Get into digital (part 1)

So, you’ve seen some cool pictures on the instaface and want a ‘nice camera’ to learn photography. Well, buckle up Jimmy. Here’s your crash course on getting started in the world of digital. We’ll start with the purchase of that ‘nice camera’.

Sony a-900; Minolta 35mm 1.4G; ISO 200, 1/500 f4

You’ve likely worked out a budget already, but in the odd case that you haven’t, you should. At a bare minimum, you’ll need a camera body, lens, and memory card. So plan accordingly. I’m not going to tell you what to buy, but will provide guidance so you will feel more confident in making that decision for yourself.

There are 2 main types of ‘serious’ digital cameras. DSLRs and mirrorless. Both categories likely have offerings that are within your budget, so here is a quick breakdown of them:

  • DSLRs: Bigger, heavier, louder (has a mirror), access to native-mount legacy lenses, great battery life, more than adequate burst rates
  • Mirrorless: Smaller (in some cases too small), lighter, quieter (no mirror), access to legacy lenses via adapter (which may not work with native auto focus), battery life ranges from poor to acceptable, higher burst rates

Worked out which option sounds right for you? Cool. Here are some recommendations to aid in your search.

Basic features:

  • aperture priority mode
  • shutter-speed priority mode
  • manual mode
  • spot metering

Access to a physical button/dial/wheel to change the following:

  • ISO
  • shutter-speed
  • aperture
  • focus mode

That’s it. If you want to learn about the technical aspects of photography, those are the bare-bones core features you will need. Hammer, screwdriver, wrench. If you are just going to stay in P mode, save your cash for car parts and use your phone.

Sony a-6000; Sigma 30mm 2.8 DN Art; ISO 200, 1/60 f2.8

Feel free at this point to go ahead and start researching models in your budget range to get an idea of what’s out there. Don’t worry about brand. In terms of image quality, there isn’t much variation across them and being a beginner, you wouldn’t notice even if there was. What you should concern yourself with are other things, like how the cameras from different brands feel in your hand, what basic features they offer, and how easily (re: quickly) you can access those features. A camera is a tool. You want one that fits your hand and will do what you want it to do, when you want it to do it.

Which brings us to the next step, go to a store and play around with cameras from a few different brands. The layout is relatively consistent across models within brands, so even if you play around with a camera out of your range, there is a good chance some of its DNA is in a cheaper (or more expensive) body.

Here are some important things to consider when you get touchy feely at the store:

  • Are you able to access the items listed above without entering a menu? If they are buried in a menu, how easy are they to change?
  • How intuitive are the menus?
  • How does the camera feel in your hand? A bit small? Too heavy?
  • Can you reach the necessary buttons with the fingers on your right hand, while holding the camera?
  • Did you accidentally hit any buttons while holding the camera?
  • How does the viewfinder look?
  • How does the LCD screen look? It is able to move in ways that you prefer?
  • Does the sound the camera makes when you take a picture annoy you?
Minolta a-7D; Minolta AF 24mm 2.8; ISO 200, 1/60 f8

After that step, you should now know the type of camera you want, what features to look for, and what brand you like. The final thing to do is decide what lens you want to pair with it. More on that in part deux.

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