5 steps to buying a DSLR camera

Have you always wanted your own DSLR camera but been a little unsure of where to start? It can be a daunting feat due to terminology and choice – and camera’s aren’t exactly cheap. I was in this position some years ago, but I’m happy to say I’m the proud owner of my very own DSLR camera and here’s how I made my purchase.

This isn’t a complete beginner’s guide to buying a DSLR (I had done a bit of research and knew the basics of photography before following step one) so if you already have an idea of what you’d like in a DSLR camera then this should help you get organised and make a purchase. This method was used with the intention of buying a brand new camera and not a used or refurbished camera.

When I started my food photography project, I had a couple of things in mind when it came to purchasing a suitable camera. I knew I definitely needed my own DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera to get both high quality images and to unlock a plethora of options – such as the ability to interchange lenses and shoot RAW images. I also wanted a camera with a full frame sensor. I set out with the intention of buying a DSLR camera body only and to purchase a lens separately. I’d recommend following this method, as it’s much better to invest in good quality lenses rather than a very expensive camera body which usually comes with a not so great kit lens.

All you need to do before following the five steps below, is to set yourself a budget and an end date. By starting off with the amount of money you’re happy to spend, will ensure you have a structured search and therefore avoid marketing distractions. By setting an end date to your search (which is effectively a purchase date) will force you to be decisive. There is so much on offer, it is easy to get carried away and spend weeks/months researching DSLR cameras and that ultimately means less time playing with your camera.

Your perfect DSLR camera is out there waiting for you and can be in your hands sooner than you think, so let’s get started!

1. Browse online

The first step is to browse online and filter retailer’s websites by price – ascending low- high. The aim is to get familiar with the brands and make a list of camera models within your budget. DSLR’s can vary hugely in price, costing between £200 – £4,000 so it’s important to set yourself a budget.

Start by browsing reputable online retailer’s websites such as the ones listed below. I’d recommend starting with retailers who specialise specifically in photography equipment as they will give you a great overview of the main camera brands out there.

The two brands dominating the DSLR camera market are Canon and Nikon. If you have a preference to either of these brands, I’d recommend visiting the official Canon and Nikon websites and filtering by price – ascending low to high will give a realistic view of what is available in your price range.

Start making a list of the models that are of interest to you and within budget – note down both the brand name and the model number. Don’t worry about any other information at this stage, as this is about compiling a list of what is in your budget. The last thing you want to do is spend hours reading a review of a camera that is completely out of your price range. It’s all about getting the best camera you can afford as you will make great photographs, not your camera.

2. Read specifications and reviews

So now you have a lovely list of camera model names – step two is about expanding on your list by researching into each of the camera’s features and comparing them.

The best way to begin, is by delving into the top line details of the camera by reading the product description and specification sections on the retailer’s websites. The specification section is really handy as it provides a list of short stats which gives you an overview of the camera’s features. By reading these stats you can compare and contrast each of the cameras on your list. Notice the key differences between them as after all, you might find you only need 11 Auto Focus points for still life food photography, rather than 32. Simply use Google to look up any camera jargon you are unsure about.

After you have delved into the top line details I’d recommend checking out a fantastic website called Digital Photography Review – http://www.dpreview.com. On this site, you can type in any camera model and read a really in-depth review of it’s features. DPR goes into much more detail than the retailers, so it’s a great resource for really understanding the functionality of the camera’s you are interested in.

3. Watch video reviews and tutorials

Great stuff, you now have a fleshed out list of camera models and their important features all of which are within your budget. Now it’s time to grab your headphones, a cup of tea and watch some video footage.

The best thing to do is to head to YouTube. Type in the camera model name and the words ‘review’ or ‘tutorial’ in the search bar to find a mixture of reviews and tutorials by experts and consumers alike. Here are a couple of channels to start with:

The great thing about watching video footage is it allows you to see the camera in action. Most camera reviewers describe how the camera feels when holding it and what it’s actually like to navigate between menus and use external buttons whilst shooting. This is a great way to familiarise yourself with the cameras on your list, as you can leisurely watch others use it without feeling the pressure inside a busy store.

You can even go one step further and imagine that you have already purchased a particular camera – simply search for camera reviews by people who have been using a particular camera for a while and people who do ‘how to’ tutorials of cameras they have just purchased.  By consuming content aimed at recent buyers you’ll be able to make a much more informed decision when it comes to choosing your DSLR. This will also give you a huge head start, as you’ll know exactly what to expect when you unbox your new camera for the first time!

4. Visit a store but don’t purchase

Now you’ve watched lots of video footage of DSLR’s in action you should be itching to get your hands on one!

It’s now time to get out there and visit a camera store to get a feel for the cameras. So, your original list should now have been narrowed down a little, leaving you with a few serious contenders. So step four is like window shopping – you aren’t visiting the store to purchase, but rather to trial run the cameras you are interested in. You are in a great position, as you can simply ask a sales assistant to show you each of the models you are interested in rather than entering the shop clueless. Use this opportunity to feel the weight of the camera, look through the view finder, go through the menus, press the shutter button and try out different lenses. Pay attention to things like how easy is it to change exposure settings, how big the LCD screen is and where the SD card slot is located. Remember to write down the things you liked and disliked about each of the cameras so you can refer back.

Most retailers will also happily allow you to change the lenses on the display camera body, so ask a sales assistant politely to do this for you and try out both prime and zoom lenses to see what you need/prefer. If the store is busy then don’t worry, simply be patient and stay focused. This exercise is based on how you feel towards the cameras – it’s not about writing down lots of technical information.

5. Price match online

You are on the home straight!

You might have a clear front runner by now, but contain your excitement, go back through your list and have one last think about what camera is standing out to you and why. It’s very important to ask yourself questions at this stage. Questions like ‘Do I really need 35 auto focus points if for the majority of the time I’m shooting still life?’ and ‘Do I prefer having a smaller LCD screen if it means I can have access to more buttons on the back of the camera body?’

Once you’ve slept on your window shopping experience it’s time to start bargain hunting online.

Search through each of the trusted retailer websites you visited at the beginning of the process and write down all of the prices the retailers are selling at (don’t forget to include any shipping costs) and see who has the best deal. Depending on the results of your price match you can of course go into a store to make your purchase – just let the best deal guide you towards where you purchase.

For such a big purchase, I would only recommend purchasing from a well known brand with a good returns policy should any issues arise. Avoid unknown online retailers, as usually if you see an unknown retailer selling a camera at a really low price (in stark comparison to well known retailers) it probably means it’s too good to be true. The reason the prices are so low is usually due to a hidden shipping fee, non- existent/unreliable returns policy or second hand/refurbished products.


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