canon eos 450d and 18-55mm IS lens

The Ultimate Guide to Buying an Entry Level DSLR

Mandy Camera gear reviews 21 Comments

Buying an Entry Level DSLR?

But where do you start – not sure?

Don’t worry, this guide will take you through the questions you need to answer to help you choose the DSLR that’s right for you.

Buying your first DSLR is a big decision, lets face it photography is not a cheap hobby. And DSLR’s are expensive, so you want to make sure you make the right decision.

I know I did when I bought my first DSLR.

The thing is it’s different for everyone. Why? Because photography is individual. Whether it’s what you like to shoot, how you like to shoot it or what you like to shoot it with!

So what I’m going to do is lead you through the information that you need to know to help you make that decision. And tell you how I made my decision when I bought my first DSLR. Oh and I’ll leave the high tech details out, and go for the plain english keep it simple route. Because if you’re overwhelmed with info overload you’ll never know which one to choose!

Why do you want a DSLR?

When I decided to upgrade to a DSLR from my point and shoot it was for these reasons, but these reasons also turned out to be the features that I needed to look for in my new DSLR:

  1. I had a point and shoot but felt limited and wanted to be more creative = want full range of camera modes
  2. I was already familiar with a point and shoot’s settings = want a DSLR to reflect this
  3. I don’t want a camera that fits in my purse I’m more bothered about image quality = want best camera for my budget
  4. I want more flexibility and to be able to change the lens = want great choice of available lenses
  5. I want more control over the photos I take = want to try different types of photography: depth of field, macro, night, travel, sports, portrait or landscape

These are all great reasons, and make a great wish list, but with all the different choices out there to buy it can become a little overwhelming, don’t you think?

Jargon busting?

One of the first things you’ll notice when buying a camera is the amount of tech info and photography jargon that comes with it. What does it all mean? Here’s the main ones that I think you need to know, to understand the sales assistant or what the camera review is going on about:

  • DSLR – digital single lens reflex eg. what you see is what you get
  • megapixel – digital images are captured on image sensors made up of pixel elements (light absorbing), a million of these elements is a megapixel (determines how large you can print your image)
  • image sensor – digital ‘film’ sensor made up of megapixels (DSLR’s use CMOS sensors)
  • image processor – the brain of the camera converts the light caught on the sensor into an actual image on the lcd screen
  • image stabilisation – either by the sensor or in the lens, it compensates for any movement while the image is being taken (hand shaking)
  • memory card – you’ll need a memory card that will fit your camera to save your images on – beware they don’t come with the camera!

Still with me?

Buying an Entry Level DSLR – Which Camera do I go for?

Let’s start to narrow this down.

First of all you need to decide which make of camera you want to buy. I’ll explain later why it’s so important to decide on a ‘make’

You’ve got these main choices of cameras: Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, or Panasonic.

All these ‘makes’ make good cameras. And so it’s easier to choose a camera (and to also stop this post turning into a book) I would recommend that you narrow it down to 2 companies. Why?  Because there’s no way you can realistically choose from all the entry level models from all 5 companies – your head will end up as mush!

When I did this I chose the 2 companies below. Because I’d used Canon products before and thought the image quality was very good. And also both have huge experience in making imaging products, literally decades of it. Which means they also make alot of accessories for the cameras, which can only be a good thing. And let’s face it they are giants in the camera world:

So why is the ‘make’ of the camera so important?

To realise why this question is so important you have to look at the bigger picture.

Ok, so you’ve decided you want to improve your photography and buy a DSLR. But you’re quite rightly a little worried about figuring out all the buttons and new features that your new DSLR will give you. You want to see if you like it before you go too mad on gear?

Now when you learn to ride a bicycle you don’t start off with a full suspension mountain bike do you? You start off with a normal bike and if you’re a kid you’ve got training wheels on it, when you gain your confidence and experience you get the full suspension mountain bike.

Same with a DSLR. If you start out with an entry level DSLR and really enjoy it you’ll probably buy a few lenses for it and a flashgun etc… but then you want the full suspension mountain bike, like a semi-pro or full frame camera?

But you’ve spent a fair bit of money on accessories and you don’t want to have to start all over again and buy new ones, you want to be able to still use your beloved (and possibly expensive) lens on your new bells and whistle camera.

So it makes sense to start off with the camera ‘make’ that you’re going to stick with, because then you can just upgrade your body and all your old accessories will still fit it! Make sense yeah?

buying an entry level DSLR

Canon or Nikon?

The age old question. I’m not getting into that one!

To be honest they’re both great cameras, and there’s not much between them so this is where it comes down to personal preference.

Lets compare their entry level models so you can see what I mean:

Canon 1100D/T3

  • 12.2-megapixel image quality
  • Feature Guide Mode: Yes
  • HD video: Yes
  • new 18-55mm IS II kit lens
  • 9-point Auto Focus system
  • 2.7-inch Live View LCD screen
  • Use with all EF and EF-S lenses (60+)
  • 14-bit DIGIC 4 image processor 3.2fps continuous shooting

Nikon D3100

  • 14.2 megapixel DX-format image sensor
  • Feature Guide Mode: Yes
  • HD (full) Video: Yes
  • 18-55mm VR kit lens
  • 11 point Auto Focus system
  • Large 3-inch, high-resolution LCD monitor
  • Extensive in-camera editing functions
  • EXPEED 2 image processing engine with up to 3 fps

Stalemate?

The best advice I can give you (and what I did) is to go to a shop (yep they still have them) and pick them up. Try each model out, hold them and see how they feel in your hands, look through the viewfinder and see how it feels, press a few buttons, how do the menus work?

Once you’ve done that you’ll know which one you want!

Its all about the glass

The camera is only one part of the equation when it comes to taking great images. If you’ve got a fantastic camera, but a really cheap low quality lens, then you’ll never get the same great quality shots than if you use a really good quality lens with a cheaper camera. The lens makes a big difference. Lens quality ranges from very cheap to very expensive. While cheaper cameras are getting a lot better. That’s the advantage of spending money on getting decent lenses and not a very expensive camera body.

And being able to use different lenses is what you want a DSLR for in the first place, right? It’s where things start to get really interesting…

What do I use?

I decided on a Canon camera. At the time Canon didn’t make the 1100D/T3 series, so the best entry level camera I could afford was the Canon 450D/XSi, and I still use that camera today.

I love it!

Conclusion

I’m not telling you to go out and buy a Canon or Nikon entry level camera (although they are very good cameras for the price).

I’m showing you the process I went through to decide on a Entry Level DSLR. So it can help you decide.

It doesn’t matter which camera you choose as long as you are happy with your choice.

So get out there and start shooting and having fun!

And don’t forget to pop back to The Photographer Blog to pick up some more tips to help you with your photography…

See you soon!

Mandy

Comments 21

  1. Post
    Author
  2. Great post yet again! I had difficulties trying to decide between the Sony Alpha and Canon 450 not forgetting all the fanboy wars on websites and after spending days in the shops bought the Canon 450 It is a great entry level camera … so good my wife took it! I went back to the UK to visit my family last year and my father gave me his Sony Alpha 300 I don’t know why but it felt just right for me. So my wife is now learning on the Canon 450 and I have just invested into my second Sony the Alpha77 I got so tired of all the online fan wars and simply decided over what I felt worked well for me. I couldn’t agree more Mandy that they are ALL great cameras. The only negative side is my wife is buying Canon lenses and I am buying Sony! She just won’t come over to the dark side 😉

  3. Post
    Author

    I completely agree with you Toni it all comes down to personal taste and how the camera feels in your hands. There’s so much competition out there for entry level cameras (good for us) it can be incredibly hard to choose, I think the only way is to go and pick them up and try them out. Then you’ll know……

    Tell your wife to stay with the force!!!

  4. best entry level camera is nikon d3200.
    reasons:
    a. nikon is better than canon because nikon has better (simpler) user interface
    b. in nikon….current options r d3200 or d5100. d3200 is better coz it is 20% lighter in weight and has a great GUIDE mode which really helps beginners. it also has latest technology like EXCEED 3 and wifi.
    c. get d3200 body and proper lens (based on ur requirements) and this will suffice.
    good luck.
    k

  5. hy ppl, i actually have a great dilemma of choosing nikon d5100 vs canon 60d both have equal specs i have been researching on dis for more than a month still couldnt figure it out , i usually use for portraits , scenary , dark light , sport and long shot …would anyone help me figuring out which would be the best ?!

  6. Post
    Author

    Ashwin – I always advise to go and pick them up and try them out in the shop before you buy, especially if they are similar in specs.

    You may know instantly then which one you want to buy because one may feel better than the other when you pick it up?

    For your type of photography I think both would be fine, so it really comes down to which one you ‘feel’ better using?

  7. Just wanted to say thank you for making such an effort with this blog, i purposely went 6 pages deep into google to find something more individual than the artificial SEO commercial crap sites out there.

    Hopefully will be ditching the Fuji finepix-S8100fd soon for a used 450D / Rebel XSi from ebay 🙂

    keep up the good work.

  8. Post
    Author
  9. Dear Mandy
    There I was having made a choice a Nikon d3200 or d5200 and Canon bring out the Canoneos 650d .I use a Superzoom Bridge Camera at the moment a HS20EXR and I am not sure if this is the right move?
    .I have quite large hands and have borrowed a Canon sx40 32x Zoom and found it a bit small.I looked at the xs1 Fuji but I dont think there is much difference as the sencer is still quite small.I am not Interested in shooting videos I just want the best Image quality on my Photographs . I am interested on your thoughts I have now probably spent several days in in time now reading different reviews and trying to compare different photographs to different cameras and in many cases not seeing anything better than my present camera .I am beginning to think its not worth moving up to a Entry Level DSLR?
    Any thoughts would be appreciated

  10. Post
    Author

    Brian – If you’re happy with your HS20 and the image quality you get with it, then maybe an entry level DSLR is not the right move?

    Bridge cameras can shoot in RAW and have AV and TV modes, so the major difference between them and DSLR’s is the sensor size and the fact you can change the lens…

    If these features don’t bother you then stick with your HS20. But if they do bother you, then I always say go and pick up the DSLR cameras you have short listed and see how they feel in your hands. This alone can make up your mind!

    As for the 650D – if you liked video I’d say go for it! Because that’s its huge strength… But seeing as you are not into video, then I’d take a closer look at the Nikon’s and see how they feel…

  11. Hey..I have been using Panasonic Long zoom camera DMC-FZ50 for sometime now and planning to sell it and upgrade to a DSLR..and i have narrowed it down to Canon 600D with 18-55 IS or Nikon D3200 18-55 VR for my first DSLR..I am slightly biased towards 600D’s Articulating LCD screen but i have learned that D3200 is better performer overall in terms of image quality and all..plus on screen guide to g owith..but again 600D has in camera post processing and i have been, you can say a fan of canon products(compact digital cameras)..and again, it has an articulating screen..so if you could pls help me out here in deciding which one to buy? I am more inclined towards canon but if D3200 is a better camera then why not..

  12. My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different page and thought I
    may as well check things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to looking at your web page again.

  13. Great post Mandy. One question: have you ever bought a second hand DSLR? I am a beginner and I’m tempted to get more from my budget by going second hand. Do you have recommendations or tips? Kind regards, Conor.

  14. Hey Mandy

    Really like your posts . I want to buy an entry level DSLR for myself as i am a begginer . I am really confused between Nikon D3100 ,d3200 and d3300 . Can you please suggest ?

    Thnks
    Suraj

    P.s. You can suggest any other camera too apart from nikon . 🙂

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Suraj,

      The Nikon D3100, D3200, D3300 is basically the same camera, the D3100 being the oldest version of the camera and the D3300 being the most recent version of the camera… so when it comes to these 3 it depends on your budget? The D3300 has all the latest technology but the largest price tag, the D3100 is the cheapest but also has the oldest technology? Maybe the D3200 is the best of both?

      I always suggest to try and hold the camera you are looking at before buying it, to see how it feels in your hands and what it’s like to use? If you’re looking at a beginner DSLR and want something different than a Nikon, then Canon is a good bet….. but again I’d suggest trying out a camera before you buy it! 🙂

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