Buying a Fancy Camera – My Story

Just in time for Christmas… A couple of different folks have recently asked what kind of camera I’d suggest they buy. Specifically, what type of DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera? That gave me a reason to pause and reflect on the approach I took. This is certainly not the only way, or even necessarily the right way. This is the way I did it.

I’d start by acknowledging that for most of us amateurs (and just in case there was any question, that’s definitely what I am), like just about everything, the greatest single factor when purchasing a new DSLR will be our budget. Yeah, unless you are a doctor, lawyer or senator, that’ll be a major factor. As such, I thought long and hard about the approach I would take before buying my first DSLR. That is what I am about to share.

(Note: To prove I’m not a camera snob I took each picture used in this post with my iPhone 4 and edited in Aperture.)

1. I bought a used DSLR – I started with my old friend eBay. What I wound up with was a used Canon 30D for which I paid a reasonable $300. That’s a fraction of the $1,400 this model cost new when it was released back in early 2006. Oh, and Canon versus Nikon? In my humble opinion that is purely personal preference. I use Canon just because that’s what I know. I had a Canon Rebel SLR since college and was comfortable with the brand. That’s pretty much the only reason.

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2. I bought a basic lens – I bought the least expensive lens Canon makes. An entry level 50mm lens for $100 from B&H. I reasoned, before I buy a lot (or any) fancy lenses, I’ll buy one simple lens and learn how to use it. Then if I’m still interested, upgrade. My goal was, once I could actually use my camera, and save some cash, I’d invest in a really nice lens.

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3. I took a class – I read a lot online about photography before buying my camera. What I kept reading over and over again was that, if you are going to buy a fancy camera, for goodness sake learn how to use it. There is a lifetime of learning that goes along with improving ones art but just learning the basics will get to pretty far down the road. Learn about the basic manual settings (Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed) of your new toy first and then get the heck off full auto.

4. Take lots of pictures – I feel like I fail at this but I really believe this is the key. Enjoy it. Do not agonize over it.

5. I bought a nice lens – (See also item two.) I used my 50mm (I still use it) almost exclusively while I learned how to use my camera. While I’m not pro, my patience ran out a few months ago and I finally bough the Canon 24-70mm.

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This approach allowed me to accomplish all three goals in about a year. I felt from the beginning that it would free me to (a) learn the ins and outs of a DSLR without (b) spending the kind of money you’d spend on a used car. This was my approach and my experience thus far. Hope this was useful!

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