Buying a New Camera?

Which Camera should I Buy?

The most fundamental requirement for learning photography is the camera itself! You can't do without one. And thanks to the advances in technology, we have a huge range of options. If we don't want to spend on a DSLR, we can use a simple point & shoot or even the camera built into your cell phone. In fact, gone are the days when you needed a high end DSLR to do any meaningful photography. A point & shoot or a cell phone does a great job too. On the other hand, if we compare the prices, a low end DSLR's actually costs less than a high end cell phone! So how should we decide?
Frankly, I did absolutely no analysis when I bought a camera. I chose a Canon because I liked the name and I picked up the 1200D because it costed the least. That was in June 2016. I certainly don't repent my choice till this day. But, if buy again, I will think of it in more detail - on these lines. Sharing it here with the hope that it helps someone planning to get one.

DSLR or Point & Shoot or Cell Phone

To start with, let's ignore the cost and focus only on the available features. We all know that a DSLR is more powerful and provides a lot of features that can help you get much better photographs. No doubt about that. But the question is do we use those features? I have seen a lot of people using the DSLR in fully automatic mode, generating jpeg images. One would be much better using a point & shoot instead. Often a DSLR is really bulky and it is quite inconvenient to carry it along. A cell phone is an obvious choice for a sleek camera. It is quite convenient and easy to carry. We can now compare the DSLR with a Point & Shoot or a Cell Phone, because technology has brought them up to a good level. That certainly does not mean that I am advising you against a DSLR. A DSLR can surely boost your photography to a great level - if we use its features. Else there is nothing wrong with the other two.
On the other hand, if we compare the costs, we are all for the DSLR. Today, the cost of a DSLR is not so high as it used to be. And for that cost, we get a huge chunk of features. Another advantage of a DSLR is its ability to grow. We can start with a good base model and then gradually add on to the artillery. Things work pretty well that way.
Now, lets look into particular technical aspects. The fundamental difference between them is: Point and Shoot cameras have a different viewfinder and the image lens. Hence, you always have a certain offset in what you see and what you shoot. This does not matter much if you are shooting distant objects. However, makes a huge difference in closeups and Macro Photography.
Another major difference between a DSLR and Point and Shoot is the manual modes in the DSLR. Typically, the camera does a lot of image processing before and after it clicks - and then generates the JPG. It adjusts the sensor sensitivity, the lens aperture and shutter speed based on its metrics. After the image is captured, it adjusts the brightness, saturation, contrast, white balance; again based on what it feels is good. This processing is based on typical image data. It is good when you shoot "normal images". But often it completely messes up the image
The manual and semi-automatic modes in a DSLR allow you to override these parameters and define your own. You can also prevent any post processing and then do it back home on your laptop. This needs some effort on learning. If you take the trouble to understand these settings and do some post processing, the results of a DSLR are far superior. Point and Shoot limits you there. If you restrict to automatic modes and have no interest in Macro photography, you could be much better with a high-end Point and Shoot instead of a low end DSLR.
Ready to Fly
This photograph would have been very difficult without a DSLR with manual settings for Aperture, ISO, Shutter speed, focus and RAW mode.

Canon or Nikon

Disclaimer - please note that this section is extremely biased. But... there is a reason for this bias :)
If you are going for a high end DSLR, there is not much difference between the two. You have a Canon that matches every Nikon and there is a Nikon that matches every Canon. But in low end ones, there is a big difference. In the low end models, Canon focuses more on optical part of it while Nikon focuses on the digital features.
For the non technical audience, we can brush up the concepts: Digital zoom / filters are always lossy as you always lose information in the process. Optical zoom and filters are always superior. You can do the digital processing back home on your laptop. But once you lose out the optical information, there is no way you can get it back. This is not as bad as it sounds. But, it does make a difference if you get into details. On the other hand, Digital processing is certainly superior in the response time. It is sometimes annoying when the camera wastes your time in pre-focus and the bird flies off. Optical parts need more movement so tax the battery. Again, that is not so bad. On my Canon, I have clicked more than 200 images in one charge. In short, for low-end cameras, Nikon provides more digital features while Canon provides better image quality. The image quality is important if you get deeper. Otherwise, features may be more important. In short, if you really want to learn and understand photography, I would recommend a Canon. If you just want to show off a DSLR and use it as a Point & shoot, go for a Nikon.
Of course this is a top level view for comparing similar low end models. You can never compare a high end Canon with a low end Nikon or vise-versa.

DSLR Parameters

After considering the above, we decide on going ahead with a DSLR. The question that comes up next is: How do I choose a DSLR? I can see too many models out there! How do we choose one model against the other? These are the points that I would check before anything else:
  • Lens Range - The requirement depends on what you want to shoot. For landscapes, flowers, people, 18mm - 55mm is enough. If you like birds, insects and animals, we need more. Perhaps a 55-250mm. This is reasonable for shooting birds and animals that we see around. We need at least 500mm or more for shooting a wild tiger.
  • Range of the aperture - My camera has f/4 to f/22 and I never felt the need for anything more. For landscapes, we can use something like like f/13 to f/18 or f/22 for extremes. For shooting birds, flowers we can use f/4-f/6. These calculations are pretty simple and well known for each scenario. We never have to think more after understanding it once.
  • Range of ISO - This is very important. It is not required for landscapes or in house photography, but is required if you want to shoot action. For landscapes an ISO 100 should be good enough. But for birds or animals or any movement, the images get blurry with ISO100. We need more than that. The problem here is some of the cameras claim to provide high values for the ISO, but it does not work so well. Often the images are badly distorted at ISO above 800. The problem is common in all low end models so you do not have any choice here. But it is good to know what we are getting into.
These terms are not so involved as they sound. Once we grasp them in essence, it is not a big deal. I have another blog dedicated to explain these terms in detail. There are some other aspects that one can check out:
  • Connectivity - Our photographs are not limited to the camera - we have to get them out and then present them to the world. In order to do this, the camera needs to connect to a laptop or mobile or any other device. This connectivity is very important. Some camera's are limited to USB cables. Some provide more than that in form of Bluetooth, WiFi, Mobile Sync, Internet connectivity... The technology will continue to evolve. More the merrier - that also increases the budget. But, here is a trade-off that we must consider when choosing a model.
  • LCD / LED Preview - The preview is an important aspect of any composition. The size of this preview and features attached to it can make your job really convenient. Different camera models provide several features tagged with the preview. Some of the useful ones are - Touch screen to magnify the preview, Detachable preview useful in awkward positions.
  • Optical Sensor Resolution - This is an important point. How much does the camera pick up from the surroundings? But the equation is not linear. Higher resolution does not always mean better image. Also, not all cameras work on 100% resolution. So don't get deceived by this number. It is much more important to get the direct information about the image quality.

Accessories

The DSLR comes with loads of accessories. Some are useful, some are essential and some are useless waste of money. We don't have to buy all the accessories right away. We can start with the most basic ones and as our portfolio grows, we may want to add on to it. There is a huge range of prices for the accessories as well. I liked the ones from Amazon Basics. You can believe in Amazon for the quality; and as the name suggests they provide what just you need at an affordable cost. Here are some of the important ones:
  • Tripod - The tripod is one of the very important accessories if we want to get into any serious photography. One cannot hold the camera steady for a long time. And any minor shake reflects in the image. It is important to stabilize the camera on a Tripod, so that we can focus on better things.
  • DSLR Bag - We need to care for a lot of things when travelling with the camera - of course we did not buy it for decorating the shelves! The DSLR bag provides a good utility for this.
  • Filters - Most of the filters are meaningless waste of money. What you can do with the filter can also be done on your laptop. There is no need to waste the money there. The UV filter is probably the most useless among them. But there are three exceptions to this: The Gradient Filter, Polarizer and ND Filters. They add a lot of value and deserve a place in our kit.
  • Remote Shutter Release - When shooting on a long exposure, the camera is very sensitive to the slightest shake. It is not enough to mount the camera on the tripod. Just the human touch when clicking is enough to disturb the image. Hence remote shutter release is important. Some cameras come with WiFi support that allow you to do this with your own cell phone. If that is missing in your camera, the remote shutter release is essential.

Recommendation

Based on this analysis, I would recommend this photography kit for a beginner. You can check it out on Amazon with the links below:


Happy Shooting!