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Which SLR should I get?

I probably get this question more then any other from friends, acquaintances or random people who see me with a “big” camera. I thought I’d put my current response into a blog post. I say “current” because naturally it is open to change.

A common response to the “Which SLR/Camera should I get” question is to say “which car should I get?” Naturally there are a lot of things that can influence what car you would get (what you want to do with it, size of family, etc), and that is the same thing for a camera.  You can’t just say “Lamborghini” or “Hummer” without some background on what they want to get out of it, and I can’t say “Canon 5d II” or “Nikon d700” without similar background.

The above being said, my normal answer to the SLR specific question is…. don’t get one.

Yup, 9 times out of 10 I don’t think it’s what they really want. When I start asking questions or explaining what SLR ownership entails, they usually agree.

Questions I ask

  • Why do you want an SLR? Usually the answer to this is that the person is sick of the not so great photos they get from their current point and shoot. Occasionally it’s response time.
  • How much are you wanting to spend? Now and in the long run? I explain that I am well over $5,000 into my camera and lenses. Are they willing to come even close to that to get all the tools they might want?
  • What type of photography are you wanting to do? If they want to be all over the map (portrait, landscape, etc) I explain that those are all different lenses. This adds cost (above) and other issues (below) for SLR ownership.
  • and more questions I am likely forgetting now, or custom to the person.

Explaining what SLR ownership entails

Say what? You make it sound like it’s difficult to own an SLR.  Well, it sorta is.

Size/Bulk

Not mine. Just an example of lots of stuff. By fensterbme

People are wanting to move from their point and shoot, that slipped into a pocket or purse, to a fairly bulky piece of equipment. This either needs to hang from a neck strap around the neck or shoulder or be packed in its own bag if you are bringing additional lenses.

Yes, additional lenses.  Want a big zoom? That’s another lens. Want a wide angle? That’s another lens. Want a macro? That’s another lens.  Can you get a single lens that will do alot of the above? Sure. Will it be a good lens? From a convenience standpoint, yes. From a quality standpoint, no.  But maybe a low quality, but convenient lens is good enough for you.  That’s for you to decide.

Most people I see with SLRs still have the kit lens that it came with.  I really need to ask these people what it is they are getting out of SLR ownership if that’s as far as they are going to go with it. There may be some nuance that I am missing. I guess it could just be the “real camera” experience that people like.  Who knows.

One of the big events I see lots of people out with cameras to, is the balloon festival during the 4th of July holiday in Provo.  This is the classic multiple lens scenario.  When you are walking amongst the balloons, you really need a wide angle to take it all in.  These are multiple stories tall subjects, that are directly above you. To get far enough away from them to see a whole balloon at once with a zoom, you would need to be a block away.

Then they launch, and are way up in the air. The wide angle you were using, now makes it so the balloons look like regular helium balloons.

You have to carry all those lenses around. Doesn’t that sound fun on an outing where you are already carrying chairs, blankets, kids, bags of stuff for kids, etc.

If when you are heading out to an event and you look at that big camera bag and think “man, I don’t want to lug that along this time” so you leave it, then your investment isn’t paying off.

Public display of expensive stuff.

SLR’s and their associated lenses, are known to not be cheap. When I go to Disneyland with my SLR I’m always worried about that.  If I just took out my big camera/lens to take a nice photo, and then am about to go on splash mountain, I can’t really take the camera with me to get wet. So I have to try to sneak it back into a bag so others don’t see, and then leave it there while I go on the ride.  So far so good, but it freaks me out every time.

Additional Costs

By AMagill

Remember those various lenses I mentioned up above? Yeah… those cost money.  If you are wanting GOOD lenses (which is why you say wou wanted to move to an SLR… right?) then you will pay for it.  A GOOD zoom lens will cost a minimum of $500, and up to $1,500 for really good. Macro? $400. Wide angle? $400.

Oh you want a better flash then is on the camera? $300-500.

Wait, you want to take good night shots and macro shots? Get a tripod.  Oh by the way, those $20 walmart tripods aren’t all that great. You’ll want a nice one.  A decent tripod is $200 at the low end, and then the thing you attach your camera to (the head) is now a separate component (just like SLRs). The head starts at $60.

Getting the picture yet? There is a lot that CAN go into this hobby. Granted many people won’t get this far.  But this is what you are opening the door too.  I’m just saying make sure you are ready for it.

So what do I suggest instead?

Usually I suggest the super zoom class. Most times people don’t even know that this class exists, but I often find it fits what they are actually looking for.

The super zooms go from wide angle to a bigger zoom then you will likely ever buy for your SLR.  They are image stabilized for the entire zoom length.  When buying separate lenses, you are usually paying an extra few hundred PER LENS for image stabilization.

Their size is right in between the point and shoot they are coming from, and the SLR they are wanting to move to.  It’s small enough to fit in a bigger purse or cargo pocket. But, that includes the equivalent of the macro all the way to the mega zoom lens. All in one package.

Oh, and the super zooms are in the $400 range, with no need to buy additional stuff.

Is the quality of those photos going to be that of an SLR? Nope. But how many people are taking pics to turn into poster size prints. 99% of your photos are going to stay on your computer or get uploaded to facebook at a tiny fraction of their original size anyway.  That being said, one of my most popular temple photos is from a super zoom from from 5 years ago (2005). The quality holds up well to many of my SLR photos of today. Think of how far they have come since then.

The super zooms look like smaller SLRs, so the way you hold them is different and will lead to better pictures that are being taken with a camera stabilized by your whole hand, not just a few fingers lightly holding a point and shoot.

They also usually have a number of controls you see on an SLR. You can use Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority and Manual settings.  Granted these might be a touch more clunky then on an SLR. But you do get to start playing with more advance settings. If you understand what those even do.

I am currently in the market for a good super zoom camera. The one I am eying is the Canon sx30 is (pictured above). I would absolutely use a camera like this in many situations such as Disneyland and the balloon fest. I’m still going to get great photos out of it. I get much more flexibility from wide to zoom without carrying around extra stuff. I still get HD video. etc etc.  Would I use it for photos I plan on using in large prints or to sell? Nope. That’s when I would pull out all my SLR gear.  But I’m guessing most of the people asking my opinion aren’t shooting for those reasons.

Great, but I still want an SLR. Which one should I get?

If after all that you still want an SLR here’s what I have to offer you.

Brand

Canon vs Nikon. I am a Canon guy. I don’t have a good reason why. When I first started into the hobby I had heard more about Canon stuff so I went that way. I haven’t even held a Nikon (or any other brand) for longer then 2 minutes. I’m sure they are great cameras. Honestly it seems I see more Nikon’s out there then I do Canons.

One thing that could influence your decision is what do friends and family have? My brother and now my aunt have Canon stuff and it really is nice to be able to borrow an extra flash or lens that I don’t have.  If we were on different platforms, we couldn’t do that.

Which level of body should I get?

Speaking specifically of Canon and Nikon, they kind of have 3-4 levels of SLR you can get. Entry level, prosumer (pro consumer), semi-pro, pro.  The breakdowns are somewhere around $500, $800,  $1500, $3000. Those are total ballpark prices.

The thing about bodies are they are temporary. Megapixels will continue to rise, movies will get better, frames per second will get better, etc. Every few years you will want a new body with those new specs.  But for the most part, lenses stick around for MUCH longer.

The top of the line zoom lens I got will last until my kids are teenagers. If I treat them well that is. Lenses will have the most impact on the quality of your photos.

So that is a long way of saying, get the cheapest SLR you can that has the features you want (movies, controls, etc). Put the rest of your budget into better and better lenses.

I would put my top of the line lens, on a bottom of the line SLR body from 2 years ago, against a todays top of the line body, with a cheap lens any day and come out with the better picture.  Lenses are that important.  That being said, if you are frustrated with your body so much that you don’t want to use it, then it’s no good to you. So find that happy place in the middle.  Get your lenses decked out, then go back and upgrade your body.

Conclusion

Well that was long winded wasn’t it. Did that even help?

The punchline is this.  Make sure you are ready to get into the world of the SLR. There can be a lot more involved in it then you might think.  If you think the SLR body and kit lens is enough for you, I’d love to hear why.  What is it you get out of that combo?

Give the super zoom class a fair shake.  I think there is a lot of power in that class. Again, I will be getting one in the not too distant future. I plan to use it even when I have bags of other higher quality gear. Convenience can trump quality in many situations.  Will I shoot a wedding with it? Nope. Will it be the primary camera on vacations? Good chance.

Best of luck in your decision. I hope you find a good fit for your personal style. In the end, make sure you get a camera that you WANT to pick up.  The best camera is the one you have with you. If you won’t take it because it’s too bulky (body plus multiple lenses) or you won’t take it because in your mind it doesn’t take good enough pics (point and shoot), then you have the wrong camera.  Make sure taking pictures stay fun for the long run.  I guarantee you’ll have fun with the SLR for the first month or two. But it gets big and heavy pretty quick.

I am so glad that I have my SLR and all my associated gear.  I have gotten some great stuff out of it.  But I have put the time and money into the hobby to make it worth my while. Are you ready to do that?  If so, great. Bring it on.  If not, hopefully the above has opened your eyes to other options.

Happy picture taking… whatever you get 🙂

Update Aug 2014

I did get the sx30is I mentioned in this ancient article. I still have it and use it regularly today. Yes, I have gone on vacations only taking the sx30is. Yes, as a fairly serious hobby photographer that shoots pictures meant to be on posters size I am pleased with this tool in my bag in the right situations.  This is what I take for the kids school programs and sometimes to sporting events. Do I still bring all my gear for sporting stuff to get “the shot” you bet. But that is why I put way more than the $5000 mentioned above into my “hobby”. But that is usually only a game or two per sport/season, then its back to the trusty, and light, sx30is.

I still get asked my opinion, and I keep pointing people to this article. Thus far I haven’t received any negative feedback from anyone who has gone down this path.