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Bob Socko
Feb 20, 2001

Forum Oilman


What is a “DSLR”, anyway?
Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras are the large, blocky cameras professional photographers use. They have many features and benefits a typical point-and-shoot does not, including:
  • They have much larger sensors, which allow for better low-light performance and image quality.
  • They have manual controls that let you fine-tune your exposure, such as using a fast shutter speed to freeze motion, or blur the background of your shot (known as bokeh).
  • They take many different types of lenses that are specially suited for magnified shots, distant action, or dark scenes.
  • Ever notice that split-second delay between when you try to take a photo with a point-and-shoot, and when the picture is actually captured? And because of that split-second delay, you missed the shot? That’s called shutter lag, and DSLRs don’t do that.
Here’s a diagram showing how they work:



When you look through the viewfinder, you see light that travelled through the lens, bounced off a mirror, reflected up into another mirror (or a prism), and out the eyepiece to you. When you press the trigger, the first mirror pivots upward. This allows the light to hit the sensor, capturing the photo itself. Once the capture is complete, the pivoting mirror rotates back down. While the mirror is pivoted upward, you won’t be able to see out the viewfinder. No big deal, typical exposures only last a split second.

I’ve heard some DSLRs don’t have mirrors, how do they work?
Technically, they aren’t DSLRs. They still take interchangeable lenses, have manual controls, and so on. The main difference is that instead of using a mirror to reflect the image to an optical viewfinder, they use the image sensor to power an electronic viewfinder. Many of these mirrorless cameras are small enough to fit in a pocket, can be adapted to work with almost any lens, and result in just as nice of a final image. They are a viable alternative to the traditional DSLR, especially if size or weight are an issue for you. They’re beyond the scope of this guide, so check out the mirrorless thread for more info.

Do I really need a DSLR?
It all depends on what you want to shoot. Maybe you want a camera for the occasional picture of your cat, your kid, or your friends at the bar. Maybe you just want a “nice camera” and aren’t sure how often you’re going to use it. DSLR photography is a big investment, and you might be wasting your money on a lot of features you don’t really need. Instead, consider getting one of the high-end point and shoots marketed toward DSLR users as a small, lightweight alternative to their bigger kits. Two popular choices in The Dorkroom include Canon’s S-series and the Sony RX100. They aren’t at the level of a DSLR, but they have manual controls, good image quality, and support a file format (known as RAW) that makes it much easier to edit the photos after the fact. Buy one of these first, use it for a few months, and see if a DSLR really makes sense for you. Head over to the point and shoot thread to find out more.

So when do you need a DSLR? They’re great for sports and birding, as you can mount long-range lenses and shoot at fast shutter speeds. If you want to photograph tiny things, a DSLR with a dedicated macro lens will yield better results than any point and shoot’s macro mode. If you want to make large prints (larger than 8x10), the bigger sensor and better lens of a DSLR will make for a much nicer final product. If you want to make money off this hobby, you’ve got to go with a DSLR – the gear is built to last, and the average person may not take a professional with a point and shoot seriously. And hey, if you’re going to ignore the advice above and buy a DSLR for cat pics, it will do a great job of that as well.

What brand/model should I buy?
That’s a hard question to answer because no single camera is going to be the best option for everyone. We’ll get to brand-specific stuff later in the thread, but in general:
  • No one makes a “bad” DSLR anymore. Some models are stronger than others in side-by-side comparisons, but they will all do a good job of teaching you the basics, like composition and manual exposure control. Under realistic conditions, all of them will take photos which will make a nice 4x6 or 8x10 print. Worst case scenario, you choose the “wrong” model and just sell it on eBay. Ironically, the best case scenario is similar – you sell it on eBay because you’re upgrading.
  • When it comes to DSLRs, ergonomics and handling are huge. Just like a pair of shoes or a shirt, some DSLRs will fit you like they were made for you. Others simply won’t work. Maybe you have really big hands and the camera is small. Maybe the grip feels good, but you can’t comfortably reach the controls. Maybe the grip and controls are fine, but you wear glasses and will have trouble with the viewfinder. You’re spending several hundred dollars on a tool that you could end up using for hours at a time – don’t you want to make sure you can use it comfortably? Do yourself a favor, swing by your local camera shop and test a few models out.
  • Do you have any friends with DSLRs? If so, could you borrow their equipment? This hobby gets expensive fast. One way to save money is to borrow lenses from friends, either to try before you buy or to keep from having to buy/rent a lens you’ll rarely need. In order to use those lenses, you'll need to buy the same brand of DSLR that they have.
  • Megapixels stopped mattering years ago. You only need six megapixels to make a decent 8x10 print. In some situations (such as printing on canvas or viewing at a distance), you can stretch your megapixels even further.
What lenses should I buy?
Most cameras come with what’s known as a “kit lens”. Kit lenses tend to be cheap, plastic things, though they do a decent job with simple scenes – a flower in the park, your cat on the couch, and so on. They’re bad for low light work or for freezing fast motion, but as a learning tool, they’re good enough to get you started. In addition, you might want to consider picking up a “nifty 50” 50mm lens. Every manufacturer has a cheap 50mm lens which, unlike that kit lens, will be great for portraits, narrow depth-of-field effects, and low light work. Best of all, they’re cheap - $100, give or take. What’s the catch? Unlike a kit lens, a 50mm lens does not zoom in or out. You trade flexibility for superior optics and image quality.

If you’re willing to spend a little more, there are a few commonly-suggested lenses to consider. One is the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 non-VC lens, which is a good replacement for the kit lens. It has a sturdier build, a faster aperture, and overall better image quality. The second is the Sigma 50mm f/1.4, which is probably the best 50mm lens on the market from any manufacturer. Finally, if you want to pick up a good long-range zoom lens, the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VC has great image quality, but costs half as much as the equivalent “good” zooms from Canon/Nikon/Sony. Check out the general lens thread for more information.

When it comes to lenses, what does "mm" mean?
It’s the focal length of the lens. Explaining exactly what focal length is involves lots of math and diagrams. Instead, I’ll tell you what it means in terms of your lens. Focal length is a quick, easy way to describe how wide or narrow (zoomed-in) of a shot a lens can produce. Large focal lengths, such as 200mm or 300mm, are good for distant subjects, such as birds in a tree or your kids at soccer practice. Small focal lengths, like 10mm or 20mm, are considered wide-angle shots. They’re good for landscapes and architecture, though some lenses are so wide that they lead to comically distorted images. For an entry-level DSLR, a focal length of 28mm to 35mm is a good approximation of a natural field of vision, and 50mm is nice for portraits.

Generally speaking, there are two types of lenses – primes and zooms. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length. That nifty fifty mentioned above has a focal length of 50mm, no matter what you say or do. If you want to zoom in, you have to walk closer to your subject. Zoom lenses have a range of focal lengths. So, if you see an 17-50mm lens, you know the lens will have a focal length of 17mm on the wide end and 50mm on the zoomed-in end.

Should I buy a UV filter?
No, don't buy a UV filter. Most UV filters do one thing, and only one thing – they degrade your image quality. Others cause strange reflections and ghosting. For example, check out these comparison shots of a single light.



Use a lens hood instead. A lens hood will protect against the same casual damage a UV filter would, along with protecting your images from lens flare. If the damage to your lens is so severe that a lens hood won’t protect it, that thin UV filter wouldn’t save your lens either. Are there a few, limited circumstances when you’d want to use a UV filter? Sure. Do you need to worry about it now? No. Save your money, ignore the salesman at your local shop, and don’t buy a UV filter.

Are all filters bad?
No, just the UV ones the local camera shop is pushing on you. Polarizers are great for enhancing blue skies and reflections on water. ND (Neutral Density) filters are useful for long exposure shots, like when you want to take a photo of a waterfall and nail that hazey, dreamy look:


Untitled by Phil 'the link' Whittaker (gizto29), on Flickr

Some lenses or camera bodies feature image stabilization / vibration reduction / vibration compensation / steady shot / etc. What’s that?
It’s a system to keep your shaky hands from ruining a shot. When using a DSLR, one of the settings you control is shutter speed, which is the length of time of the exposure. If your shutter speed is too slow, you run the risk of moving your hand just enough to blur the shot. How slow is too slow? It varies from lens to lens, but the general formula is 1 / (focal length * crop factor). So, let’s say you’re using a 50mm lens on a Canon DSLR, which has a crop factor of 1.6. 1 / (50 * 1.6) = 1/80, so you should use a shutter speed no slower than 1/80th of a second in order to keep your shot looking sharp. If you had some sort of image stabilization system, you could get away with a slower shutter speed like 1/50th or 1/40th of a second, and still have a sharp image. Most manufacturers build this technology into specific lenses. Sony and Pentax build image stabilization into the camera bodies themselves by mounting the image sensors on tiny actuators. The general consensus is that in-lens systems do a better job, but only certain lenses have it and they carry a price premium. So, choose your poison – a decent job with every lens, or a great job with a few lenses.

I keep seeing “crop factor” or “APS-C” mentioned. What’s that?
Most DSLRs have sensors that are smaller than a 35mm film exposure:

There are two reasons for smaller sensors, and they both boil down to cost. First, full-frame sensors as big as a 35mm exposure are very expensive, whereas smaller sensors are much more reasonably priced. Second, if you don’t need to project an image onto as large of an area, you can use smaller (cheaper) optics.

When compared to a full-frame or film camera, smaller sensors have an “always on” zoom effect. If you were to shoot side-by-side with someone with a film camera, using the same lenses/settings, your DSLR’s shots will seem as though you were standing closer to the subject. Here is a link that demonstrates this effect, or you can just check out this picture:

Wild EEPROM posted:

Here is something quick i drew up that would explain it in picture form. Sensor size isn't completely accurate but it should explain it


This zoom effect makes a crop-sensor camera nice for shooting distant sports or wildlife, but not as good for wide-angle shots like landscapes and architecture. You can find wide-angle lenses for these smaller sensors, but they result in photos with a lot of distortion, causing straight lines to look curved. You can find long-range lenses for full frame cameras, but nice ones are four-figure purchases. Finally, be aware that this zoom effect makes a lot of the classic lens recommendations hard to use in the same way. It used to be that a 50mm lens was a more-or-less ideal focal length for general walkaround use. Nowadays, 50mm on a crop-sensor is a little tight for casual use, but it makes a great portrait lens.

Wow, this looks like an expensive hobby. What are some ways I can save money?
The best way is to buy used. Unlike most consumer electronics, DSLR equipment is built to last. The body should last several years, with the only necessary maintenance being to the shutter (after 50,000 – 100,000 shots). If you go used, you might be able to pick up the next higher quality DSLR body for the same price as an entry-level used model, and for the typical improvement in ergonomics and image quality, it’s definitely worth it. As for lenses, a well-built lens can last decades. Some people still use manual-focus m42 lenses, and that’s a standard that dates back to the late 40s. KEH is a very good source for used equipment, with fair prices, a very conservative rating system, and good return policies. KEH’s bargain-quality lenses are what the average person would consider to be used, and an excellent-quality lens will look like it’s fresh out of the box. EBay, Craigslist, and local camera shops are also great sources for used equipment, just make sure you look over everything closely. EBay occasionally has lot sales with lots of great lenses for cheap, or a lot of junky lenses with a missed gem buried in the middle – but still for cheap. Craigslist is nice because a lot of people don’t know the value of the gear they’re selling. They clean out their attics, find a 20 year old camera they forgot about, figure it’s junk, and toss it up on Craigslist for $50. You see that the lens alone is worth $100 and snatch it up in a heartbeat, quick and easy. Just be careful though, make sure what you’re buying is compatible with your camera. Ask in this thread if you’re unsure.

Still not convinced? Here’s some examples, just glancing around at prices as of February 2013.

Realistic Setup for Nikon, New Equipment
Nikon D3200 w/ kit lens - $597, B&H Photo
Nikon 35mm f/1.8D lens - $200, B&H Photo
Total - $797

Realistic Alternative for Nikon, Used Equipment
Nikon D3200 w/kit lens, - $529, KEH
Nikon 35mm f/1.8D lens - $175, eBay
Total - $704

Realistic Alternative for Nikon #2, Used Equipment
Nikon D300 w/out lens - $570, B&H Photo
Nikon 35mm f/1.8D lens - $175, eBay
Total - $767

You can either buy new, buy used and save $100ish, or buy used and get a much nicer (though older) body.

Still hesitant about buying used equipment? If you’re feeling brave, you can try importing your gear. Camera equipment does not have a single uniform price around the globe – it is priced differently for different regions. Many people purchase equipment overseas (usually Hong Kong) and have it shipped to them. Depending on import taxes and shipping, it may or may not be a good deal for you. Buyer beware – many manufacturers frown upon these gray-market imports and refuse to service them outside of their intended country, or they’ll void your warranty and charge full price for repairs.

One last cost-saving option is to buy third-party lenses. In most cases, the manufacturer’s own lenses will provide the best performance, but carry a price premium as a result. For example, Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (a popular lens for fast action at a modest distance) costs about $2,400, give or take. Tamron and Sigma, two of the most popular third-party lens manufacturers, have their own versions of that lens which cost anywhere from $750 to $1500, depending on their features. The Sigma won’t be as sharp, but it focuses more quickly. The Tamron has better optics than either the Sigma or the Nikon, but focuses much more slowly. For the casual user (and even some professionals), they’re good enough and a whole lot cheaper.

I’d rather buy new. Where should I look?
B&H Photo and Adorama are your best bets in the US. They are legitimate, well-established businesses with very competitive prices. Amazon is always a good option. Or hey, throw your local camera shop a bone – it’s nice to be able to handle cameras in person and talk to a real person about their functionality.

I found a deal that seems too good to be true. Should I take it?
Nope, it’s too good to be true because it’s too good to be true. Your best case scenario is that you’re purchasing stolen equipment. Other times, it’s a scam. Some online camera shops will sucker you in with a very cheap deal. When you go to complete the purchase, you’ll be offered accessories (like UV filters) at ridiculous prices. You’ll say no because you read the thread and know that UV filters are bad. All of a sudden, the camera you wanted to buy will be out of stock! You’ll wait and you’ll wait, but it will never come back in stock. Oh, if only you had just taken the guy up on his offer instead of arguing about UV filters for five minutes, you would have gotten the last one. Fun fact – you were never going to get the last one unless you bought the overpriced UV filter. Want to avoid this trap? Stick with B&H, Adorama, or another big company you’ve heard of.

Ok, I bought the camera. I took a picture of, um, my cat. Now what?
Let’s learn how to use your camera. A proper exposure has three basic elements:
  • Aperture – see the iris in your lens? That’s the aperture. It controls how much light hits the sensor. A wide aperture (such as f/2) opens the iris wide, which lets a lot of light hit the sensor. A narrow aperture (such as f/8) only lets a small amount of light through the lens. A wide aperture works well for dimly-lit scenes, whereas a narrow aperture works well on bright, sunny days with lots of light. A neat side effect of a wide aperture is a shallow depth of field. Have you ever noticed how nice portraits have the subject in focus, but everything behind them is a blur? You get that effect by using a wide aperture. Finally, apertures around f/8 or f/11 tend to have the best image quality. That’s not to say wide apertures have bad image quality, but sharpness, color and saturation tend to peak around f/8 or f/11.
  • Shutter Speed – the length of time of the exposure. The longer the exposure, the more light is let into the camera. Long exposures are good for stationary subjects and dimly-lit scenes, but bad for moving targets as motion tends to look like a blur. On the other hand, short exposures are the name of the game for fast action, but you’ll need a lot of light for the shot to work.
  • ISO – a standard for how much light is required for a “proper” exposure. Low ISOs, such as 100 or 200, require a lot of light but result in very clean images. High ISOs, like 1600 or 3200, require very little light but tend to have a lot of “grain” to the image – like an old, grainy, black and white photo. There are ways to reduce that grain after the fact, and it really won’t matter if all you’re doing is making 4x6 or 8x10 prints, but be aware that it’s there.
So, a “proper” exposure is the right combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO in order to capture the scene you want. Let’s test this out. Let’s say I switch my camera to Auto mode and take a picture of some local wildlife.


Sony a850, Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @ f/8, 1/60s, ISO 320

This tells me that for this subject, in this light, this specific combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is a “proper” exposure. Let’s see what happens if I fiddle with things. I switch my camera to manual mode. I manually select an aperture of f/8, a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second, and an ISO of 320. What to change? All the cool kids on Flickr think that a shallow depth of field is fantastic. Let's see what happens when we open the aperture to its maximum setting of f/1.4, and leave everything else as it is, in order to achieve that shallow depth of field effect.


Sony a850, Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, 1/60s, ISO 320

Oops. By opening up the aperture to let in so much additional light (and changing nothing else), I ended up blowing out the image. What do to about all that extra light? I know that low ISO settings require extra light and my ISO is only at 320. Let's try lowering the ISO to 100.


Sony a850, Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, 1/60s, ISO 100

That’s a little better, but still too light. I know that shorter exposures require more light, so maybe that will fix things?


Sony a850, Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, 1/640s, ISO 100

There we go, a "proper" exposure. Personally, I'm not crazy about it because the depth of field is a little too narrow. The face is in focus, but what about the ears, or the grass in the foreground? This shallow depth of field might be ok if we had a nice, close up shot of the bunny's face, but here, it's a little distracting. This is an important lesson - a "proper" exposure doesn't always result in a good photo.

Understanding the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO is critical to photography. So, go practice! Take a photo in Auto mode. See what settings the camera chose for you. Then, set your camera to manual mode, dial in the same settings as the Auto shot, and then fiddle with them until you understand how the aperture, shutter speed and ISO affect the image. Alternately, try out this simulator that lets you see how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO work together.

Are there any books I could read to help me learn more?
Sure. Understanding Exposure is a popular choice. It does a good job of explaining photography in easy-to-understand language, and goes beyond basic facts to explain why to do things in a certain way. That being said, it is a little basic. Once you’re ready to learn a little more, The Photographer's Handbook by John Hedgecoe and The Complete Guide To Black & White Digital Photography by Michael Freeman are worth a glance. These books aren’t going to tell you much about how to use a DSLR, but they’ll teach you good things about composition and technique.

General info about the major brands:

Canon
If you go by marketshare, Canon is at the top of the DSLR world. There’s a good reason for this – they make great pro-quality equipment and market it well. Take a look at the photographers at a sidelines of sporting events; the majority of them are Canon shooters. At the other end of the spectrum, you have solid consumer-level cameras and lenses that are attractively priced. The 5DmkII’s video capabilities broke new ground when it came to filmmaking, and Canon’s wide selection of lenses are unrivaled in scope. While the other DSLR manufacturers may have the edge in one aspect or another (such as Nikon's better low-light performance or Sony's better color reproduction), it’s hard to look at Canon’s DSLRs and say they’re doing something wrong. In fact, the worst thing about Canon's lineup is their god-awful naming conventions - seriously, just look at this mess.

New Canon users should consider picking up a T3i, a 50D, or a 60D. The T3i is an entry level model with a nice articulating screen and good image quality. Given it’s price point and Canon’s market penetration, it should be very easy to find a T3i in a store to handle in person. The 60D is essentially a nicer T3i – it has two control dials (which makes shooting in manual mode much easier), a nicer grip, and a better viewfinder. The 50D is an older model that you should be able to find used without too much trouble. It doesn’t have video capture or an articulating screen, but its build is much sturdier. A good walkaround lens to pair with these cameras is the Canon 35mm f/2 or the Sigma 30mm f/1.4. Canon’s 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS makes for a good entry-level long-range zoom lens.

Nikon
Nikon is the other major player in the DSLR market. They have a long history of manufacturing top-of-the-line professional gear, as well as competent entry-level models. One of Nikon’s strongest selling points is its high-ISO (low light) performance, which is at the top of its class at any price point. When coupled with Nikon’s excellent autofocus systems, you have a DSLR that will keep up with almost any subject in all but the darkest of conditions. If you expect to do a lot of low-light work, Nikon may be your best option. Nikon’s biggest flaw is that its entry-level DSLR bodies cannot automatically focus some older Nikon lenses. You can still use these lenses on an entry-level Nikon, you just have to focus them manually. When you couple this with the fact that entry-level DSLRs (regardless of manufacturer) tend to have small, dark viewfinders, it becomes very hard to use these older screw-driven lenses effectively. There are modern equivalents to almost anything you would need, but you won’t get as much out of older glass as the equivalent in other mounts would.

Good entry-level Nikon cameras include the D5100, D5200, and D90. The D5100 and D5200 cameras are similar, though the D5200 has a much higher megapixel count and improved autofocus features. The D5200 is very new to the market, so you might have better luck finding a good deal on a D5100. The D90 is an older model, but of a higher quality/feature tier than the other two cameras. You’ll gain two control dials (which make manual shooting easier), a better viewfinder, and the ability to autofocus with older Nikon lenses. Nikon’s 35mm f/1.8 is a great walkaround lens, and their 55-200 f/4-5.6 VR is a nice entry-level zoom.

Sony DSLR/SLT
Sony is a relative newcomer to the DSLR market. Rather than develop a line of DSLRs from scratch, they bought out Minolta's camera division in 2006. They have since evolved their cameras into a hybrid of DSLR and mirrorless technology that they call SLT. Rather than use a traditional mirror/viewfinder design, they use a semi-transparent mirror that constantly reflects light to an autofocus array and the sensor simultaneously. The traditional viewfinder has been replaced by a live-view display. Though pixelated, these viewfinders are much larger and brighter than many pentamirrors/pentaprisms on the market, and overlay useful information such as highlighting what part of the picture is in focus. Plus, the constant light on the autofocus sensor helps Sony cameras track fast moving subjects very well. The downside to this technology is that Sony’s low-light performance is weaker than Canon, Nikon, and Pentax DSLRs. In addition, Sony does not have the market penetration of Canon or Nikon, which makes it harder to find their gear in a store to test out in person, and there will be fewer options when you do find it.

The best option for a new Sony shooter is the a57 – it hits the sweet spot of features, price, and usability. If you’d prefer a more traditional DSLR, the a580 and a700 are both widely available on the used market for approximately $500. The a580 has an articulating screen and live view, and is one of the few Sony cameras that performs well in dark situations. The a700 is an older model that lacks a lot of modern features, but is very sturdy and simple to use. The Sony 35mm f/1.8 is one of the best values in Sony’s lineup, and should be either the first or second lens you buy with the system. If you need a zoom lens, both the Sony 55-200mm f/4-5.6 and the Minolta 70-210mm f/4 “Beercan” deliver great results.

Pentax
Pentax is the Rodney Dangerfield of DSLRs. They’ve been around for ages and make some really great DSLRs, but their market share doesn’t reflect it. Compare the K-30 to the Nikon 5100. They have the same sensor and comparable price points, but the K-30 is fully weather sealed, has a nicer viewfinder, builds image stabilization into the body, and has two control dials. By any reasonable measure, the K-30 is a better all-around performer than the 5100. But does the K-30 get shelf space at your local Best Buy? Nope. No respect. Part of this may be because Pentax does not have the same upgrade path as the other brands. Canon and Nikon have several full-frame DSLRs and $10,000 lenses to mount on them. Even Sony has a full-frame DSLR and one five-figure lens. Pentax does not. What Pentax does have going for it is the ability to easily use m42 lenses. You know how thrift stores and pawn shops have ancient lenses in display cases for $5, maybe $10? A lot of those are m42 lenses, and they’ll work on modern Pentax bodies. They have also made weather sealing a standard feature in their lineup, which makes them an attractive choice if you know you'll be using your gear in extreme conditions. You can dump a bottle of water on a Pentax DSLR and it will just keep shooting. You can bury a Pentax DSLR, leave it for a day, dig it up the next day, and it will keep shooting.

New Pentax users should consider the K-5 or the K-30 with the kit lens, as that helps complete the weather sealing. It’s not the end of the world if you use a non-sealed lens, but keep it in mind if you’re going out in rough conditions. For a zoom lens, pick up a 50-200mm f/4-5.6 lens, which is also conveniently weather-sealed. As for a walkaround prime, the 35mm f/2.4 is a nice performer, or you can bite the bullet and pick up that $5 lens at the pawn shop. And another. And another. Because $5 is basically free when it comes to DSLRs.

I want to know more!
So ask, that's what the thread is for. This is a good place for general questions, and we aren't brand evangelists here. There are also several threads dedicated to specific topics:

Brands/Formats
Canon
Nikon
Sony
Pentax
Mirrorless

Equipment
General Lens Discussion
Lighting
Bags, Cases, etc
Tripods
Buy/Sell Gear

Technique
a good essay about composition
Bands / Concerts
Birds
Landscapes
Macro
Portraits
Sports
Street
Weddings

Other Stuff That is Important But Does Not Have Its Own Section
Post Processing
Photo Business
the old My First DSLR thread

CREDITS
A lot of people helped me write the first edition of this guide, and I built off that work for this second edition. In no particular order, I want to thank Dr. Cogwerks, Fiannaiocht, spf3million, mr. mephistopheles, Casull, AIIAZNSL8ER, SoundMonkey, eviL bunnY, ExecuDork, Momonari kun, Pompous Rhombus, ChiTownEddie, Spog, Krakkles, Shmoogy, and kcncuda71 for their feedback and contributions to this effort.

Bob Socko fucked around with this message at Mar 20, 2014 around 03:37

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Pablo Bluth
Sep 7, 2007
I've made a huge mistake.

Nice opening post. The only thing I'd add would be to stress the importance of lenses.
  • A decent lens will outlast your current body, or if you decide to sell it, will have held its value better.
  • When deciding which of the Canon/Nikon/Sony/Pentax system to become a disciple of, it's as (or more) important to consider which lens range better suits your need, as it is to find a body you like.
  • And so don't spend all of your budget on the most expensive body you can, leaving yourself with just enough for a single, bottom of the range lens.

evil_bunnY
Apr 2, 2003



Holy jesus, nice job.

Vykk.Draygo
Jan 17, 2004

I say salesmen and women of the world unite!

I've bought a few items from the Fred Miranda Forums and have always had good luck. You have to be a paid member to post threads (so you can buy but not sell without paying), but I've found that you can usually find gear for cheaper than B&H or KEH.

DJExile
Jun 27, 2007

Ha ha! Pain is hilarious!


That's a hell of an OP, good work.

4/3 system nvr4gt

Mr. Despair
Nov 4, 2009


39 perfect posts with each roll.


Don't forget to get a Pentax ME Super once you've cut your teeth on a baby slr everyone.

rcman50166
Mar 23, 2010

by XyloJW


Holy bejesus, that is a nice OP. The one thing that I don't entirely agree with is the importance of the feel of a camera. I prioritized performance/price when I got my first DSLR. It was a 40D. The 60D I got a year and a half later feels much nicer, but I don't appreciate it as much when shooting. However I'm sure a lot of you disagree with me. I'm open to a friendly discussion about why it matters/doesn't matter so much if it'll provide more perspective on the matter and doesn't devolve into angry internet slap fights.

Also, for what it is worth, I went with a route that saved me a lot of money on my path down obtaining photo gear when I started. I would recommend it to others if possible. I basically got a Tamron 17-50, became comfortable using my camera, then sold that and got a 70-200L F4 and 24-70L F2.8 They are expensive lenses but I saved a ton of money by not buying and selling lenses in little steps toward them, taking a loss every time through depreciating costs. I'm at about a year without needing a new lens now and as a result, I'm saving money. Moral of the story, don't hesitate to buy the best glass if you can afford it.

FISHMANPET
Mar 3, 2007



So random question, the A99 my parents bought has an LCD viewfinder, and the salesmen told us it's nice because you don't have to switch to the back LCD to get video and you don't have to wait for the mirror to move out of the way.

So, is the A99 mirrorless and not a DSLR?

Platystemon
Feb 13, 2012



FISHMANPET posted:

So, is the A99 mirrorless and not a DSLR?

No, but yes. It has a mirror, but not a reflex mirror. It’s fixed and semi‐transparent. Some light passes through to the sensor, and some is reflect to the autofocus system.

Bob Socko
Feb 20, 2001

Forum Oilman


The a99 has a mirror, but it is a special mirror that reflects about 1/3rd of the light to the autofocus array. The other 2/3rds of the light passes through the mirror to the sensor, which supplies a video feed to the electronic viewfinder. So, even though it isn't always recording, the a99 and other Sony SLTs are basically in video mode at all times. The other brands use a normal mirror that must be moved out of the way to begin shooting video.

I love my a99.

Bob Socko fucked around with this message at Feb 13, 2013 around 17:53

Mr. Despair
Nov 4, 2009


39 perfect posts with each roll.


FISHMANPET posted:

So random question, the A99 my parents bought has an LCD viewfinder, and the salesmen told us it's nice because you don't have to switch to the back LCD to get video and you don't have to wait for the mirror to move out of the way.

So, is the A99 mirrorless and not a DSLR?

There is a mirror, but it's translucent! So I wouldn't call it mirrorless.

However, I don't think the mirror actually has to move at all, so there's no "reflex" going on. That said, it's still a traditional DSLR size, and works the same, so it's best described as a dslr unlike your normal mirrorless, which would traditionally have a compact point and shoot style body.

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sony-alpha-slt-a99 has a nice picture showing lasers shooting autofocus sensors and stuff.

e. beaten like someone who was busy making lovely jokes instead of finishing his post.

FISHMANPET
Mar 3, 2007



After posting I decided to do a little digging myself, and apparently the A99 is full frame? I feel so shamed by my mom's camera now

On the other hand, she's spent 50% more than me and only has the kit lens (but with f/2.8 isn't that bad)while I've got two prime 1.8s, and also I love my D5100. Not gonna let camera envy get the best of me.

I actually handled a D7000 at the store and I wasn't a huge fan, I thought it was too heavy. Also he said they're really hard to find new (all they had was used) so I'm betting the new D7100 or D7200 *has* to be on the horizon.

evil_bunnY
Apr 2, 2003



April is the date I heard, yes.

SoundMonkey
Apr 22, 2006

i just push buttons



The king is dead, long live the king.

That's a hell of an OP.

ThisQuietReverie
Jul 22, 2004

I am not as I was.


A link to the SLR simulator might be helpful for new folks in the section where you discuss the photography triangle.

http://camerasim.com/camera-simulator/


A very nice OP.

Casu Marzu
Oct 20, 2008

me larvae long time


Your link to the "general lens" thread takes me to a thread in the gas chamber. Otherwise looks good.

Bob Socko
Feb 20, 2001

Forum Oilman


FISHMANPET posted:

After posting I decided to do a little digging myself, and apparently the A99 is full frame? I feel so shamed by my mom's camera now

On the other hand, she's spent 50% more than me and only has the kit lens (but with f/2.8 isn't that bad)
Kit lenses for full-frame cameras are a completely different animal than those for entry-level DSLRs. Most of them are pretty good lenses. Your mom probably has the Sony 28-75mm f/2.8; while it's basically an updated Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 and therefore a little overpriced, it's a good lens for the a99 and in general.

Casu Marzu posted:

Your link to the "general lens" thread takes me to a thread in the gas chamber. Otherwise looks good.

Good catch, thank you.

Glad to see folks are happy with the updated thread. My biggest priority was cutting down the size of the last one. Counting hyperlinks, the last one was 26 pages in Word. I managed to cut the new OP down to 13.

GobiasIndustries
Dec 14, 2007

Personal Foul: Haunting the Passer.
Number 90 on the Defense.


So I really was planning on saving up for the 70-200 F4L IS, but that Tamron 70-300 in the OP is kinda tempting..anyone have first-hand experience with it able to share a shot or two from it? How is the VC compared to Canon's IS? The USD vs. USM?

rcman50166
Mar 23, 2010

by XyloJW


GobiasIndustries posted:

So I really was planning on saving up for the 70-200 F4L IS, but that Tamron 70-300 in the OP is kinda tempting..anyone have first-hand experience with it able to share a shot or two from it? How is the VC compared to Canon's IS? The USD vs. USM?

As far as I know (someone correct me if I'm wrong), the 70-200 F4L IS is the bees knees. It doesn't get much sharper in the category of medium zoom lens. However, from my understanding the Tamron is very well priced and a competitive lens when you consider everything. USD and USM have a negligible difference unless you are trying to video focus with it on a T4i, in which case the USM comes out slightly ahead.

jackpot
Aug 31, 2004

First cousin to the Black Rabbit himself. Such was Woundwort's monument...and perhaps it would not have displeased him.<

quote:

I keep seeing “crop factor” or “APS-C” mentioned. What’s that?
I'm going to add something here for the benefit of newbies, and if I say it badly or it's confusing or just plain dumb, just let me know and I'll take it out.

Crop factor vs full frame: for 99% of you, absolutely none of this poo poo matters, and run fast and far away from any salesman who tells you different. Why? Because unless your last camera used 35mm film you don't know the difference, you have nothing to compare to. Yes, the crop factor on most intro cameras means that your view will be a little more "zoomed in" than it would on a full-frame camera with the same lens. But unless your other camera is full-frame - and unless you're coming from film it's probably not, because you're reading the newbie thread - what do you care? There are some people who, when mentioning a lens, will say something like "I bought the 100mm macro for my 40D, which of course is actually 160mm with the crop factor." If you hear those words, kick 'em squarely in the nuts because no, it's not. It's 100mm, because if you're shooting a crop-sensor camera, that's your world. It's like pointing out a pretty blue flower and the guy next to you says "Well, technically, to colorblind people it's actually green." Unless you're colorblind, who cares, right?

If you have to ask whether or not you need a full-frame camera, chances are the answer is no. Are you doing architectural photography? If not, the answer is no.* By the time you need it, you'll know enough that you don't have to ask.

* Do you have enough money that the difference in price ($1-2k) is meaningless to you? Then fine, the answer is yes, go for it. That and architectural photography are really the only times a newbie would want to dive into full-frame.

Mr. Despair
Nov 4, 2009


39 perfect posts with each roll.


GobiasIndustries posted:

So I really was planning on saving up for the 70-200 F4L IS, but that Tamron 70-300 in the OP is kinda tempting..anyone have first-hand experience with it able to share a shot or two from it? How is the VC compared to Canon's IS? The USD vs. USM?

Do you need 300mm of zoom? If so the tamron's the best bang/buck right now. If you don't need the extra length, the 70-200 F4L is probably going to be sharper all around (although I'm not sure how the IS stacks up, Tamron's is really, really good).

GobiasIndustries
Dec 14, 2007

Personal Foul: Haunting the Passer.
Number 90 on the Defense.


Mr. Despair posted:

Do you need 300mm of zoom? If so the tamron's the best bang/buck right now. If you don't need the extra length, the 70-200 F4L is probably going to be sharper all around (although I'm not sure how the IS stacks up, Tamron's is really, really good).

I don't know how much I 'need' the extra length at the moment, but right now my longest lens maxes at 55mm and I'm finding it really limiting. Most of the time when I buy stuff I try to go top of the line, but the 4L IS is over 1k and the Tamron after the coupon (and an amazon gift card) will cost me ~200 and is arriving tomorrow as opposed to waiting a few months. I went ahead and ordered the Tamron; the sample images from the research I did look fantastic to me, and I've still got a savings account set up that I'm dropping money into for new lenses so if I decide I need that f/4 aperture throughout the whole zoom, I'll be ready for it eventually. That or I can upgrade my kit lens..or pick up a serious flash..or get a sturdier tripod..so many options

SoundMonkey
Apr 22, 2006

i just push buttons



GobiasIndustries posted:

I don't know how much I 'need' the extra length at the moment, but right now my longest lens maxes at 55mm and I'm finding it really limiting. Most of the time when I buy stuff I try to go top of the line, but the 4L IS is over 1k and the Tamron after the coupon (and an amazon gift card) will cost me ~200 and is arriving tomorrow as opposed to waiting a few months. I went ahead and ordered the Tamron; the sample images from the research I did look fantastic to me, and I've still got a savings account set up that I'm dropping money into for new lenses so if I decide I need that f/4 aperture throughout the whole zoom, I'll be ready for it eventually. That or I can upgrade my kit lens..or pick up a serious flash..or get a sturdier tripod..so many options

Or get the extremely well regarded 70-200/4 and grab a $50 Tamron 1.4x TC later if you decide you super duper need 300 (280)mm. End up with the same aperture, probably comparable image quality.

GobiasIndustries
Dec 14, 2007

Personal Foul: Haunting the Passer.
Number 90 on the Defense.


SoundMonkey posted:

Or get the extremely well regarded 70-200/4 and grab a $50 Tamron 1.4x TC later if you decide you super duper need 300 (280)mm. End up with the same aperture, probably comparable image quality.

I was considering the non-IS 4L but decided that I'd rather have the VC for situations when I'm without my tripod (I love visiting zoos & gardens & such). If it turns out I'm doing a lot of shooting with the Tamron I'll upgrade down the line, but if not, this'll end up being ~$300 cheaper than the non-IS F4L and by all accounts the image quality is pretty phenomenal for the cost.

evil_bunnY
Apr 2, 2003



You'll be quite happy with the Tamron. Most photographers would be hard pressed to see difference in IQ. AF is a bit slower but not by that much, IIRC

Headhunter
Jun 3, 2003
One - You lock the target

I finally got round to buying my first tripod today. Holy poo poo I can't believe how much of a difference they make. It should be the law that all first time camera purchasers also get a tripod. Mind. Blown.

SoundMonkey
Apr 22, 2006

i just push buttons



Headhunter posted:

I finally got round to buying my first tripod today. Holy poo poo I can't believe how much of a difference they make. It should be the law that all first time camera purchasers also get a tripod. Mind. Blown.

While good tripods own for a lot of stuff, this is probably bad newbie advice, unless you find yourself needing to hold the camera perfectly still in the same place a lot.

Although I'd say that after the generally accepted "second purchase" recommendation of "a fast prime lens", "a flash" should probably be next, because in terms of bang for your buck, it's hard to beat having a light (and all of a sudden your kit lens sucks a whole lot less indoors, point flash directly up, go to town).

HookShot
Dec 26, 2005



That OP rules, well done man.

alkanphel
Mar 24, 2004



Headhunter posted:

I finally got round to buying my first tripod today. Holy poo poo I can't believe how much of a difference they make. It should be the law that all first time camera purchasers also get a tripod. Mind. Blown.

It would be a waste of money for most people I know, even those that bought a tripod never use it anymore. I think I'm the only one who actually uses a tripod to shoot (macro) in my entire circle of photographer friends. Most just buy it because they believe (rightfully) that it will make their photos sharper but then they realise it's an added thing to carry around and they didn't want to spend on the lightest carbon fibre ones and it just stays in the storeroom forever after that.

SoundMonkey
Apr 22, 2006

i just push buttons



alkanphel posted:

It would be a waste of money for most people I know, even those that bought a tripod never use it anymore. I think I'm the only one who actually uses a tripod to shoot (macro) in my entire circle of photographer friends. Most just buy it because they believe (rightfully) that it will make their photos sharper but then they realise it's an added thing to carry around and they didn't want to spend on the lightest carbon fibre ones and it just stays in the storeroom forever after that.

This is also all I use mine for, macro and long-exposure nighttime stuff (even then most of the time I just wedge the camera against something).

Put it this way, I use my tripod so much that I lost the quick release plate for the ballhead and didn't notice for nearly a year.

jackpot
Aug 31, 2004

First cousin to the Black Rabbit himself. Such was Woundwort's monument...and perhaps it would not have displeased him.<

alkanphel posted:

Most just buy it because they believe (rightfully) that it will make their photos sharper but then they realise it's an added thing to carry around and they didn't want to spend on the lightest carbon fibre ones and it just stays in the storeroom forever after that.
Yep, this. I have a tripod because once a year or so I need one, but I'll move heaven and earth to keep from having to bring it out.

And speaking of tripods, it's tempting to think you can be smart and save money by buying a cheaper tripod from a great brand: you can't. Or maybe you can, but I certainly didn't. drat thing holds exactly as much camera and lens as I owned at the time, now it'll barely hold my body alone, forget the lenses. The quick release is plastic, and trust me when I say that that poo poo'll make you nervous real quick.

Either A) spend $30 for whatever walmart's selling (and I highly recommend A when you're just starting out, because I promise, that love you feel in the beginning for your tripod wears off fast), or B) spend the money and buy something strong enough to last you past the equipment you own now.

SoundMonkey
Apr 22, 2006

i just push buttons



jackpot posted:

Either A) spend $30 for whatever walmart's selling (and I highly recommend A when you're just starting out, because I promise, that love you feel in the beginning for your tripod wears off fast), or B) spend the money and buy something strong enough to last you past the equipment you own now.

This was exactly how it was for me. "Oh man, I have a tripod! Now I can... uh..."

Not to say it's not good to have one, but yeah, but a lovely one first to see if you even need one.

evil_bunnY
Apr 2, 2003



SoundMonkey posted:

This is also all I use mine for, macro and long-exposure nighttime stuff (even then most of the time I just wedge the camera against something).
Same here. Sensors have become quite extraordinary in the past decade.

Bob Socko
Feb 20, 2001

Forum Oilman


I use mine a few times a year, and would more if I were shooting more events. It's nice for dark venues when you're beyond a point of being able to rely on antishake methods. 200mm, ISO 3200, f/2.8, 1/50s - something's gotta give there. I'm kind of excited that I get to use mine tomorrow - I found a nice covered bridge over a creek near here, and I'm planning on wading out into the water to get some good scenic angles. If I'm unlucky, I'll get to test out the a99's weathersealing as well, in a nice mountain stream full of snowmelt.

alkanphel
Mar 24, 2004



SoundMonkey posted:

This was exactly how it was for me. "Oh man, I have a tripod! Now I can... uh..."

Not to say it's not good to have one, but yeah, but a lovely one first to see if you even need one.

Well nowadays I've noticed Canon and Nikon like to give out free tripods with DSLR purchases, but they're lovely like a rebranded Slik, so I guess from there they'll know if they need one or not.

rcman50166
Mar 23, 2010

by XyloJW


What are you guys doing that you never use tripods? I use mine when I go past 200mm, when I do macro, when I do self portraits, when I set up my studio, when I shoot at night, when I do panoramas, when I shoot video, and when I make time lapses. There are a million and a half reasons to use them.

SoundMonkey
Apr 22, 2006

i just push buttons



rcman50166 posted:

What are you guys doing that you never use tripods? I use mine when I go past 200mm, when I do macro, when I do self portraits, when I set up my studio, when I shoot at night, when I do panoramas, when I shoot video, and when I make time lapses. There are a million and a half reasons to use them.

Other than video, panoramas, and timelapses, I do all of these things without a tripod (except when using bellows for macro, and even then sometimes not).

Bob Socko
Feb 20, 2001

Forum Oilman


One of the reasons I went with Sony was so that I didn't have to use a tripod all the time - Sony builds stabilization into their bodies, so every lens benefits from it. Between that and keeping my shutter speeds up, I usually don't need a tripod.

William T. Hornaday
Nov 26, 2007

Don't tap on the fucking glass!
I swear to god I'll cut off your fucking fingers and feed them to the otters for enrichment.


rcman50166 posted:

What are you guys doing that you never use tripods? I use mine when I go past 200mm, when I do macro, when I do self portraits, when I set up my studio, when I shoot at night, when I do panoramas, when I shoot video, and when I make time lapses. There are a million and a half reasons to use them.

Most of the stuff that I take photos of require a fast enough shutter speed that a tripod becomes unnecessary. And if your subject is moving around a bunch, trying to chase it around with a tripod is a bit ungainly as well.

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rcman50166
Mar 23, 2010

by XyloJW


I should probably note that none of my glass has IS.

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