Saturday, 14 March 2009

Choosing a DSLR (Quick Answers? Not really)

Nikons vs. Canons

Image by penmachine via Flickr

In the DPR Beginners Forum, we often get beginners asking about which DSLR to buy. Invariably, although they think they are being unique and try to sound unique, their question goes like this:

  1. Which is The Best DSLR?
  2. Which is the DSLR with The Best Image Quality?
  3. Which is the DLR with The Most Bang for Buck?
  4. I’m buying my first DSLR, Which One Would You Buy?
  5. del.icio.us Tags:

One might think, they should first read other posts before they pose the question. Because there are many posts around the same topic. No. That’s not a goer for them. For several reasons.

  1. Previous posts seem too tailored to individual queries
  2. Previous threads are too long and often spiraled by conflicting pontifications
  3. They really can’t make sense of the language being used
  4. They really believe there is a Best – why is everyone so clueless?
  5. They want to settle the matter there and then, what’s the point of going to a shop and holding the thing?
  6. They’re looking for some camraderie.
  7. They’re looking to be served at the counter, ring, ring!

Let me try to address the questions as best I can, in broad terms.

Q: Which is the Best DSLR

ANS: There is no “Best” DSLR – there is no Best Car, there is no Best Wife, there is no Best House. There is a car you would rather drive, there is a wife that would suit you to bits but might not suit everyone, ditto for a house. What makes you think there is a Best DSLR? There are DSLRs that are so robust, strong, long lasting, solid, reliable, produce good images that they are chosen by the Professionals Who Earn A Living from photography. That may not be the one for you – as an amateur, you may not have the budget, you may not have the dedication or have an assistant to carry all the gear, and so on. So essentially, you’re asking, “What is the Best DSLR for me?” – to which we answer, we don’t know, we are not you. You can tell us who you are, what you want to shoot (and some beginners say anything and everything) but we may still get the choice wrong – we don’t have your size hands, we don’t at all empathise with your eyesight or lack of……

Q: Which is the DSLR with The Best Image Quality?

ANS: There would be one or two DSLRs with extremely good image quality. And the contender for the crown might be knocked off every other year. Take for example, that Leica S-System – it might be the best Image Quality DSLR one day, but would YOU buy it? Really? So, we might say a Nikon D3 or a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III. Would you buy those? Money no problem? Are you going to buy at least one lens with that body, sir? Ok, you may think I’m over the top? So you’re into the more plebian entry level DSLRs? That each brand has? Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax? Which entry level camera has the Best Image Quality? Are you serious? If they are all entry level models, none of them can be The Best Image Quality. There will be one that does better than another technically, but economically, the higher model of a couple of years ago that is still on sale might be the same price but punching much better because it was a higher model. So you can’t even compare within one category – there are wildcards from previous years, higher end models, second hands and so on….

Q: Which is the DLR with The Most Bang for Buck?

ANS: Same as above - economically, the higher model of a couple of years ago that is still on sale might be the same price but punching much better because it was a higher model. So you can’t even compare within one category – there are wildcards from previous years, higher end models, second hands and so on…. Would you buy an older model? Would you buy a refurbished one? Would you buy a second hand?

But what does “Bang for Buck” mean? That you buy a firecracker that goes “boom” louder? But we’re not buying firecrackers. We’re buying cameras to take photos. A photo is a combination of lighting, subject selection, composition, where you stand, how quick you and the camera are to take the oppurtunity, whether that oppurtunity is well within the camera’s ability and your skill. A camera with more features to tick off in a product matrix may not necessarily be the better tool for you. Because for that oppurtunity or scene, it may not have the right strengths in the right areas.

Q: I’m buying my first DSLR, Which One Would You Buy?

ANS: Really, this is a howling classic. I can tell you why I would buy something. That does not make me, you. I might be dual faceted. I might want you to buy what I buy and persuasively say so. To vindicate my choice. Bring one more to the fold. Or I might so detest my choice I want the whole world to not to buy that in revenge and retribution. Really, you don’t want to buy the camera that I bought. Really.

In later postings, I hope to come up with some affirmative points….

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