A couple of months ago I made a decision that it was finally time to move on from my trusty Nikon D90. Now, this is the camera that really helped me make the leap from snapshots to “proper” photography. At the time I bought it, its 12.1mp sensor and feature set made it THE affordable DSLR. The fact it’s still so popular and on sale 2 years down the line is testament to just how good it is, especially as it wasn’t exactly the new kid on the block when I got my hands on it.
As with all things though, technology moves on and in this case, my understanding and photographic know how have also moved on and it’s time to move up the scale, just like I did with my Nikon D70 before.
You’d think this would be a fun move, getting some new kit. How wrong you can be! It’s a minefield out there of camera’s, megapixels, full frame or crop, specs etc etc. Bewildering almost.
Around a month ago I was passing a local branch of Jessops so nipped in for a look at the Nikon D7000 and D300s. The D7000 was originally what I really wanted. Surprisingly for me, the sales guy actually recommended the cheaper D7000 for my purposes but it looked so small next to the D300s which felt like a real proper camera. I was so taken with the D300s if I had the cash I’d have bought it there and then.
For weeks I’ve been researching D300s prices as I tried to assemble the cash to buy it outright, and then out of the blue came a possibility of increasing the budget to anything up to £3,000. Not certain yet but I had to put the camera on hold until I knew, this changes everything.
At this point the first thoughts of going full frame started. I’d always discounted it and I’d also need to change my Nikon 18-70mm AFS DX and Sigma 10-20mm lenses, the 2 main ones I use. With a bigger budget though…
Into view came the Nikon D700. Essentially, a Nikon D3 that’s a touch slower and doesn’t have the fancy body, or the price tag. I also figured I could replace the lenses with quality 2nd hand’s from the likes of Greys of Westminster and figured around another £700 should see me good.
Then when I though it was all clear in my head, I spotted the price of a used Nikon D3. Not the D3s or D3x they are well out of range but the original D3 was coming in at only a couple of hundred quid more than a D700! Top of the range, the holy grail of Nikon and it COULD be mine. Finances would be tight but it might be worth a compromise here and there to get one of the best DSLR’s on the market.
What I should have done then was to leave the internet well alone. I started reading comparison reviews of the cameras and came to the conclusion that a D700 would be just as good as a D3 and I could get it brand new for less than a used D3. Sorted, choice made.
Or was it?
Nope, after some more reading it seemed that full frame was overkill. I’m not a pro, probably never will be so what do I need with full frame? Nope, a D300s would be perfectly adequate.
A D300s it was then. Decision made. As a result of the lesser expenditure I could also probably get myself a Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 DX, the prince of DX format lenses, a Speedlight SB900 and a set of Lee grads and polariser.
BUT, something was nagging at me. The D300s is a 12.1mp camera. Essentially the same one as the Nikon D90 I already have. Of course there are many other improvements but the Canon 7D is in the same price range and its 18mp! I know megapixels are not all that counts at the end of the day but more would be nice. So what else could I get?
I even contemplated a full scale switch to Canon so I could get a 7D but this would be a nightmare with so much Nikon gear so the only other thing I could do was buy the Nikon D7000. After reading the Ken Rockwell review of the D7000 my mind is made up. By all accounts, it appears to be a remarkable camera and while I still don’t really care for the dinkyness of it, I’ll add the battery grip to give it a bit more satisfying bulk for me.
Add in a 2nd hand 17-55 lens to replace my aging 18-70, Speedlight SB900 and the Lee filters and I’ll be just over the 2k mark for all this nice new kit and no issues having to replace lenses left, right and centre.
So that’s it, D7000 it’s going to be.
At least till I start reading other reviews tomorrow…
You’ve had your compact camera for ages now and while you like the convenience you’re thinking of making a step up to a DSLR aren’t you? It’s hardy surprising, 10 years ago a DSLR was very much a luxury item, you could by a car for less than most around at the time, these days with entry level DSLR’s wit kit lenses coming in at under £400 for everything you need to get started it’s becoming a more and more tempting proposition for many.
But… before you rush off to your local camera dealers, or start furiously researching best prices online, ask yourself, what do you actually want from your camera? Do you just want to take pics of your mates drunk in the pub or just a few snapshots of the kids? Then, save yourself some cash and stick with your compact, it’s more than suited to the tasks in hand. On the other hand, if you find yourself getting a real interest in photography, feeling the urge to try and take better pictures and find you use your camera a lot then go right ahead, you won’t be disappointed.
Actually, that last statement is a lie; you will be horribly disappointed and equally frustrated when you move up to a DSLR. Just because you have a “proper” camera, it won’t make you a photographer overnight. There will be a lot of learning ahead, trial and tribulations and probably tantrums and tears as you get to grips with your new toy but rest assured, its worth it all as eventually you’ll get the results you want if you persevere.
What you have to remember is, this is a proper photographic tool you’re investing in. Even a cheap one will blow most compact cameras out of the water but you have to change your way of thinking. Don’t use it like a compact; don’t stick it on auto and snap away, what’s the point of that? Your compact can do that! What I’m going to detail isn’t how to use your camera but the things you should stick at to learn how it works properly. What to focus on to help you get the most from your new camera.
First things first, what equipment do you “really” need?
Ok, so obviously, you’re digital SLR. Be in Canon, Nikon or any other makes, it might seem unimportant but think on before you buy. That Pentax might be a great deal as you eye it up in Jessop’s, but think further down the line. Is there a good supply of lenses for it? How do the prices look? It’s important as typically once you buy into one system and start to add more lenses you won’t want to switch to another. I bought into the Nikon system and have since added 9 lens to my collection, to switch to Canon and re-buy all these lens’s would be horribly expensive so choose wisely. My honest opinion, go Nikon or Canon, a safe bet all round. Try both in the shop; see what you prefer as both will be very capable performers.
DO; buy the camera with the kit lens. It’ll be cheaper than buying the body only and adding a lens to that. Most kit lens will be in the 18-55mm range which is fine for a wide range of applications and it’s enough to get you going. The camera shop will invariably try to see you a UV filter to go with your new toy. No harm in that, it’s good for protecting your lens and does cut down haze but… think about it first. If the shop is trying to sell you a branded UV filter you may be paying upwards of £30 for it. They’ll sell it mainly as lens protection and there’s no doubt that it will protect your lens front element, however which in a camera bag etc, your lens cap will also do that and while it’s in your hands, the chances of scratching the lens is minimal. I have no UV filters anymore, I had 9 scratch free lens’s and believe me I am the worst in the world for chucking them back in the bag minus lens caps. Don’t waste your money on a UV, just treat your lens with respect, look after it and if you have the cash invest in a polarising filter instead.
Used properly, a circular polariser will enhance the blues in sky, make the contrast to clouds better and cut out glare from water, shiny surfaces etc. A million times more useful than a UV. More expensive sure, but look about online, you’ll get unbranded ones that while certainly not as good as your Hoya’s etc it’ll be more than adequate for starting out and you’ll get more proper benefit from it than you will a UV.
Also invest in a tripod of sorts, how much you spend is up to you. Tripods can range from a few pounds for small spindly effort to hundreds of pounds for the all signing and dancing carbon fibre models. Go mid range, even going to about £50 will pay dividends in the end. You’ll almost certainly upgrade it if you really get into this stuff no matter what you buy. While you at it, get onto eBay and get a remote control too. Needn’t be one of the mega bucks ones, a simple IR or corded remote for a few pounds is adequate.
Finally, a bag. You’ve got minimal kit so a small bag will do right? Well, depends if you’re going to add more as you go along? Eventually, that small bag will be overflowing and you’ll need another one. I bought a Loewpro mini trekker many years ago. £60 seemed a fortune for a bag but it’s still going strong although bursting at the seams now. You get what you pay for here!
So now you’ve got your kit, what first? Well, forget auto mode. Stick the camera on Av, aperture priority mode and leave it there. Learn about depth of field, how to focus, the difference of aperture vs. focal distance etc and you’ll get a pretty good grounding. Aperture is all in photography. Take a pic of something close to you, say 2ft away at f3.5 which your lens will probably do, then take the same pic at f22. Look at what you have and you’re on the way to understanding the cornerstone of photography.
Do; use your tripod and remote switch often. Not just in low light, if you photographing landscapes get into the way of using it, even in good light with fast shutter speeds. I originally shied away from the tripod, feeling a touch self conscious using it out in public, now I rarely take a shot handheld.
Now, this next statement will have some photographers out there crying in disbelief… and this is all the more important if you’re photographing landscape, cityscapes etc… LEARN ABOUT HDR PHOTOGRAPHY. For a few quid you can buy Photomatix Pro software and you’re on your way. HDR, which spat upon by most advanced or pro photographers is a post processing technique where you combine 3 exposures, one normal, one overexposed and one underexposed to get an final composite image with an increased tonal range. In shot, it can make an average picture look stunning, especially to a beginner. Read all about it and learn how to do it. Why? Because if you do, you will be amazed at the results, so will your friends and family and that encouragement will drive you on. I love HDR; it gave me a real boost while I was learning. It let me do things my camera and kit were not capable of doing in a single shot and these results spurred me onto more. I rarely do HDR anymore as I’ve increased my understanding of filters etc but in the short term it will give you great incentive to take more and to experiment and that can’t be a bad thing can it?
Sign up to Flickr or Blipfoto. Get involved in the communities, you’ll find plenty people willing to offer advice or even some tuition to help you along. Remember to not make it all one way traffic though, the more you put into these the more you get out. Upload regularly, learn and be inspired by others and you’ll be surprised how quickly you come on.
This will all keep you gripped for months but eventually you’ll want to add more kit. It happens to us all; maybe even upgrade your DSLR? You could spend forever but spend wisely. Think about what you’re getting, what you’ll use it for and most importantly spend as much as you can afford. Cheap lenses especially are rarely good lenses.
Initially for lens purposes think about adding a 50mm f1.8 first. This is a prime lens, i.e. no zoom, it has a large maximum aperture of f1.8 to allow some great depth of field shots and most importantly, they are cheap in lens terms, around the £100 mark. Every photographer should own one.
After this look for a decent zoom, something up to around 200mm. There are a load of cheap lenses out there up to 300mm but believe me, image quality at 300mm is crap, don’t be swayed by it. I bought a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM, expensive yes at over £600 but I’ve never needed another big zoom since, it’s so good it does it all!
These 3 will be more than enough for most but you may also get the urge to add a wider lens at some point, a valuable addition to any landscape photographer’s camera bag. True macro Len’s are also popular, by true macro I mean 1:1 reproduction. Don’t be fooled by lens’s which have 1:2 or 1:3, these are general purpose lenses with a macro function, NOT a true macro lens. There is a massive difference, believe me.
You might also notice the huge array of filters available. I would recommend getting yourself a P series holder and some 85mm filters, starting with a set of ND and ND soft grad filters. These will fit any lens regardless of size as long as you get the adapter ring for each lens. Much more convenient that the screw in systems.
Above all, have fun with it. It won’t all be easy going, you’ll get days you look at what you took and delete the lot but stick with it, you get it in the end and every now and again you’ll get an image that actually excites you then you’ll understand why you do it!