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What DSLR should I get? The answer may be none!

DSLR vs. Point and shoot.


Which would you rather carry around?

Choosing the right camera can be daunting and given what I do, it is understandable that people often ask me my opinion on which DSLR camera they should buy so they can take better photos. My answer is often none. Don’t buy a DSLR at all.

I recently read a Popular Science article by a gentleman named Dan Nosowitz that made a lot of sense to me. It is a couple of years old, which makes it even older in internet years, but the author has a good argument on why DSLRs are not a good option for most poeple. I whole-heartedly agree! I am not going to rewrite what was already a good article which you can read HERE, but I would like to make some other points about why over 99% of the population has no need for a DSLR.

There are many great reasons why most people should not own and operate a big complicated camera, and I am not writing this from the perspective of “only professionals should use DSLRs” Rather you will save a lot of money and frustration buy purchasing a camera that makes sense for you.

Here are some reasons to not buy a DSLR:

1. They are big and inconvenient.

Did I mention they are big!? As the Popular Science article states they are enormous hunks of metal. The camera body of my Nikon D800 alone (no lenses) is over 2lbs.! Get a lens on it and it starts to be a real pain to lug around for a family outing to the zoo More than once I have decided not to take my DSLR somewhere I would have liked to use it just because it would have been such a nuisance to carry all day. Instead I use my wife’s little point and shoot camera a ton for photos and video and it is so convenient. I don’t have to worry about where I set it down or possibly slamming it against a wall because it is in my pocket or in her purse out of the way.

2. DSLRs attract unwanted attention.

Ask a photography student or dedicated street photographer how much attention their DSLRs bring them on projects in public, and they may tell you they would rather avoid them. As a photo student, I was asked to leave public places many times because I was holding a large “Pro” looking camera and it made security guards or others nervous. As unfounded as that discomfort with large cameras may be, DSLRs attract attention. It seems mostly negative attention in public, and if attached to a tripod, the confrontation will come even faster. Unless you have been hired to photograph a particular location and can defend why you are there, it is more inconspicuous and much less of a hassle to bring less gear. Also much like an I-phone, a DSLR will start you down the path of endless accessories: filters, lenses, lens caps, lens hoods, strobes, large tripods, tripod mounts, LCD covers, CF or SD cards because of large files, batteries, lens cloths, etc.

3. DSLRs are complicated.

You know how many times I have seen friends with DSLRs use their camera in manual mode? Zero. As Nosowitz says in the article, switching from a point and shoot to a DSLR is like “looking at an airplane cockpit.” To use a camera in manual mode, you will have to gain an understanding of shutter and aperture settings. The simple truth is the vast majority of people that buy a DSLR will never use half of what it can do. They want a camera that will take better photos, and end up getting frustrated with all the buttons and menus. They end up just setting it to “AUTO” and never mess with it again. Strong photos have much more to do with the skill of the photographer rather than the camera, the camera is a tool and most who buy DSLRs do not focus their efforts on how to properly use this tool to its fullest capability. I own a very nice high speed road bike, but it turns out that it is only high speed when a strong cyclist is riding it, not me. The rest of the time it sits at home gathering dust. If the camera you buy is more frustrating than fun, it will also just sit in a corner gathering dust.

4. The megapixel bubble.

I hate to burst your 40 megapixel camera phone bubble but you don’t need 40 megapixels. Very few professionals even need that many megapixels. Unless you are in constant need of producing very large prints, don’t even worry about megapixels. In fact, if I were looking for a camera to take on vacations, I would look for less. I don’t want to spend an hour uploading gigabytes of photos to my computer later. You will be emailing 20 Megabyte JPEGs to your Facebook friends and unless you want to delve into editing software, they will unfriend you! You may actually save some cash by looking for a 12 or 16 megapixel camera rather than a 24 megapixel camera because you don’t need a 24 megapixel camera either. Don’t get caught up in thinking that more is better; rather, evaluate what you will be using your camera for most of the time. Will you be editing your photos or just sending them and posting them straight out of the camera? How often will you be printing your photos? Printing them at home or at a photo lab? How much storage space do you have on your computer? These are some things to think about.

What are some good options other than DSLRs?

Pocket-sized point and shoot cameras have come a long way, many of them are capable of crisp images and shoot great HD video. They are very small, very convenient and comparatively inexpensive. If you are looking for a little higher quality and for a speedy camera that will take photos as fast as you can hit the button, there are many great mirrorless options. There are a lot of good things to say about mirrorless technology. Mirrorless cameras can be small, very fast, still have interchangable lenses, are quiet, and these cameras are capable of fantastic image quality! For most people just looking for better photos, I really recommend a mirrorless camera. They can perform most of the functions that a DSLR can while staying much more compact, convenient and inexpensive.

If you want a DSLR because you want a long lens, know that long DSLR lenses are very expensive, in some cases more than the camera. Save a ton of money and look at some of the current “superzoom” camera options. Believe it or not, what looks like a very long lens on a DSLR does not generally give you the effective distance that you think it does. A large 200mm lens on a DSLR for $2500 does not give you near the reach of a $400 superzoom at less than half the size and weight.

So before you commit yourself to a large, heavy, and complicated DSLR, take a look at some other options and save a lot of money, time and frustration. Use the money you saved on a great vacation, take your new camera with you and have some fun!

If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me or post below.

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