It’s the million dollar question and depending on who you speak to, it can become an emotionally charged conversation as well. When you spend years getting to know one brand or another, it’s inevitable that you become quite attached. To clear it up early, I choose Canon. But that’s not what I started with.
When it comes to a DSLR with interchangeable lenses, all my early experience was on a Nikon D90 with kit lenses. When it came time to part with my own hard earned cash, there were many hours of research and I even installed a browser extension that revealed EXIF data in images on roll over.
The advice here was to spend time looking at images you admire, then look at what they were shot with. I found this particularly helpful down the road as I tried to get my head around the relationship between ISO, shutter speed and aperture – but more about that later.
As I browsed the web, often looking at Speedhunters for inspiration, I found time and time again the that images I was lusting after were shot on Canon. The clincher, however, was when I started paying attention to the media at major sporting events. When you see those massive white lenses dominating the sidelines, that did it for me.
The number one problem you encounter when you look to purchase your own kit is the prices are horrifying. I still remember looking at a 70-200 2.8 IS with a price of over $2.5k and wondering how on earth anyone could justify that! It’s funny how things change.
The single best piece of advice I’ve ever encountered when it comes to getting started is to invest in your lenses. I see all too often that this advice is either not shared or largely ignored. More often than not, the lure of the newest, shiniest camera body with the most megapixels jammed into its sensor are at the top of the list. Then when a shoddy lens is paired with it, guess what? That ripper sensor is going to magnify all the faults of your cheap lens.
And sadly, if you don’t have the eye to notice these things yet, you may blame the camera! There is nothing worse than taking a great shot, but having softness, artefacts or worse that awful purple fringe, better known as chromatic aberration taking all the shine off your image.
So I’ll say this one more time, spend big on your lenses! Even if you can only get one, make sure its a pro lens. When it comes to Canon, the L Series lenses are just exceptional and a 24-70 2.8 will be the workhorse that pays for itself year after year. We are also extremely fortunate these days to have the likes of the Sigma Art Series lenses. If you haven’t tried them yet, you’re in for a treat. Incredible optics and a great price.
Once you’ve decided on a suitable lens, you have to make the decision of which way to go when it comes to a camera body. Now, this is where all the big decisions of the heart should be pushed aside and you focus on the facts. The first of which is that your camera body is a depreciating asset, compared to a lens which will hold value over time. Second, if you’re just getting started and I say this in the politest possible way, but you have a lot to learn. The problem with getting started in photography is that it seems easy. Take a photo, max out that clarity slider, post to FB and watch the likes roll in! The Dunning-Kruger Effect takes hold in the early years of photography like nothing else.
The longer you stick at it, the more you realise that you have no idea what you’re doing and just how much more there is to learn. That’s one of the great joys of photography. I look back on photos I was so proud of at the time that literally makes me cringe with embarrassment today. Developing an awareness of this is important at this stage because whatever you decide to purchase will do the job, giving you the opportunity to practice and learn from your experience. There is a well-known illness among photographers called Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS), where that next bit of kit is going to be the one that changes your game. I can tell you from experience, that the gear helps but it doesn’t make you any better.
Selecting the right body will also come down to the style of photography you want to pursue. Are you looking to do landscape or sport, is high ISO handling important, and more than anything, how much do you have to spend? If I can throw in a suggestion, when it comes to bang for buck the Canon 5D Mark II is an absolute ripper. I see them regularly changing hands these days for around $800. Considering that this is a full frame, pro body camera for under $1k, it’s a bargain. I would also urge you to look at the 1D Mark 4 or first gen 1DX if you’re after a true pro body.
I am an advocate for the 1 Series cameras over and above anything else. They can truly take a beating and they are weather sealed gives you another layer of protection. Couple that with incredible AF and high FPS and you have a winning combination. I personally own a 1D3 that has taken well over half a million frames and still performs flawlessly to this day. For 35mm fun, I also have a 1V which is simply the most stunning sports film camera.
All this is of course for the budget conscious buyer and often when I am asked for advice, this is the first comment. I want a DSLR but don’t want to spend too much. Bad news, this is an expensive game, but there are ways to be smart about it. However, if you can afford it just get whatever your heart desires! For everyone else, start small. It’s not what you want to hear, but it takes time to build a kit and there is nothing worse than rushing into a purchase and regretting it. Be sure to borrow gear from friends, or talk to other photographers at events. More often than not people are willing to share their thoughts and often their equipment.
Take your time and enjoy the process. That’s what photography is all about anyway.