Choosing a Digital SLR Camera

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“Good day shopkeep! I’d like to purchase your finest 12-megapixel, weather-sealed, DSLR with a metal chassis, full-frame sensor, pentaprism viewfinder, and live-view. I’ll be shooting some action shots, so a shutter that can hit an 8000th of a second would be preferable, and 8 fps would be ideal. Also, what do you have for fast lenses?”

DSLR Camera Options

I peddled cameras for years when I was younger at a number of different shops, and I rarely had customers come in who knew exactly what they wanted. Most of the time, I’d get something along the lines of, “I want a good camera” or “My Uncle has a Canon, and he loves it!”

Unless you shoot for a living, or you’re an advanced hobbyist with a specialized interest, chances are that you may have fallen behind with what’s happening in the world of photography. The whole industry has gone crazy with innovation since the advent of digital technology, which has only led to increased frustration and confusion from the average consumer. Historically speaking, if you bought a Pentax KX in 1975, then returned in 1984 to buy a Pentax K1000, you’d be able to effortlessly make the switch without having to learn about a hoard of new features and developments. Compare that to the Kodak DCS330 released in 1999 and 2008’s Nikon D3X and the similarities are few and far between. More seems to happen over the course a year now, than it did over a decade back then.

Buying a DSLR can be difficult, but it shouldn’t be joyless. As real estate agents, you have the advantage of using your camera for both business and pleasure. Your camera will assist you with marketing listings, while also capturing many of life’s best moments; thus, making an informed decision is imperative.

There are a number of features that have become almost irrelevant for DSLR buyers. Megapixel quantity, for instance, has become inconsequential in recent years as the hardware has become so overstuffed with resolution, that it’s hard to find a camera under the 10MP range. Frame rate, processing speed, and focus accuracy have advanced to a point where the average user will have little to no problems, regardless of choice. Added perks like live-view, and large LCD screens were great selling points for a while, but are now common practice in DSLRs. Today, you might be swayed by new HD video features in select cameras, but this technology too will soon become part of the industry standard.

A major problem for consumers today is that new, cutting-edge technology is always pending release. The common inclination is to wait for the latest and greatest camera to come out, but in reality, there’s always going to be something better just beyond the horizon. Quite simply, if you’re waiting for the latest camera, you’ll always be waiting.

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Currently, I see only three main variables that need to be addressed before purchasing a DSLR:

1) Camera Construction: All cameras are not made equally. Camera chassis materials range from ultra-strong, magnesium shells to basic plastic frames. Only some are manufactured with weather seals to protect them from moisture and condensation. The weight and durability of your camera should reflect your specific styles and needs. If you’re hard on your gear, and you want to shoot in a variety of conditions, then make sure you get a camera that can take the abuse. On the other hand, if you’d prefer a lighter-weight camera, and you take good care of your gear, then you will have appropriate options, and you can save some money.

2) Sensor Size & Image Quality: Most DSLR cameras use APS-C or DX sensors to capture the image. These sensors are far better than the ones used in compact cameras and provide superior results, especially in situations involving low light. Full-frame sensors are better yet, but they do cost more. Essentially, the larger the sensor, the larger the surface area of each pixel; meaning improved accuracy in color and detail. Reducing noise that results from shooting in low light, and/or at high ISOs has become a major obstacle for leading manufacturers to overcome. All DSLRs can shoot great photos in good light, but the most notable differences arise in environments that are less than perfect. Image sample galleries, and camera comparisons will help you eliminate options.

3) Lenses: Arguably, the lenses you choose are more important than the camera body itself. Fast lenses (or those with apertures of f2.8 or lower) with good glass will do more for your photos than a few additional features will any day. Ten years from now, if you choose to upgrade your camera body, you’ll likely transfer your lenses over to the new camera. In other words, lenses tend to outlive camera bodies, so get good ones right from the start.

14 Comments

  • Alan Myers says:

    You’ll find some good articles and equipment reviews for real estate related photography over at http://www.photographyforrealestate.net/

    Alan

  • […] “Good day shopkeep! I’d like to purchase your finest 12-megapixel, weather-sealed, DSLR with a metal chassis, full-frame sensor, pentaprism viewfinder, and live-view. I’ll be shooting some action shots, so a shutter that can hit an 8000th of a second would be preferable, and 8 fps would be ideal. Also, what do you have […]→Read it on point2agentblog.com […]

  • Kristin says:

    I have 3 cameras I am trying to decide between. Nikon D40, Sony A-200 and Olympus E420. Can anyone provide a suggestion on which is best. I am not a professional by any means. I just want the easiest, most user friendly camera of the three.

    Thanks

  • Bryan says:

    Hi Kristin. Looks like you’ve found yourself in a very common place: three cameras, all good ratings, similar specs, and at relatively similar price points. What to do?

    I’d opt Nikon myself. Both the D40 and the D40x are rated well, and the cons are things most photographers wouldn’t even notice (i.e. No depth of field preview). The Nikon Speedlights are fantastic flashes, and would assist with RE photos nicely. Just take your time, shoot lots, read the manual, and have fun. You’ll love it.

    I have more technical recommends on buying a RE camera listed here.

  • Don says:

    In addition to real estate pics we are looking for a camera that will take great photos of jewelery at close up. Most distort the stones and settings and are not clear. What do you suggest. Thanks

  • Bryan says:

    Hi Don, keep in mind that when shooting macro photography the lens is more important than the camera body. That being said, you’ll want to choose a camera body that “plays” well with the most lenses.

    The Nikon D40, for instance, has no lens motor in the camera body which means that non-AF-S/AF-I lenses will be manual focus only. I prefer manually focusing my macros anyway, but it still may impact the final decision for some.

    The “AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED” is a beautiful lens, and even works well on the D40. It’s expensive though, but most good quality hardware is.

  • Pat Mulligan says:

    What does anyone know about wide angle lens

  • Bryan says:

    Hi Pat – For RE photography purposes, there’s a couple things I recommend keeping in mind when it comes to fisheye lenses:

    1) An extreme wide angle lens will optically distort the shape of a room (known as rectilinear distortion) making it appear wider than it actually is. Therefore, buyers may be led to believe that the house/rooms are bigger than they actually are. Just be wary of going too wide.

    2) When comparing wide angle lenses, the main things to watch for are: light fall-off (vignetting), flaring, coma, and center-to-edge sharpness. Seek unbiased reviews if you come across a few different options.

  • Ian Haseltine- Real Estate Photography says:

    I prefer the Nikon series myself and my lenses have lived through several generations of the Nikon DSLR.

  • Happy Hippo says:

    Hi, nice DSLR guide, I also wrote a personal opinion on how to choose a DSLR or other type of camera here: http://read-stuff-here.blogspot.com/2009/08/digital-compact-and-d-slr-camera-guide.html

  • Lorne Tuplin says:

    I’m a little surprised that no-one addressed what you really need for shooting real estate since that is the business we are in. Here it is… Unless you are using the camera for other purposes, all you NEED is a camera that will shoot 640×480 low res with a 28mm to 24 mm (equivalent to 35mm) wide angle lens so you can get a reasonable shot of a smaller room. You don’t really want anything extremely high res for use on the internet – too large a file and it will open very slowly

  • Mike says:

    The best camera? I’m afraid that it hasn’t been created (yet). in the meanwhile you should find the best camera for your needs, and your pocket.
    2 online resources the helped me choosing my Canon are :

    1) http://www.fotoshoot.com/cj/Journal/Photogapher-s-guide-for-buying-a-camera
    A guide that help you figure out what to look in a camera according to your needs,

    2) http://www.dpreview.com
    Allow you to compare cameras side by side, and combined with the previous resource you will get as close as possible to actually find the right camera for you

  • Colin says:

    This is a helpful post for sure. Thanks Bryan. I’d like to make a couple of points.

    I’d say I disagree a little with Lorne’s statement. While I agree that one doesn’t need a million dollar camera to photograph homes, on the other hand, you are showcasing people’s personal spaces. I would argue that you want as much detail as possible, otherwise you risk not selling. If I’m not interested in the photos of a house, I don’t go look at it. The files can be saved in smaller formats, so they won’t take long to open.

    The next point is to watch the price of accessories that you may need, such as flashes, lenses, etc. I currently have D90 and Canon 40D. I sold my Nikon D80 to get the Canon. I have identical lenses and accessories for the Canon and Nikon. However, the problem is, that most of the Canon accessories cost a lot more than the Nikon ones. I would consider the Nikon a better camera for overall shooting, where the Canon is better for night photography.

    One last point is to learn how to photograph a house if you don’t know how. There’s nothing worse when trying to sell a house, than poor photographs. Also, you may want to use a tripod or get image stabilization lenses. Happy shooting!

  • Lorne Tuplin says:

    Update: Have purchased about a year ago a Pentax K10D. It uses all of my old Pentax lenses, anti-shake is built into the camera, so all those lenses are now the equivalent of anti-shake! It is water resistant (Has seals & gasgets on ports etc) so I can shoot in the rain and not ruin it. Pentax has finally done it right in digitals!

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