What to Look for When Buying a DSLR Camera (Buying Guide)
Last Updated on November 3, 2020 by Editorial Team
Cameras – whether DSLR(digital single-lens reflex) or Mirrorless is the first choice of photographers who want to capture alluring and breathtaking images.
DSLR or Mirrorless cameras are not only for pros but are also the choice of intermediate users as well as beginners. Lots of people have queries like which camera is better in a particular price range.
If you are a beginner, you will be curious to know what camera should I buy? Which specification and functionality matter the most. Some really matter a lot and some you can ignore.
We will go through these specifications and discuss what to look for when buying your first DSLR & any other camera. If you are not interested in reading this in-depth camera buying guide, check out these top DSLR cameras under $500.
If we talk about specifications, where do we find them? On marketplaces such as Amazon, Flipkart, BestBuy etc or any comparison websites. You can easily learn about the specifications and features of any camera, DSLR or mirrorless. You can compare any of them based upon the functionalities and make a decision about which one is better.
Suppose, camera A has 5 specifications better than camera B. But, wait. Are you sure the camera with more specifications is the best for you? It may be Yes or No. So it is important to know which specifications are important for you than only you will be able to choose a DSLR camera for yourself.
First of all, let us clear the frequently asked question.
What to choose – DSLRs or Mirrorless Cameras?
There is a similar method of clicking photographs in most of the DSLRs. In DSLRs light will enter through the camera lens, it will travel through the prism and reaches the viewfinder after it bounces off the mirror. The photo is created when the shutter button is pressed which flips up the mirror, hence allowing light to hit camera’s image sensor. Mirrorless cameras lack mirror and an optical viewfinder which is the reason why they are small and lightweight as compared to DSLRs.
A good picture can be clicked either from DSLR or Mirrorless camera. So before you decide which camera to buy, you must go through the pros and cons of both. There is a list which consists of the pros and cons of both types of cameras, and consider it before you decide which type of camera will be best for you.
|DSLR Camera||Mirrorless Camera|
|Comparatively larger||Small size and light bodyweight|
|Better Auto-focus||Auto-focus improving|
|Can preview exact image captured||Can preview Image close to final, not exact|
|Longer battery life||Best suited for video shooting|
|More option to choose the lens||Fast shooting speed|
|Better clarity and dynamic range provided by the Optical viewfinder||Exactly what camera’s sensor sees is shown by the Electronic viewfinder|
So you can see that both systems have their pros & cons. So which of the two is best?
Best DSLR for Beginners
Best Lightweight & compact Mirrorless Digital Camera
It’s really difficult to say which system is best since the decision-making process is very subjective. But if you’re are purely focused on video then mirrorless is your best bet most of the time. If photos are your major concern and sticking with the DSLR will give you the best result most of the time.
Image Sensors – APS-C vs. Full Frame vs. Micro Four Thirds Sensor
While you are buying a camera, image sensor will be an important factor to keep in mind as it plays an important role in image quality. The image sensor is a light-sensitive component which captures the image as soon as the shutter is pressed. While buying a DSLR, there will be an option to choose from the APS-C image sensor(crop sensor) or Full Frame image sensor. But when it comes to mirrorless cameras, same image sensors are available along with an additional option i.e. Micro Four Thirds Sensor.
Smartphones and cameras produce different quality images even after being of the same megapixel, this is because of image sensors. When compared to DSLR or Mirrorless camera, the image sensor of smartphones and point-to-point cameras are very small.
Ultimately the size of image sensors determines the amount of light used to create an image and more light will produce better digital information to create a high-quality image. Full Frame and APS-C image sensors are bigger as compared to Micro Four Thirds Sensor.
What to consider – Camera Kit or Camera only?
While you decide to purchase a camera there will be an option to choose between Camera kit or Camera only(camera body).
Buying a camera only will make sense if you already own a camera with its lens collection or you prefer to select a speciality lens. But please don’t forget to check if your pre-owned lens is compatible with your new buy. The other reason for buying a camera only will be the budget.
When it comes to camera kit, it consists of camera body and lenses(one or more). Lenses which comes with camera kit are generally very versatile and can perform well over a wide range of shooting situations. The biggest advantage of these cameras is that later you can buy any interchangeable lens for getting specialised shots such as long zoom, panoramic landscape, extreme close-ups etc.
Megapixel is defined as a collection of 1 million pixels. Pixels are the smallest unit of an image which is in a form of a square that is arranged like pieces of puzzle or mosaic to form an image. Megapixels determine the resolution of the image. i.e. How many pixels are packed in a small space?
You must have heard of a renowned fact “More the pixel, better the resolution and image quality” but there is a catch in this phrase that not all megapixels are created equal.
|Print Size||Image dimension (300dpi)||Megapixels needed|
|4 * 6″||1200 * 1800 pixels||2.1 MP|
|5 * 7″||1500 * 2100 pixels||3.1 MP|
|8 * 10″||2400 * 3000 pixels||7.2 MP|
|8 * 12″||2400 * 3600 pixels||8.6 MP|
|11 * 14″||3300 * 4200 pixels||13.8 MP|
|16 * 24″||4800 * 7200 pixels||34.5 MP|
|20 * 24″||6000 * 7200 pixels||43.2 MP|
Nowadays, even smartphones are having such high megapixel cameras. So, what’s the point of buying a DSLR or mirrorless camera?
The answer is simple, as phone sensors or point-to-point camera sensors are smaller in size, it becomes difficult to pack millions of pixels on it. To do so, there is a trade-off i.e manufacturers simply reduce the size of pixels. This is the main reason why DSLRs or mirrorless cameras still have better image quality even after being of the same megapixels.
The size of the image sensor is bigger, and so is the size of pixels which absorbs light better, will produce better colour and are not as prone to “noise” or “colour distortion”.
If everything else will remain equal then increasing megapixel will be an up-gradation. But it is not so, especially when we look over different types of cameras.
For example, an 18 megapixel DSLR will always outperform when compared with a 24-megapixel point-to-point camera or a 32-megapixel smartphone camera.
In DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras, components are advanced as compared to other cameras, and one of them is image processor which acts as a brain of a digital camera. It is very difficult to compare camera on the basis of the image processor as they are not offered with easily comparable specifications by the manufacturers. One more thing is considered i.e. proprietary software designed to function for cameras’ image processor, together they produce artistic and effect capabilities of these cameras.
It is difficult to compare image processors from different brands, so the comparison is done within a brand using relevant information. If you want to compare between different brands, then look for the brand which fulfils your needs i.e. if it can handle processor-intensive tasks, frames per second in burst mode and on the fly autofocusing capabilities.
As technology is evolving, so is the image processor. Beyond this, some camera has begun utilizing multiple processors which will enhance their speed and performance.
Some basic elements of exposure are ISO Sensitivity, Shutter Speed and Aperture. In DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, the user has full control over these settings. If you are not familiar with such manual settings, then don’t worry – camera already have easy-to-use automatic settings which will do the task.
ISO Sensitivity shows the measurement sensitivity of the sensor to the incoming light. Light sensitivity is adjusted based on the shooting condition i.e. higher ISO for dim lighting and lower ISO for bright lighting. Due to ISO Sensitivity, it is very flexible to shoot in a broader range of lighting and hence, doesn’t require external flash.
The image sensor’s light sensitivity (ISO) is an essential thing to consider when acquiring and crafting any digital photographic image, and the reciprocal scale basically trades off a smooth final image with higher ISO rating.
When shooting in low light condition with high ISO number, you will get a sharper image with low noise plus you can control ISO sensitivity manually. But if you are a beginner, you can go with the auto setting.
Shutter Speed will determine the amount of light to stream into camera i.e. shutter open for longer will allow more light to enter and making image more blur but it can be controlled manually. In low light condition shutter speed will be longer to let more light enter, but the case will opposite in bright light.
To avoid unwanted blur, faster shutter speed is required. Sometimes you may want a slight motion blur for giving it an artistic feel, this can be achieved by slow shutter speed combined with subject movement. If in a still shot, you want to let in the brilliance of all available light then go for slow shutter speed.
If you ask from a professional how to choose camera shutter speed, they will tell, it all depends at the focal length you shoot photos. You also need to do experiments with different speeds in different conditions to find shutter speed to capture beautiful photos.
There is an aperture range in every lens and its adjustments are measured as f-stops. Higher f-stop number will let less light to pass through the lens due to a smaller aperture and it also increases distance in front of and behind the focus point which makes the image look sharper.
Similarly, lower f-stop number will let more light pass through lens due to larger aperture and it decreases the distance between in front and behind the focus point which makes the image look diffused giving it a soft and stylish effect.
The ability of cameras to utilize very fast lens will allow you to enhance cameras’ ability to give great shots, even in extremely dim lighting.
Other Feature to be considered
Some of the features mentioned below can also be found in point-and-shoot cameras or even in smartphone cameras. The only difference is that it works better in DSLRs or mirrorless cameras because of superior components, speed and performance.
Generally, mono or stereo sounds are recorded with your video clips, but there are some cameras which allow recording voice annotations to attach with images. This feature is very helpful while recording identifying information about the subject of each image and are often found in high-end DSLRs.
Today cameras’ come with various connectivity features such as inbuilt WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC stc. These features allow you to do instant sharing to smartphones or tablets, wireless sharing. Now even cameras can be controlled from mobile phones as they come with a compatible app. So why wait until you get home to upload everything?
This feature set apart DSLR and Mirrorless cameras from other cameras, because of their light-gathering sensors and lenses let them capture full HD videos with detailed images and bright colours. Some high-end cameras are even able to record video in 4K, plus many more cameras include autofocus technology so you can capture your moving subject.
Burst Mode is defined as a method of taking successive photos by holding the shutter button. It is measured as frames per second i.e. number of pictures clicked in one second of time which can be 10 or more shots per second from which best one can be selected. This mode requires fast processing speed and power that’s why DSLR and mirrorless cameras are suited for this demanding and high-speed mode. It needs to be outfitted with a fast memory card that can keep up with it.
HDR Mode stands for High Dynamic Range which can click the image of each selected scene at different exposures, then determines the best part of each photo and discard the rest. Best parts from each photo are then combined to form one great picture. This feature sometimes saves you from losing a great shot because of uneven light exposure.
Multipoint Autofocus and scene recognition Modes
Now every camera comes with autofocus and most cameras will let you choose the type of scene, such as indoor, landscape, portrait and modes etc. But there is more to expect i.e multipoint autofocus and scene-recognition modes provides precise automatic control over many more settings.
Multiple-point autofocus helps in capturing action shots by locking onto moving subjects, tracking and keeping them in constant focus. Cameras are provided with automatic scene recognition, so you need not select correct mode and right exposure.
Some cameras may do a variety of autofocus and exposure adjustment on the fly, all in the time it takes to press the shutter button. When it comes to Face recognition feature, the camera will adjust the balance and focus points for showing people’s faces in the best light.
Some basic elements of exposure are ISO Sensitivity, Shutter Speed and Aperture. In DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, user has full control over these settings. If you are not familiar with such manual settings, then don’t worry – camera already have easy-to-use automatic settings which will do the task.
Tripods are the first accessory any camera owner should look for, or at least a monopod. Image Stabilization doesn’t matter, if you are looking for smooth pans and tilts, a tripod is a must. Tripods vary in price based on various factors such as material, manufacturer, height, load capacity, locking mechanisms, type of fluid head, it is a bowl mount or not, it is a counterbalanced head or not and whether the head is included or not.
Mostly tripods fit all sorts of cameras, so you just need to decide what features you want in your tripod and the budget.
Here is a suggestion:
Selection of lenses can make or break the quality of your image. Most important point to consider while selecting a lens is which focal length you will need. There are variety of lenses you can choose from, such as wider lenses(18mm or 24mm lens), normal lenses(35mm or 50mm lenses), telephoto lenses(200mm or greater lens), prime lenses and zoom lenses.
Here are some lenses you may need:
- Sigma 18-35mm F/1.8 DC HSM ART Lens
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART Lens
- Zeiss Milvus Series of Lenses for Canon and Nikon Full Frame Lenses
- Rokinon Xeen Lenses
If you are unable to find the ideal setting for a shoot then filters is what you need. It will help you to get creative looks even without ideal shoot setting. Variable ND Filter should be the first filter you should get as it uses two polarizing filters which vary the amount of light passing through the lens to the sensor when rotated.
Below is the list of suggested filters:
- Tiffen Variable Neutral Density (ND) Filter – 2 to 8 Stop
- B + W Circular Polarizer Multi-Coated Filter
Cameras do come with a built-in flash which sometimes may not serve the purpose as it can’t offer the power of an external flash. If you want more control over lighting then go for an external flash. Some of the advantages of external flash include better illumination for a cleaner and softer look, more natural lighting along with red-eye reduction and flexibility in the positioning of lighting. Lastly, it will not drain your camera battery as it runs on its own battery source.
Memory cards are very important while you are shooting, but choosing an appropriate memory card is really important.
For this you need to consider the following features:
- Capacity– This is the most important feature to be considered while selecting a memory card. The capacity of a memory card is measured in Gigabytes or GB, and it may vary from 2GB to 128GB or more. When it comes to the question, how many photos or minutes of video can be stored in a memory card, then the simple answer is that it depends on file size and its resolution.
- Type– Cameras doesn’t come with memory cards, you have to order them with your camera. There are different types of memory card exist, such as SDHC(secure digital high capacity) or compact flash. It is important to purchase a correct memory card for the camera as some cameras do accept multiple types of memory cards and always carry a backup memory card in case you end up filling one.
- Speed– A high-speed memory card is a must, especially during burst mode or movie mode. If it is not so then you may lose a perfect shot as your camera may take pictures faster which your card can’t handle. The speed of a memory card depends on its data transfer rate which should be at least 20 MB/sec. When it comes to action shots with high frame/sec bursts and HD video recordings, the memory card with data transfer rate of 80 MB/sec or is recommended.
Camera and its accessories need extra care and protection as they are delicate and expensive at the same time. For protecting them from getting damaged, one needs to have a dedicated camera bag which provides space and compartments to store cameras and related accessories along with padding to protect them. You can always select a camera bag based on your requirement such as the size of the camera, the number of lenses etc.
Almost all cameras come with a removable battery so it is really important to always have a backup battery at ready so that you can plug the discharged battery on the charger and continue with the backup to never run out of power.
If you own a DSLR or mirrorless camera, then you may not be limited to capturing images and if you are into video making then it is important to have good audio. Sometimes the inbuilt microphones of the camera don’t perform their job efficiently and hence require a dedicated sound equipment. There is certain equipment which will fulfil your need i.e. Shotgun Mics, lavalier mic, Video Mics etc.
Some audio mics are suggested as follows:
- Rode Microphones VideoMic Pro
- Zoom H4n Pro Handy Mobile 4-Track Recorder
- Sennheiser EW 112-p G3-A Wireless Microphone Kit
There is a very minor difference between a good and great quality video i.e. lighting and its composition. Lighting can vary from one scene to another or from one setup to another. Lighting have become budget friendly with the advent of LED lighting for videos.
Here is the list of some inexpensive lightings you can start with:
- Yongnuo YN-1200 3200-5500K Dimmable LED Video Light
- Yongnuo YN-216 3200-5500K Dimmable LED Video Light
- Aputure Amaran 3 Point Light Kit
Cameras and their accessories are very delicate and hence require a dedicated cleaning kit to keep your lens and therefore your image clean. This kit consists of everything you will need to clean your camera safely and remove dust from sensitive areas of your camera. But cleaning sensor is strictly not recommended unless and until you know what you are doing.
Final Tips to buy your first DSLR or Mirrorless camera
At this stage, you must be knowing different specification, features to look after for while buying a new camera. So here are some steps which will help you buy your first DSLR camera with the right lens.
Deciding your budget
If you are a beginner and decide to purchase an entry level DSLR camera. The first thing you should decide is your budget. If you know your budget, its become easy to compare between two or three best product lying in that range.
What’s your priority
The second thing you need to ask yourself is what’s your priority in particular DSLR. There is a couple of question you have to ask. What you should consider most – Image quality or camera features?
If your preference is image quality then you can consider low light performance, colour depth, depth, dynamic range etc. You can compare these few things between any two or three DSLR and can make a decision.
But what if you care for features more. You need to travel outside with your camera and need to shoots outside. You will definitely need features like autofocus, touchscreen. Wifi features in the camera help you transfer your file directly to your smartphone. If these all things are a priority, you should definitely search these things in your DSLR.
There are very few DSLRs which have got everything. For example, Canon 7O D is an old mid-range camera has a dual pixel autofocus system. But you will not find this feature in 5D Mark 3 and will find it 5D Mark 4.
Hence it is really important to decide whether you need more image quality or different features of the camera.
Once you figure out the budget and what is important for you in a camera, it is easy to select a DSLR or mirrorless in that particular range.
It is recommended not to purchase any lens in a hurry or if there is an offer only. You can only go for a body and a kit lens. Now you have a good DSLR body in your particular range with a kit lens.
Wait 3-4 months to hands on your DSLR
Now you should not worry about any other lens. Give your self three month time. Use your DSLR and give time to improve your photography skills. If photography is your priority you need to hands on your DSLR. After spending 3-4 month on your camera you will realize two things.
Whatever camera model you have purchased it does not matter. That camera will become an extension of your body. You will not care anymore if it misses any features or something else. By the time you will learn very well to handle that particular camera body. It is very important and to do so 1855 kit lens is enough.
The second thing you will realize is your interest. You will get to know, what kind of photography you like – portrait, landscape or photography.
This is the right time to figure out all these things. You can invest a little more money in the new lens. You will have no confusion regarding which lens to go for. You will be knowing which type of focal length to use for each situation.
Once you have purchased a new lens, you will now have your favourite camera body with a new lens. This combination will help you shoot the best kind of photography you wish to do.
One last and important tips for you all. People are also confused about which DSLR to buy – an old model which have proven to be very good or the new or upcoming camera in the market.
If the camera model is for more than 3-5 years, then it might have become outdated. But if the camera model is 1-2 year old and proves to be a very good camera then you must go for it. There is always a risk in trying a new product and technology. Also the latest or upcoming camera model has a very high price. You don’t know whether it is worth the money or not.
Read this article to find the list of the best DSLR camera you can get under $500.
Thanks for reading. Hope this digital camera buying guide would have help you learn the detailed information on the various features and terms associated with the camera. If you have any suggestion or question you can leave that in the comment section.