Sunday, March 6, 2011


What do I want to do?
What do I get?
What is my budget?
What is this blog entry about? - i actually do not really know...
What is this guy on? - probably secondary methadone & subutex from forgetting to wash hands every now & then.

So, What dSLR should I get?

What do I need a camera to do?
- I just want something good to take happy snaps. - refer to bottom of post
- I want something to take on a trip for some decent photos. - refer to bottom of post
- I would like to improve and develop my photography. - keep reading.

When people ask me what camera to get, my advice is very simple and rarely changes, however very few people take the advice I give. They choose to do their own "research" involving, trawling the internet for information, ISO, MP, shutter speed, video capabilities, how many modes, wi-fi connectivity, screen size, and other technological mumbo-jumbo that I personally don't really understand to finally come up with a camera outfit that they think is best. Not saying that you shouldn't look into this, but if it is photography you are trying to improve, none of these will help.

So what do you need a camera to do? Instead of worrying about megapixels and modes, a camera should be a tool, that through careful control, will be able to produce a well exposed, well composed image. Below is one of my favorite cameras. I took a photo of it, minus the lens because I wanted to show how minimalistic it is. It is simply a box, a box that records whatever I tell it to do. Composing a scene and capturing it with my box, is almost zen-like and therapeutic - listening to the shutter "thwack" as I depress the shutter release.

A little bit about my photography journey, when I first got into photography, I didn't really know much about it, all I knew was that I really enjoyed taking photos with my point and shoot, and that I had exhausted the settings on the camera.



My composition was half decent but I could never get the "blur" that I was seeing in some photos. I learned that this had to do with aperture, and my point and shoot could not control this mystical aperture setting, so I set my mind on getting an entry level dSLR to continue my photographic learning. My first pay-check came in as an intern-pharmacist (not quite enough to afford the dSLR kit) and I discussed the prospects of purchasing my first dSLR with my then girl-friend (now fiance). She gave me the words of encouragement I needed 

"it's up to you" 

(I later found out that this actually meant "No" hahaha...)

From there the photography bug bit me and soon I was buying and selling gear left, right and centre.

So the initial kit i bought was the CANON 350D twin lens kit - I had convinced myself from reading reviews that I needed a twin lens kit to cover all bases. This kit came with:
  • 350D body (which i still have)
  • 18-55 f/3.5-5.6
  • 55-200 f/4.6-5.6
I was so happy, shooting everything and at every opportunity. But I soon realized, that i still could not really get the blur effect I was still looking for. I didn't know that the aperture of the lenses that came with the kit, was not big enough to really be useful. Also lighting got a little dim, there was no hope for me to shoot without using the pop-up flash which is in one word - EWW...

The first break-through was after a friend introduced me to a lens called Canon 50 f/1.8. I was thinking, this lens is crap, it has no zoom, it is cheap and made of cheap plastic, what photos can it take? probably really crappy ones. 

I remember buying this lens for about $180. It was amazing. Being a f/1.8 it let me get the blur or bokeh I was looking for, and for the first time I was able to shoot in low light without the flash. What did I learn from using the 50 f/1.8?

  • I didn't need really expensive gear to take nice photos
  • how apertures work and the relationship with shutter speed, in effect how to control light and motion
  • planning scenes in my head and composition
  • how to use my feet and not a zoom
Before I get back on topic, the only reasons I upgraded from here or bought more lenses were:
  • did not have a wide-angle - so I bought a Sigma 10-20
  • did not have a dedicated flash - got a 580ex II (which i rarely use)
  • *wanted* a 70-200 f/2.8IS - so I got it
  • dropped my 50 f1.8 - being plastic and being attached to the body it broke so it was replaced with a Sigma 30 f/1.4
  • started drooling over the Canon 35 f/1.4 and felt it would be better if ever I upgraded to a higher-end body - so I got it - sold the Sigma 30 f/1.4 
  • started getting offers to cover weddings and didn't want to risk missing shots due to the slow burst speed of my 350d so I upgraded to a 40d. (first wedding i shot was with a 350d) also the 350d didn't have spot-metering.
Back onto topic, so what should you get - according to me?
Unless the kits are going for really really cheap, like less than the cost of a body alone, I wouldn't buy a kit. That said, I have seen some kits that have a body and a prime lens(this is a fixed lens like the 50mm, 30mm or 35mm that I have mentioned) in which case go for it, if the price is right. I am sure you can figure that out.

So how much can you afford? 
Considering that a 50mm will cost about $200-450 depending on the f-stop (the smaller the number the bigger the aperture, the more light it will let in, the more expensive the lens and also the more blur or bokeh you will get,). Now you will know your actual budget for the body.

NB. if you have a bigger budget or can afford to get a 30 or 35mm it would probably be a better start cos it is slightly wider, and you will appreciate this on a crop-body cos things can get a little tight with the 50mm.

Now go into a camera store and play with all the bodies you can. Check out their weight, how they feel and decide on one you like and buy it. I am not one to give advice on brands cos I feel that every entry-level dSLR is very similar, and it really boils down to:
  • how does it feel?
  • are the functions accessible?
  • what are all my friends shooting with? (this is important for sharing equipment hehehe...)
Just get the best body you can afford.

1 body - 1 lens.

Now you are set to go. Mount the lens on the body and get out and shoot! Shoot everything and whenever you have time, the only 3 settings you should be allowed to use are the Tv, Av or M modes. This is not going to make things easy, and most of the photos will come out looking horrible, or ugly but keep taking those photos and then compare them, post them up, send them to me...I love seeing what people do, and love criticising other peoples work (also love getting critisicm, this is the only way I can learn, so please dont hold back and let me know what you think about my photos!) as longs as they are happy to receive some harsh words hehehe... you will soon see improvement.

This guide was really for people that are wanting to get into photography and improve their skills. If you are unsure or are just looking for a good camera to take more than "happy snaps", a few options to consider would include:
  • Canon G12
  • Canon s95
sorry about the bias, but these are the only ones I really have used and been pleased with the results.

1 comment:

  1. You should tag your posts with key words Zhen Ti so your blog will show up when other keen photography bloggers want to check out other people's photography (ie. your own)!!