Let me see if I can help steer you in the right direction.
Before I go any further, though, let it be known that I own a Canon camera and I know more about those types of cameras than other brands. This is not because of brand loyalty, it’s just what I use and I like it.
I find a lot of people worry too much when starting out with a first DSLR. They read a lot of stuff on the internet (yes, I love irony) and get freaked out and worry when there it no need. If you buy a brand like Sony or Nikon or Pentax or Canon, don’t worry about who has this or that better lens. Don’t worry about who has cool accessories. Don’t worry about buying something out-dated because everything becomes outdated within a year.
Stop chasing your tail, dive in!
What To Look For
Ergonomics – How Does It Feel?
You’re going to need to go into a camera store for this one. The most important factor in enjoying your new camera is how it feels in your hands.
You can look at all the reviews online, judge all the 9.6 and 8.9 ratings and 5-star recommendations you like, but if that highly rated camera doesn’t feel right to you, I guarantee that six months from now you won’t want to pick it up. It needs to feel right in your hand and in use.
Visit a store or even rent some of the options below from a store or online from places such as BorrowLenses.com. I can’t tell you how it should feel, other than comfortable, balanced and enjoyable.
Some manufacturers organize their menus across the top and then down. Others go down and then right and then down again. It seems silly, but try navigating around the menus to see if you can find things. If the menus aren’t intuitive, then six months from now you will not enjoy the camera as much because you will still be fighting with it.
Next, make sure the camera can focus at a decent speed and with nine or more focus points. Entry level cameras have less focus points and that can be frustrating, but you don’t need 61 focus points to make great photos.
Practice with a nice lens attached, such as a 50mm f/1.8, which just about every manufacturer builds. Pick points near and far and see how quick the camera is. If you have kids or pets, this will be very important.
This bit of info is best grabbed online. You’re not going to have time to compare ISO performance in the store in any meaningful way. Check out the suggestion below for DPReview to find some excellent ways of checking ISO performance.
Why is this important? You don’t need to shoot at ISO 12,800 all the time, but good ISO performance will help you get photos in lower light without using the flash. Your child on stage at a play. Parties where you don’t want to be the obnoxious one flashing everyone. Weddings. Dimly lit restaurants. Any place where there is not a ton of light benefits from increasing the ISO instead of using a flash. Look at the results for ISO 3200 to see if it would be okay for you.
For a primer on ISO, click here.
Buffer Size (For RAW Shooting)
There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for your camera before you can take another picture. This is dues to your camera’s buffer size.
Your camera has a buffer because it takes longer to write the information from your picture to the card than it does to take it. Without the buffer, you would have to wait for each picture to write before taking another and that would be painfully slow.
The buffer size will be listed on DPReview.com. Go for something around 5 or more if you can. This is most important if you take a lot of shots in a row, as when chasing your children, trying to get one good photo.
Check Out DPReviews.com And Amazon
DPReview.com can be very handy. They have excellent reviews and this useful side-by-side comparison tool. Take some of the suggestions I mention here, as well as what you hear from your friends, and put them on the screen side by side.
Also check Amazon.com’s reviews to see what owners are saying. Just realize, there are as many opinions are there are people.
For options, I’m going to point out some of the latest and greatest cameras as of October, 2012. I will update this list every year around this time.
I’m not going to give an exhaustive list of all the options, just one from each of the major manufacturers that I think would help you get started. If you find this post helpful, click through one of the links here when making a purchase as it helps fuel this website. I’m also including the Amazon link as it will show real-time prices for comparison sake.
From teaching hundreds of clients on dozens of cameras, I found the Sony line of cameras to be excellent for beginners. The A37 has the best user help and it helps you learn as you shoot. It’s a fun camera as well. I would shy away from the Olympus E-5 for now as there aren’t a lot of lenses for it and it’s their only DSLR. The others all offer features a beginner will enjoy.
Lastly, don’t forget to consider what your close friends have. It may seem silly, but if you can borrow their lenses or they can help you find things in the menu, it will make photography more fun.
Canon EOS Rebel T4i
I hope this guide is helpful for you. If you have any questions on models, I just might be able to help. Leave a comment in the comment section below and I will be glad to help.
Looking For Lens Suggestions?
I have a few good ideas in this post.
31+ Days To Better Photography is a series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey on The Carey Adventures.Com. The series is designed to unravel the mysteries of photography so you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.