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If you’ve been waiting until the ‘right’ model came along to buy your first digital SLR camera, now could be a good time. The combination of price, performance and sensor size/resolution offered by most models is already ‘good enough’ to satisfy demanding photographers. Only marginal improvements are likely in the foreseeable future. However, when you’re forking out a thousand dollars (or more) of your hard-earned cash, you need to know that you’re getting a worthwhile bit of gear. Here are some of the key factors you should consider.

In those days, buying a camera was simple. Fast-forward more than a century later, and modern cameras are so diverse and advanced that buying one is definitely not a one-model-fits-all kind of decision.

Most of us already own a pretty decent camera in the form of a smartphone and knowing when a dedicated camera provides an actual benefit over our phones can be difficult to determine. Prices for new cameras range from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars, with numerous brands and models at each tier along the way.

From their beginning, DSLRs were designed to reflect the most popular type of film camera, the SLR. This single-lens reflex design traditionally incorporates an optical viewfinder, reflex mirror, and single taking-and-viewing lens to function properly. While digital cameras are not constrained to the same physical limitations as film SLRs were, they still revolve around the basic premise of design that includes a viewfinder, a reflex mirror (with some recent notable exceptions) and an interchangeable-lens system. When searching for a DSLR, there is a range of options to consider regarding what type will best suit one’s own personal needs. Not all photographers need to have the ability to record still photographs at an impressive 36.3MP, nor do all photographers need to rely on compact and lightweight solutions, since the greater emphasis might be tripod-based work or other shooting styles for which a larger and faster body is most beneficial.

Image Quality
Image quality is usually the most important requirement of a new camera for photographers, and it’s also one of the most subjective. The quality of the photos a camera produces is dependent on several factors, including sensor size, lens quality, and the optics of the camera itself.

Feature Set
While almost all DSLR’s have a common set of features (such as the ability to shoot manually), some brands and models have automated some features, while others have not, or do not have those features at all. Different cameras have varying usable ISO ranges, autofocus points, and resolution (in megapixels).

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Design
Although usually not the first thing you think of with an entry-level camera, buying a model with a solid design is still important. Some less expensive cameras have all plastic housing, whereas others may use more heavy-duty materials such as metal; others still may be weatherproof to a certain degree.

Even at the price points we’re discussing, it’s a good idea to research that aspect of the prospective camera as well, and buy as solid a model as possible.

Forget about brand
This is something guaranteed to cause controversy. When it comes to camera brands, people get religious. For some reason, people don’t argue loudly about HP vs. Dell or Audi vs. BMW, but when it comes to Canon vs. Nikon, people will defend their favorite brand to the death; if some poor soul dares to suggest another brand, like Sony or Pentax, murder ensures. I heard people saying “Nikons have the best quality“, “I trust Sony to make good electronics“, “I’m a die-hard Oly fan“, “Annie Leibovitz uses Canon“, “Pentax means value for money” and so on.

Choosing a camera based solely on brand is great if you want to show it off, but not if you intend to actually use it

There are five main dSLR manufactures (I list them alphabetically): Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and a few smaller ones of which I will only mention Sigma because of its unique Foveon sensor.

With ‘instant’ start-up and no shutter lag, DSLR cameras are designed for fast shooting. This means the camera can be switched on and taking a rapid succession of frames in the time it takes you to make these movements – you won’t have to wait for the camera to be ready and you’ll never miss a shot.

When buying a new DSLR, you’ll also want to check out the automatic focusing (AF) system and burst rate on any cameras that you’re considering – particularly important if you’re planning on doing sports and action photography. A good focusing system will have several options for focusing on still and moving subjects. If you can, go for a DSLR camera with a focusing system that covers a wide proportion of the frame, with lots of focus points – a good AF system will make your life much easier and result in many less missed shots.

The burst rate on a DSLR camera, or indeed any digital camera, is the measure of how many frames you can shoot per second (fps). If you’re interested in sports or action photography a high burst rate is essential. Even if action photography is not your interest, it’s good to have a camera capable of shooting at a good rate, so that you have the option of shooting off frames in quick succession. This can be more useful than you might at first think. For example – in portraiture, the difference between a mediocre shot and an arresting portrait can be just a split second.

Don’t forget to go and try out the cameras in person. You’ll also be able to gauge some of the finer details, such as how easy the user interface is and how heavy or light the camera is. You’ll get a good feel for the camera and also the build quality. Look for cameras that come with bundled bags, memory cards and possibly free online storage for your photographs. Buying a printer that lets you take large photo prints might also be worth considering along with a digital photo frame. With the buying advice out of the way, you could also look at planning for some fun photography outings. There are groups on Facebook where photographers meet up once a week to go on photography tours. Flickr is also a good service to register on, considering you get a ton of free storage to host all your photographs at the highest quality and also your videos. You’ll find a lot of interesting photos shot by photographers from all around the world for inspiration and also a vast community which can offer constructive feedback and tips on how to get better.