In the previous era of film cameras many serious photographers would come to a point when they would consider whether to upgrade from an automated point and shoot type camera to a 35mm interchangeable lens SLR (single lens reflex), or trade in the 35mm SLR for a medium format 120mm camera, and maybe even to take the climb to a 4X5 view camera.
For film-based cameras it was all about the size of the film and bigger was better. I recall feeling bad for those people that had friends photograph their wedding with a 35mm camera at a time when quality wedding photography was really only produced by photographers wielding medium format 120mm film cameras. If one wanted a colourful, sharp, grain free enlargement then 120mm or larger was a must.
What do I now say to a photographer that is considering a more serious approach to photography?
I will always begin with the question, “what are your interests and what subjects do you like to photograph?” My short answer for digicam users is if sports, fast action, wildlife or enlargements bigger than 8×10 are the goal, then, yes, get a DSLR. DSLR cameras don’t have shutter lag when the release is pushed so sports photography is easy. Fast action demands a camera that can adjust shutter speed and aperture. Wild life photographers prefer a selection of super telephoto lenses that can be changed at will, and printing quality 11×14 or bigger enlargements are best produced with sensors that are considerably larger than what digicams provide.
Digicams are perfect for intimate, candid shots of family and friends. The compact size lets one put them in a pocket and go, and if used correctly and within their limits they will produce excellent images. However, if photographers feel they have reached their camera’s limits then it is time to move on. So the question is what is the best choice for a first time DSLR?
For this discussion I will put DSLR cameras in two simple categories, amateur and professional. The difference between amateur and pro cameras has surely become hazy. If I were to offer a short comment I would say the most obvious difference is durability. Pro cameras feel sturdy, are heavy and sealed against the elements. When dropped, they bounce and usually don’t break, and even with hard use will last a long time. The amateur camera generally has lighter weight and smaller size. When the first DSLRs came onto the scene there was definitely a difference in the quality of the images between entry level and professional level cameras, but that is not as distinct now. The technology for sensors and in-camera processing has rocketed. The latest entry-level model may well have the same sensor as the previous summer’s expensive pro model as the technology is transferred over. The main difference is in the weight, substance, durability, and controls.
The new models are always being introduced, with that many previously great camera models will be reduced in price, or discontinued, and very soon there will be some great opportunities to purchase at reduced prices. As always there will be a flurry of megapixel chasers that change their camera with every new model upgrade, making used cameras available. There are those people who will not buy a used digital camera and that is OK, however for those who are interested how does one know what is a reasonable price? The easiest way is to go online and check out the sale prices at the big photography retailers for their new and used equipment. Know your prices before buying that camera from a good friend or family member and remember the money that you save can be put towards equipment like lenses and a good flash or tripod.
Whatever the camera availability, my advice to those photographers asking the “upgrading” question is to consider what kind of photography they want to do. Talk to other photographers about the cameras that are interesting, go on line and check out the many photography forums to find out what others with that same interest are using, and attend some classes.
Using a new camera is always fun and I believe learning how to control the technology a new camera offers is like a shot in the arm that gets the excitement going and helps ultimately to make better photographers.