Top 3 Tips for Your First DSLR

3 minute read

OK, based on my last post I should be reading right now. Instead, I wanted to write this post since several friends have asked for my opinions on photography recently. I’ll start by saying I am simply an enthusiast when it comes to photography. I am not in a position to share techniques to make you a better photographer. However, I have purchased a fair share of gear so I’d like to share my tips to those looking into getting photography…specifically those wanting to upgrade to a DSLR.

1. Buy the best lens you can afford; use “leftover” money for a DSLR body

I have purchased 4 DSLR bodies since getting into digital photography the first being a Canon EOS D30 and the latest being a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. However, I have (for the most part) maintained the same set of high quality lenses. Technology for camera bodies improves much faster than it does for lenses, therefore it is wise to invest the bulk of your photography budget in lenses. In the Canon line, this means purchasing pro grade (designated with an “L” in the name, such as Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L) lenses whenever possible. If the pro lenses give you sticker shock then buy a high quality prime such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens.

An additional tip: buy lenses with large apertures. This means go after lenses with f/2.8 (or larger, which is to say…a smaller number). This will allow you to take photos in low light situations and/or have faster shutter speeds to stop any action you may be trying to capture. Similarly, I always avoid variable aperture lenses. Case in point. Back in 2005 I went to Alaska with a buddy. I had a 70-200mm f/2.8L and he took a 70-300mm f/3.5-5.6 (or similar). He thought the extra “reach” would be good for capturing all the wildlife. In reality, he got a lot of close-ups but the majority of them were blurry because he had to use a slower shutter speed. I, on the other hand, didn’t have quite the close-ups but my photos were sharp because the difference the light let in with an aperture of f/2.8 and f/3.5 (and f/5.6) is huge…I was able to use a faster shutter speed thus sharper photos.

REMEMBER: Not only will lenses outlast your camera body, but the single best way to improve the photos you capture (other than pure technique) is the quality of the glass you use. Which brings me to my next tip.

2. Always buy quality high quality UV filters for every lens

The first thing you should do when unboxing a new lens is to put a UV filter on it. This is the aid in the protection of your expensive investment. However, it would be silly to spend a good chunk of money on a lens only to protect it with a sub-par filter, so don’t go cheap on the filter. Expect to pay $70-120 on a high quality UV filter.

3. Always use a lens hood

Another way to protect your lens is to alway, always use a lens hood. Even when I am indoors I use one. This may seem silly to those that think a lens hood is used only to protect from sun glare, but it could also protect your lens if you drop it or knock it into something. Trust me, I know from experience.

Bonus Tip

Don’t get caught up with Canon vs. Nikon vs. [insert your favorite manufacturer]. Most of the DSLRs available today are very high quality. If in doubt, check out the reviews on dpreview and B&H. If you are still not sure which manufacturer to go with ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do any of my friends have a DSLR that they like?
  2. Do I have any friends that I could swap lenses with?
  3. Do I know anyone that I can chat with that could help me learn a particular DSLR?

Closing Thoughts

Let me be clear. The best way to become a better photographer is to practice, practice, practice. Tomorrow you could go out and buy top of the line gear and still take crappy snapshots. There are many photographers that can take mind-blowing photos with throw away cameras. My point: shoot with whatever you got…with practice you’ll get a better eye and talent for capturing those photos you want to hang in your living room.

If I have triggered even more questions or you would like to discuss in more detail any of these tips feel free to ping me on Twitter: @ebohling.