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So You’re Interested in a DSLR Camera?

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You’re probably here because of a random search. Well, i’m no expert, but i’ve got some equipment, and i’ve been shooting for only a little while. I’m probably the perfect person to offer an objective point of view! I’m a newbie too. Just like you, but the only difference is that I have some gear, and you don’t (yet).

Well, I want to help you. I want to help you save money, time, and frustration. So without further do, please allow me the opportunity to set you straight on a few things.

  1. The equipment DOES NOT really matter!
  2. Persistence and patience do matter, however.
  3. Being creative and curious helps a lot.
  4. Special effects are easy. Time consuming, but still… easy.
  5. Connections help more than expensive lenses.

The explanation for each of these points continues after the break.

The Equipment Does Not Really Matter

I shoot Canon gear, and I have invested in it mainly because it’s what I’ve always been comfortable using from starting off with point-and-shoot cameras. That’s it. I’m perfectly comfortable with the prospect of having to use Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and even Sony (who bought up the assets of what was once Konica-Minolta).

Anyone who tells you one system is flat out superior to another is a fanboy. Don’t listen to them. No how good they seem to be at their craft, they are doomed to be the frog in the well. Definitely do not listen to the boisterous keyboard warriors of the Internet forum wastelands. More often than not, these are the types who never even post photos. Probably because they are too busy arguing the merits of one brand over another.

…The camera at its core is just a f#*%ing box that captures light…

Save yourself a lot of stress, go to a camera store, or a Best Buy, and play around with the interface on the cameras on display. Put your brain on ‘IGNORE’ mode with the salespeople. Feel the camera and look around in the interface for what is intuitive for you. Don’t worry if you don’t know what buttons do which. At this point you are not supposed to know. Just put the camera in your hands and work on these things:

  1. Can I figure out how to turn it on or off?
  2. Is it comfortable in my hands?
  3. Is it too light, or too heavy?
  4. Can I reach all of the buttons, switches, and doodads with both hands comfortably?
  5. Does it feel right?

Seriously, that sounds simple, like for developmentally retarded individuals. But I have quantified the exact things that will be running through your mind at that point. Pick something you’re comfortable with. You’re the one that is going to have to use it every day.

Don’t worry about megapixels. Don’t worry about the ISO rating of the camera. Don’t worry about technobabble this, or whachamcallit that. Don’t let anyone- whether it be a sales droid, a crazy uncle, or even myself get to you to influence the TECHNICAL aspects of your decision. Camera bodies are all competent regardless of the manufacturer and worrying about the TECHNICAL details is really useless at this point.

The camera at its core is just a fucking BOX that captures light. An empty coffee can with a pinhole and some film can do that. There is even a trend these days to use deliberately crappy cameras and lenses to take artsy, strangely overexposed photos. I am serious! (wikipedia – Lomography). So DON’T WORRY about these technical aspects at all.

Don’t worry about getting additional lenses at this point. Learn and use the kit lens that comes with your camera first. I had a kit lens and I regret selling it, because it was damn good at what it did, and was light and cheap. Put thoughts of loading up on lenses firmly out of your head.

…Don’t worry about megapixels. Don’t worry about the ISO rating of the camera…

The main merits of sticking with Canon or Nikon (since they are the big dogs) or some other recommend brand is that if you’re in a class/group environment, you can share other people’s lenses.

Otherwise if you want to go with some other brand, knock yourself out. Building a good DSLR is not rocket surgery, and pretty much everything out there is competent at taking pictures, so you will be perfectly fine with whatever gear you are comfortable with.

Still not convinced? Check out this rant written by Chad Coombs, a professional photographer. He says it a lot more to-the-point and jarringly eloquently than me most of the time. I am being dead serious. Stop right now in fact, go read that page RIGHT NOW, and you can thank me later. I won’t be upset if you decide not to come back. I’m being serious.

Persistence & Patience Really Do Matter

I read my manuals and documentation all the time. I frustrated the hell out of my wife because I take my cameras into the bathroom, and use that opportunity while downloading a brownload to fully understand the feature sets, limitations, and experiment while my gear has a captive audience. No, I don’t take pictures of my own poop. I might though, if I leave one large enough to clog the whole thing down, but you get my drift – OKAY back on subject…

There is a lot to understand about photography, and while I cannot claim to be an expert at ANYTHING in the field, I can at least have conversations with those that do, and take away a reasonable understanding of things they have to say. There are quite a few technical terms, a little bit of math, TONS of marketing bullshit, but even more good tips and techniques.

My point is that I still may not be a good photographer after all is said and done, but I have learned a lot of random things related to the study of light, and there is always more to reach for. Don’t let the initial overwhelming flood of information intimidate you. Embrace it, and just try to digest comfortable sized bits at a time.

Being Creative & Curious Helps a Lot

I’ll admit I need a lot of work in this regard. Every time I give my camera to a child to use, more often than not I get something back that looks better than if I had taken it. This happens! Accept it!

The trick is to not get discouraged, and instead capitalize on the lesson they are sharing with you. Keep an open mind, be creative, and be curious. Who cares if you’re at a museum, and you are lying on the ground to get a better shot of a statue?

Sure, people are laughing at you now, but these are the same people who would gladly over cashmoney for one of your prints afterwards.

Hong Kong Dried Food Stand

Special Effects are Easy, But Time Consuming

If you’re looking at this photo and you say “Wow! I really want to do this! This is SO FREAKING COOL!”


…let me just tell you first to smack that thought out of your head and come to your senses. Don’t fall for this sort of bullshit. You are better than that.

There is nothing wrong with this type of photography- it’s called high dynamic range imaging, or HDR (sometimes HDRi) for short- but it is a special effect. Time will tell if it fades into obscurity as a mere gimmick, or continues its life in a more muted and upscale fashion.  Photos like this are composed of at least two images taken at different exposure settings which are ‘muxed’ together using Photoshop or other applications.

Remember, that these are special effect shots. Good effects like any must be used in moderation. If you rush out and get yourself a DSLR thinking you want to shoot only images like this, chances are you will be frustrated and disappointed. These sort of shots take a lot of time to craft, and it’s all too easy to fall into the trap to overdo them.

Connections Help More Than Expensive Gear

This is something I don’t need to elaborate much on. If you’re at a venue, and you can get front-row access, you stand to get much better, intimate shots than the guy slathered in gear who is sitting in the nosebleed seats, doesn’t know any of the performers, doesn’t even know where the dressing rooms are, or can’t even get the time of day from the security staff.

I often have to remind myself to work on this aspect. It’s really something that people overlook until the last minute.


Conclusion & Wrap-Up

Below are two of my cameras. I use both of them. If you’re bored, you can see a head-to-head comparison between David and Goliath that I am slowly pulling together here and here. You can decide for yourself if even using a DSLR is what you are looking for.

The Two Contestants

Well, I really hope that this helps you in making your purchase. Remember that what matters is that you are happy and comfortable taking photos. Good luck!


It pays to take your camera around everywhere. This may not be a ‘great’ photo but I love the emotion it sparks when I see it. Best part? No posing, and total spontaneity. I wish I had a better eye for this sort of thing.


Again, not a technically impressive shot, and completely lacking in an interesting subject… but its always fun to experiment.


Normal, mundane things can be fun too.

Written by Tijger Tsou

February 26th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

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