How to Choose a DSLR Camera

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” 
― Dorothea Lange

Cameras are a complete minefield once you want to do more than take family holiday snaps.  I was really squinchy about spending money on an expensive DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera, and when mine arrived I was really excited to try it out, but I hated using it at first (I was terrified of breaking something) and it took me about 1,000 photos before I actually knew how to adjust the settings without having to take loads of sample pictures.  After a weeklong trip to Aberdeen, however, I was completely in love with the superior picture quality of the DSLR compared to my old Fuji Finepix-S Bridge Camera, and after a few months it became second nature to get the settings adjusted perfectly.

1. Identify your budget.

What can you reasonably afford to buy?  Are you looking for the cheapest thing that takes pictures (in which case you might like a bridge camera)?  Or are you making an investment in a potential future career?  Do you want something with all the features or do you just want the pictures to look like they weren’t taken on a cameraphone?

DSLR cameras start at around $399 for the Canon EOS Rebel T5 1200D which is an entry level DSLR and is missing a few features you might require (such as a lens), and prices go up to $3249 for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III which comes with one lens and is generally agreed by photographers to be the very best camera that Canon make.  On top of these costs you will need lenses which I will write a separate post on.

2. Identify what you’re going to use it for: video or stills?

Some cameras don’t do video or don’t do it well – some don’t have microphones, or don’t have a jack for your microphone to be attached.  The Canon EOS 600D, 650D and 700D are all good for Youtubing but some of the older DSLR cameras don’t record video at all, so would be a complete waste of money for a Youtuber, however, they still take great (not outstanding) photos so a secondhand older model could be excellent for a budding photographer who was strapped-for-cash.

3. Take a look online to see what you can afford.

Amazon.com is a good place to see how much the different cameras cost.  Canon and Nikon tend to be the most expensive but they have the best features and are compatible with a wider range of add-on equipment.  I haven’t seen anything done by a professional photographer who didn’t use a Canon or a Nikon camera.

4. Read reviews.

I was on the verge of buying the Canon EOS Rebel T5 1200D before I read a review saying that the viewfinder was fixed, not movable.  As someone who does self portrait, timed shots and presents Youtube videos, this was unacceptable to me, and I’m glad I found this out before I bought the wrong camera for my needs.  I finally settled on a Canon EOS Rebel T5i which is everything I want it to be.  Your mileage may vary, and that’s what’s so wonderful about the sheer amount of choice on the market.

5. Buy camera.

Buy it from a reputable store which you’ve heard of or which has a physical location.  There is a LOT of fake crap on the market and some of it is VERY convincing.  I’ve not seen any fake camera bodies or lenses, but when you’re spending that amount of money you need to keep your wits about you.  I love ebay bargains, but I’d never buy a DSLR camera from ebay, or any website where the description is written in broken English, because you need to buy it from somewhere which will take action to sort out a bad transaction.  A second hand camera can be a great bargain, but it’s very easy for someone to sell something because (for example) they dropped it, and you won’t know it doesn’t work until you’ve handed your money over, at which point they can claim you dropped it.  For this reason, if you are buying a secondhand camera, get it from a physical shop and test out the camera before you buy it.  If they’re giving you excuses such as “the battery isn’t charged” then walk away from that purchase.

6. Write a review so other people know how good (or bad) it was.

If the site doesn’t accept reviews, unless it’s the official manufacturer’s site, I wouldn’t buy from there.  A good review lists two or three good points and two or three bad points.  Why waste time even writing a review that looks like any of these:
“Great thanks”

“Arrived ok.”

“Havn’t tried it yet but I’ve still givn it 5 stars.”

Have you got any other tips for buying a camera?  I’d love to read them in the comments!

[wellness] Trapped in the Designer Outlet

Today I learned a very valuable lesson.

This bag was on sale today with an extra 30% off.
This bag was on sale today with an extra 30% off.  And it’s not leather!

It’s not enough to know what item you want to buy, you need to know the specifics, and you need to work it out BEFORE you go to the mall.

I spent over an hour wandering from shop to shop looking for a new handbag.  As a woman, it’s assumed that I would just browse and eventually spend more than I intended on one or more handbags that I would probably completely love for 6 weeks, then the whole cycle repeats, leaving a trail of depleted finances and a wardrobe full of unwanted bags.

The problem is, if I was like that, like most other women, I wouldn’t actually have any trouble shopping for a bag.  But I actually hate bag shopping.  Bags are overpriced, their internal dimensions rarely match their external ones, they are complete victims to the most bizzarre trends making it very hard to find one that will last for more than a season.  I envy people who can just impulse buy them, but for me, finding a good handbag is like buying a car.  I have to inspect every inch of it, consider the aesthetic and the functionalism, I have to spend some serious time deciding whether it will be suitable for me.  Additionally I don’t want it to be leather, because that stuff looks better on the cow.  Because I only have one day-to-day bag at a time, and one tiny going out bag (a recent addition to the sphere of things that I own).  When one of those bags breaks or gets stained or otherwise stops looking presentable or being functional, I get a new bag.

I started to go bag-blind in the shops, looking at so many bags which all didn’t seem like what I was looking for in some way or another.  I think I skipped a few shops that might have been ok, because I couldn’t immediately see any bags from outside and I was starting to get uncomfortable with just going in and out of shops, trying to navigate past people to get to the bags (which are always at the back).  I didn’t bother with Ralph Lauren because there was a queue to go in.

Eventually, I found something in the Levi shop that was under £10, looked nice enough, and was the right shape and size with the right number of pockets and sensible location of closable openings for me to use day-to-day.  I won’t go through the nightmare again of having a bag which can’t be closed.  If I’d known the shape and style I was looking for, I could have saved myself 70% of that trip and avoided all the overly-female-oriented shops, gone straight for the unisex shops, and just browsed the type of bag I ultimately bought.  I would have been done in about 20 minutes.  I did look online beforehand and didn’t really see anything I liked.  I think I need a clearer idea of exactly what I’m looking to buy when I’m getting new seldom-buy items.

Someone could spend the rest of their life browsing in the mall for things to use in their everyday life, never actually getting to live that life because they’re spending all their time in the mall.  That’s a scary thought.  Once I’d bought my bag I literally ran back to my car and floored it out of there.  When did shopping get so stressful?

Is Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed Making You Shop?

Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed

Have you ever gone into a shop and browsed, only to feel like the woman behing the counter is watching you, and like you can’t leave empty handed? That compulsion to buy something?

It can get a bit ridiculous. When I first left home, I had to know what was inside every shop, I think it was just curiosity and an enjoyment of the time I could spend doing it. However, I seemed to keep leaving the shops with an item or two. Sometimes three. Sometimes these items were fairly expensive. Always I didn’t want or need them. I couldn’t understand why I kept doing it until I got stuck in a particularly cloying boutique.

It was the kind of shop that calls itself a boutique, that sells things which are labelled in squiggly handwriting with the name of some unreadable (and unremarkable) “designer.” The window display had been some pretty hats, and for some reason it lured me in. I wondered what else they sold.

I went inside. A particularly sour-faced older lady in the over sixty category, wearing a very unattractive floral print dress (prints had been out for about 10 years by this point, and wouldn’t ever make a comeback in the garish incarnation she was sporting) and a necklace that seemed to be garotting her neck fat. She glared down her nose at me and didn’t say a word. I looked around to see what the shop sold. There was a lot of things that the older lady might wear to watch a regatta or go to a wedding. I could see the Queen shopping somewhere similar. Nothing had any price tags on. I started to panic because there was nothing in the whole shop that I could buy. Not a single thing. Everything was repulsive in some way or another. I felt too hot, the temperature was stuffy and the artificial floral air freshener was catching in my throat. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t buy anything, so I looked obsessively at every single item, pretending to be interested, and I had an epiphany – I didn’t have to buy something in order to leave. The exit was right there, all I had to do was be brave and walk out. I suddenly realised that when I came into shops like this I tended to worry that sour older women like that would just see my school uniform and assume I was shoplifting when I wasn’t, causing unpleasantness. She couldn’t stop me for shoplifting – because I hadn’t shoplifted anything. It didn’t seem like such a silly worry at the time, so I had to take a very deep breath, close my eyes, pull the door open… and I was back on the street, walking away, never to see the inside of that awful place again.

I felt like I’d escaped from a spider web.

For years, I felt very uncomfortable when trying to leave a shop without buying anything, although it wasn’t unmanageable. I did still find it quite difficult, however, and there were a few times I ended up leaving with something I thought I wanted to buy, but if I’d really thought about it, I wouldn’t have bought it. It all came to a head in my first year of university. I’d just got my student overdraft, and I saw a dress in the window. It was sparkly and pale pink. I went inside to try it on. It didn’t fit particularly well and it had a huge design flaw that made my legs look terrible. Additionally, it was actually a very unflattering pale peach, and made my skin tone look dead. Oh, and it was also £250. But do you know what I did? I bought it anyway. I didn’t find out about the colour until I got back to my room; they must have had some very odd lighting on it in the shop.

I got it home still feeling really pleased with myself about buying the dress, pleased that I was now the sort of person who could spend £250 on a dress without thinking about where that money would come from. Pleased, in short, that I was able to participate in consumerism at a higher level than when I lived at home. I equated spending power with success.

It was about seven or eight years later that I finally realized that I had made a poor choice. The years came and went, I never actually wore that dress to any of the variety of functions I attended, at all of which it would have been appropriate, because I was afraid of someone spilling something on it, or standing on the hem. Every time I tried it on I would look in the mirror and feel very pleased with myself for having such a nice dress. Through the bad times, the times when I was working at McDonalds and when I was unemployable because I couldn’t walk, I would try the dress on and feel the same way I had when I bought it – like I was going places. I felt like anyone with a dress like this must be on their way up in life. I loved it. And underneath that thought process, I also hated it. I felt like it was a tangible reminder of my own weakness, my inability to not buy things, something I knew was a personal failing even as it made me feel happy. The feeling grew on me that I had never worn it, and time was always moving forward, and it was just taking up space in my life. I didn’t need it, and I didn’t want it. Every time I altered the hemline or changed the drop of the skirt, it still didn’t look right and I couldn’t put my finger on the reason.

The bottom line was, it was an expensive waste of money and it was also an overpriced and poor fitting monstrosity that I would never have occasion to wear.

When my wedding day came, I pulled it out. The most expensive dress you ever wear, we are told by the Wedding Industrial Complex, is supposed to be your wedding dress. Well I wasn’t going to spend £250 on a wedding dress, but I also didn’t actually like that dress and didn’t want to wear it in public. I think the peach colour had progressively faded from the moment I bought it and when it came to my wedding year it was a really yellowish peach that made me look positively anaemic (which I was, but I didn’t need to look like I was). My actual wedding dress was £10. When I first started minimalizing the house, six months after the wedding (we haven’t been married anywhere near a year yet), that £250 dress was one of the first things I got rid of.

Do you know how good that felt? It felt better than when I bought it. I felt like I’d unhitched a cart that I’d been dragging behind me for years. I felt lighter and more moveable. It’s several weeks later and I’m still glad I got rid of it.

The fact that I was able to get rid of it means that I am putting that part of my life – the naive thoughts that being able to consume more expensive items equates to success and happiness – behind me, I’m committed to minimalizing my life and letting go of the things that are weighing me down.

All my sandbags will be cut loose, so I can soar amongst the stars.

No longer am I afraid of leaving empty handed. I don’t need to buy things to prove to shop assistants that I have spending power. I know that I can buy anything I want to, but that doesn’t mean I have to use that power. In Kung-Fu, it is taught that true wisdom is knowing when not to fight. So in minimalism, we learn that true wisdom is also knowing when not to purchase things.

I think this is probably linked to FOMO – or fear of missing out.  Sometimes I worry that if I don’t buy something when I see it I’ll never get back to buy it when I really need it.  This is an obstacle I’m still trying to overcome.  But that’s okay, because minimalism is a journey, and it starts with choosing which pair of shoes to wear to take that single step.  Unless you’re a centipede.  In which case you can wear all of them.