Digital SLR Buying Guide: Part 3

Part 3 of Photography Savvy’s “Digital SLR Buying Guide” covers some of the things to look for when purchasing a DSLR, as well as some of the features that may not be as important as you would think.

What should I look for?

Here are some important factors to consider when purchasing a DSLR.


This is solely based on personal preference, but you should always consider how the camera feels in your hands. Keep in mind, you’ll most likely be carrying this camera around for full days of shooting so you want to make sure it feels right. If you plan to use longer lenses, it might be worthwhile to look at a body that is a little bit bigger or has an optional battery grip to give you a little bit better stability. Also, consider the placement of key controls – the last thing you want is to miss a shot because you were looking for a function button.

Room for Growth

Another consideration should be: how much room for expansion does the camera leave me? If you plan to use the camera in the full auto modes this might not be a consideration. If you start getting into the manual side of the camera then you might outgrow an entry level model. In this case it might be worth it to “buy up” to the next level camera. Even though you may not take full advantage of all of the features when you first get the camera, as you start to learn you may not feel as if you need to upgrade so quickly.

Availability of Accessories

This is perhaps one of the most important things to consider when buying a DSLR. You are not just buying a camera, you are buying into a system. Think of it this way – would you buy a car that had very limited parts available? Then why would you buy into a system where it would be hard to find accessories? When looking into a system, it’s important to make sure the manufacturer makes accessories for the type of applications you want to pursue and that you can readily get those types of accessories. This can apply to anything including lenses, flashes, batteries, chargers, software compatibility, memory, etc. If you are on a budget, it’s probably a good idea to see if third-party manufacturers provide alternatives to some of the more expensive accessories like lenses and flashes.

What may not be important?

While these features are useful, they may not be as important as some manufacturers and retailers make them out to be.

Anti-Dust Systems

Perhaps one of the biggest fears of DSLR users is getting dust on the sensor. Yes, it’s problematic, but it’s not the end of the world like some people make it out to be. Manufacturers have recently implemented anti-dust technology, which shakes the low pass filter over the sensor to remove dust particles. While this certainly helps with regards to dust, it by no means completely eliminates the problem. The biggest problem with these dust systems is when they shake the dust off the sensor, it still stays in the mirror box chamber. From what I’ve found, putting the camera into mirror lock-up and blowing the dust off the sensor with a blower bulb (note: NEVER use canned air or anything of the like to clean your sensor or any internal components) is still far more effective.

Live View

While this is certainly a handy feature in the latest DSLR models, there are a lot of misconceptions as to how it works. First-time users generally associate live view with the live view functionality of digital point and shoot cameras.

Live view in DSLR cameras works much differently than in a point and shoot camera. In order to shoot in live view, a DSLR must flip up the focusing mirror to expose the sensor. In order to autofocus the camera needs to flip the mirror back down, focus the lens, and then flip the mirror back up to take the shot.

Some of the newer cameras have implemented a live view autofocus function that uses contrast detection similar to a point and shoot camera. The contrast detection is even slower and in general is only recommended if the camera is mounted to a tripod. Live view slows down the picture taking process and in my opinion, eliminates the point of having a DSLR. The through-the-lens focusing is not only faster but also provides more stability since you are holding the camera closer to your body.

Missed Part 2? Check it out here.

Check back soon for Part 4 of Photography Savvy’s “Digital SLR Buying Guide.”