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You don’t need to hire Annie Leibovitz (or Anthony Weiner) to capture your special summer vacation moments in vivid color. These days, high-quality, point-and-shoot cameras are relatively inexpensive and come packed with features. But if you want to kick it up a notch and upgrade to something more professional, these are your best options:
Digital Single-lens Reflex (DSLR)
In recent years, DSLR cameras have exploded in popularity with the help of high-profile marketing and slick TV commercials, such as Nikon’s spot for its D5000 model featuring Ashton Kutcher.
The problem is, trading up for one of these beauties isn’t as easy as slapping down your credit card and reciting lines from Dude, Where’s My Car? Navigating the confusing maze of equipment and accessories can be difficult, and buying the wrong model for your needs can be a costly error.
“Upgrading to a DSLR opens up a whole new world of possibilities,” says Diego Matrajt, a veteran professional photographer and owner of PhotographyByDiego.com. “But you’ll need to do some research on the various cameras available, and think about the kind of pictures you’re going to be taking, before buying anything.”
Advantages of DSLRs
According to Matrajt, some of the top benefits of DSLRs include being able to see almost exactly what the lens sees through the optical viewfinder screen, allowing you to frame your subjects with the most accuracy. Thanks to larger, better-quality sensors (which fill the special void left by negative film in digital cameras) DSLRs also produce a superior, more accurate image than their point-and-shoot counterparts.
And because DSLRs have a mechanical shutter, there is no frustrating shutter lag (a vital benefit when trying to capture fast-action shots). More importantly, you can switch out lenses. “Point-and-shoot cameras generally utilize a generic lens that will allow you to take decent photographs in a broad spectrum of situations,” explains Matrajt. “But if you want to take exceptional photographs, the quality of the pictures is largely going to depend on the type of lens you’re using.”
Picking Entry-level DSLR Cameras and Lenses
DSLR cameras, especially at the entry level, are often sold in kits that include an all-purpose lens. These deals can seem pretty tempting, but Matrajt strongly advises against buying them. “If you’re going to buy a DSLR, you should take advantage of the fact that you can choose specific lenses. Spend a little more money to get the lenses that you want or need for the type of photography you’re interested in,” he explains. “In the end, you’ll be far happier buying a good-quality entry-level camera together with one or two lenses that will cover the type of photography you’re passionate about.”
|If you want to shoot landscapes, for example, Matrajt recommends a good wide-angle lens, like the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L $839.|
|If you’re into portraits and want a lens that will allow you to work at a bit of a distance and still capture the details of facial features, he suggests considering the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 , $419.|
|If you’re not sure, Matrajt suggests starting out with a 28-105mm zoom lens (focal-length ranges vary by brand) such as the Canon EF 28-105mm f/4-5.6 , $240
together with a 70-200mm zoom lens like the Canon EF 70-200m f/4L , $679. He adds: “These are two very good lenses that will allow you to shoot great pictures in most situations.”
|Be brand-conscious. Matrajt also notes that because of compatibility issues, it’s generally advisable to stick with the proprietary lenses made for the camera brand you choose. “If you have a Canon camera, buy a Canon lens and you won’t run into any problems,” he suggests.|
|Matrajt’s Camera Picks|
|Nikon D5100 $800|
|Matrajt’s first choice is surprising, since he uses Canon cameras for all of his professional work. “If I were to pick one, the D5100 would be my first choice,” Matrajt admits. “Although I’m a Canon shooter, I have to say this camera slightly edges out the Canon Rebel T3i on both image quality and color depth.”|
|Canon Rebel T3i $798|
|The Canon may trail in second place, but it still comes highly recommended. “The Rebel T3i is a great camera,” says Matrajt. “It has excellent features and the image quality is outstanding.”|
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 $800|
|Although Sony is not a particularly well-known brand in the DSLR field, Matrajt feels they put out a high-quality product. “Sony offers similar features to the Nikon and Canon cameras, such as the ability to shoot video in full HD,” he says “But they still have a way to go to before they really establish themselves in this arena.”|
|Pentax K-r $590|
|Pentax has been around for a long time, and Matrajt thinks this camera is a great choice for the novice photographer. “It will produce good-quality images and has some cool features, like a continuous mode shooting speed of 6fps, a 3-inch LCD screen and in-camera high-dynamic range (HDR) capability, which combines several photographs of a subject into one HDR image for greater detail and higher tonal range.”|
Unfortunately, if you’re going to make a real attempt at snatching Leibovitz’s crown, you’ll need to add a few extras to your inventory.
Aside from a rugged camera bag (check out the Lowepro brand for ideas) and a spare battery, among Matrajt’s list of other essential accessories are UV filters. Lenses are expensive; these filters not only reduce ultra violet light, they also put a physical barrier between the world and your valuable investment.
|Matrajt uses Hoya brand filters that range from about $10 to $60 each.|
|You’ll also need to buy some flash memory cards. Matrajt suggests getting several smaller Lexar brand 4 to 8 GB capacity cards (which range in price from $2.40 for a 4 GB multiuse card to $25 for 8 GB professional series card) instead of one large one, in case it becomes corrupted.|
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