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Buying a Camera System
October 22, 2010 - Dave Hecei
I sit in an enviable position. I have been shooting photographs for more than 30 years. Over that time I have bought and sold more camera equipment then I like to think about (it didn’t hurt that I worked in a camera store for almost 20 years). I started out with a Yashica, then Rollei, then Pentax, then Contax, then Canon. Along the way I have collected lots of gear and gadgets. If you are getting serious about your photography and want to get into a DSLR system, I’m here to give you a few tips and suggestions.
Buying that new DSLR is a big investment, one that requires a little bit of though and planning. First you need to choose a manufacturer. I won’t tell you that you have to buy a Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Olympus, Sigma, Fuji, etc. This is something you need to choose yourself. If you already own a film SLR then your choice is a bit easier. If any of the lenses and accessories you own now will work on that brand’s digital SLR, you’re better off to stick with that brand. You’ll start out ahead of the curve. If you are totally new to DSLRs, then look into each line and see what lenses and accessories (and their prices) you like and want to use.
When starting out just stick with the basics – a camera body, one lens, and bag big enough to hold them, preferably bit enough to allow you to grow into it. If you will be shooting indoors often, then add a shoe mounted dedicated flash. Over time you will add additional accessories, like filters, cables, extra memory cards, etc. As you grow as a photographer you will find the need for additional lenses.
Most DSLRs are sold as a kit, with what the industry calls a ‘kit’ lens. This is typically an inexpensive (meaning slow) zoom somewhere in the 17-50mm f/5.6 range. These lenses work, but they are not the greatest. Instead of buying a DSLR kit, buy just the body only and then get a better lens. Over the next several years you may change to different camera bodies, but your lenses won’t. Buy the best lens you can afford since they will likely be with you much longer than the camera body. For the Canon, if money were not object, I like the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8. This lens is remarkable, but then it is over $1000. For us mere mortals, check out the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 or the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. Both of these lenses have image stabilization and have a street price just over $500.
What lens you add down the road depends on the type of photographs you like taking. If you like to shoot portraits, then a medium telephoto zoom would be ideal – 28-135mm, 50-150mm, etc. If you like to shoot landscapes then something wide is what you will need – 10-22mm, 12-24mm, etc. If you like to shoot sports then something telephoto is best – 70-200mm, 70-300mm, 100-400mm, etc. Just remember that the bigger the lens, the harder it is to get sharp results. Bigger lenses are harder to handle, meaning camera shake, and unless you buy the more expensive models they can have optical aberrations that can keep images from being tack sharp.
An overlooked lens the old standby, the 50mm lens. Back when I shot 35mm film, the 50 was often called the ‘normal’ lens. This is because it showed approximately the same magnification and perspective as the human eye. On a DSLR camera with the APS-C sized sensor, this lens has the field-of-view as a slight telephoto. The fast aperture helps blur the background, while being slightly telephoto means you don’t have to be right on top of the subject you are shooting. The great thing is that they are also inexpensive (street price for most 50mm f/1.8 lenses are under $100). For extra speed you could go with the f/1.4 or f/1.2 variety, but they are priced at a premium, especially the f/1.2 (ouch).
Over time, as long as you have chosen a good system, you will just keep adding to your kit – a flash here, a filter there, a battery grip and/or extra batteries, and maybe even another camera body. Another important piece of equipment you will want to look into is a good tripod. This is an overlooked and essential tool of the advanced amateur photographer.
That is one of the pitfalls of going digital – there’s always a newer, faster, better, shinier, more megapixelled camera body to drool over each year. As long as you pick a system and stick with it you should get years of service. Each year you can buy another piece and before you know it you will have a bag full of tools to get any photo job done.
If you have any photo or camera questions I'd love to get a chance to answer them. Email me cuadmin (at) post-journal.com
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