The Other Guide to Buying a DSLR

I get a lot of questions, mostly from in real life friends, about purchasing a DSLR. Many come to me asking what I use and wondering what they should buy. I’m writing this post to save myself from writing the same Facebook message over and over again. You find a lot of DSLR guides that talk about the camera purchase, but not what else you need. This is why this post is titled “The Other Guide.”

First off, I’m going to start by saying that if you buy a Canon I will never speak to you again that I do not endorse any one brand or type of camera. I currently shoot with a Nikon D40, and yes I love it and I think it’s a wonderful camera. But that does not mean that it is the camera for you, or even that Nikon is the brand for you.

I strongly suggest that you do a lot of shopping around and read lots of reviews to get an idea of what you want. All cameras have pros and cons, you just need to decide what you can’t live without, and what faults you can live with.

Once you have picked your camera, however, don’t forget the other things you might need to go with it. A lot of people forget about these things, but when choosing your camera, they need to be considered, because they will quickly add to the total cost of buying a DSLR.

First thing you’re probably going to want for your camera, is a good home for it. Good camera bags made to fit DSLRs aren’t cheap, so do your research ahead of time so you know how much you’ll spend on it. You might even want to purchase it ahead of time, so you have a safe place to put your investment when it arrives, other than the box it arrives in. Because trust me, you’ll never get it back in that thing.

You are also going to want to protect your glass. Back in the film days, UV filters protected against haze in photos caused by UV rays reaching the film. That need has become virtually obsolete in the digital world, so most people use them to protect their lenses. Some claim they interfere by causing flair, but this can pretty much be eliminated if you  invest in a multicoated filter. Resist the temptation to buy a cheap UV filter (i.e. not multicoated), unless you like funny green dots in your pictures, like here. (Green dots are the Christmas lights on the ceiling being reflected into the lens, the back onto the filter, and back into the camera, all thanks to a cheap filter).

Regardless, you are going to want something to protect your glass, because it’s a lot cheaper to replace a scratched filter than it is to replace or fix a scratched lens. If you shoot outdoors a lot, grab a circular polarizer while your at it. I keep cheap UV protectors on my lenses at all times, and then switch my good filters on and off as I use the lenses (removing the cheap ones of course), so if you plan on buying more than one lens, be sure you have enough to go around.

If you actually plan on taking pictures with your new baby, don’t forget a memory card! Don’t be like my friend whose camera arrived and only then did she realize she had forgotten to buy one. That’s a big bummer when you want to play with your new toy. The bigger, the faster, the better. Get a nice as you can afford and thank me later. Kingston and Lexar are the preferred brands in my house.

If you are especially prone to accidents, invest in a extended warranty. Even if you aren’t, consider it. Freak things can happen you know.

Now that you have all the essentials, consider extra lenses. Kit lenses are okay, but not usually amazing. If you plan on doing lots of outdoor shooting, you might like a zoom lens (I use an inexpensive 55mm-200mm f/4-5.6). If you plan on taking lots of portraits, you’ll love a 50mm. My 35mm almost never leaves my camera, as it’s a good portrait lens, without all the zoom of the 50mm. I know a lot of people who love their 85mm too. You typically can find all of these lenses at fairly reasonable prices.

Do be aware however, that if you are purchasing a lower end DSLR, that some lenses may not auto-focus on your camera. In my case, the inexpensive Nikon 50mm f/1.8 does not auto-focus on the D40, and it’s quite a step up to the 50mm f/1.4 that will auto-focus. That is the real reason I own a 35mm actually, but I still love it.

You can probably hear your bank account draining right now. Sorry.

But wait, there’s more!

The battery life has been pretty good on my D40, but having a spare battery is really nice. You just have to remember to charge it. Because finding an outlet in a college indoor sports complex can be tricky. Not impossible, but tricky. Don’t ask.

Depending on how and what you plan on shooting, you might want a tripod. I steal borrow with lots of permission, my dad’s travel tripod. It’s not extremely sturdy, but it’s small and light, and comes in handy for long exposure shots on the 4th of July. A remote will complete the combo nicely.

If you plan on shooting indoors a lot, you probably will begin to hate your built-in flash. It made me an anti-flash girl, but also forced me to learn my camera really well, so I never had to rely on flash for indoor shots. I got a external flash for Christmas however, and I definitely comes in handy. If you plan on doing lots of indoor shooting, get at least a basic external flash.

Now, have I drained your bank account and caused you to suddenly develop symptoms an anxiety disorder?


My mission is now completed.


Wondering how you are going to keep track of what to buy and where to buy it? Download my worksheet and get to work!

Please note that this worksheet is for personal use only and is not to be copied or distributed. If you would like to share it with people, please link them here.


Where to buy?

We love in this house, but we’ve also purchased from and B&H photo. All are wonderful to work with and have the best prices and the most reviews.


You actually wanted help picking your DSLR?


Here is so extra reading for you.

Nice little guide that will walk you through the terms and such so you can make the best choice.

Lengthy post on Nikon vs. Canon

If your still trying to decide between a Point & Shoot and a DSLR, read here.


Photo Credits in order of appearance because it’s really hard to take pictures of your DSLR with your DSLR.

Friend with D3 by Vincent

Just Arrived by imcountingufoz

D40 by powerbooktrance

Cover removed by bengt-re


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