Beginner's Guide to Photography: 101 and (Canon) DSLR Gear

TomQH

Active Member
I've had a few friends asking me the same question: What DSLR should I buy? Thought I'd share it, hope you find it useful. Disclaimer: it is Canon-centric (I'm sure the Sony fans will shake their heads disapprovingly), and you will undoubtably disagree with some of my choices ;).

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Beginner's Guide to Photography: 101 and Canon DSLR Gear by TomQH, on Flickr

Beginner's Guide to Photography: 101 and Canon DSLR Gear

This is for you guys who have asked the question: I want a DSLR, what should I buy? I think to answer that correctly, you need to learn the basics of photography, as it has a direct impact on your decision on camera, lenses and gear. So here is my brain dump on a Sunday afternoon, hope you find it useful.

Exposure Triangle: Aperture/Shutter/ISO
Photography is all about light...
These are the three key parameters that you can change to modify the exposure of your photos. To maintain a correct exposure, if you increase one, you will need to decrease another to compensate. Different gear (camera and lenses) will give you access to different range of these values, and give you the freedom to express your artistic photography personality.

An analogy to this is a window with shutters:
- Aperture is the window size, the smaller the 'f' number e.g. f/4, the larger the window, and the more background blur known as bokeh that you get (this is typically the special look that is commonly associated with SLRs). The maximum aperture is dependent on the lens, and larger apertures come at the cost of weight and price. A 100mm lens at f/4 has a 25mm (100mm/4) pupil diameter.
- Shutter is the amount of time that the window shutters are left open. Cameras control the shutter speed measured in seconds (whole and fractions). The differentiation between cameras for this comes in the form of fps (or frames per second): a camera with a faster fps rate is better at capturing sports/wildlife.
- ISO is the equivalent of you sitting in the room wearing sunglasses - it desensitises your eyes. Cameras control the ISO (sensitivity of your sensor), and more expensive cameras have higher available ISO values without compromising on noise (grainy images).

To compare the different scales used in each of these parameters, the term 'stop' is used as a unit measurement of light:
- Aperture (factors of sq root 2): f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8 ... f/22, f/32 etc
- Shutter (seconds): 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 etc
- ISO (standard): 6400, 3200, 1600, 800, 400, 200, 100, 50 etc

The examples above are in order of decreasing stops (less light being let in by half each stop)
Increasing aperture (by decreasing f number, move left of scale above) by one stop and increasing shutter speed (decreasing shutter number, move right of scale above) have the net effect of maintaining the same exposure.

Flash Light: the fourth exposure parameter
In addition to the exposure triangle above, you can influence the exposure by directly supplementing the amount of light available through usage of flash. I won't go too much into detail here, but I strongly advise purchasing a separate flash, which totally opens up your creative options, and avoid red eye / washed out / over exposed photos. You can still get a correctly exposed photo (from flash light) and maintain the warm colours from the environment (ambient light).

Focal Length
Not to be confused with aperture f numbers, focal length affects the magnification of objects: the shorter the focal length (e.g. 10mm), the wider the perspective.
The longer the focal length (e.g. 200mm), the more zoomed in the objects will be. This is controlled by the lens (optical zoom) as opposed to the camera (which only can digitally zoom).

Full Frame vs Cropped
The sensor within a DSLR camera captures the image of the photo when exposed. Full Frame cameras have a large sensor that captures a huge amount of detail (there are only so many pixels that you can densely pack on to a sensor effectively, so more megapixels does not necessarily equate to more detail). Cropped cameras have smaller sensors than full frame cameras. The effect of this is that equivalent photos from cropped cameras seem 'zoomed in' by a 'cropped factor'.
For Canon cameras, this is 1.6 (or 1.3 for professional 1D series). A 50mm fixed lens is therefore an equivalent 80mm focal length on a cropped camera.
The upside to cropped cameras is that they are cheaper, smaller, and great for photography where greater zoom is required e.g. wildlife/sports. The downside is that lenses will not be as wide on cropped cameras, and full frame sensors capture more detail.

Why Canon?
- Unless it's out of budget, you want Canon or Nikon - they are the biggest players with the largest range of cameras and lenses and userbase.
- If the majority of your friends have Canon, go with Canon. Ditto with Nikon. You can share lenses and other gear, but more importantly, advice. I'll give you advice for example below for Canon.

What (Canon) Camera? (As at 25 Apr 2011)
- Short answer 550d.
- Long answer...Prices are from CameraPriceBuster, body only (although you should buy it with kit lens to get discount on lens). I would recommend that you purchase from a physical store (or online and pickup), so you've got somewhere to resolve issues easily. Lenses you can buy online, as less can go wrong.

Priority in choosing camera:
1) How does it feel in your hand (size / weight / ergonomics). 450/500/550/600d are smaller than 60d/50d/7d. 5D/5D2 are slightly bigger, and 1D bigger still.
2) How much can you afford vs how much does it cost
3) What do you shoot, hence, what lenses will you use with it?

Cropped (1.6 multiplier):
- £390 450D: if you're really on a budget, no longer available new.
- £440 500D: if you want a slightly cheaper 550d (which has slightly better HD video frames/sec, more sensor resolution (megapixels), better metering system)
- £500 550D: get this. It's a mini 7d. Same sensor as 600d, 60d, 7d, best bang for buck.
- £590 600D: sits between 550d and 60d. 550d + remotely control flashes and has tilt screen.
- £600 50D: no video, but larger and more robust feeling body with top LCD. no longer available new but great choice 2nd hand.
- £770 60D: tilt screen, size-wise in between 7d and 600d. Loses the magnesium alloy body and joystick of the older 50d, but has additional two-dial interface and larger viewfinder over the 600d. Also faster fps (5.3 vs 3.7) and slightly better autofocus (9 point crosshair) over the 600d.
- £1170 7D: all round top of the range for a cropped sensor. Huge viewfinder. Get this if you can afford it and are more into sports/wildlife due to the focal length multiplier and fast 8fps. It has better autofocus (19 points) than the 5Dii.

Full Frame:
- £700 5D: old now, but still very good for the price, no longer available new.
- £1680 5D2: semi-pro equivalent to 7D, but full frame. Get this if you can afford it and are more into portraiture/landscape. It has better Depth of Field control (due to being FF) and a stop better ISO performance over the 7D.

Pro (1.3 focal multiplier for 1D, FF for 1Ds):
- 1D Various versions of 1D and 1Ds are currently availble. They are an option, but not usually for mainstream consumers - suggest you stick with above.

What Lenses? (As at 25 Apr 2011)
Crib sheet for Canon lenses
- 'EF-S' only work on cropped bodies, 'EF' work on all bodies
- 'L' stands for Luxury, the ones with a red ring stripe on the end of the lens. Usually expensive, weather sealed, good build quality, top quality glass. The red ring (also, only L lenses come in white) are the source of 'lens envy' within the Canon photography world, much in the same way as top end sports cars.
- 'f/' numbers signify the largest aperture (conversely the smallest f number) the lens will open up to. The lower the number, typically the 'better' and more expensive the lens. If a range of numbers is given, this represents the largest aperture available at the widest focal length and longest focal length of the lens respectively. Fixed apertures are desirable for video recording, as it doesn't change your exposure whilst zooming.
- 'IS' stands for image stabilisation, and is a technology that tries to counter your hand shake. This is less useful for wider focal lengths, and more useful for longer focal lengths (which are more susceptible to small movements).
- 'USM' stands for ultrasonic motor, and means that the lens has a fast/quiet/smooth focus motor.

This is from the perspective of a cropped body, as full frame will change the choices available due to modified focal length and non availability of EF-S (cropped only) lenses.

Disclaimer: the below are NOT the cheapest options, if you want those, look elsewhere. These are in my opinion, the best choices in their class (within reasonable budget). No need to go out and buy them all at once, get the ones that you can afford and need

1) General purpose zoom
This is likely to be on your camera most of the time, as it gives you the most commonly used focal lengths for flexibility both indoors and outdoors.
- £800 Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (great all rounder, only f/4 but has IS)
- £730 Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM (not EF or L, wider but also shorter, sharp and f/2.8)
- £960 Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM (big and heavy, sharp and f/2.8, expensive)
- £550 Canon EF-S 15-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM (not EF or L, great range, variable aperture)
- £100 Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (cheap good starter)
Get the 18-55 if it comes as a kit lens (at almost negligible cost). If you want to upgrade, I'd then recommend replacing with the 24-105. Get the 24-70 instead if you are really into portraits or weddings without flash. Get the 17-55 instead if you don't think you need the zoom length, build quality, and don't need the ego boosting L red ring.

2) Fixed focal
For low light situations, indoor without flash, super shallow depth of field, awesome bokeh (background blur), you will really appreciate something with a bigger aperture than available on the above zooms. On cropped, the most popular option is to get a 50mm lens (80mm equivalent), which you can also use on full frame. 35mm would give you an equivalent 50mm (similar to your naked eye), but is x4 the cost.
- £290 Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM (great lens)
- £390 Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM (better build, includes hood, negligibly better than the Canon f/1.4, but quality control isues with Sigma mean that you may need to microadjust the lens if your camera supports this)
- £85 Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II (cheap amazing value for money)
You cannot really go wrong with any of these, as a minimum, get the 50 f/1.8. You lose the convenience of a zoom, but the quality of photos will far outweigh that.

3) Ultra wide angle
I personally use UWA least, but the photos tend to be keepers - special shots you can't otherwise get.
You can crop (zoom in to) a photo in post processing, but can't on the other hand zoom out. UWA lenses are great especially indoors (e.g. room interiors) where you can't step back further, and perspective shots (exaggerated point of view).
Landscapes are also good, but I often find 24mm wide enough even on cropped.
- £620 Canon EF 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM (great all rounder)
- £550 Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (better build quality, f/2.8, more prone to flaring, possible quality control issues with Tokina)
Both are very similar, and as most shots with this lens are usually at f/8 or above (deep depth of field), at the widest possible focal length (10mm or 11mm), the differences between them become negligible. This lens is not necessary to get, recommend you borrow / hire one before purchasing. You can also go for the cheaper Sigma / Tamron / old Tokina versions, the above two are the best in class for cropped.

4) Telephoto zoom
This is a good walkabout lens for outdoors (difficult to get the distance required indoors other than for portraits), especially for candids, or necessary for that extra range on sports / wildlife. You will of course always need more zoom... more more more...
- £885 Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM (amazingly sharp lens)
- £1790 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8Lii IS USM (f/2.8, large and heavy, the professional's choice of lens)
- £160 Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS (cheap good starter)
Again, this is not necessary to get. I would go straight for the 70-200 f/4 IS if you can afford it. You will know whether or not you really need the 70-200 f/2.8Lii beast or not!

To summarise, you want a general purpose zoom and a 50mm ideally to start with.

Other worthy mentions:
- Superzooms: Canon 18-200mm (£390) or Tamron 18-270mm (£300) . Jack of all trades, master of none. Convenient compromise lenses, good for travelling, but you will notice the quality difference compared to separate specialist lenses as your photography standards increase.
- There are many other speciality lenses, for sports/wild life, macro, fisheye, portraiture etc. which I'll avoid going into here.

What Accessories?
1) A bag (£30-£150). Suggest a small messenger type bag such as Crumpler for small trips, and a larger bag for travelling / storage. Suggest Dakine Sequence or Mission
2) UV or protection filter for each lens (£20-40). Easier to keep clean than the end element of your lenses, this is primarily for protection. Filter size may differ between your lenses. Suggest Hoya SHMC UV filters.
3) Lens hood for larger lenses (£5-£20). Larger lenses attract poles and walls, so I'd strongly advise putting a hood on them for additional protection. Doubles to minimise glare also. Suggest you buy cheap copies from eBay, they are identical to the Canon ones which are 10x the cost.
4) Lens cleaning pen and cloth (£5-£15). Look up Spudz cloths.
5) Sachets of 10g Silica Gel Desiccant (£5). Put them in your photo bags to absorb moisture.
6) Extra batteries / battery grip
7) Tripod and head (£100-£££). Suggest a red snapper 283 or Manfrotto 190XPROB legs. Won't go into head choices here...
8) Camera strap. Suggest sling strap like R-Strap RS-4.
9) For a bit of daytime long exposure fun, try welding glass filters

Useful links
See original FlickR link above, as this post has been restricted to 15000 characters
 
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mucca_D

Well-known Member
Some very good points, however a few things;

Shutter speed is measured in seconds, or part there of, it's not though, measured in FPS. It may go from 30 seconds up to 1/8000 of a second.

FPS is exactly that - Frames or how may single shots it can do in 1 second.

On Bodies, don't discount the 40 or even the 30D, both very good, some would say your better getting a 40D second hand (bay £400) than a 500 or 50D, Then spend more on the lens :)

Not sure I get your logic on the 5Dii as semi and discounting the 1D is a fatal error IMHO. You can pick up now on bay for around £1K a 1Ds mkii.

Ok so the screen is small and it does not have all the bells, but it's full frame and is quick, not forgetting how much it was brand new:eek:

Why no mention the sigma 10-20 in your UWA section?


You do explain IS, but don't mention it when you describe the 24-105 as only f4. It important to iterate the amount of stops the IS will give you on a given lens and why that may be a better option for you.

Overall some good tips, I am sure it will help many out.
 

TomQH

Active Member
Thanks for the good points Mucca. Have clarified the shutter part. Valid points on the 30d/40d/1d, but I think we'll have to disagree on suitability for a first time DSLR buyer (at least based on my friends' profiles). 2nd hand market raises different choices.

I have left out many lenses, I didn't add the sigma 10-20 as an option as it's still not quite a budget lens alternative. Personally, I'd stick with the Tokina or Canon UWA, I'm sure many people will have different lens choices.

I have a more detailed comparison between the most commonly compared general purpose lenses, will try to post that separately. Will add IS explicitly though (note, only the 24-70 doesn't have it of those on the list anyway).
 

AceAceBaby

Active Member
I can't say I agree with the suggestion to sell the kit lens to buy a 24-105, especially for someone new to photography. The money they'd get back off the kit lens won't make a dent in the cost of a lens over £800. It may be a fantastic lens, but that's a huge cost to bear for what may not be more than a hobby.

A Tamron 17-50 (£260) or Sigma 17-70 (£230) or Sigma 18-50 (£270) would be a much more sensible option. They will hold their value quite well, if there's a need for better lenses in time. The 24-105 is not a crop sensor designed lens, either, so it's not an ideal fit for a 550d.

You may not consider the Sigma UWA as enough of a budget lens, but it's still £200 less than the Canon (2/3 of the price, much more than 2/3 of the lens). To be honest, for someone absolutely starting out with photography, I'd probably recommend keeping the kit lens and sticking an opteka 0.4x adaptor on the end. It may be soft and rubbish, but it's a dirt cheap way to find out if they are even interested in WA photography.

As for telephoto lenses, I was lucky enough to buy the 70-200L f/4 IS when it was £630. To recommend to someone starting out with photography to go straight to it when it costs almost £1000 just boggles my mind. I got mine to work better with motorsports and fast moving objects, but it does not take obviously better photos in my hands than my (at the time) £110 Sigma 70-300 APO DG Macro.

I would never recommend to people starting out to get the most expensive stuff out there. For most of us, the also-ran stuff is more than good enough.

Alternative Starting Kit:
550d £655
Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4.5 DC Macro £237
Sigma 70-300 APO DG Macro £146
Total £1038

Which is more than enough to be spending on a new hobby that might not last out, and will give a camera with lenses that will cover just about every requirement, other than portraits of flying black cats in coal bunkers.

I agree with the 50mm f/1.8 but not as an alternative to a decent 17-55 range zoom. As an addition, something small to treat yourself to and have some fun with, definitely.

Flashes- I agree that a dedicated flash is a good idea, but I would also suggest Sigma, again. The 530 Super (£177) is cheaper than a 430EXII (£198) and almost half the price of a 580EXII (£315).

Most of the recommendations above look more like a wishlist of best gear for a pro photographer. I know there's something to the argument of getting the best you can from the start, and if your friends all have £3000+ to drop on a new hobby for fun, then that's fine. I'd tell them to get the 7D though if that were the case.
 

TomQH

Active Member
I can't say I agree with the suggestion to sell the kit lens to buy a 24-105, especially for someone new to photography. The money they'd get back off the kit lens won't make a dent in the cost of a lens over £800. It may be a fantastic lens, but that's a huge cost to bear for what may not be more than a hobby.

Updated. Was a bit harsh on the kit lens, I have high regard for it actually.

A Tamron 17-50 (£260) or Sigma 17-70 (£230) or Sigma 18-50 (£270) would be a much more sensible option. They will hold their value quite well, if there's a need for better lenses in time. The 24-105 is not a crop sensor designed lens, either, so it's not an ideal fit for a 550d.

Lots of lens choices, each to their own ;)

You may not consider the Sigma UWA as enough of a budget lens, but it's still £200 less than the Canon (2/3 of the price, much more than 2/3 of the lens). To be honest, for someone absolutely starting out with photography, I'd probably recommend keeping the kit lens and sticking an opteka 0.4x adaptor on the end. It may be soft and rubbish, but it's a dirt cheap way to find out if they are even interested in WA photography.

Updated UWA part. Also noticed that I didn't explain each of the 4 main lens choices, so have added quick intro to each.

As for telephoto lenses, I was lucky enough to buy the 70-200L f/4 IS when it was £630. To recommend to someone starting out with photography to go straight to it when it costs almost £1000 just boggles my mind. I got mine to work better with motorsports and fast moving objects, but it does not take obviously better photos in my hands than my (at the time) £110 Sigma 70-300 APO DG Macro.

No need to buy everything at once, the idea is to provide a roadmap. There are 5 options for 70-200mm lenses alone, no right answer - depends on budget / needs. This was meant to be a short crib sheet, there are plenty of posts online for further research into which lenses people need. Since you own it, you will know what an amazing lens the F4IS is.

I would never recommend to people starting out to get the most expensive stuff out there. For most of us, the also-ran stuff is more than good enough.

Alternative Starting Kit:
550d £655
Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4.5 DC Macro £237
Sigma 70-300 APO DG Macro £146
Total £1038

Which is more than enough to be spending on a new hobby that might not last out, and will give a camera with lenses that will cover just about every requirement, other than portraits of flying black cats in coal bunkers.

If you have a budget like that, then that makes sense - my list is not a budget list. I've put up the relative prices of my choices above, so if it's out of budget, I'm sure people will ignore the lens choices :)

I agree with the 50mm f/1.8 but not as an alternative to a decent 17-55 range zoom. As an addition, something small to treat yourself to and have some fun with, definitely.

I'd recommend the 50mm in addition to the general purpose zoom, not instead of.

Most of the recommendations above look more like a wishlist of best gear for a pro photographer. I know there's something to the argument of getting the best you can from the start, and if your friends all have £3000+ to drop on a new hobby for fun, then that's fine. I'd tell them to get the 7D though if that were the case.

I'd like to think of the list as a wishlist of your average photography enthusiast, the ones who frequent these boards (and my friends who can indeed afford £1k-£3k). It's far from the wishlist of a pro photographer (for which £3k would buy you 1 or two lenses). Better lenses is often better than better bodies (definitely depreciates less).
 

TomQH

Active Member
Glad it helped. Feel free to ask any questions - I'll give you my very subjective opinions =)
 

Johnmcl7

Distinguished Member
I think it's completely ludicrous to suggest that you shouldn't consider any other SLR other than a Nikon or a Canon, that just suggests ignorance of the market and immediately destroys any possible credibility for the rest of the article. I'm not convinced about the rest either, it's really too brief and simple to be of much use and it lacks any visual explanation which I've found is essential when I've worked on similar guides. The second half just seems like a Canon advert which is again very brief and I agree with most of AceAcebaby's points, it just seems bizarre to be attempting to explain very basic photo principles then suddenly going into highly expensive lenses with no order or progression.

Also the 1D series cameras have both 35mm sized sensors and 1.3x crop sensors, your post refers to the 1D's as 1.3x cropped sensor only and the mention of the 's' suffixed cameras doesn't highlight the rather significantly larger sensors they use.

John
 

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