How to choose your first DSLR camera

Anne JohnstonPhotography tips and inspiration4 Comments

DSLR camera photography

Are you taking your first steps on your digital photography journey or upgrading from a point and shoot camera? Well in that case, congratulations, you’re about to have a whole lot of photography fun! But first you’re going to need to buy a camera. Not sure where to start? Feeling a bit bamboozled by all the options?

With DSLR cameras starting at around £300 for a camera and lens you want to make sure you’re getting enough bang for your bucks. Don’t fret as I’m here to help and in this blog I’m going to share with you the ultimate guide to choosing your first DSLR camera.


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How to choose your first DSLR camera

1. Don’t get hung up on the brand name


Oh, if I had a pound for every time I’d been asked which brand is better, I’d be a rich lady! Ok, that’s maybe stretching it a bit but I get asked this a lot. There is indeed competition between manufacturers and some photographers have very strong opinions on which is best but my advice to you is find a camera that has all the functions that you need and don’t get hung up on the brand name. 

Personally, my DSLRs are Canon but I teach photography beginners how to use mostly Canon and Nikon cameras and think that it comes down to personal choice. The user interfaces between camera brands can be very different so you need to find one that works for you, that has all the right buttons in all the right places for you.

You may buy additional lenses so do a bit of research into lens prices for each brand as this can vary too. There are third-party lens manufacturers too such as Sigma and Tamron which can fit the main camera brands and are often cheaper.


2. Full frame or crop sensor?


Sensor size is something that may not have crossed your mind. You maybe haven’t even heard of full frame or crop sensors but that’s ok. What it boils down to here is the size of the sensor that captures your images.

High-end professional and mid-range cameras will have full frame sensors. This means the sensor size is the same dimension as 35mm film which was the industry standard in the film days. Full frame sensors capture more information in your photos meaning your camera will perform better in low-light conditions, your photos will be a higher quality and you can print bigger images. 

Entry-level cameras are aimed at beginners and have crop sensors which are smaller sensors than the 35mm film equivalent. Don’t let this put you off as you can still create amazing images with a crop sensor camera. Yes, the sensor may be smaller but this does have its advantages and one of these is with focal length.

If you use a 50mm lens on a full frame camera then the images you take will be at the focal length of 50mm. However, when you use a crop frame sensor camera it crops out the edges of the frame which has the effect of increasing the focal length. A Nikon crop sensor multiplies the focal length by 1.5x giving the 50mm lens an equivalent focal length of 75mm. A Canon crop sensor multiplies the focal length by 1.6x. This allows you to get closer to the action.


3. Is it a must-have or are you bragging?


Some cameras have features that far exceed what the average user would need but some professionals may consider them essential. Have a think about whether you you need to pay more of your hard earned dough to have a particular feature or if you’re actually just paying for the bragging rights. I’m not saying don’t spend your money, but spend it wisely as you could save yourself a bundle of wonga on your camera and put it towards another lens or more accessories. Write down a list of features you feel are important to you so you can use this wish-list to compare cameras. Here are some features you might like to consider:

LCD screen

LCD screens let us see a preview of our images on the back of the camera and you can also use a camera’s live view mode with the screen to get your manual focus spot on. The screens come in different sizes and some cameras have touch screens allowing you to quickly navigate through the menus with the touch of your finger instead of using the buttons on the camera.

Some cameras like the Canon 80D have vari angle screens which pull out and twist round so you can see what’s on the screen when the camera might be low to the ground and it would be difficult for you to see through the viewfinder.

This is also really handy if you’re going to be doing video, particularly starring in your own, as you you can have the camera set up on a tripod and tilt the screen around to face you in front of the camera so you can check your position.

Bu the Canon 80D on Amazon:


Some cameras have built in wi-fi that lets you connect to wi-fi hot spots and share your photos on social media/email etc when you’re out and about or upload photos to your computer easily in the comfort of your own home. You can even connect your mobile to your camera if you want and use it to control your camera remotely.

In all honesty, I have wifi on one of my DSLRs and have never used it, opting for a wireless timer remote instead but you might really like this feature.

Buy the Canon 6D Mark II on Amazon:


If you travel a lot and want to know exactly where you took your photos then built-in GPS could be a really handy feature. When you have this feature turned on the camera geo-tags your photos so it pin-points your location when you take your photos. The one downside to this is it does wear down the battery so you could always use a notebook and pen or an app on your phone to note where you take your photos instead.



No, I’m not talking about how fast a balloon bursts when you stick a pin in it. The burst-rate or frames-per-second (fps) of a camera refers to how many photos your camera can take per second. The higher the burst-rate the more photos the camera will take per second. A high burst-rate is useful if you’re taking action shots such as sports or anything at-all that moves fast.


Autofocus points

DSLR cameras have autofocus points allowing you to look through the viewfinder or on the screen and choose where in the scene the camera is going to focus. The amount of autofocus points varies between cameras and some have autofocus modes which let you activate a number of autofocus points at once. What’s important to watch out for here is the number of cross-type autofocus points. Cross-type autofocus points work faster and more accurately.


Weather sealing

You’ll find more expensive camera bodies are weather sealed. This means that if you’re out shooting in rain or at waterfalls then your camera is protected from water getting inside it. That doesn’t meant that it’s waterproof though so please don’t think it’s safe to join you for a swim.

Be wary also of manufacturers offering you more than you could possibly need. Sure, it’s great you can put the ISO on the top-of-the-range Canon EOS-1D X Mark II up to 409,600 but in reality that’s way in excess of what the average person needs. Even for me when I’m putting the ISO up for photographing the Northern Lights, I rarely go above ISO 3200. Similarly some cameras can have a shutter speed as fast as 1/4000 or 1/8000 of a second which is way faster than most people need to freeze action. 1/500 of a second is absolutely fast enough to freeze most action shots and make sure they’re sharp.


4. Budget for accessories


When you buy a DSLR camera it’s more than just a camera and lens. You’ll need to buy at least a few essential accessories (memory card, lens filter and a bag or carry-case) and we’ll explore these must-haves in my next blog. Make sure that you budget for these and the other accessories that will make your life so much easier.


5. Size matters


When it comes to cameras, size really matters. Once you’ve identified a few cameras that suit your needs you really need to go to a shop and get hands-on with them. You might think you’ve found a camera that on paper is perfect for you but then you pick it up and it just doesn’t feel right in your hands. It could be too light, too heavy, too big, too small or maybe you just don’t like the look of it when you see it in the flesh.

Do you like the feel of the grip? Hold the camera and put your right index camera on the shutter button. Is it comfortable for you? You can’t get a feel for this when you’re browsing online so be sure to get up close and personal with what could be your new camera. You’re probably going to be spending lots of time together and you want to make sure it’s the right fit.

You might like the Canon 200D, Canon’s lightest DSLR with a vari-angle screen.

Buy the Canon 200D on Amazon:

6. Do you need a brand new camera or would a second hand one be better?


If you have a limited budget or you want a better model but don’t want to pay top dollar have you considered buying a second hand camera? There are many websites including which offer great deals on used cameras, lenses and accessories so getting your first DSLR camera could be cheaper than you think. It is possible to buy a second hand camera body for under £100 with used lenses from around £60. Look out for camera bodies with a low shutter count (the number of photos the camera has taken) and you’re best to opt for camera bodies and lenses in excellent or like new condition if you can.


7. Buy the best camera body you can afford


My last piece of advice to you is to buy the best camera body that you can afford. You may quickly outgrow the features on an entry-level DSLR so have a look at your essential wish-list and see if it’s worthwhile investing a little more to begin with. Don’t assume that you will always get a lens with your camera. Sometimes the cameras are sold as “body only” so you can pick your own lens. 

Ultimately buying your first DSLR is a personal decision and there are lots of factors to consider so do your research and make an informed decision. If you’re not sure, do ask for help from someone that knows what they’re talking about. Once you have your new camera you have a whole journey of discovery ahead of you and you’re going to have lots of fun along the way so get out there and enjoy it!

I can help you choose your first DSLR wherever you are in the world with my Pick My Brains service. You tell me what your budget is and what you want to photograph and I’ll go and do some research and talk you through a few recommendations over Skype.

Find out more about my Pick My Brains service here.

Over to you

Has this guide helped you buy your first DSLR camera? I’d love to hear from you. Jump into the comments below and let me know!


If you live in Dundee, Angus or Perth and you’re ready to take your photography journey to the next level and really get the best out of your camera, then click here to find out more about my Photography for Beginners 1-2-1 tuition.