brands are best. One of the best stories I read was Scott Bourne’s post about his switch to Nikon from Canon after 17 years as a Canon photographer. Bourne is a fairly well known photographer in his space and his decision sparked an almost religious war. His point, which Simon echoes, stuck with me:
In the end there are no wrong choices here. Each brand has its strength and weaknesses. The good news is that each makes fine gear and it really comes down to personal choice/preference when selecting which one to use.
As Simon suggests I went with the brand that appealed more to me and felt better in my hands. I went with Nikon. I like how the camera looks and feels and my Dad was a Nikon guy so that also works for me. Simon recommends not going with a camera kit but that is what I did. I bought a Nikon D5100 kit that came with AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5-5.6G and AF-S Nikkor 55-200mm f4-5.6G lenses. On Darren Smith’s advice (the same amazing man Simon suggested you follow) I read a couple reviews by photographer Ken Rockwell, particularly his review of the D5100. Between Rockwell’s review and my budget, I decided to go with that model.
One important decision I made and which I am really glad I made was to buy a 50mm lens even though the kit lenses that came with my camera covered that range. I went with the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f1.8G lens (the 1.4 was considerably more expensive) and that lens is awesome. It is my primary lens and I do about 75% to 80% of my photography with my 50mm.
Of course getting the DSLR doesn’t make you a pro. I quickly realized that I had my settings set up wrong and couldn’t focus very well at all. Its been a humbling experience because I secretly thought I was pretty good. That was largely because my old point and shoot and my iPhone took care of the messy details for me and all I had to do was aim in the right direction. I have probably taken a thousand or so photos since I got my D5100 and while much of it is about taking endless photos of my kids, a lot of the work is about getting a little better at taking clear and focused photos. Its an ongoing process.
I am really glad I went with a DSLR in the end. It was a bit of an expense but photography has been an enduring hobby and buying a better camera has given me an opportunity to take better photographs and, more importantly, capture more meaningful memories.