Vancouver designer Ben Hulse bought his first digital single-lens reflex camera in 2005 when prices for the technology began to drop. Before that, he had mostly been using a point-and-shoot camera and borrowing his father’s old Minolta 35mm SLR.
Since then, he has incorporated photography into his design work and has gotten work as a professional photographer. When he spoke to the Georgia Straight by phone, Hulse was preparing to shoot photos of the Vancouver Canucks.
“It just took off from there, and before long I was being hired as a photographer first and a designer second, whereas in the past it had been the other way around,” Hulse said of buying his first DSLR camera.
DSLRs tend to be bigger than point-and-shoot cameras and use interchangeable lenses, giving the photographer greater control over the pictures taken. These cameras also have larger sensors, which allow for higher image quality, and offer faster response times, enabling action and low-light photography. With the moving-mirror systems in DSLRs, photographers can accurately frame images through the viewfinder, as opposed to the small LCD screens of point-and-shoots.
While Hulse’s entry into DSLR photography opened up a new career path for him, most people considering buying their first DSLR camera have far less ambitious goals in mind. As the price of digital cameras comes down, DSLRs are an increasingly accessible option for people looking to take their photography to the next level, even if they have no plans of ever doing it professionally.
Kellie Diguangco was studying psychology at Dallas Baptist University in Texas when a photo course caused her to change her major and earn an arts degree with a focus on photography. Her advice to those in the market for their first DSLR is not to go crazy.
“I would go for a simpler camera before I went all out for a top of the line, with a live view and video and all those things,” Diguangco, who teaches basic DSLR photography and child portraiture courses at Focal Point, a school in Vancouver, told the Straight by phone. “The newest ones, with all their bells and whistles, can make you feel overwhelmed.”
Both Diguangco and Hulse suggest that beginners start shooting with fixed lenses, which don’t zoom in and out.
“I would recommend starting with a fixed 50mm lens, and that’s all you need for the first year of shooting,” Hulse said. “That’s what I got onto pretty quick, and it’s a good habit to get into—moving yourself instead of moving the lens. You actually have to physically move if you want to reframe something or get a wider look on something. It’s a really good idea, as you get going, to force yourself not to be lazy and to get active in the process of taking photographs.”
While many new photographers choose to buy large zoom lenses, Diguangco said: “Usually people see zoom lenses and they think they need a 200[mm] or 300[mm] zoom. But if you’re not doing sports or things that are further away, you may find that you don’t get much use out of it.”
When choosing a camera body, Diguangco suggests going for an entry-level model, pointing to Canon’s EOS Rebel models as what she would pick out.
The Straight tested two entry-level DSLR units released this year, the Nikon D3100 ($699.95, with 18-55mm lens) and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 ($599.99, with 14-42mm lens), as well as this writer’s own Canon EOS Rebel T1i ($699.99, with 18-55mm lens), a model that entered the market last year.
The Nikon D3100 offers an impressive array of options to help first-time DSLR users take great photos right off the bat. These include a “Sleeping Faces” option, which is perfect for shooting pictures of snoozing babies.
With its compact size, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 has little of the bulk associated with moving from a point-and-shoot camera to a DSLR. For hobbyists and those wanting to ease their way into owning a DSLR, this is a great option.
Canon’s T1i produced the best pictures of the group, though that may have been partially due to this writer’s familiarity with the camera and selection of lenses. The T1i is, however, the largest of the cameras and certainly the least welcoming to newbies, despite a handful of useful preset options.
While the various models available may be confusing to some, Diguangco believes that getting into DSLR photography has clear benefits.
“Especially if you consider travelling, it might be a bit of a bigger camera to carry around, but your point-and-click will never zoom the way you want it to zoom on something, and you just get better pictures,” Diguangco said. “I hear people say that they don’t want to switch over because it’s a bigger camera, but the photos are definitely worth it.”