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In the past year I have had lots of people asking me about what camera they should buy. Entry level digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLR) are now quite affordable and many  people ask if they should buy one. Very often a new camera becomes a consideration just before you are going on a trip, realise that your camera is outdated, and don’t want to miss out on any good photo opportunities.

In light of this I came up with a few things that need to be considered before investing in any camera, especially a DSLR.

How much do you want to spend?

This is always a good place to start. Decide how much you are willing to spend on your new camera and stay within 10% either way. That way you probably won’t suffer buyer’s remorse. The first thing to do is figure out how much you want to spend. Be careful not to buy the first camera you see. Shop around, look at the specials that are on offer and be patient. Visit a few stores and compare prices of the specific camera you are interested in. Sometimes you might have to wait until the end of the month for a special to come up, but it could save you a fair amount of money. Another way to maximise your budget is to look for bundle deals, but be sure that you are getting value for money. Occasionally retailers will bundle a few things together that might look great but has an inferior lens, so look out for that. If you are unsure about something, jump onto the internet (see the recommended sites in this article) and do some online research.

The other thing that I have learned over the past few years is that most things are negotiable. If you are spending over R 2,000.00 on a purchase, ask them what discount they are willing to give – you might be surprised. Most retailers will try and give you some sort of discount if you are paying a fair amount of money for something.

Do some research

Once you know how much you want to spend, start researching what you can get for your budget. You might have to reconsider your budget if the camera you want is a bit more expensive than what you had in mind. The important thing is to be sure that the camera you are about to buy is the one you want, so take a look at a few camera sites online to be sure about the camera specifications and what it can and cannot do. There is nothing more frustrating than buying something, getting home, only to find out that it can’t do a particular function that was on your wish-list, so make sure up front.

For this kind of research I usually go to a website called Digital Photography Review.  They have a comprehensive database of just about every digital camera that has been made in the last four years, and older ones too. They often do a full review on the cameras, so you can see what they liked and disliked about the camera. They also publish sample images on their website, taken with the specific camera, which can be useful too.

I then go to local camera websites to see what I can expect to pay for my new toy. The site that I use most often, simply because they have great prices, is SA Camera.  You can easily jump onto their site and do a quick search to see the price of the camera you want. Sometimes they are running bundle specials too and those can work quite well.

Take a look at Kameraz, they also have great prices  and quality second hand stock. I wouldn’t recommend buying a second hand camera if you don’t know much about cameras, but if you buy from the guys at Kameraz you can be sure you are getting a quality product. They check that each piece of equipment that they are selling is in good condition. Once you are happy with the specs  and the price of your camera, you need to be sure that it will meet your needs as a photographer.

Figure out what you need

Are you a weekend photographer or are you more serious? If you are just looking for a camera to take some snaps of your holiday, then maybe a big bulky SLR might not be the right camera. If you are quite a keen photographer, and want to get more out of your camera, then maybe an SLR is something to consider. If you are just starting out, and this will be your first digital camera, then maybe don’t go the route of a DSLR from the start. Maybe get going with a good quality bridge camera. A bridge camera is one step up from a ‘point and shoot’ camera and has a few extra functions. Once you find that you are familiar with the various settings and are being limited by the camera’s capabilities, then you should look at going up to a DSLR. Be aware that buying a DSLR is an investment. When you buy a DSLR you will often only get one lens with the camera. Over time you will need to buy more lenses, external flash units and other pieces of equipment. It is important to realise that buying a DSLR is just the beginning, be prepared to spend money each year to build up your collection of lenses and accessories.

Buy a well know brand

In the world of photography, you get what you pay for. It’s a good idea to buy a well-known brand, especially when it comes to digital cameras. The ones that I recommend to everyone are Nikon, Canon and Sony. Olympus and Pentax are also good, but be sure that they have a good after-sale service and that they have a full range of lenses and accessories. For the most part, with these brands you really can’t make a mistake. They are all well known camera brands and trusted by professional photographers, so make sure you look at the various options available.

Megapixels

This is always a hotly debated topic. More megapixels doesn’t necessarily indicate a better camera or better images. The megapixels determine the resolution, or clarity, of the image.  Very often this is only of critical importance if you are printing really big images, like A0 and bigger. Most of the cameras today have more than enough megapixels to print out satisfactory images up to A3 size. Be sure that you have your camera set to the highest megapixel settings and the highest image quality, that way you won’t be disappointed with the results. The other important thing to note is that image quality is also determined by lens quality. One of the key things to look for in a bridge camera or an SLR, is a good lens. Make sure that your bridge camera has a substantial optical zoom range. This means that it is using the glass in the lens to zoom into a subject – digital zoom is a not an option. On a DSLR you will often get a kit lens with your camera, but very often these aren’t high quality lenses and will affect your image quality. An important thing to consider when you buy a DSLR is to budget for lenses in the future. Often the lenses can cost more than the camera itself.

A new camera is only the first step

Buying a new camera, especially a DSLR, is only the first step to making great images. After that you will need to buy a tripod, a camera bag, software and some lenses. The key thing is to decide on how much money and time you want to invest in your hobby. There are literally thousands of cameras in the marketplace, but don’t become confused. There are plenty of resources to help you make a good decision. Remember to take a look at the Digital Photography Reviews website. They review just about every digital camera out there and the reviews are free to read. They also review the lenses, so it is a good site to bookmark. You can also Google the cameras you have shortlisted and see what people are saying about them.

Possibly the most important thing you need to think about is learning how to use your new camera. There are plenty of online resources. You can also simply type ‘how to take a sunset picture’ into Google and you will get some pretty good ideas.

A great online resource is the Digital Photography School. They have literally thousands of ‘how to’ articles on anything related to photography.

My recommendation is that you sign up for part time courses with recognised photography training institutions, like the College of Digital Photography in Johannesburg, and start learning more about the fascinating world of image making. Not only will your photography improve in leaps and bounds in a matter of weeks, but you will also be inspired by other photographers – beginners and professionals alike.

Summary

  • Buy the best value camera you can afford, but try to stay within your budget.
  • Research all the options and shortlist them to two or three cameras.
  • Look online and in camera shops to see what price you can get.
  • Ask for a discount if you are spending a fair amount of money.
  • Educate yourself on how to use your new camera and then go out and have fun with it.

Websites

Camera and lens reviews:

www.dpreview.com

SA online camera shops:

www.sacamera.co.za

www.kameraz.co.za

Photography training:

www.digital-photography-school.com

College of Digital Photography:

www.codp.co.za



3 Responses to “How to choose your next digital camera”

  1. Dean Herrick - 082 558 3722

    Dear Barry – what a comprehnsive photographic coverage !
    I am 65 years of age and started out as a photographer (Hasselblad etc)., married in 1970 and could’nt afford to keep going in the profession. Migrated into Marketing and Sales + advertising until today, still keeping my eye in, but in a very less sophisticated way. Now that retirement is looming, I need to develop the old skills again, by purchasing a 2nd hand digital (I am into doors/windows/old ‘everything’). Lanscapes are nice-to-have, but not where I see the bulk of my future ‘art’ developing. I live in Cape Town (Kenilworth), need some advise, tuition and direction, wanting to spend about R5-7, 000.00 and manipulate in the computer and print to canvas/parchment paper etc., I need some help to make the rest of my photographic life meaniful, productive and if possible, lucrative. (I’ll print through a print shop/house – no in-house facility envisaged).

    Reply
  2. Barry J Brady

    Hi Dean

    Thanks for your great comment. I am so glad that you are getting back into photography, it is a wonderful art form. Some quick tips on buying a second hand camera and photo editing suite etc:

    1. Be sure to ask the seller how many shutter actuations (i.e. how many photos the camera has taken) have been made. This will give you some idea as to how much the camera has been used, similar to mileage on a car when you buy a second hand car. There are no real guidelines here, but maybe get the number from the seller and chat to a reputable retailer in Cape Town like Orms to see if the number of actuations is too high.
    2. Be careful if you are buying a digital SLR from a professional photographer. Most professionals will look after the equipment, but it has been used quite a bit (generally)
    3. Like I said in the article, go for the well known brands, Nikon, Canon etc, that way you can be sure that you are getting a good camera
    4. You can buy a second hand camera in many different places, but there are 2 places I recommend, Kameraz is one, but they are in Jhb, in Cape Town, I would recommend Orms, they sell second hand kit. You might pay a little more than if you bought direct from the seller, but at least you can be sure that what you are buying is good kit. Take a look at their site here: https://www.ormsdirect.co.za/used-gear/
    5. On photo editing, you can get Photoshop Elements 9, it is a good editing suite and you can get it for only R 958.00 at SA Camera, here is the link: http://www.sacamera.co.za/product/1018119/Adobe_Photoshop_Elements_9_for_Windows_and_Mac/
    6. On the printing side, you can print through a local company called Print Wild. Their prices are pretty good and they deliver to anywhere in the country, take a look at http://www.printwild.co.za

    Hope this gives you some further insights…If you need any more info, let me know or drop me an email…

    Reply
  3. Online Camera Store

    Thank you for these guidelines you given this. If there is a second hand digital camera that still looks good maybe I go for it if I don’t have a budget yet.

    Reply

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