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How to Choose Your First DSLR Camera

Dianna Labrien, Freelance Writer and Content Strategist, @DiLabrien
08.29.16
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It doesn't matter if photographyis a new pursuit for you, or if you've been taking pictures for years. If you are considering buying a DSLR camera, you on the road to making a decision that will take your photography to the next level. The only problem is that there are so many possibilities for you to choose from. How do you determine which features are right for you? It can be hard to sort out all of the specs between all of the available model. That's okay, though, this article will tell you exactly how to choose the DSLR that is ideally suited to you.

First Look at The Camera's Sensor Size

If crack open the shell of a DSLR camera, you will find an image sensor. This is what picks up the image you are looking at through your viewfinder, then transmits that image to your camera's memory card. In order to take the clearest pictures possible, you need to have a bigger sensor. If you've ever zoomed in a photograph and noticed that the more it was magnetized the blurrier it got, it was possibly taken with a DSLR with a small sensor.

The largest sensor or full frame sensor provide the highest level of clarity and quality. These cameras are also exceedingly expensive. If you are looking for more of a beginner's model, you probably will want to look for a camera with a crop sensor. Specific crop sensor sizes vary from model to model. However, one thing remains the same. In this case, bigger really is better. Your job is to find the balance between your budget and your needs as a photographer or hobbyist.

Now Check Out Resolution

If you walk through your local camera store, or if you listen to or read any camera advertisements, you will hear one word over and over again: megapixels. In fact, this feature is so overemphasized that many assume that it is the gold standard of camera quality. That's not to say that this is not an important feature. It is, but chances are you've been taught that it is much more meaningful than it really is.

The truth is this. If your camera has seven or more megapixels, you will have all of the image sharpness you need. Paired with the fact that most beginner's level cameras have more than 15, you can probably relax a bit on this point. Beware of any seller who tries to justify an inflated camera cost by talking about megapixel resolution. It's claptrap. If you do a side by side comparison of two cameras with different megapixels and you see a quality difference, you should probably look at sensor size or other features.

Now Let's Think About Videos

Even if you don't think you'll be shooting lots of videos, it's still nice to have a camera that has decent video capabilities. Obviously, if shooting video is a real priority for you, it's important to take a close look at how it handles videos. For example, is it important for you to be able to shoot in HD? Do you need a camera that is compatible with HD 1080P? Do you want a camera with a higher frame rate, or is that not on your radar? If you are still tackling a learning curve when it comes to photography, you will probably be doing yourself a favor by selecting a camera that is at least HD capable. You'll probably find that the price difference isn't all that staggering.

What About Modes?

Every DSLR camera has a set of modes available on it. The specific modes that are available depend on the model that you purchase. For example, a Nikon Digital SLR camera features an exposure mode. If you go for a true beginner's camera you'll have even more modes available to you. Each mode helps you to take the best pictures possible for the conditions that you are in. There might be modes for shooting pictures at night, for snapping pictures of your food, taking portrait pictures vs. landscape pictures, or taking action shots. Some cameras even have a guide mode. This is essentially a tutorial that helps you in real time as you are taking pictures.

Professionals and seasoned photographers don't usually rely on these tools. Ideally, you will learn to work without them as well. However, there is nothing wrong with getting this kind of assistance when you need it. If you are comparing cameras, look at the modes they have to offer and then compare them with your needs and desires. What do you take pictures of? When do you usually have your camera out and working? How much help do you really need?

Moving on to Editing Capabilities

Today, many cameras come with editing capabilities. This means you can directly edit the photos from the screen. You can use auto adjust features, apply filters, and do a few other little things. Obviously, these on camera capabilities aren't going to be nearly as powerful as the ones that your desktop photo editing software has, but it's still kind of nifty.

Your Camera's Lens

Chances are the camera you purchase will come with a kit lens. This is a zoom lens that is 18 to 55 millimeters. Like most factory parts, they aren't the highest quality you can get. However, for most people, they are more than accurate. If you can find a good deal on a better lens while you are shopping, you should definitely grab that as well. If you are buying used, ask the seller what they have and what they are willing to throw in. In fact, no matter where you shop, ask what they are willing to add to sweeten the deal. You could end up with an extra memory card or camera bag for less money than you would buy each piece separately.

Durability

The final consideration you have is the camera's body an durability. Once again, this is where you consider where and how you will be using your camera. If you are going to be out on rough terrain, on the water, or in the middle of the action, you'll need a camera that can stand up to rough treatment. If you're taking family photos or shooting landscapes, you have less to worry about. The most important thing here is to read the reviews. You might not need the toughest model around, but you certainly don't want a camera that is going to meet an early demise just because you drop it.

Finally - Take a Test Drive

Ask the seller if he has one out of the box that you can test out. Then, shoot a few pictures. Think about how the camera feels in your hands. Is it a good fit for you? How does the weight feel? Once you find a camera with features that meet your needs, add it to your list of possibilities. Then, compare what you have found and select the best one.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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