What to look for when buying your first digital camera
Photography has become far more popular since digital cameras have entered the mainstream consumer market. Initially starting in the tens of thousands of dollars, camera prices have fallen to a few hundred, easily affordable by almost anyone. For the savvy consumer, taking advantage of deals and kits is the best way to go from your standard point and shoot camera up to something more reliable and more capable.
The hardest part of buying a new camera if you’re new to the market is knowing how much camera you need and how much you should to spend. You don’t need to buy the newest most expensive model on the market, nor do you even have to spend over $500. I’ll be breaking these recommendations into sections, comparing each camera’s specifications and explaining a bit about what each means and exactly how they’ll affect the performance of the camera.
The DSLR’s I’ll be reviewing for you today are the Nikon D3300, Canon Rebel T5 and Pentax K50. All three manufactures have reputations for durability and good quality cameras. While their professional grade cameras will still cost you up to $3,000, the ones I’ve picked for you today are all under $500 as kits, with two lenses and usually a memory card and a camera bag. Pretty much everything you need to get you started while still keeping the budget pretty tight!
Below are the 3 DSLR Cameras with links to the best available prices online:
Megapixels, Sensors and ISO capabilities – Which is Best
The first thing to keep in mind is the megapixels of the camera. A higher number doesn’t always mean a better image if the camera’s image sensor isn’t good. A larger image sensor will get you a better photo and often times, unless you intend to blow the image up to poster size, you won’t notice the difference between a 16mp camera and a 40mp camera. It’s only when the image is blown up to those sizes that you’ll start to notice small losses of detail or noise in the background of the images. The bigger the sensor, the better the megapixels, the bigger you can make the image before seeing the flaws. Pretty simple!
The D3300 has a 24.7mp rating with a sensor size of 23.2cm x 15.4 cm. Very respectable for an entry level camera. For ISO it’s a standard 100-12,800. In high sensitivity mode that doubles to 100-25,600.
The T5 is an 18 mp rating with a sensor size of 22.3cm x 14.9cm. Slightly smaller than the D3300, but because the sensors are of a similar size you honestly won’t notice the difference. ISO Settings are 100-6400 and extended mode 100-12,800.
The K50 is the lowest Megapixel of the group, with just 16mp rating. The sensor however is still good, measuring 23.7cm x 15.7cm. The ISO is 100-51,200.
The higher your ISO, the better photos the camera can take in low light situations. For someone hoping to shoot astrophotography, the T5 may not be the best choice for you simply because it’s lower ISO capabilities. For that you’d really want to lean toward the Pentax. If you don’t see yourself doing that, then honestly, all three cameras are about even. The K50 has the largest image sensor, the D3300 has the most megapixels. The T5 sits just about midway between the two making it a solid contender.
Size and Weight Comparisons
Something that absolutely needs to be considered is the size and weight of the camera. Someone with small hands could find their hands cramping, or struggling with features on a larger camera body. Another thing to consider is walking around with it on the strap. Most of the weight will be resting on the strap when not in use, but when shooting it’s important to have something you can hold up comfortably for longer periods of time. There’s nothing more frustrating than putting the camera down for a minute and missing the shot you’d been waiting for. It’s not the first thing you think of but it really should be high on the list of priorities.
The D3300 weighs in at 14.3oz without a lens, 23.4oz with the basic kit lens. The body is 124mm/4.88in wide and 98mm/3.86in tall. It fits comfortably in my hands (I do have small hands for a Jew though) but overall, it’s a nice solid feel.
The t5 is heavier, weighing in at 18.5oz body only, 27.9oz with the kit lens. The body is 131mm/5.24in wide, 99.8mm/3.92in tall. The wider body fit a little more comfortably in my hands and the extra weight wasn’t really too noticeable. I can see it being a bit more of a strain for extremely extended shooting but otherwise It’d definitely be comfortable for most for a few hours shooting.
The K50 is actually the heaviest of the group. The body by itself weighs 20.8oz, 31.9oz with lens. This sounds like a fairly drastic weight increase but for the quality of lens you get with a Pentax, it’s understandable. The body is 129mm/5.07in wide, 96.5mm/3.799in tall. The Pentax feels denser, considering it’s all packed into a body just fractionally bigger than the D3300. It’s very comfortable to the hands, actually a bit more comfortable than the T5.
While I would absolutely recommend checking the prices online, I would also advise you to go to an electronics retailer and physically hold one before you buy it. Most stores won’t take a camera back unless it’s not working and even then, they just give you the exact same thing. It’s important to know exactly how what you’re getting feels in your hands to be sure it’s the camera for you. If it doesn’t feel right in your hands, you’ll know it.
The Lenses – Pentax K-50, Canon EOS Rebel T5, & Nikon D3300
Lenses and available options are an important aspect about choosing your camera. The kits I selected all come with two decent lenses. While a kit lens won’t be as good as the $1,500 lenses you could buy separately, they’re good enough to start with and get a feel for the capabilities of your camera.
The D3300 comes with a standard 18-55mm lens and a 55-200mm lens. The T5 also comes with an 18-55 and a 75-300mm lens. Lastly, the K-50 is bundled with an 18-55mm and 50-200mm lens. Your standard 18-55mm lens is good enough for most close to mid-range shooting. You won’t be able to zoom at far off objects as much as you would with the larger lenses, but it’s perfectly suitable for most nature settings and general indoor photography. The Larger lenses allow you to get much closer to your subjects. These would come in handy at a zoo for example, where animals will be caged off some distance away. The ability to get a much tighter shot of the animal from behind the bars is a nice advantage of the longer (and heavier) lens. The longer lens would also be useful for astrophotography, with even the 200mm lens being able to take crisp photos of the moon under the right conditions.
Something else important to keep in mind. Your camera is mostly limited to the lenses made by the manufacture. There are a few quality third parties making lenses, but it’s a very limited market. With that said, knowing who’s compatible with your gear is imperative if you want to keep from buying something you can’t use. Fortunately, OEM brands like Tamron and Sigma make their lenses for every current brand, as it’s as simple as making it with a different mount. There is a difference in quality with third party lenses, but if budget is a concern for you, then they’re still a solid option. Even if you do get stuck with an incompatible lens, there’s always the hope that the brand you bought has a compatible adapter available. Unfortunately, adapters can cost almost as much as the lens may have so it’s going to be a tossup whether it’s actually worth it to invest.
Another key piece of advice is not to be afraid to buy a lens that costs more than your camera body did. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s absolutely true. When I first started taking photos, the lens I used was almost as old as I was. A lens will often outlast your camera body and with very limited exceptions can be used with any new bodies you get. So when it comes time to buy a new lens, buy the best you can afford and don’t be afraid of spending a few extra dollars. The lens you get could still be with you in 10-15 years, so It’s really a worthy long term investment.
Something people often forget to purchase with their lens is a basic filter. Filters range from colorless UV filters to models designed purely for protecting the eye of the lens, to a whole rainbow of tints capable of warming or cooling any shot. I personally recommend using a colorless filter, as it will protect against dust, dirt and finger grease. Colored filters are nice but most of the effects they have could be added using an editing software.
Memory cards and Shooting formats
Memory cards are an essential part of your kit and you can never have enough of them. When purchasing a camera body, it’s a good idea to make sure that it will support the newest models of memory cards. SDXC is a new, higher capacity memory card with a storage potential of 2 terabytes. So the potential to have a card in your camera that can hold up to 20,000 images is coming soon! As of now, the biggest cards on the market are 256gbs for $100-$200, depending on the brand. Shooting at 22mp, that can theoretically hold up to 3200 photos. It’s entirely up to you whether you want one big card or several smaller cards. I personally keep two 128gbs, a 64gb and a 32gb just in case. It’s a good idea to always have a backup card in case your card glitches or you lose it.
Card size also factors into shooting formats. The most common file type is the jpeg image. When you shoot a jpeg, it processes the photo for you immediately in the camera. This does come with some formatting, loss of color and resolution. But it’s simpler. It’s a good format for people who aren’t familiar with processing images on their computer, who just want to take photos and print or store them. Shooting Raw is a lot like shooting with film. A Raw image will need to be processed before it can be used. It’s the lossless data from the camera’s image sensor. Shooting raw will give you more control over the final image. It’s easier to correct without losing data each time, and often results in a better final image. It will require a special program to open or view the files, but there’s plenty of free ones out there as well as paid ones such as Photoshop.
The D3300, T5 and K-50 all accept SDXC cards which means you have a much wider and cheaper selection of cards to choose from. They also shoot in both Raw and JPEG, with the K-50 shooting in DNG (digital negative) as well, an alternative to Raw that’s also a lossless format. It’s an older format created by adobe, but still great for creating processed images in photoshop.
Best Value for a DSLR Package
Here’s the part you’ve all been dreading. The prices. Like I stated, every camera would be under $500 as a kit to maximize value. Quite often retailers include a few extra bells and whistles as incentives and in this economy it’s important to get as much bang for your buck as possible.
The D3300 is the most expensive of the group, at $496.95. It comes bundled with a Nikon bag, 16gb card, spare battery pack and the wireless adapter that allows you to send photos directly to your laptop, tablet or phone while shooting. The wifi adapter is possibly the coolest feature of this bundle as it means you don’t even have to pull the card to start processing or sharing photos. It’s also a great thing to have if you stick with a smaller card.
The T5 is $449.00. It’s the least expensive camera of the three. It comes bundled with a 16gb memory card and four filters, as well as the Canon branded bag. The filters are a nice touch as they’re easy to forget when you’re buying the camera. While it doesn’t have anything as fancy as the D3300, it’s still a great deal.
The K-50 is $459. It only comes with a Free memory card, which means you’ll need to spend a few extra dollars for a bag and filters. Those are entirely optional though, so you can get away with buying the camera as is. It’s also available for almost $100 less without the 50-200mm lens, if you’re really trying to save a few dollars.
So What is the Best DSLR Under $500
This article varies from any other top three cameras in the fact that I’m not going to tell you that one camera is inherently superior to the others. All three cameras are great and the only real differences are fairly minor. In the end, I’d prefer if you took this as a recommendation to narrow down three good choices in a fairly wide field If you really twisted my arm, I personally lean toward the Pentax. The higher ISO and larger image sensor appeals greatly to me as I love taking photos of the sunset and the stars. The build quality felt great and the weight was very comfortable when taking a few test shots. The lens was a bit loud but that’s one of those minor flaws that it didn’t really matter. When you end up going to feel them (at a camera store or electronics chain) don’t let the person behind the counter upsell you into a camera that costs $100-500 more just because it’s newer or more powerful. Often times these sales people are commission based so their goal isn’t to get you the best camera for you, it’s to sell whatever gets them the highest kickback. That’s not always the case, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. I personally prefer to take advice from someone without a vested interest in getting more money from me, as they’re usually speaking from personal preference instead of financial motivation.
To get the prices best available on these 3 great DSLR camera’s for users new to photography follow the links below to automatically apply the amazon discounts: