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Thought No.1, and you are happy with your lens choice. Thought No.2, and you know not to fall for the gimmicks. So what then should you look for?

A – Opinions differ, and so do DSLRs, so first and foremost: get what is right for you.

Utmost importance to a photographer is the features and functions.

Maybe you like lot of outdoor photography? A camera with a good weather sealing would be handy. You love the way your old compact can view images and capture while viewing the LCD? Then check the Live View capabilities. Do not like wading through menu’s to change functions? Check the location/functions of all buttons and dials, and the customisation capabilities of these and the menu. You love to collect things and want to be able to purchase old lenses on EBay? Check the compatibility of the lens mount. Want to make extra large poster prints? Check the pixel count versus the image quality. Want to start studio photography? Then check out the remote flash capabilities.

There are many things to consider. My advice would be to narrow down what is most important to you, and go with it.

The other important consideration is the handling of your camera. Get down to your local photography shop and pick the camera up. Ask if you can mount the lenses you are considering for purchase, and see how it fits and feels in your hand. Play with the menu system and function buttons to check they are in easy reach. Even consider asking if you can place the items in a camera bag and feel for weight. You may be carrying this around for a whole day. If you carry your camera around your neck, try this also.

I was considering the D40 as my first camera, but decided on the D80. I felt spending a few more quid was worth it, as the D40 was a little too small for my hands. This is basic ergonomics. I knew I would be carrying the camera in my hand or on my arm most of the day and it must be comfortable.

B – Important to most people is the image quality.

Note: the DSLR considered to have the best image quality today, with in the next six months, and certainly one year, will be surpassed. DSLR technology is moving along at a rapid rate.

When you are researching image quality, also take into account lens types used in the tests, the specified conditions of the test, and which format is being referred to. All DSLRs have RAW and JPG capabilities. RAW is the unprocessed camera information. JPG is processed in camera.

When talking image quality, most commonly, noise will be discussed. Noise becomes a factor when using higher ISO speeds. Higher ISO captures more light, in turn allowing more creative control (when not using a tripod). The capability of noise reduction in today’s DSLR is moving on quite quickly. Nikon’s first full frame DSLR the D3, is a leap ahead of the rest for high ISO/low noise capability. But do not expect it to stay there for long. The sensor is said to be a Sony production, and Sony are promising a full frame camera very soon. Please note, that noise only becomes a factor when printing large images. If you do not intend to print over A4 size, do not worry about noise.

Also considered in image quality is the dynamic range of the camera, its colour reproduction and the amount of chromatic aberration. Dynamic range is of considerable importance, essentially being the range of light the sensor can deal with. Colour reproduction can be dealt with; in post processing if need be, with ease. Chromatic aberration should also be considered. It is not easily to deal with in post processing. Note that these three factors are all dependant on lens type and quality.

C – The camera system.

When you buy a DSLR, you purchase into the manufacturers system. I touched on this in Thought 1, as most of your money will be spent on lenses. In addition to lenses are all the other bits and bobs you are likely to need at some stage like flashguns, remote cords, infra red remote, software, and so on. For example, if you do not have much to spend on software, Canon DSLRs come with free software capable of processing the RAW images from camera, compared to Nikons which is an extra £130. So consider once again the type of photography you will be undertaking most often, and research what accessories you might need.

D – The future.

In this rapidly ever changing world, try to have some patience. (Unlike me!) Have a look at what is in the pipeline. Sometimes announcements are made about function or new technology that will be arriving in the coming months. So check and see what advances are about to be made, and consider their importance to you. An example is the Micro Four Thirds system announced by Olympus and Panasonic as noted in Thought No.2 with most useful live view to date and the smallest DSLR. Samsung has also claimed to be making a similar system, compact style DSLR, but it is not due for release until 2010.

When i was about to purchase my first DSLR, I used camera magazines and also the reviews on the net by DPreview, to do my research.

At this moment on DPreview, i read “Panasonic has unveiled what it is calling the World’s First Full-time Live View Digital Interchangeable Lens Camera – the Lumix DMC-G1”. There you go.

This is the ultimate question for thousands of people of whom are switching to digital and for those that are upgrading from their compact or bridge camera’s. Seeing i myself never owned a film SLR, i can not speak for the film buffs. Although those that do use SLRs, most will stick to the same brand, as they most likely have a range of lens they already invested in. Which brings us to the first topic.

Lenses

You may have a camera, or brand for you new DSLR in mind, just because it has all the bells and whistles you want. But before you make your decision, first have a look at what lenses are available, and at what price.

Lens choice is not on peoples minds when choosing to upgrade from compact or bridge cameras. The main reason being the lens was fixed, so there is no choice. So why start now? Because you are about to make a huge investment in your camera, and once you have made a choice on brand, you pretty much stay with that brand, because of the huge investment you will eventually make in lenses. Nonsense, i hear you scream. Yes, nonsense if you have the cash. But who has that sort of cash. Most of us do not.

Today though, unlike in the past, if you had a Canon camera, you were limited (pretty much) to Canon lenses. Today you can choose from Tamron, Sigma & Tokina. Other brands are available, but lets stick to the affordable models. These three companies make models to suit all DSLR cameras, but you must check your choice of lens against your make and model of camera. Nearly all lenses by these lens manufacturers are compatible with Nikon and Canon, but even then, check the lens is compatible with your specific Canon/Nikon make of camera.

Although there are the budget models, each DSLR manufacturer have their own lens range. These lenses are typically of a better quality, but not always.

OK. What lenses will i need?

Lens choice is not only about the wallet, but about the style of photography. For the landscape photographer, a good wide angle (10-50mm range) lens is a must. Do you love taking pictures of animals, a telephoto zoom (100-600mm range) is for you. Love being up close, a macro lens would be preferable. Just need it for around town or on holidays, a good standard zoom (18-200mm range) is very handy.

You may not consider a fixed lens at first, but i have no doubt in the future you will purchase one. Why? Because they are ultimately better quality. You pay much more for good zoom lenses, for convenience, than you do for a top quality fixed lens (generally). So have a quick look at the range and prices of the fixed lenses also.

When you think you have made your choice then…

Lastly, have a look at the second hand market in your country. I know here in the UK, and in the US, there is a large second hand lens market. Not only is there an abundance of stores selling second hand goods, but sites like Ebay are flooded with them. So check them out also.

So what did i do? I chose the Nikon D80 as my first DSLR. It is compatible with many old lenses (give or take), and Nikon at the time was the only manufacturer of a 18-200mm lens. I do most of my photography on the move, and when travelling, so this was the perfect first lens for me. Now you can also get these types of lenses from Tamron (18-200mm & 18-250mm) and Sigma (18-200mm). I also have other Nikon Lenses. The 12-24mm f4 (for landscape and architectural photography), 35-70mm f2.8 (for a sharp wander around town lens) and the 24mm f2.8 & 50mm f1.8 (for portraits and parties).

Any questions, please ask.