First let’s start with the actual camera bag. I am a self-admitted camera bag snob. I have a whole collection of bags in my closet and am constantly on the lookout for the ultimate camera bag. I have three bags that I use for different occassions. It’s all about matching the bag to the occassion.
- JoTotes – My JoTotes bag is great for “occassions” meaning when I want to take my “nice” camera without drawing too much attention to myself. With two kids in tow no one really pegs it for a camera bag because it doubles as a purse and diaper bag.
- Lowepro Exchange Messenger – This is what I use about 90% of the time for its flexibility. It’s lightweight and has ample space for my D90 with a long lens, another lens, my SpeedLight, and my wallet and cell phone. It provides great accessibility and makes it easy to pull out my camera with ease. The drawback is that there isn’t much padding on this bag so you have to be really careful with not banging your equipment or it dropping off a table or so.
- Jill-e Camera Leather Bag Medium – I use this bag when I need to take all my camera equipment with me including 3 or 4 lenses, the SpeedLight, etc. And it looks great.
I’m a Nikon girl for the simple reason that the first camera my husband bought me was a Nikon D40 . It’s a great starter camera, now replaced by the Nikon D3100 14.2MP Digital SLR CameraThe great thing about my D40 (which I still own) was that it made learning how to use a dSLR easy and fun. It was a relatively small dSLR that felt great to hold and whose menus were incredibly intuitive to use. It was ready to use straight out of the box – just charge up the battery and pop in a memory card and you’re ready to go. Both the Nikon D40 and the D3100 retail for under $600 with a 18-55mm (equivalent of about 3x zoom on your point and shoot camera) starter lens. You can’t go wrong. Costco also sells the D3100 with two starter lenses, camera case, and video tutorials for under $900.
The camera that I upgraded to is the Nikon D90 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera. It’s considered a prosumer camera meaning it has many of the features of professional grade cameras but has a cropped-sensor rather than a full frame sensor. In short you get loads of features at a fraction of the cost. I LOVE this camera and don’t see myself upgrading for a while since I am still learning to use all its functionality.
Here are a few tips to consider when purchasing your first camera:
- Where to buy: Buy from a reputable retailer with an excellent return policy. Amazon lets you return your equipment upto 30 days for a full refund. Costco has a 60 day return policy on electronic equipment. You may find better pricing by a few dollars through other online retailers but make sure you read the fine print on their return policies which may include restocking fees.
- How to pay for it: If you have an American Express card use it! Did you know that Amex insures your purchases for up to 60 days? I once purchased a $700 lens that was blown off a table by a very strong gust of wind on day 35. Boy was I glad I had put it on my Amex card. They paid to repair at no cost to me with a simple repair quote. You are also insured for theft so you can’t go wrong.
- Camera-body only or Camera Kit: Regardless of the camera you go with, you can purchase just the camera-body or you can purchase a camera kit that includes the camera body and 1 or 2 lenses. Camera kits are convenient (and can be cost effective) but they may not include the best lenses.
The camera body is important but the quality of the pictures you take comes down to the lens or lenses in your camera bag. Most folks have 1 to 2 lenses and that’s fine. I have a few more lenses that I’ve accumulated over the last couple of years but there are two lenses that I use on a day to day basis.
- Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens– This is the lens that I recommend to everyone. Its a little pricey but I promise you this is the lens that will spend the most time on your camera. It is the alternative to the two kit lenses included in the Costco D3100 kit. This is my all time favorite when I’m out with the kids because it has a terrific zoom (about 10x equivalent in a point and shoot camera) and it is light enough to stay on my camera all the time. You can pick up this lens for about $850. One way to justify this lens is by purchasing just the camera body which will save you about $300 over the camera kit prices and then weigh in the convenience of not having to carry and switching out multiple lens. Trust me – you don’t want to carry a heavy camera bag.
- Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom Lens– This is my favorite lens when shooting the kids indoors under low light situations (when I want to use natural light rather than use the flash). This is considered a prosumer lens that you can aspire to one day. The trade-off in loss of zoom range is that pictures are super sharp and the lens is super fast. This is a very high end portrait lens (expensive) that most moms wouldn’t find a need for on a day to day basis. Good alternatives to this lens are the Nikon 18-200mm (above), the Nikon 18-55 VR (below) that come standard in some camera kits or the 50 mm.
- Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens– Great multipurpose lens with image stabilization that comes standard with a lot of camera kits.
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras– If you want the sharpness of the 17-55mm f/2.8G without the price this is a good alternative though as a prime fixed focal length lens, you have to zoom with your feet which takes a little getting used to.
Lens don’t make it onto my camera without installing a lens filter first. A lens filter is a protective filter that screws to the end of your lens. Filters are sized to the actual lens so make sure you get the right size. Tiffen makes some low end lens filters for about $10. Higher end filters start at about $70. Here are a few options for the Nikon 18-200mm lens above.
One of the things that folks most look forward to when purchasing a dSLR is the benefit of continuous shooting mode. That’s the ability to hold down the shutter release button and have the camera take multiple pictures without having to refocus. What folks don’t realize is that you may not be able to achieve that continuous shooting speed if you don’t actually have high-speed memory cards. It’s not just the size of the card that matters but the rated speed. So my recommendation is to purchase the fastest memory cards your budget will allow. While you’re at it make sure that you purchase at least two memory cards. It’s pretty easy to fill up a memory card especially early on while shooting in continous shooting mode. Here’s a recommendation for what’s in my camera bag. It holds about 500 pictures in RAW format (more on that in a future post).
Your camera comes with an on-camera pop-up flash which you’ve probably realized does not take the most flattering pictures. In my camera bag I have two flash accessories that help me get more natural pictures.
- Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash– This is an external flash that connects to your camera’s hot-shoe. It provides a more powerful flash that can be aimed in different directions to provide more natural lighting. This is a middle of the road model with costs about $300. A less expensive model is the Nikon SB-400 AF Speedlight Flash.
- BUT for less than $30 you can take awesome flash photos that rival the quality of any external flash. This little gadget connects to the same camera hot-shoe connector as an external flash. The Professor Kobre’s Lightscoopdiffuses your pop-up flash and “bounces” it straight up softening the light as it hits your subjects. Trust me – this $30 gadget spends more time on my camera than my $300 Speedlight – that’s how well it works! Check out these before and after pictures.
You can find links to all these products in the sidebar on the right. I’m happy to answer any questions regarding my camera bag.