Want to take great photos?  Thinking of getting a fancy camera so you can do just that? Maybe someone said you should get a DSLR, but you’re not even sure you know what that is…

Well, in the old days, an SLR was a Single Lens Reflex camera, and now adding the D just means it a digital one.  Any clearer?  No? Then it’s just one of those really expensive chunky ones where you can switch the lenses and add a flash if you want.  You usually hang them round your neck on a big  strap.  Most people get either Canon or Nikon, others are available too, but still most people end up with a Canon or Nikon eventually.

Well that would be great!  Then you could take fantastic photos! Bring it on!

your camera takes really nice pictures - thanks

Woah! Hang on a minute! I love my DSLR, I really do.  It’s a tool, it’s a thing of joy that I cherish in a weird, slightly questionable kind of way. But here’s what I want you to think about:

It’s expensive.  You can pick up an entry level DSLR for about £250.  Very quickly you’ll realise that that you’re going to need a few more bits before it’s fully useful.  For example – a second lens, such as a 50mm prime lens or maybe a telephoto, depending what you like to take pics of (£100-£300+). An external flash (£200+) will be handy because you’ll soon learn that no-one looks good lit up with an on-camera flash (although I can teach you a neat trick with a business card that’ll tide you over for a while).  You’ll end up spending some serious cash, and swinging a high insurance liability round your neck.

And it’s heavy. Not just heavy, it’s bulky. Which is why people hang them round their necks. These things do not slip neatly into back pockets.  It’s possible to carry one in a (large) handbag, I often do, but only when I’m certain I won’t need to switch lenses at some point. If you’re out for a full day’s shoot, or off on holiday, you’ll need your full kit bag, which is one full piece of hand luggage to any budget airline.  Then most days you’ll just leave it at home, and end up using your phone instead.

They are not very versatile.  Going back to my point about needing multiple lenses, each lens is suited to a particular type of photography (portrait, landscape, wildlife, macro…) and while your standard kit lens (i.e. the one that comes with your camera) will be OK at most of these, it will not really be quite amazing enough for you not to wish you’d brought the other lens after all.
And then there’s the specialist software, the huge amount of memory, not to mention the hideous self-consciousness when pulling a kilo of hardware out of your bag, when everyone else is holding up their phones.

What are the alternatives?

  • A bridge camera
    Designed to bridge the gap between a DSLR and a point and shoot compact camera, they’re still a little bulky but the zoom lens will give you a good quality image from a distance. Not as great as a DSLR with a zoom lens, but a good compromise with the option to shoot in manual and RAW (worth doing if you get serious).
  • A decent point and shoot
    You get what you pay for in this market.  I’d say it’s worth spending at least £300 if you can.  One of the most critical things that you won’t find out until it’s in your hand, unless you find a truly detailed review, is shutter lag, which is the time it takes between pressing the button and the picture being taken. There is nothing more frustrating than missing a great moment by a fraction because your camera wasn’t up to it.
  • An iPhone
    Yes, seriously. Or a decent Samsung. Most top of the range camera phones these days will outperform a mid-range point and shoot.  And they’re always with you, easy to access, easy to edit and share.  You’re limited with zoom, so distance can be a problem, but really, only buy another camera if you feel your phone is holding back your creative aspirations.

Finally, once again – you take the photo, not the camera.  If you do commit to a DSLR don’t leave it on auto and expect it to do all the hard work, you might be rather disappointed.  Promise yourself that you’ll learn how to use it, and accept that that will take some time and effort.

Whatever option you go for, spend some time studying photography, learning about light, composition, editing.  It will, I guarantee, change the way you look at the world. Your eyes will be opened to wonders you’ve never noticed, light you’ve never seen, and it can take you places you’ve never imagined!

What you need to know before you buy a fancy camera