Live an adventurous life through work and travel

DSLR 101: A beginners guide to getting a good camera

DSLR 101: A beginners guide to getting a good camera

Are you sick of your photos looking sloped and fuzzy?

I’m sure you’re an alright photographer, but there’s only so far you can go with a point and shoot.

At a recent family gathering, my mother and I were attempting to take the same photo of Christmas decorations with her point and shoot and my DSLR. It’s fair to say that the photos taken by the point and shoot looked… well… pretty crap in comparison.

It’s possible to take a good photo, or even a great photo, using a point and shoot digital camera, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to take a great photo with better equipment. You can make overexposed, washed out, and blurry photos a thing of the past by upgrading to a DSLR!


Digital Camera Comparison

Why get a DSLR?

If you want to be a decent photographer, there is no doubt that you will need a good quality camera. I originally got my DSLR to improve my product photography for my Etsy shop, but now I’ve transitioned into using it mostly for travel photography and freelance photography.

There are a number of reasons why DSLRs are a gazillion times better than point and shoot digital cameras:

  • DSLRs have higher quality sensors, which result in more detail and better contrast in your images.
  • The zoom on DSLRs are much better quality than point and shoot, which often use a digital zoom that reduces the size of the photo and causes unsharp images.
  • You can manually adjust camera settings to ensure you photos come out exactly the way you want. Especially useful for night-time shot and action shots.
  • External camera parts can be interchanged and upgraded instead of replacing the entire camera. There are countless extras such as multiple lenses, external flashes, tripods and remotes, etc.
  • A DSLR will last much longer than a point and shoot camera before it needs to be upgraded.

Best brands

One thing you might find out if you ask a few photographers is that everyone has a different opinion on what brand is better. Most will say either Canon or Nikon, so I’m going to stick with these for my recommendations.

I personally use Canon, but my choice was tied between both brands for a while before I made my decision. The tipping point for me was that the Canon felt better in my hands than the Nikon, but it’s really just a matter of personal preference!

DSLR 101: A beginners guide to getting a good camera

Camera models

You don’t have to fork out thousands of dollars for a good camera. In fact, you can spend only a few hundred dollars on a camera body and still see great results, as long as you have a good lens or two to accompany it.

The following cameras are reasonably affordable as far as DSLRs go, and are aimed at entry-level users. Beginners can easily start on auto mode on each of these models and work your way up to manual modes once you get more familiar with the camera.

Best Canon models for beginners:

Best Nikon models for beginners:

I use a Canon EOS 600D (T3i) which is now discontinued, but the newer Canon models would be even better. Nikon is a great brand too – it really doesn’t matter which brand you get, as long as you’re happy with your choice.

DSLR Camera

Things to look for:

  • Megapixels – Most models will be somewhere between 18MP and 24MP. This number isn’t really as important these days as it used to be, as a photo taken in both of these sizes will look much the same. Unless you are planning on blowing up the photo to very large sizes (such as printing on a large canvas) then it won’t make too much of a difference.
  • Video quality – if you’re interested in doing any sort of videography then I’d recommend going for a camera that captures HD (high-definition) video. Anything less than this will look crappy when played on a television screen.
  • Screen – A larger screen makes the world of difference for beginners, as you can use the display to show how your photo will appear. A swivel screen (as featured on the Canon 70D and 600D, and the Nikon D5200 and D5300) might cost a little more but I do find it useful sometimes, particularly for taking selfies but also when I’m holding the camera at a funny angle and still want to see the screen.

Choosing your model:

I’d recommend going into a camera store and seeing the functions of each camera for yourself. Compare which models feel more comfortable for you and which have the functions that you would like to use.

After you’ve made your choice, you might get a cheaper price purchasing online. I got mine for about $300 less than what they were selling for in stores. The only thing to be aware of is whether the camera comes with a warranty and accepts returns. You don’t want to be stuck with a faulty camera and not be able to replace it.


You might also like:

Ashlea Wheeler

This post was written by Ashlea, a colourfully clothed and excitable vegetarian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

29 Responses to “DSLR 101: A beginners guide to getting a good camera”

  1. Kristin McNeil

    Great post! I have a DSLR (Canon T3) but I can barely shoot anything outside of the auto mode. Night shots come out horrible because I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m looking forward to future posts about operating the DSLR! 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Kristin! It’s totally normal to start out shooting on auto mode, I still use auto sometimes when I’m travelling as it’s quicker and easier than setting up the photos manually. I think the key is that once you get used to all the settings and know how manual mode works, it’s easier to see if the photo has come out well or if you’ll need to re-shoot it using manual. I’ll definitely follow up with some operational posts!

      Reply
  2. Anni

    Hey Ashlea, great post! I study design, film and photography, so for me it is kind of normal to know all these things but over the last months I realised that it isn’t usual and natural to know all this stuff about cameras.
    I think you give a great overview on the most important facts when choosing a camera! I would recommend it for everyone who thinks about getting a DSLR, because it’s so much more fun to take pictures with a camera you really like.
    Thank you!
    Anni

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I know what you mean, for those of us who are comfortable with using a DSLR, we sometimes don’t realise that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone! I’m hoping to be able share my knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning about cameras and how to operate them.

      And I absolutely agree about it being more fun to take photos with a camera you like, I have the time of my life getting snap happy with my camera while I’m travelling and I love testing all the angles until I get the best shot! Thanks for your tips Anni!

      Reply
  3. Linda Bibb

    Absolutely spot-on, especially about choosing a camera that offers the features you really want. I’m not much of a photographer myself; I leave that to Dan, who is a die-hard Sony user.

    If I may, I’d like to suggest that readers also take a look at the Sony SLT A58 while shopping. Sony seems to be an oft-overlooked camera brand, which is a shame. I suspect a lot of that is due to not as much advertising (hence brand recognition). In their defense they offer technology that others don’t, such as a translucent mirror, which results in faster focusing. But I digress.

    You are so right that better equipment results in better photos. Creativity rules! And kudos on such a good shot of that ornament. It really pops with such a shallow depth of field. 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks for your tips Linda! Sony is absolutely worth considering, I only recommended Canon and Nikon as that is what the majority of photographers use at the moment. If a Sony or Pentax have the features you are after then one of them might be the best option, it really just depends on what you’re looking for!

      Creativity totally does rule! I feel like my DSLR gives me so many more options to be more creative, and also more professional in my photography. I’m glad you liked the ornament shot, I took it with a 50mm lens at f1.8 so the depth of field was super shallow. It really shows the difference a quality camera and lens has on the photo!

      Reply
    • Diana Southern

      Great article, Ashlea! This will certainly be helpful for all those travelers out there who want to improve the quality of their travel photos. Your photo comparison really shows what a huge difference a nicer camera can make in photo quality!

      I, too, want to add a shout-out for Sony! My boyfriend is a professional photographer who has used Canon, Fuji and Sony camera systems, and we’ve now both settled on mirrorless Sony cameras for our travels. They’re more compact and lightweight than a typical DSLR with the same benefit of interchangeable lenses! They’re also sometimes less expensive. Ian’s on the a7S, and I’m on the more affordable and compact a6000. And we can share lenses, which certainly saves space when we’re packing. For anyone interested in having a look at the a6000, I’ve written a review of it here.

      My current camera preference aside, I’d agree that Canon is a great brand to start with. My first DSLR was a Canon T2i (now replaced by the T3i you mention in your article), and it was a fantastic camera, too! We also loved the image quality and compact nature of the Canon EOS-M (another mirrorless), but it doesn’t have a viewfinder. I definitely agree it’s best to check the cameras out in person and then see if you can find a better deal online.

      Keep up the good work with the blog, Ashlea! I always enjoy reading your articles. 🙂

      Reply
      • Ashlea Wheeler

        A better camera really does make a huge difference! I think most people with point and shoot cameras may not realise what potential their photos would have with an upgrade.

        I just read your Sony review, it sounds like a great choice for someone who doesn’t want to go full DSLR. The interchangable lenses would definitely put it a step above the point and shoot. The photo quality also looks really good, though I still think you can’t beat a DSLR with a decent lens 😛 Maybe I’m biased though!

        Thanks for your recommendations Diana, I’m really glad you’re enjoying my blog!

        Reply
  4. Kelly

    Perfect timing with this post Ashlea!

    I hoping to buy my first DSLR camera this year and I was completely stuck on which one to get! I’m definitely going to look into the one that you have and any similar models 🙂

    Looking forward to next weeks post! x

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m glad I could be of assistance Kelly!

      You definitely won’t regret upgrading to a DSLR, they are so much fun to use and the photos come out a million times better than a basic digital camera! I bought my 600D in 2012 so there are probably newer models now, but I find my camera is in no way out of date yet and will last me many more years before I have to upgrade 😀

      Reply
  5. Danielle Cruz

    Your timing for this couldn’t have been more perfect; it’s almost like you KNEW I was DSLR shopping for the first time. 🙂

    I didn’t even consider a swivel screen until now and am realizing that I’ll want that feature. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      A lucky coincidence Danielle! I actually had someone ask me about DSLRs and which one to buy which is why I wrote the post, so I guess you’re not the only one on the market for a new camera!

      The swivel screen has come in useful many times, so if you think it’s something you might use then I’d definitely recommend it. Hope the post was somewhat helpful! 😀

      Reply
  6. Rebecca

    thank you so much for this! I’ve been looking around for cameras and this was very informative! i’m very excited to see your future posts on this topic!
    🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Not a problem Rebecca 😉 I’m getting a few comments requesting follow up posts with more photography tips, so I’ll definitely have to put together a few more!

      Reply
  7. Renuka

    Good advice. But I think even point and shoot click great images. I clicked some nice product photos with my point and shoot Nikon L1 and the results were amazing! of course, A DSLR is more professional. But in my opinion, only those who understand the art of photography and are creative and passionate enough should opt for an SLR.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Sure, you can sometimes you can get great images with a point and shoot, but as someone that has comprehensively used both I can say it’s 1000X easier with a DSLR! It’s true that someone who isn’t passionate about photography may not get the same benefits from a DSLR, but if you’re willing to learn and be creative with it then the purchase will definitely be justified!

      Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m glad you found it useful Kelly! I’ve separated my lens recommendations into a new post as there’s really quite a lot to explain, it will be going up next week. I’d be happy to follow through with recommendations on accessories and add-ons in the future, is there anything in particular you’d like to know about?

      Reply
  8. Lauren Hughes

    Amazing post, I needed a review like this last year when I was looking for my first ever DSLR to replace my old film camera and my point and shoot that used to come everywhere with me. I am now looking for a more lightweight camera, that’s waterproof to come on some more of my adventurous travels. I’m not a fan of carrying my DSLR in 40 degree jungle heat… 🙂 xo

    http://www.hikinginheels.co.uk

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I can totally relate to that, sometimes the weight of a DSLR can be a burden! Especially when you include a decent lens or two. Not sure I know of any decent waterproof cameras (except maybe a GoPro?), let me know if you find one Lauren!

      Reply
  9. Annemarie

    Great article! I sometimes cannot believe the crass difference the cameras’ photos show. But a DSLR is certainly amazing. I just hope in the future they will figure out a less heavy version. It is much easier for travel. I was totally bummed when my DSLR broke a week before my big trip. So I had to buy a bridge camera, which is good but not as good.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Annemarie! The differences are substantial, and sometimes it’s not obvious until you’re comparing exactly the same photo taken by a point and shoot and a DSLR. They certainly are heavier than standard digital cameras, so I guess you’ve got to weigh up whether the increase in photo quality is worth carrying around the extra weight!

      Reply
  10. Leah of The Mochilera Diaries

    I just got the Canon Rebel SL1 and I’m in love with it! Previously had the Rebel XS but I’m loving the extra features my new one has, like HD video and a touch display, along with its super-compact size. Price is usually a big deciding factor when I’m choosing, and this one was a good compromise between not being outrageously expensive and still offering a lot of great features.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’d love to know more about the touch display Leah – do you find it much easier to use than the display on your previous camera? Price if a huge factor for me too, though I did splash out on a new lens last year 😛 Totally worth it though!

      Reply
  11. Diana

    Hi there, thanks for the post. I’ve recently bought the Canon 100D DSLR and trying to work out how to use it for my blog photos. Hoping to see an improvement in them but definitely need to learn the basics with it.

    Diana xx | londongirldiana.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Diana! It does take a bit of getting used to, but once you do I’m sure you’ll see some huge improvements! I’ve been thinking about doing some posts on the camera functions and photography tips, is there anything in particular you’d like to learn about?

      Reply
  12. Olga

    Oh, thanks so much for such a detailed review! I really want to get a new camera, too, but I didn’t know what to choose. Don’t want to buy something and then be disappointed in the result, so thanks for your piece of advice! Guess I’ll will go for the same you have, haha 🙂

    http://www.therussianabroad.com

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It’s a very difficult choice as each camera has different benefits, but I can definitely recommend the Canon I’ve got, it’s a fantastic camera and one of my most valued possessions! 🙂

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS