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I recently spent some time writing a general guide to DSLR equipment. Its not complete and has a Canon bias, but I'd like to share it in its current form. Apologies ahead of time also to non Canon/Nikon users because this write-up mostly focuses on these two systems, because they are the most adopted and most comprehensive (in terms of lenses, accessories, bodies).

So you’re tired of using that point & shoot and think the grass is greener in DSLR land? You love the convenience of the P&S, but you’ve seen images shot by your friend’s DSLR and you think you’re missing out? The short answer to these questions is “yesâ€, but the devil is in the details. Many first-time DSLR buyers experience disappointment shortly after delving into this photographic medium. The purpose of this guide is to aid the first-time DSLR buyer in avoiding the common pitfalls associated with this venture, become a little more educated in the concepts and technical jargon revolving around this popular photographic medium, and finally giving some guidance on which DSLR system to choose.

  • Photographic Skill vs Photographic Equipment
  • What is SLR Photographic Equipment?
  • Camera vs System
  • DSLR Formats (1.6x crops/multipliers explained)
  • Advantages of Larger Formats
  • Canon vs Nikon
  • DSLR Features to consider
  • Lenses
  • Recommended Primer Reading
  • Proposed DSLR/Lens Combinations
  • Conclusions
Photographic Skill vs Photographic Equipment

"A good photograph is knowing where to stand."
-- Ansel Adams

I'd like to start with this quote because it truly embodies what photography is mostly about. For those who don't know, Ansel Adams is perhaps the most well known photographer of all time. If you ever get the opportunity to see an exhibit showcasing his work, I'd highly recommend going.

To put it bluntly, a great camera will not make you a great photographer, and in some cases a “better†camera will make you a worse photographer because it provides more freedom to make mistakes. Don’t think for a second that a fancy DSLR and lens is the panacea for your compositional ills. Photography is a form of art and as such requires skill and discipline.

Two people with the same photographic equipment and subject matter are likely to capture very different images. Much of photography has less to do with the photographic apparatus, and more to do with “seeingâ€, and more specifically seeing creatively.

I am not an expert on photography. I have had no formal education on the subject. I’ve tried over the years my best to learn from books, other photographers and artists. This guide is not going to focus on the art of photography or design elements, but rather on a specific variant of photographic tools. I will however recommend a couple of very easy-to-read titles that will give you the rudimentary primer on both the concepts of photographic exposure and seeing creatively.

What is SLR Photographic Equipment?
SLR stands for “Single Lens Reflexâ€. SLR cameras for the most part refer to those which allow the photographer to see the composed image through the viewfinder with the same “perspective†as will be captured on film (or sensor in the case of DSLR). This is accomplished by having a mirror in the path which reflects the image from the lens up to a pentaprism. It is this image that is seen through the viewfinder.

SLR cameras, in their various incarnations and feature-sets have been around for almost a century. Digital SLR (DSLR) as a “format†(and its variants) has been around since about 1995. The main difference between a “film" SLR and DSLR is the medium on which the picture is captured. In digital, there are really two steps to this process, one involved capturing the image on the sensor and the second involves storage of the image onto media such as non-volatile memory (e.g. compactflash). Besides this point, today’s DSLRs follow the same architecture and principles of modern-day film SLRs (which by the way, are facing extinction).

The main attraction of SLR photography over other systems (such as P&S or range-finder), is that during composition of the photograph, the photographer is completely immersed in the scene she/he is shooting. This is because what you see is only that which is visible through the viewfinder and all other surroundings or distractions are filtered/blocked out. I really can't stress how valuable this "isolation" is.

Camera vs System
This guide is deliberately titled as “DSLR systems" as opposed to “DSLRâ€. This is pitfall #1 for most DSLR “newbiesâ€. When you buy as DSLR, you’re actually buying into a lens system (or more specifically a “lens mount†system). The two most popular DSLR mount systems are Canon EF and Nikon F-mount. Both the Canon EF and Nikon F-mount are mount systems compatible with both digital and film SLR bodies. There are also now some DSLR format specific mounts and lenses such as EF-S mount for Canon and the “DX†format by Nikon (not to mention 4/3rds adopted by Olympus and Pansonic). Note that the “DX†format lenses are compatible with Nikon F-mount. There are also other mount systems and formats by other manufacturers. For simplicity, this guide will only focus on the Canon and Nikon mount systems which by far are the most prevalent in DSLR photography.

So what is so special about the mount? The mount determines which lenses can be used on that camera body. It might be convenient to think that one may find perfectly equivalent lenses between the different mount systems. At a high-level that can be true, but the reality is that each system has its strengths and weaknesses. Choosing a system without being familiar with those lenses or even having the experience/knowledge to know what types of lenses you need can make this decision quite difficult. For all practical purposes, there are only two choices here â€" Canon and Nikon. The other manufacturers have their niches (such as Olympus with its focus on ultra-compact DSLRs), but the reality is that if you want the most versatile DSLR system, Canon and Nikon are the only choices.

DSLR Formats (crops and full frames)
Lets take a quick look at the different DSLR formats. The format refers to the physical light-capturing medium on which the image is captured. On a film SLR (or specifically a 35mm film SLR), this is a 36mm x 24mm film.

Because DSLR uses an electronic sensor to capture the image (in-place of the 36mm x 24mm film), it creates a unique challenge for the manufacturer. Most DSLR sensors these days are of the CMOS variety, which are very specialized mixed signal chips. Without going into unnecessary detail, manufacturing a large piece of silicon (chip) is very expensive. Because the format dictates a minimal physical dimension, there does not exist an easy way to reduce the cost by making the chip smaller (unlike PC microprocessors for example which continuously move to lower transistor geometries in their never-ending pursuit of proving Moore’s law).

For this reason, the majority of DSLRs use a reduced size sensor â€" at least reduced relative to the original 35mm format. The formats are listed below:

  • APS-C Nikon format : 23.6 x 15.7mm (370mmsq) aka 1.5x crop (e.g. Nikon D90)
  • APS-C Canon format : 22.2 x 14.8mm (329mmsq) aka 1.6x crop (e.g. Canon 40D)
  • APS-H Canon format : 28.7 x 19mm (548mmsq) aka 1.3x crop (e.g. Canon 1DMkIII
  • 35mm “full-frame†: 36 x 24mm (864mmsq) aka “full-frameâ€/FF (e.g. Canon 5D MkII)
  • As a point of reference a typical P&S camera has an image sensor which is about 6 x 4 mm)
The image below illustrates this (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Click here for a graphical representation of these formats - Courtesy of Wikipedia

As mentioned previously, the bigger the silicon chip, the more expensive (exponentially so due to the effect of yield). This is why “full-frame†(i.e. the equivalent of original 35mm format), DSLRs have until quite recently been extremely expensive (such as the Canon EOS-1Ds). These days, FF bodies are just borderline “expensiveâ€. Both Canon and Nikon sell FF bodies below US$3000 (this is quite good in light of the fact, that it used to take $8000 to get you into the FF club).

Advantages of Larger Formats (multipliers explained)
So what is the difference when shooting between the different formats and what is all this focal multiplier and “crop†business anyway? All SLR and DSLR lenses are specified in focal lengths (such as 100mm, or 70-200mm for a zoom). These focal lengths give a particular “field-of-view†(FOV) on a 35mm format. Most of these lenses (save for the newer EF-S and DX variants), were designed for a FOV in the context of the 35mm/FF format. This means that if you stood at the same point overlooking a scene with a 100mm lens, once with a FF camera and once with a 1.6x crop camera, the FOV would be different. With the FF camera, you would see “more†of the scene. With the 1.6x crop camera you would see a “cropped†version of that scene (at least relative to the FF FOV). This cropping can also be thought of as magnification. One way to explain it is like this: The FOV with a 100mm lens on a FF body will look the same as the FOV with a 62.5mm lens on a 1.6x crop body). The cropping on this APS-C format body will be the equivalent of multiplying the focal length by 1.6x (in the case of Canon and 1.5x in the case of Nikon).

So what does this mean? It means that your 100mm that you really liked on your old film SLR is going to look more like a 160mm lens with your new Canon Rebel DSLR (APS-C). This might be great if you’re shooting sports since you effectively have attained more “reach†within a given sensor resolution. On the other hand your 24mm wide-angle now behaves like a 38mm. This may not be very desirable if your goal is to capture a wide FOV.

Part of this issue has been addressed in the consumer-grade line of lenses. Canon has released the “EF-S†line, which is a mount-system (all DSLRs which support the EF-S mount, also support the EF mount) for a new breed of lenses designed around the APS-C format. The focal lengths of the lenses are still consistent with their 35mm-esque equivalents. One example is the Canon EF-S 10-22mm which will look like a 16-35mm FOV. Note that there happens to also be a Canon EF 16-35mm lens. Nikon similarly has developed “DX†lenses which still use the F-mount, but are designed for use with the “DX†format (Nikon APS-C) bodies. Using them on a full-frame (“FX†format in Nikonese), will result in all types of terrible artifacts around the edges (artifacts that would be effectively “cropped†when capturing with an APS-C sensor). The caveat here is with the fact that neither Canon or Nikon have included “professional grade†versions of these lenses. In the case of Canon, this would be the “L†designation and “ED†in the case of Nikon. The professional grade lenses typically feature rock-solid build quality, weather sealing and exotic glass. Having said that, there are some truly standout EF-S and DX lenses such as the Canon EF-S 17-5mm f2.8 IS.

What are the other differences between the formats? Besides just the effect on FOV for a given focal length, there are other very important aspects when comparing larger and smaller sensor formats. These are as follows:

  • FF will result in a shallower depth-of-field (DOF) for a fixed focal length and perspective. This means that less will be in focus in the image in the distance moving away from the focal point. This means that a FF camera can achieve a better “bokeh†for a given lens and scene. It also means that a lower aperture must be used when trying to increase the DOF for a landscape shot for example. It should be noted however, that DOF increases with wider angles. This means that even though the DOF will be lower for a given perspective, the FF camera allows for a wider perspective, so with the same lens, part of this effect cancels out.
  • FF will always have lower noise and higher dynamic range. This is mostly due to the photo-site size and density (larger sensors have lower pixel density and more sensitive photo-sites). There is a reason why photographers pay good money for FF cameras. Besides the ability to use lenses in the context for which they were designed, FF cameras have much lower noise and increased dynamic range. Dynamic range is simply the ability to capture (with differentiation) the information in the scene between the darkest and lightest parts of the image. This is what allows you to capture higher-contrast images without loosing detail (especially in the shadows). Noise is what effectively removes detail from your images. The smaller the sensor, the more noisy. This is why P&S cameras (with their 6mm x 4mm sensors) have very little success shooting in lower light situations. Once sensor sensitivity (ISO) is increased to attain correct exposure, the resulting noise severely cripples the image. Noise effectively reduces the dynamic range, usually affecting the shadows (darker regions).

Canon vs Nikon
I’ve been a Canon shooter since the beginning, so I’m going to work extra hard to be impartial. Canon vs Nikon arguments are up there with Mac vs PC, Ford vs Chevy (or Holden for the Aussies) and McCain vs Obama … well maybe not that last one, since its obvious which is better. Canonites and Nikonians are equally passionate and irrational in their arguments for their beloved systems. At great risk of passionate irrationality, here is my high-level characterization between these two systems:
  • You cannot go wrong with either choice. Both are the systems of choice for professionals and enthusiasts around the world. Regardless of which choice you make, you will be the limiting factor in each case.
  • Both systems have a rich ecosystem (both home-grown and third-party). Third parties include lens makers such as Sigma, Tokina and Tamron. I’ll have to give the edge to Canon here though. Canon seem to have a more extensive and encompassing lens system. Nikon have their great lenses, but at enormous expense. Any decent Nikon zoom is $1700. Canon offers more choice and flexibility (e.g. Canon EF 24-105 f4L IS which is a great lens with some compromise on the “speed†aka max-aperture). Canon also offers tilt-and-shift lenses which can be used very creatively. For me, there are certain lenses such as the 70-200 f2.8L IS which is deemed as the better version of the Nikon equivalent (70-200 VR) that make me want to stick with Canon. Canon’s image stabilization technology (IS) is also deemed to have somewhat of an edge over Nikon’s VR (Vibration Reduction).
  • Nikon offer DSLR bodies that seem to have better ergonomics and industrial design. Both aspects can be quite subjective. My advice here is to go into the store and try to hold each body and see which feels better.
  • Canon seems to have the edge on low-noise, dynamic range and general IQ. Canon designs and produces its own image sensors. Nikon sources theirs from Sony. For a long time, Nikon sensors were measurably noisier than Canon, but the gap seems to be closing of late (especially with bodies such as the Nikon D700 FF DSLR).
  • Canon generally seems to offer more choice and better value for the money. Again, this can be subjective and depends on your needs/wants. For me, I bought a Canon 5D MarkII which has a FF sensor with 21MP. For the same money, I could have bought the Nikon D700 FF with 12MP. Nikon has the better focusing system and full weather sealing. For me, the promise of higher-resolution was more compelling. Canon, were the first in pioneering the affordable DSLR with their revolutionary Digital Rebel/300D released in August 2003. This camera is really what led to the sub $1000 DSLR sub-genre for which there is now a wide gamut of offerings from a number of top manufacturers. Canon were also the first to offer an affordable FF DSLR which is the original 5DMkI. If it was not for this camera, I do not believe that the Nikon D700 would exist today. Nikon for the longest time seemed to stubbornly want to maintain the DX format as the future of their DSLR format. I think we can look forward to the sub $2000 FF DSLR in just a few years.
In my dubious impartiality, I believe that for enthusiasts/hobby-photographers, Canon offers the best choice. Canon has clearly shown, with its actions, that they are focusing on innovation in the “affordable†segment of the DSLR space with their Rebel/xxxD line and EF-S lenses consistently exceeding expectations and setting the bar higher for what constitutes a value DSLR with each iteration, essentially “driving†companies like Nikon. For those with more financial freedom or professionals, either system will meet your needs except in cases where a specialized feature is not present on one system.

DSLR Features to consider
When choosing a DSLR, there are some key features that you might want to consider before making a choice:

  • Feel and ergonomics â€" try the camera in the store (hold it, caress it, push the shutter for goodness sakes!). If you don’t like the feel of the camera, you will always hate it and you will hate shooting photographs. Canon makes the diminutive Rebel/xxxD series which is cute, but for many folks can be too small and “finickyâ€. Make sure you can hold it comfortably and sturdily and make sure you can comfortably access the main adjustments such as shutter/aperture/ISO/focus-point etc.
  • Type of shooting â€" If you’re only going to be shooting sports for example, an APS-C DSLR may be the best choice (short of the professional models), but pay attention to frame-rate and buffering capacity. Its all well and good being able to shoot at 5fps, but if the image buffer can only store 10 images, that gives you only 2 seconds of action to freeze.
  • Build â€" do you need weather sealing? If you’re going to the rainforests or Egypt, you might. How do you feel about a plastic body (such as the Canon Rebel/xxxD) vs a magnesium alloy such as the Canon xxD cameras?
  • Metering â€" This is the part of the camera which automatically calculates exposure for your shot. Do you think you’ll need a spot-meter? The Canon Rebel XS only has 1 cross-type metering sensor for example. Higher end models have far more sophisticated metering systems.
  • Auto-focus â€" The Canon 1DsMkII has 45 Auto-Focus points, whereas the RebelXS/1000D has only 7 points.
  • How easy is it to get to the controls? Your basic exposure controls are shutter-speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation. Does the ISO sensitivity show in the view-finder, or do you have to take your eye off the viewfinder and look at an LCD screen? Do you have to drill down into a menu on the main LCD to get a an oft-used control, or is there a context sensitive control such as a dial or button on the body. Its very important to stress that the more time you can spend just looking through the viewfinder rather than fiddling with menus, the more likely you will “get the shotâ€. SLR photography is all about immersing yourself in the scene by looking through the viewfinder and blocking out distractions. Cameras which make you take your eye off the viewfinder to make adjustments will distract you. This is one reason I recommend people avoid the lowest-tier DSLRs. Part of their compromise is reducing the amount of physical controls on the body and burying them in menus that you have to navigate on the main LCD
An excellent resource for DSLR reviews and information is www.dpreview.com. This web-site is considered the premiere digital photography equipment review and discussion site.

Knowing which lens(es) to buy can become a lifelong pursuit. Deciding which lens to buy is a heuristic process with many inputs and subjective considerations. Clearly, the type of shooting you think you will be doing is a factor, as is cost, physical size/weight, versatility (e.g. zoom) and so on. Rather than attempting to paint a complex decision tree, there are some basic rules one can apply to this process. As a point of reference there are also some very good lens review web-sites such as www.fredmiranda.com. Following are some points regarding SLR lenses:

  • Some people will say that photography is expensive and that it is absurd to spend $1700 on a single lens. I love having that argument with people who own boats. Photographic equipment is cheap relative to many other hobbies. You can buy the “best†of something for a couple of thousand dollars. Not only that, but photographic equipment (especially the higher-end variants), have very low depreciation. It is not uncommon to be able to re-sell a used lens for 90% of the original cost even after years of use. Another argument for spending the money on good quality gear is that typically you don’t get a second chance to take certain photos (such as children).
  • In the first order, lenses can be split into two main categories
    • Primes â€" this class of lenses refers to those which have a fixed focal length. Examples of such lenses would be the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. With “primes†there is one less decision to make (focal length). Focal length can be seen as a way to "crop" your field of view (FOV). On a full-frame camera, a 50mm prime can be quite rewarding for example due to its small size, versatility, speed and the fact that it makes you think more about the composition without being distracted by a variance in the focal length.
    • Zooms â€" this class of lenses refers to those which have adjustable focal length. The focal length is adjusted manually. An example of a zoom lens is the Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS. Zoom lenses allow you to zoom in and out while being stationary. Some people confuse “zoom†with long focal length. In P&S photography, “zoom†is often referred to as a multiplier such as 3x or 5x. This multiplier is a ratio between the longest and shortest available focal length. So, for example the 70-200mm lens is a “3x†zoom which may seem “small†but in fact 200mm is a long focal length.
    • In the most general terms, for a given cost and focal length range, primes will always outperform zooms. Its not easy to make a high quality zoom, so there are always tradeoffs such as maximum aperture (many primes will go down to f/2 or lower) and other artifacts/distortions.
  • A second-level categorization of lenses deals with their focal length (or range in the case of a zoom):
    • Ultra-wide â€" typically covers up to 24mm
    • Wide â€" Anything up to about 50mm
    • Standard/Medium telephoto â€" 50mm â€" 100mm
    • Telephoto â€" 100-300mm
    • Super telephoto â€" 300+mm
    • Typically the longer lenses are more suitable for close-in photography such as face-portraits, action-sport and wildlife. Wide angle lenses are typically more useful for photographing landscapes, architecture or any other type of extensive scene. The standard lenses cross the applications between these. In any case, there is no reason to say you can’t make a creative photograph of a person’s face with a wide angle (although often not the most flattering of choice), or capture an interesting “crop†of a landscape scene with a telephoto lens (think a lone colorful tree on a hillside).
  • Buy the “fastest†glass you can afford. By fast, I mean large aperture. By large aperture, I mean a small f-number. The maximum aperture refers to a ratio which in turn relates to the largest diaphragm opening that the lens can operate at. The larger the opening/aperture, the more light can enter the lens and hence allows you to shoot at faster shutter speeds for a given exposure. A larger aperture also reduces depth-of-field (DOF) which allows for the artistic blur known as “bokehâ€. A small f-number means a larger aperture. Apertures are referred to as f-stops. Each f-stop allows half as much light. So for example f/2.0 lets half as much light in as f/1.4. f/2.8 is half as “fast†as f/2.0 and f/4.0 is half as “fast†as f/2.0 and so on. There are also half f-stops such as f/1.2 , f/1.8 etc. So why not make all lenses “open-up†to be f/1.0 ? The reason is that it is very difficult to maintain image quality across the entire frame with such a large opening and making lenses with larger maximum apertures requires more glass and more finesse in the design. Typically professional grade lenses (such as the Canon “L†series) are available with f/2.8 or faster. When buying zoom lenses, pay special attention to the aperture, because many “affordable†lenses will have varying maximum aperture. A lens with a varying maximum aperture might be something like f/4-f/5.6. This means that at the longer end of the zoom, the largest aperture available is f/5.6 (which is twice as slow as f/4). High-end zooms (such as the Canon “L†series) offer constant f/2.8 aperture across the entire zoom range.
  • Get a tripod. A lot of critical photography, especially landscapes and architectures will benefit tremendously from the use of a tripod. Buying lenses with Image Stabilization (IS) will help in the times you don’t have a tripod with you, but when you’re trying to maximize DOF, a smaller aperture must be used, forcing you to select a slower shutter speed in order to expose the image correctly. A slow shutter speed makes the image susceptible to “camera-shake†resulting in a blurry picture. The only way around it is to use a tripod. Tripods are a whole other discussion. Tripod systems are a microcosm of the DSLR system.
  • Always buy the glass that you need. If you are shooting with an APS-C (cropped) body, don’t be afraid to buy DX (Nikon) or EF-S (Canon) lenses. Previous to my 5DMkII, I had owned a Canon 20D (APS-C). Probably my favorite lens on this body was the EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS. This lens had amazing versatility and image quality. This is the only lens I took with me to Italy and resulted in some of favorite photos. Don’t fall into the trap of “I can’t buy EF-S lenses because one day I will by a FF bodyâ€. The truth is that camera gear can be re-sold for very little loss and it would be a shame to spend good money on a compromised setup in the meantime.
  • When you look at your favorite photographs take note of what focal length was used to take the shot (this is assuming you have started your DSLR endeavors with a zoom lens). You may notice a pattern in your photography. This pattern may help you fine-tune future lens purchases. For example, when traveling, I favor using the widest setting on my wide-angle zooms. Based on this, I could easily see myself only taking a 24mm prime on my next vacation. Just to re-iterate, a 24mm prime on my 5DII is a wide lens, but on an APS-C body like a 40D for example, it will not be very wide, more like a “normal†FOV.
  • Once you buy your first expensive lens, it gets easier the next time round. What you will find is that the “return†on that purchase in the form of image quality, versatility and ability to “get the shot†pays for itself. For example there are situations where a cheaper lens with a maximum aperture of say f/4 will simply not be usable. In the same situation an f/1.4 prime will be able to capture the moment.
Recommended Primer Reading
The two books I recommend for beginners are the following:

  • Bryan Peterson, “Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition)â€
  • Bryan Peterson, “Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography (Updated Edition)“
  • Scott Kelby, "The Digital Photography Book" - recommended by MADMAX22
These books cover most of what you need to know in order to effectively learn your new hobby.

Proposed DSLR/Lens Combinations
Given this spiel, what would I recommend folks to buy? A scientist might say “it dependsâ€. I’m an engineer, so instead I have some solutions or “recipes†for a couple of different profiles. Keep in mind that this entire document is not intended at professionals or seasoned enthusiasts, so I will not be recommending the top-of-the-line bodies such as the 1Ds MkII.

  • Get me in for as little as possible:
    • Even though I don’t recommend getting anything below the xxD Canon bodies (i.e. 40D, 50D etc), if you insist then I would recommend the Canon Rebel XS/1000D with 18-55mm EF-S kit lens. Total cost = $480. If this is too much, then I suggest a camera phone
  • “General†photography â€" vacations, portraits etc
    • For this photographer I recommend the Canon EOS 40D if you’re somewhat budget conscious and the Canon EOS 5DMkII if you’re willing to spend a little more and want to experience the benefits of FF. Update (12/2009) - The 40D is no longer available as a new product. If you want a new camera, I would instead recommend the 50D.
    • If you’re getting the 40D, get it with the updated 18-55 EF-S IS kit lens. This lens has been updated since the first version which was overly compromised. This lens is small, lightweight, has IS and has a reasonable range. It will cover situations such as architecture and landscapes whilst still allowing portrait shots with the 55mm long end (88mm on a 35mm equivalent). Note that this kit would have to be bought used now. Use this combo to figure out your shooting style and focal lengths of interest. A more capable combo would be to go with the sublime 17-55mm EF-S f2.8 IS. This lens provides f/2.8 aperture throughout the focal range and produces image quality equal to that of “L†grade glass.
    • If you’re going with the 5DMkII, go with the 24-105 f4L IS. Yes, this is an “L†lens. The range is just wonderful with the only compromise being the f/4 maximum aperture. Consider supplementing this with the obligatory 50mm f/1.4 prime. Total cost = $3500 (if you just get the 24-105) or $3825 if you add the $325 50mm prime. The 24-105 is great because it will let you figure out where you like to shoot.
  • “Sports†photographer â€" sports, portraits, wildlife
    • Here I would recommend the 50D if on a budget, and the new 7D if you want to spend a bit more (without going near the 1D territory). The Canon 40D/50D/7D is a must here with its extra “reach†do to cropping â€" i.e. it will make a 200mm lens give a 320mm FOV. Both cameras also have high sequential shooting frame-rates and large image buffers. The 50D has higher MP, more noise and the updated DIGIC IV image processor. The 7D would be the best choice without spending a great deal of money.
    • For lenses I would recommend the 135mm f2L prime ($935) or the 200mm f2.8L prime ($695). For extra flexibility, the 70-200 f2.8L IS ($1700) is amazing. For sports, you need a lens that has reach and can focus fast and accurately. Larger apertures means you can used a faster shutter speed in a wider range of situations.
  • Architecture/Landscape/Street â€" You have an eye for the “scenic†rather than a close-up. This type of photography benefits mostly from capable wide-angle lenses. This style of photography is common for traveling. When traveling you typically try to capture your surroundings. Even with photos of people, they’re typically captured in the context of the destination.
    • Clearly the best choice here is going to be a FF body such as a 5DMkII with a selection of high-end wide primes such as the 24mm f/1.4L II. This setup will set you back about $4400, but will be extremely versatile. Another option for lens would be the 16-35 f2.8L II which is going to be slightly cheaper.
    • Not to be discounted here would be a 40D/50D + zoom combo. One option would be the EF-S 10-22mm or the EF-S 17-55mm. Both lenses are superb, with the former having some limitation in maximum aperture. The other benefit of this setup is the physical weight and size compared to the 5DMkII.
Beyond this, there are so many choices and variations. I have not even discussed macro lenses such as the 100mm f/2.8 and EF-S 60mm. There are also tilt and shift lenses from Canon which allow for very interesting artistic effects. Its clear that I’m giving high recommendations for the ultra-versatile EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS.

DSLR is an extremely powerful and versatile photographic system. The range of options and configurations can seem unwieldy to the casual observer. It is harnessing this versatility however that allows a photographer to get the most out of his/her art. The key to this system (and to any system) is to go out there and use the equipment by photographing pictures. Practicing photography in conjunction with understanding the limitations/properties of the equipment is the key to success. In other words, do not stop learning!

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6,668 Posts
It's a great guide. I think that in the process of writing this you switched from VB code to HTML, as there are tags showing. Nice work though.

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·

Originally Posted by kev.nam View Post
Nice work! I must take the time to read this.. I have a Canon EOS 40d and I don't really know how to get the best out of it.
The 40D is an amazingly capable camera. First thing I would recommend is reading the books I listed, especially the one dealing with the fundamentals of exposure. Then apply those principals by practicing. Once you've got a good feel for these concepts, reading the second book is very helpful in understanding how to "see creatively".

Now go out there and shoot!

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·

Originally Posted by Danylu View Post
Talk to an admin of the photography section I think.
Thanks. I don't really know how to figure out who an admin is. I've looked on the front page and there does not seem to be any way to contact admins without knowing who they are. Maybe an admin will see this post.

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Hey would like to add maybe (not sure if everyone would agree) but the two books "The Digital Photography Book" by Scott Kelby (part 1 and 2) are great books for beginners. He has a way of talking about the stuff without getting to technical but putting the point across in a easy to understand manner.

These arent for the pro obviously but for the beginner jumping in they are really nice.

I have not read those books that you listed yet but may take a look at them also.

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Originally Posted by sti_boy
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Thanks. I don't really know how to figure out who an admin is. I've looked on the front page and there does not seem to be any way to contact admins without knowing who they are. Maybe an admin will see this post.

For off topic:


t4ct1c47, stanrc, lemans81, Mootsfox, prosser13

You can see us by scrolling to the bottom of any of the subforums.

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·

Originally Posted by prosser13
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Originally Posted by MADMAX22
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Hey would like to add maybe (not sure if everyone would agree) but the two books "The Digital Photography Book" by Scott Kelby (part 1 and 2) are great books for beginners. He has a way of talking about the stuff without getting to technical but putting the point across in a easy to understand manner.

Will do.

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Ahh nice thread now i finally know what the difference in the steps are lol. Something i had a question about when im shooting in a raw image format the photos are huge do i really need a faster memory card? right now i have a sandisk ultra 2 and was thinking about getting a 16gb extreme 3 but id rather spend the money on a bag lol.

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I get about 800-1000 on a 8GB card. That's roughly two batteries worth, so you might want to think hard if you want to spend the extra for a 16gb card.

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Originally Posted by Mootsfox
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I get about 800-1000 on a 8GB card. That's roughly two batteries worth, so you might want to think hard if you want to spend the extra for a 16gb card.

I get 700 RAWs with my 8gb on the D60 I have. Lasted a day barely when I was on holiday in America but if you shoot JPEG you'll get a few thousand easily. Its enough for normal use though

I do have 1Gb + 512mb backup SD cards that I have gotten over the years.

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With my D70 (6.0mp images, raw size of 5.5MB on average), I damn near got half way full on my new 4 GB card with 367 pics. 1.97 GB in total. My camera however says It'll give me 370 raw files on the 4 gig card. My camera is pessimistic with space
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