LG Guide to Buying Your First dSLR

Packing & Wardrobe, Photography & Video — By on February 2, 2012 at 6:00 am
By Jill Martiniuk
Special to Lost Girls 

Admittedly, I really had no clue what I was doing when I bought my dSLR camera. I had just finished my Master’s degree, and was about to serve as faculty for Semester at Sea for the summer. A new degree and a nine-week trip around the Mediterranean seemed like the right reasons to get an expensive camera. Looking back, I was completely unprepared for my new camera. That summer I basically used it as an expensive point and shoot. Three years, lots of research and experience later, I feel my dSLR has made me a better photographer and traveler. Here are some tips for deciding whether or not you’re ready to purchase your first dSLR.

Reasons to Get a dSLR Camera:

You’ve Outgrown Your Point and Shoot: I think, for me, this was the most compelling reason to start learning how to use my dSLR camera. At some point during my travels I realized I was seeing incredible sights, but I felt I was not capturing them the way I saw them. By then, I had learned to use all the functions on my point & shoot, and was ready to take on more. If you’ve learned all you can about your point & shoot, and are still frustrated, it might be time to step up to a dSLR.

They Change the Way You Look at the World: As the style implies with a point & shoot, you do just that—point and shoot. When I shot with my older camera, I never put thought into how my shot was composed. I snapped off a bunch of pictures, and went on my way to the next sight. I find that with my dSLR, I’m constantly thinking about what I’m seeing. My mind will immediately focus on what lens I want to use, how do I want to compose the shot, what do I want my focus to be? I find that when I’m traveling with my camera, I’m more in the moment and aware of the little details that I might have missed if I just quickly snapped away.

St.Basil's MoscowReasons Not to Get a dSLR Camera:

They are Expensive: Outside of the initial expense of buying a camera ($500 upwards), you’ll also have to buy lenses, a camera bag, extra batteries, memory cards, and whatever other gear you purchase. Just as the camera body is expensive, so is all the gear that goes along with it. For a traveler on a budget, it’s a lot of money all at once. Additionally, you have to keep in mind that you’re now traveling with a very expensive (and noticeable) piece of equipment. I always have a few seconds of panic when I check in at a hostel that does not have in-room lockers or some type of storage for valuables because I know I’ll be lugging around at least $1,00 worth of equipment.

They are Heavy: It sounds almost too basic to be a reason, but on long trips this is the number one reason I get frustrated with my camera. When it’s 115 degrees in July in Egypt and I’m carrying a ton of gear (I travel with three lenses), I feel every single ounce of the additional six pounds I’m carrying. If you’re backpacking the world, and have to pay close attention to weight requirements, you’ll be acutely aware of how much your camera and associated gear weighs. The photo to the right,  of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow  was taken with my five-year-old point and shoot.

Still Not Sure?

Eiffel Tower

If you’re still not sure whether a dSLR camera is right for you, hold off on the purchase for this trip, and learn how to fully use your current camera. The updates to point and shoot cameras and various smart phones means you can take some incredible photos if you take the time to learn what your camera can do. Additionally, photo-editing software can go a long way to fixing and creating some amazing photos.

This picture to the right of the Eiffel Tour, was taken with my iPhone 4, and turned into a black and white photo with the free app Pic Stitch.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can only take good travel photos with an expensive camera. With a little effort and willingness to play with photo editing software, you can end up with some truly memorable photos.

Finally, if you do decide to buy a dSLR camera:

Don’t buy the most expensive one: If it’s your first camera, go with an entry-level camera, even if you’re swearing to yourself that you’re going to get every penny out of that $4,000 model. Both Nikon and Canon make really great entry-level cameras around the $500 range. If you have the cash to burn, spend the extra money on lenses. They make all the difference, plus if you decide to upgrade to a better camera body later, the lenses will still work with your new camera.

 Learn the Basics Before You Go: Before you leave for your trip, take some time to learn the basics. There are a lot of great resources out there that can help you to learn how to use your camera. The Digital Photography School is a great online resource, while Digital Photography by Scott Kelby is a great read that puts some of the more complicated aspects of photography into really simple terms.

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  • Pretraveller says:

    I am definitely a point and shoot camera person, while my husband is a keen amateur DSLR user. Having seen his journey to learn how to take good photos I appreciate his skills but feel no desire to go down the same path.

    As a result I cringe when I hear someone say ‘I am going to buy a DSLR camera for my trip so I can take better photos’. It is a fact that a good photographer will take good to great photos with any camera, but give a happy snapper an expensive camera and they will still take snapshot quality photos…