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How to Choose Your First DSLR Camera

Choose Your First DSLR Camera

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I’m not into shopping for shoes or clothes or food or jewelry. You know what I am into shopping for? Camera gear! I bought my first DSLR camera in 2007. It was a Canon 30D that is still in great condition. A couple of years ago I upgraded to a Canon 5D classic. Recently we have been in the midst of camera shopping again. Enoch just bought a new camera for his Teen Missions Team to Tanzania this summer. His cousin who is visiting loved it so much he bought one too! So I thought now was the perfect time to write a little tutorial on how to choose your first DSLR camera.

What is a DSLR?

DSLR stands for digital single lens reflex. Prior to digital, this kind of camera (with interchangeable lenses) was called an SLR camera, or single lens reflex. To state things in the easiest possible way (since you are here to learn which camera to buy, not how they work) let me say this basically means: what you see through the viewfinder is the picture you are taking. Have you ever taken a picture with a point and shoot and thought “I included that tree” or “I thought I was closer? With an SLR or DSLR you get exactly what you see.

What do you want the camera for?

Ask yourself what you want the camera for. Since this is your first DSLR I m going to assume you want it to take better photos, not to start a business next week.  Most people buy their first DSLR because either they want to take better snapshots or they want to improve their photography skills. These are both great reasons to upgrade from a cell phone or point and shoot camera. Right out of the box the DSLR is going to take better images than a $50 point and shoot, but it won’t have you taking “professional looking” images. For that, you will need to learn to shoot in manual and possibly invest in some higher quality lens. Here is a great example of photos with the camera straight out of the box (auto) and one where I chose the settings (manual).

As you can see in the first photo, taken in auto, my son is way too dark…but when I switch to manual and choose my own settings, I suddenly have a well-exposed image! Obviously it takes some camera knowledge and plenty of practice, but my point is, by choosing your own settings you can often get a better exposure than the camera. This is the real beauty of DSLR cameras.

What are the capabilities of different cameras?

I always recommend a Canon Rebel to people looking to buy their first DSLR camera. Why? 

1. I shoot Canon, so it is the brand I am most familiar with.

2. It is affordable. For $399 you can purchase a Canon Rebel and begin learning to shoot in manual to improve your photography. Enoch and his cousin Elijah just both bought this Canon Rebel and 10 piece accessory kit.

{The Nikon equivalent is this Nikon D3300. It is also slightly more expensive at $496}

Both of these cameras have video capability! Something which was very appealing to these two teen boys.

3. The Canon Rebel is a great camera that takes great images. Here are a few photos that Enoch has taken over the last couple of weeks. He is using his new Rebel and the kit lens (the lens that comes on the camera). All of these images were taken in manual. He is trying to learn the camera quickly, before he leaves of this summer adventure in Tanzania!

Tilly absolutely rocks her Rebel! Her camera is very old (it was bought used in 2009) but she knows how to use it. With a quality lens (she is using the Canon 100mm macro lens here), she can get amazing shots!

I love the Rebel because it is so affordable, but with a few great lenses and some knowledge, it is a great little camera. And if you only want to take nice snapshots, you’ll be happy with this camera as well.

What do I buy next?

The next thing you will want to do is upgrade your lens. The lens that comes on your camera is a called a kit lens. It has an adjustable focal length (meaning you can turn the lens to get closer or further away from your subject). I always recommend Canon’s Nifty Fifty as a great “first” lens. The Canon 50 mm 1.8 is a great prime (you cannot adjust the focal length) lens. This lens costs only $125 and you can go down to an aperture of 1.8. 

-Read this post about how to shoot in manual if you don’t know what I mean by aperture –

After that, it really depends on what you want to shoot (wildlife? sports? portraits? scenery?) There are dozens of lens choices out there! Keep in mind, that you may “outgrow” the capabilities of your camera over time and decided to upgrade, but your lenses can move with you from camera to camera! A quality lens can really help you move your photography to the next level, once you have mastered the basics.

I recommend buying a camera, reading the manual and getting some good books on photography! Also, look into joining couple of photography forums such as Clickin Moms or The Photographer Within. Facebook is also full of pages and groups dedicated to photography. 

Here are a couple of great photography books to get your started:

National Geographic Complete Photography

National Geographic’s Photography Guide for Kids. I relied heavily on this book when I was learning. I found the “for kids” part very helpful. Everything was laid out simply and clearly. I felt like my brain was so full of learning new photography terms that a simplified book really helped me with the basics.

I hope that helped! Please let me know if you have any more questions.



    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I am hoping this guide will help you not be so intimidated. Your really can’t go wrong with the Rebel as your first DSLR. It is a great, affordable camera to learn on.

  1. Erin

    I have been itching to buy a Rebel for years. I’ve always shot wih Canon as well so it seemed like it would be the smoothest transition. It’s so hard for me to spend big chunks of money on non-necessities, though. I’m paranoid I’ll end up being terrible at taking pictures or just not use it enough to validate the purchase. How do you feel about buying used vs new? I mostly see pretty big sets with lots of lenses and accessories on Craigslist so the total price is never really lower than buying the kit you posted. But then I’m paranoid about it breaking or not working and not being under a warrantee. See? I’m such a chicken!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I totally get the “fear” of making a big purchase. Even my photographer friends get nervous when buying a new lens. Like I said, even in auto, you are going to get great pictures day to day. Then, if you want to take it farther, you can. I bought my 5D Classic used, Tilly bought her Rebel used and I have bought several lenses used. We have always bought through trusted buyers (B&H or people I “knew” online from photography groups). Craigslist would make me a bit nervous. If you are going to drop $400, I would buy a new Rebel, knowing it would be in perfect condition.

  2. Rachel

    Thanks for this! I’ve been wanting to buy a good camera for awhile but it’s really overwhelming with all the products and info. It will be nice to have a good camera for taking pictures of my kids… my phone camera isn’t very good and I feel like I am missing so many awesome moments waiting for it to take a picture or focus or whatever.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I’m so glad I could be helpful! If you are going from a phone to a DSLR you’ll be thrilled!

  3. Kristie M

    I want to learn more about how to use a DSLR. I am a visual learner. I want someone to say push this button, then this happens and show me a picture. 🙂 I might be asking too much. 🙂

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Well, unfortunately, it takes pushing more than one button…push about three, and you’ll get what you want 🙂

  4. Kristal

    Great recommendations and tips. I started on the Nikon D40! Such a little camera it was. My favorite lens was the 50mm until I got the 40 mm micro.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thanks. My current favorite lens is my new 28 mm. But my “favorite” lens changes frequently…

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