Editor’s Note: Trying to decide which digital SLR camera to choose? In a companion piece, we review 6 options that will best fit your needs. Read on for our recommendations as to the camera accessories that will complete your photography resources.
Lenses: A Long-Term Investment
A budget DSLR will likely include a budget 18-55 zoom lens. If possible, get your camera as a body only and order a higher quality lens separately. Ultimately, you’ll spend more on lenses, which can last for decades, than you will on a camera, which is more like a computer—being outdated in four years.
The 18-55mm focal length on an entry-level DSLR equates to a 26-83mm lens in 35mm film lenses. This is a good range for general-purpose photography, but a weak 3.5-5.6 aperture kit lens isn’t best for wide angle, portraits, close-ups and anything that requires shallow depth of field. So you have to think clearly about what you’ll be shooting most often and get the best lens you can afford for that, then save money on a budget-priced lens for your secondary needs.
If you’re primarily shooting still life in a studio with a tripod-mounted camera, seriously consider a 90 or 105 fixed focal length macro lens with a constant 2.8 aperture. This lens can also be used as a portrait lens. Tamron makes a highly regarded 90mm macro. Nikon’s new 105mm macro includes vibration reduction—useful for handheld shooting in low light.
A macro can handle editorial work, product shots and simple mood shots. The constant 2.8 aperture with the moderate telephoto length makes it easy to control depth of field and create nice out-of-focus areas.
The most commonly overlooked lens is the 50mm 1.8. For about $100, a 50 1.8 offers light weight, sharp photos, a useful focal length and low distortion. Depending on what you’re shooting, this can be a good lens for studio work. This lens should be a high-priority item. For creative, walk-around photography, it’s hard to beat a 50 1.8.
Light It Up
The major camera makers offer automated flashes that do a great job of computing flash strength and duration for just about any situation. For less than $200, you can get a flash that tilts and swivels and puts out enough light for some studio situations.
If budget permits, an off-camera flash cable will give you many more options.
Pro photographers often mix fancy studio lighting with inexpensive light modifiers such as foam core, aluminum foil, shaving mirrors, cardboard cut-outs and more. A good book on lighting techniques will show you how to get pro-quality results with simple modifiers.
Get A Sturdy Base
Tripod tripod tripod. A great tripod may be more important than a great lens. A rock-solid base such as a Bogen Manfrotto 8021 gives more options for shooting angles, is steadier for long exposures and can handle heavy zoom lenses. For convenient angle changes, pair it with a good ballhead such as the Bogen 488.
Process and Manage Images
DSLRs shoot in the RAW format for greatest exposure adjustment flexibility after you shoot. Apple’s Aperture, Adobe’s Lightroom and Nikon’s Capture NX can quickly "develop" RAW files, let you rate and select thousands of images and even reduce time spent editing images in Photoshop.