Selecting a Digital SLR System Part I
I am writing this mini-guide on choosing a dslr (a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera) system, in response to several of my friends' questions about it, and out of frustration of not being able to find an article on the internet that's good enough. Ironically, the internet is chock full o' web pages and opinions on digital camera selection. Unfortunately, many of them either subtly peddle a particular brand, or focus on the latest Camera Of The Hour (circa 2004!), or get tangled up in technogizmos while missing the mark on core image-making attributes, or are written by a non-photographer or a photographer who only knows or cares about what has worked well for him/her personally. You get the point.
Why a DSLR?
This is NOT a DSLR advocacy page. If anything, I am of the opinion that this world already has quite enough landfill, and, let's be honest, statistically speaking, if an average person stuck with his/her cellphone camera or indeed never took any pictures, they'd be doing everyone a favor. But, if you are undeterred having read thus far, a DSLR compared to a compact camera is what a circular table saw is to a pocket knife. They both cut wood, but guess which one has the controls, precision, and power to consistently and cost-effectively make fine furniture?
Many folks want a DSLR because they are impressed with the quality of the images. This is precisely the wrong reason to get it, because, while DSLRs with their big sensors do expand the range of conditions where they can capture a good image compared to a compact digicam, by no means do they remove these boundaries. So when you look at a particularly impressive image that "came" from a DSLR, chances are, what you are looking at, is in fact the deliberate and thought-out work of a competent photographer who happens to have used a DSLR. The right rationale to get a DSLR is if you want to gain access to the performance and the wide range of image-making optons that interchangeable lenses deliver, and you appreciate that there is a considerable equipment bulk and cost involved.
Camera vs. Lens
A mistake many novices make when getting a DSLR is to spend a good deal of time carefully researching which camera they want, and then just get it with a kit lens "to go with it". 3-5 years down the line (or sometimes sooner, because they are not seeing the photos they were hoping they would get from the kit), they "upgrade" to a different DSLR and again some random kit lens that "came with it". The point they miss is that it's the lens that forms the image! The DSLR's job is to just not mess up capturing it.
The right way to do it is to first understand your photographic goals and aspirations. What type of photography would you like to do? Are there specific types of photos that you'd like to be able to take? Then you can look at which manufacturers' systems best satisfy those goals and then identify which lens(es) make the most sensible initial investment. With the money left over in the budget, you get the DSLR body. In 5 years' time, you may wish to upgrade your DSLR, but the lens collection you would have assembled over time will continue to serve you. In fact the new body will extract better image quality from your existing lenses! The specific sections below will explain how to go about these steps in more detail.