Beginner level DSLR

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Beginner level DSLR

Post: # 23666Post GopalM
Wed Dec 22, 2021 1:40 pm

Hi everyone,

In recent years I am drawn to fall foliage photography. But I know absolutely nothing about photography. I am planning to buy a DSLR camera soon and start learning photography. I am looking for recommendations on a beginner level DSLR camera which is especially good for autumn/fall photography. I was thinking of buying Cannon EOS Rebel T8i. But someone here said in an old post that Cannon is not so good and Nikon is better. I googled a lot to find good recommendations but honestly, I am getting confused and not sure which one to buy. Any guidance will be highly appreciated.🙏

Posts: 1551
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Location: Saginaw, Michigan

Re: Beginner level DSLR

Post: # 23667Post Andy
Sat Jan 08, 2022 12:26 pm

Sorry, I didn't see this until today. I may be too late :-). Assuming you haven't already bought a camera, here are some thoughts:

Canon vs. Nikon. My neighbor drives a black Toyota Camry. I drive a white Honda Accord. I like my Honda. He likes his Toyota. In reality, other than some stylistic things, they are essentially the same car? There are numerous camera manufacturers. Today, only a handful of them really make up the user market - and even less for "DSLR" cameras (more on that below). For years (dating back to the days of film), Nikon and Canon were kind of the Ford/Chevy, or Toyota/Honda of camera manufacturers. There are some differences, but they are both VERY GOOD cameras (and that Rebel looks to be a very high-spec camera). I would certainly not make the brand the primary criteria for choosing a camera.

"DSLR". Without meaning to be condescending, I think it is important that we understand and define terms. It is really specifically a "DSLR" that you want? As you may know, back before digital capture cameras, the majority of us serious shooters shot 35mm film based "SLR" cameras. SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. Reflex means that there is a mirror that projects the image seen by the camera lens back into a viewfinder (usually a pentaprism that you looked through with one eye). That characteristic is why most old SLR cameras have common look, with the "peaked" viewfinder sitting top and middle of the camera body. When digital cameras for "prosumers" and pros came along, they were built into those SLR bodies. They retained the same mirror/pentaprism arrangement, and thus were known as "DIGITALSingle Lens Reflex (or "DSLR") cameras. The mirror blocked the film (and later, sensor), and so, had to flip up to make the exposure, and then back down again.

At first, it wasn't physically and economically possible to put a digital sensor (which replaced film) the size of a 35mm film rectangle in these bodies, and the first available cameras had a smaller rectangle (which has become known as APS-C size sensors). The small rectangle messed with our known and "normal" lens lengths, effectively cropping part out of the middle of the lens - with the effect of making them appear "longer" (APS-C is more or less 1/5x - so a 50mm lens designed for 35mm film acted like a 75mm lens - confusing enough yet? :-) ). After some time, lens makers began designing and making lenses for that spec. Each maker uses its own naming (so, for example, Nikon calls their APS-C lenses and cameras "DX" and their 35mm "FX"). The Rebel you mention is an APS-C sensor camera.

Shortly after makers began making APS-C spec lenses, Nikon and Canon "broke through" with a 35mm size sensor (which has become known as "full frame." I ALWAYS put that phrase in quotation marks, because it really doesn't make any logical sense to me to call it that - but irrelevant for this discussion :-) ). So, it is now important that when choosing a DSLR, you are aware of its lens specifications. There are many pros and cons to these different sizes. It is probably most important that you understand the differences (not that one or the other is "better") and how they will fit your circumstances. Generally speaking, the 35mm "full frame" cameras and lenses are more expensive. Today, there are other sensor size-based systems. Perhaps the most popular is the micro 4/3 (four thirds) or MFT system. Smaller than the APS-C sensor, it is translates everything to about 1/2 of 3mm. So a 50mm lens in MFT is about 100m. When you buy a MFT lens you have to do that math, if you are used to thinking in 35mm terms like some of us "old schoolers." If you are brand new to it, it may make no difference at all.

In the 2000's a few manufacturers began to produce another type of viewfinder system, known as "mirrorless." In October of 2013, Sony brought the first "full frame," mirrorless camera (a7) to market. I was a smaller version of the DSLR. The lack, of mirror and thus, need for pentaprism allowed them to make things much smaller, and to move the rear lens element much closer to the sensor. Instead of a pentaprism viewfinder (you saw through the lens), they incorporated an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). These were already being used on smaller consumer "Point and Shoot" cameras. At first, they weren't very great. But by the time of the Sony introduction of their a7, they had gotten much better, and just continue to improve. They are able to do some things you cannot do with the pentaprism/mirror system. Since the EVF uses its own viewfinder lens, there is nothing blocking the sensor. And, it can now be adjusted to do many of the things you see on the rear screen of digital cameras. The past couple years of development by the big 3 (Canon, Sony and Nikon) convinces me that the MIRRORLESS market is where they are eventually headed. I don't think Sony makes a DSLR anymore. Both Canon and Nikon have recently discontinued a couple of their APS-C DSLR models. Because the mirrorless systems involve new and different lens designs, I think you need to think very hard about where you might want to go with this in the future. As I mentioned at the beginning, the Canon Rebel camera is a very fine camera. BUT it is a DSLR, designed to take their particular lens and mount. If the future is Mirrorless (and I think it is), I might think hard about going in that direction instead of a DSLR.

I suspect that when you say you are considering a DSLR, you really mean an interchangeable lens camera? The primary benefit, in my opinion, of all of the above camera systems, is twofold: (1) the ability to change lenses; and (2) the ability to manually control the primary parts of the photographic equation (aperture and shutter speed primarily, and focal length). If you want to take your photography to the next level, learning what these variables mean are worth more than any camera, style, or brand.

I write a blog that posts roughly weekly. It is not scheduled until much later in the year, but I have a post mostly completed about evaluating your gear. One thing I emphasize is that BEFORE you buy a camera, lenses, etc., you need to understand your goals - both short term and long. Many of us who have been doing this for a long time, have bought and sold many different cameras, and in a few cases, brands and systems. I have owned and shot Canon, Nikon, Sony and Olympus. These as well as Pentax, and in some cases Panasonic, all make very good cameras. In addition to the brand-matched lenses, there are several independent lens makers out there who make some very good glass (Tamron, Sigma, Tokina).

So. Fall foliage photography. That would technically be "landscape" shooting, with occasional very close up (macro) shots. There are many wonderful cameras out there that will make very good landscape images. Some of the things that would be very important to other shooters are not so much for landscape shooters. We generally do not care about high frames per second shooting, or "image stabilization" in lenses or bodies. High "flash sync" and large buffers (shortens time between shots while file downloads to card) and such. We are more concerned about pixels (megapixels) and to some extent sensor size and always, sensor quality. Most newer cameras have decent specs on all of those things, because the manufacturers know most of us often have multiple uses for the camera.

If you want to shoot sports, wildlife, or anything involving fast action, other things suddenly become more important, like fast fps (multiple shooting), fast and accurate autofocus, etc. If shooting in very low light conditions is important, another set of specs comes up. And in my personal case, do you want to travel with your gear and how do you travel? See how simple this is? NOT :-). When I am on a dedicated photography trip, I use my "full frame" Sony a7rii (not a "beginner level" camera), lenses and accessories that match up to it. Even though smaller than the typical DSLR setup, it is large, and heavy. I have to pack accordingly. My wife and I travel a lot all over the world and although I am never without a camera and never not shooting, they are not primarily "dedicated" to photography. I have a completely separate and different set of gear for that, with the concentration on small and light and packable.

So, after all that looooooong commentary :-) my advice"

1. Think first about what you want to do with the camera. That will drive a few things, including which lenses work best for you. You also need to consider whether this will be a "starter" camera, or you want it to go for a while. I would suggest that you consider the latter and buy more camera than you think you need. I say that because there is a good chance that if you don't, you will be trading up (and losing $) sooner than you think :-). I am not saying go hog wild. Just make a list of the functions that are/perhaps will be important to you and go for something that will fill them.

2. Consider a realistic budget - an important facet to this is understanding that you will need some accessories. If you are going to shoot really good landscape images, a tripod is a must have accessory. You will be surprised that a good tripod will be as expensive as it is. But don't go cheap here - you will end up replacing every cheap tripod you try - shortly. If all you are doing to do is lug it around in the car and carry it a short distance from the car and back, Bogen makes some tanks - that can be purchased very reasonably on eBay. The attachment to the tripod will still be an expense (the most popular is a ball-head with a dovetail quick release mount). If you buy one of the Bogens, do yourself a favor and get rid of their quick release mount and replace it with a decent dovetail mount. It took me 10 or more years to figure that out.

3. Think about what sensor size you want and why. I shot APS-C sensors a lot in the beginning and have a couple friends who still do. We/they make some fine images with them. I now shoot a "full frame" 42 megapixel Sony mirrorless. That's a lot of megapixels. As much as I'll ever need. My secondary rig is an Olympus OMD Em10 (first generation) 16 megapixel, MFT setup. That's still plenty of megapixels and for what I do with it, it has pretty awesome image quality. The body is more than 50% smaller than my medium sized Sony A7r, and lighter. And even more important, the lenses are MUCH smaller and lighter. If I wasn't already spoiled with (and invested in) "full frame," I would seriously probably just stick with and use it for all my work :-). A final advantage is that it tends to be less expensive. My setup for travel consists of two "consumer grade" lenses covering about 28-300mm in 35mm equivalent. The outlay (all used) for the entire setup was right around $500. In my view, huge bang for the buck.

4. Don't be afraid to consider used equipment. See above. I have had good luck with used equipment from KEH, B&H and Adorama. I have had pretty good luck on eBay - is most often comes as advertised. I have had reasonably good luck with MPB, though I have had a problem with them (on an item I was selling to them). But even so, I just purchased a couple items from them because the pricing was just so good. They all have a similar "grading" system. Many might disagree with me on this. With used, you certainly take a chance and get no warranty. I have felt that I could take the risk. I have made out reasonably well over the years.

Good luck and don't hesitate to ask more here (or reach out to me by email - Let us know what you eventually do/did

If it sounds too good to be true, its probably . . . .

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