I wrote a guide how to choose a digital camera that is right for you in this article. My choice was an APS-type digital SLR camera: Canon 400D, and I want to describe my experience when working with it.
First of all, the manual that comes with this camera is very handy, not only it has all the instructions how to operate the camera, but also basic photography explanations and tips.
Manufacturer specifications can be found here, but it's a very long list, so I'll put the main specifications only:
- APS-C sensor (22.2 x 14.8mm), click here for explanation of different sensors.
- 10 Megapixels
- 1.6x focal length multiplier
- 9 point auto-focusing system
- 2.5" LCD screen
- Compact-flash memory card
- RAW format
- 3 frames per second continuous shooting
- Built-in sensor cleaning system
- ISO range: 100-1600
- 6 auto-modes, 3 semi-auto modes, 1manual mode
- 10 seconds timer, and built-in infrared receiver for wireless remotes
- auto/custom white balance
- Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) in 3 steps (useful for High-Dynamic Range or HDR pictures)
- shutter speed range: 1/4000s - 30s/unlimited (and 1/200 min when using built-in flash)
- rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries (charger is included)
- PC-sync lead
Canon 400D is considered to be a budget camera, when it was first released it cost around 400 pounds ( or $750) for the body &18-55mm lens, now it can be bought for about 330 pounds or even less on ebay or used. Of course with many newer models available, you may consider buying something else, but don't forget, that accessories play a huge role for photographers, while personally I find that many new "features" are completely useless, for example cameras with more than 10 megapixels resolution, unless you want to print larger than A3 (or crop a lot), new models that have larger LCD screens with "live preview" feature that allows to see the picture on the LCD screen before you take it: first, it's useless in bright sunlight, and second the LCD screen "eats" so much battery power, if you keep looking at it, your battery will be exhausted in no-time etc ( a longer list of important and not-important features/specifications is here in the table at the bottom of the page). And so investing in e.g. second lens or more accessories rather than in features that you'll never use sounds like a reasonable thing to do.
Canon 400D feels quite light, is not heavy to carry around, it's easy to use and it produces very good quality pictures. But as with every DSLR, you need to know a bit more about photography, because you have a lot more control how you want to take your picture.
It's quite easy to learn basic photography jargon and acquire necessary skills to take good picture (which I intend to publish shortly), and it is also quite easy to remember how to set those settings in the camera. I will not write how to do it here, because it is very well described in the manual.
An extremely long and thorough review of Canon 400D with sample pictures can be found here.
Now I'm going to write a list of accessories that you might want to consider, this is particularly useful for people doing maybe A-level courseworks and stuff, because almost every one of these accessories gives you a lot of photography techniques to explore and describe in your sketchbook.
Other accessories that I bought over the years were:
- 70-300mm Sigma APO Macro lens. I actually bought a cheap lens on ebay that had exactly the same specifications for £50, but it turned out to be an old film-SLR lens, and because Sigma reverse engineer Canon lenses, their older lenses became incompatible when new Canon Digital SLRs were released (although most older film SLR Canon lenses are still compatible with Digital SLRs). But the seller on ebay refused to refund the money , so I phoned Sigma and they offered to trade it for £128, so it cost me £178 to get this lens, which is a bit more than if I just bought it at a shop. So, if you decide to buy on ebay, be very careful with what you buy. But it's a good lens, it gives about 12x magnification on 300mm and also macro can be useful, although it's not a dedicated macro lens. In general you may consider other lenses: for example: (1) 18-200mm general lens, which is useful because it gives you both wide angle lens and telephoto lens in one, so you don't have to waste time changing lenses if you go from one scenery to another. (2) Dedicated macro lenses: give beautiful pictures of plants/insects.. etc (3) Wide-angle lenses 12-24mm are used for landscape photography, interiors etc (4) Fish-eye lenses, 7-12mm , these lenses give a lot of distortion to the picture (making it spherical), but can also give very artistic effect and a lot of detail in a picture (5) Fast lenses: lenses with F-stop(aperture) of F2.8, they are usually very expensive , but allow to use fast shutter speeds, and very shallow depth of field, i.e. blurred background (resulting in "professional looking photos") for portraits etc
- Macro Extension tubes (£5): the cheap version does not have any electrical connections to the lens, so you loose autofocus ability, but with these tubes on, you can go a lot closer to your object. And for macro, autofocus is not the most important element. Alternatively you can get a lot more expensive extension tubes (about £60) which will make your lens a macro lens, keeping autofocus functionality and aperture controls.
- A tripod is a must-have accessory for any photographer, you'll need it for macro, portraits, general shots, slow-shutter speed, HDRs light-painting etc. I went for a cheap (£10), light and portable tripod, because my Canon 400D is not very heavy, so this tripod is just fine for me. But if you have a very heavy lens, or camera, you may need a more professional (and expensive tripod).
- A bag, you'll need a bag, once you start getting different equipment for your camera, the best DSLR bags I've seen so far are made by LowePro. I went for Lowepro Slingshot 100AW on ebay that costs around £30. But it has padded walls that protect the camera and lenses, microfiber LCD protector, lost of different partitions for memory cards etc, and all-weather cover to protect against rain, snow etc.
- Spare batteries: the original Canon battery that comes with 400D is 720mAh capacity, and again, brand new Canon batteries cost a lot, but on ebay I bought two 1300mAh batteries (high capacity) from Hong Kong for 7 pounds, and they have been working fine for over 2 years now. I usually use up two batteries during a photoshoot (there is also an accessory called battery grip, which is attached to the bottom of your camera and is simply a container for three batteries, so there is no need to replace them, also gives shutter button at the bottom the the camera).
- Spare memory cards, if you plan to experiment with RAW format or want to take loads of picture at a time, you might need to consider buying a spare compact flash memory card, I would recommend at least 2Gb high speed memory card (e.g. Sandisk extreme III CF 2gb ), they are quite cheap on play.com. You need a high speed memory card, because if you do continuous shooting (e.g. 3 frames per second), than you camera will stop after a few shots and you'll have to wait until this shots are written to the memory card, but with a fast memory card that is not a problem (but it will stop anyway briefly after about 27 shots).
- Flash-gun, I only bought this recently, but I found that it's a must-have accessory, because it gives a lot better results than if you use a built-in flash. I went for a budget flash gun as well, but I did a lot of research and chose Jessops 360AFD for Canon. It's quite a powerful flashgun and has a lot of useful features, like a built-in diffuser, focus-assistant light, swivel, rotate, manual controls, e-ttl technology etc. There were some articles that claimed it has 30 recycle time, which is nonsense. It can fire two times almost instantaneously, and then recycle in 2-5 seconds. (50pounds on ebay)
- Filters : these are circular pieces of glass, that can be attached to the front of the lens and give it some useful or artistic properties. Filters vary in size, according to the lens aperture (which is displayed on the front of the lens, e.g. Ѳ58, or Ѳ55..). You can read about different types of filters on the internet, but I bought some neutral density filters and a circular polarizer filter on ebay. I used the former to increase the F-stop of my lens and so to make very slow shutter possible for light-painting, and the latter was used to get rid of water reflection, which is really fun. Other quite nice filters exist that give a lot of creativity for your camera: (1) Skylight filters: increase the contrast of the sky (2) infra-red filters: allow to take pictures of infra-red light together with visible light, if used properly this can give very nice effects (3) UV (ultraviolet) filter: remove UV light, which results in glare , etc, but this doesn't really do much, so it is often used to protect the more expensive lenses.
- Camera armor: this is used to protect the camera from light damage, scratches, in particular the LCD screen. But also, I bought a silver Canon 400D, so later I realized it doesn't look very professional, so it also helps to hide unprofessional silver colour :)( the armor also comes in red colour). Costs around £30 (but it accumulates dust over time unfortunately)
- remote control: I went for a cheap remote control on ebay, which works fine. And it's very useful for macro, or shots that require very steady camera hold. Canon 400D remotes usually have two buttons: 2 seconds delay and normal shutter button.
- lens cleaning kit, you need a special cleaning kit for the lenses, if you don't want to damage them. Even a cheap microfiber cloth and lens cleaning liquid will do the job.
So as you can see, over a few years, accessories/equipment turned out to cost more than the camera itself, and I went for budget solutions all the time. But without them I think my photography experience would have been quite limited. It's true that any DSLR camera gives a lot of settings and effects to play with, but combined with proper accessories, this can produce very professionally looking pictures and unlimited creativity.
If you have any questions about the camera or accessories listed, just leave a comment, and I'll reply asap.