Often enough, I get questions about getting started in photography and since its my nature to teach and I have no lack of love for sharing my trade, I rarely hold back on freely giving info on this thing. I know I can sometimes get overly enthusiastic about it. Getting me started can be like taking a full-on Kamehameha blast to the face from a family of Saiyans. But understand this is fun for me. So here are my GENERAL suggestions if you want to get started in photo using DSLR cameras (Digital Single Lens Reflex – normally, ones with interchangeable lenses).

Anonymous Model ©2012 Terrell Neasley

First and foremost, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. Are you serious or no? Do you want to earn money or no? Asking whether you are serious or not will help you establish your priorities. If you’re serious, photo comes somewhere near the top of the list, so be ready to dump money in this thing. And if you want to make money at it, then you also need to learn the business side of photo as well as how to shoot your camera so you are not starving. Be sure to be honest with yourself. You do yourself no favors when you say you are serious, but your time and money are consumed with everything else, BUT photography. On a small note, the type of photography genre you favor may also play into your brand. (For instance, more sport pro’s shoot Canon.)

Over the years, the first and No. 1 question I’ve been asked is about the camera…Canon or Nikon. So lets start there. EITHER Canon or Nikon will do. They are both great companies and each have distinguishing features that set them apart from each other on a yearly basis almost. One year, Canon might have the edge and then Nikon catches up or vis versa. You won’t go wrong no matter how you start out. I tell people to first see how each brand feels in your hands. Which one feels natural to you. Then I also ask, what do the majority of your friends have because you might be able to trade out or test equipment. If you’re shooting with your buddy and your flash goes bad, you can borrow your friend’s. Loyalties to one brand or the other is usually a generational thing. Dad owned a Nikon, so you go Nikon too…something like that. Most photogs today stay with a certain brand because of their investment into lenses. Regardless, don’t get sucked into the Nikon vs Canon war. It ain’t worth it. Both companies make excellent gear. (Nice Graphic Here)

Art Model, Panda ©2011 Terrell Neasley

Next, do everything you can to start out right. When you know what brand are ready to purchase, resist the temptation to start on the entry level gear. I very often get asked about a good “starter” camera. There is honestly no such thing. Get the right tool for the job. There is no such thing as a starter wrench and neither is there a starter camera. There are cheaper wrenches and cheaper cameras. The question is, will it do the job? The risk you run into is that you can quickly outgrow your camera if you start on the low end. I spend two days a week working in a camera shop. Students come in and buy a Rebel or a D3000-level camera. Toward the end of the semester, many come back to me and say they wish they had gone with my suggestion. They outgrew the entry level camera which doesn’t have some of the more advanced functions they now need. Sometimes the lower end consumer cameras won’t have Mirror Lock-up. You may not be able to bracket exposures or hook up a cable release. Does the shutter speed go from Bulb to 1/8000? Probably not. These cameras don’t even operate with a real pentaprism, but rather pentamirrors.

On top of that, the better cameras usually have twice the shot count for the battery life. The build quality is often better with weather sealing and made of a magnesium alloy rather than plastic. When I take on a gig with a client, I’d rather have a camera in my hands more advanced than what my client might potentially own. See what I’m saying? Its hard to justify your rate when your client is wondering why they are paying you to shoot them with a camera like what they have. If you want to be a pro, get pro gear…not consumer gear.

Suggestions… If you go Canon, start with a Canon EOS 7D. They are cheap right now. Its almost 3 years old, but its one of the few cameras on the market right now that really does not need an upgrade. As for DX cameras, I think its the best. Its fast at 8 frames/second, durable, rocks TWO Digic-4 image processors, bad ass ISO capabilities, and the new firmware upgrades practically turn it into a new camera. The 60D is one step down and I can not knock it. Not as great a build, doesn’t have the speed, but still a solid camera, especially for video. I also can’t laugh at the new Rebel T4i. But if I’m going to be a pro shooter, I’m not doing it with a consumer-promoted Rebel. If you’re a hobbyist and only use it on occasion, go for it. If money isn’t so tight and you want to go Full Frame, you’ve got the options of either the brand new 6D, the  5D Mark III or the Big Daddy 1Dx.

Art Model Brittany V, ©2008 Terrell Neasley

What if you wanna go Nikon. Start with a Nikon D7000. I don’t think its as good as the Canon 7D, but it rocks. I love the dual SD media card slots. You can get 6 frames a second, does great shots at high ISO’s, and is a solid build. You can do High Speed sync up to 1/8000 of a second and the video capabilities will blow you away. You won’t out-grow this thing. You can upgrade, but you’ll still keep this camera as a back-up. No need to get rid of it, unless you are going Full Frame with a D600, D800, or D4.

Do whatever you can to start out right. If you have to wait for a few extra paychecks, then wait another month. Sell something on eBay, quite eating out, or whatever to come up with the extra cash to get what you need. I’ve seen some people do some great things with a Rebel. My buddy Felix will leave you gasping with his images with a Rebel over some people’s work with a 5D Mark II. But he couldn’t wait to get his hands on a 7D. And then its all about the lenses. I’ll cover that later. Hi Vanessa!

**Update 14 December 2012 **
Let me bounce back and spend another paragraph on the camera. Some people talk about megapixels and that most of these cameras have so many that they really don’t matter anymore. They believe that once technology went past 12 or so megapixels, you can print a good 16×20 from that, so how often does anybody print bigger than that. To some extent that is true. BUT… if you ask me, the more, the merrier. That’s like using the analogy of film. The bigger the film size, the better the resolution. Medium format was better than 35mm. The 4×5 was better than Medium format. 8×10 was better than the 4×5. The difference is that you might be able to print a 16×20 from a smaller megapixel camera, but its not the same detail and richness. As an artist, I want to have the option of cropping in and pulling out that section and have it still look like the original shot. This is why I shoot with a D800e at 36 megapixels over the Canon 5D MarkIII.