Getting Started with Photography: Part 4 – The Body

Welcome back to the ongoing series on getting into photography on a limited budget. Today’s post will highlight the important considerations when choosing which body you will use. The body of the camera is what would traditionally contain the film, and would be your primary tool for evaluating and setting the correct shutter speed to ensure properly exposed negatives. The body is also responsible for setting auto focusing points where available and subsequently focusing the lens. Depending on your system, the body would also control the aperture of the lens, if this was not ring controlled directly on the lens.

Now as  you can probably tell from the description of the functions of the camera, a lot of what you do is actually on the body, as a result it is very important that the layout of the camera suits your hand and the controls that you are going to use are logically laid out. With the digital bodies, things have changed slightly in that instead of film, there are now digital sensors which capture the image and as a result there are other consideration such as megapixel and high ISO noise levels but the primary consideration is still how well the body fits in your hand. The lenses play a far bigger part in the image quality than the actual camera body.

I will first make mention of the other features and considerations for a digital body. Generally speaking, the more money you spend, the more bells and whistles you get, but really the majority of them just are not necessary. The megapixel count is mostly just a marketing tool, and beyond a certain point completely unnecessary for the majority of uses, and especially to get a reasonable feel for photography. There is reasonable benefit to low noise at high ISO but again only if you very frequently shoot in dim conditions without flash which frankly isn’t a position you are going to be in often enough to warrant paying the premium for when you are first getting started.

Another change from the film to digital age is that where as previously film for SLRs was always 35mm in size, digital cameras are now available with both the full frame sensor equivalent to the 35mm or as cropped sizes of 1.6x in the Canon consumer range, or 1.3x in their professional range. What this means is that the image the sensor takes is a crop from the center of a full frame sensor or film. The cameras in the range I will be suggesting will be from the consumer range with the 1.6x cropped sensor. I will be explaining the practical impact of the same in a future post.

As a result of the bells and whistles being over all not very important to the actual image creation process, you can actually spend very little on a camera body which will serve you well. My primary experience is with Canon cameras so I will be suggesting bodies from their range, though you can get direct equivalents from the other major manufacturers. To this end I come back to my initial and only requirement for a camera body. The layout and hand-feel of the camera. If the camera is comfortable to hold and use, and the controls are where you expect them to be, you can forget about the camera and concentrate on actually taking photos and learning about photography.

From the challenge budget of £300, I am allocating £50 for a decent camera body that will do the job. In particular there are 2 bodies I would recommend for your consideration. The Canon 20D and the Canon 350D. Both can be had in the region of £50 from eBay or from camera dealers and image quality wise they are very similar to the point of not being worth comparing. I will highlight the main differences between the 2 bodies so you can make your own decision as to where your priorities lie:

  1. The obvious difference between the two is the 20D is considerably larger than the 350D. As a result it fits better in larger hands, compared to the 350D which is more suited to those with smaller digits.
  2. As a byproduct of the difference in size, is that the 20D is also considerably heavier than the 350D. This is also in part to the fact that the 20D has a metal body, where as the 350D is mostly plastic. The obvious benefit to this for the 350D is that it is much lighter and more portable than the 20D, however the 20D benefits from being more stable and rugged.
  3. The primary difference in the feature set of the 2 cameras is that the 20D has a maximum shutter speed of 5 frames per second, compared to the 350D which has a shutter speed of 2.8 frames per second. This comes in useful if you are taking photos of fast-moving action where the faster frames per second makes it easier to get the shot timed correctly however unless you are regularly shooting sports or wildlife, this may not be worth the additional size and weight penalty.
  4. The final material difference between the 2 cameras is the button layout. As the 20D is targeted at a more professional market, a lot of the controls of the camera are available quickly via physical button press where as the 350D requires delving into the menu to change some settings. This will not impact the majority of users for the majority of the time.

My personal preference would be to get the 20D as I prefer the stability and ruggedness and I am happy to take the penalty of weight and size. I feel that with a more rugged camera I don’t have to worry about knocks or bangs and can just focus on taking photos. I am also a big sports photography fan so again for that reason I would lean towards the 20D. In actuality I have managed to win an auction for the budget and will be taking delivery of my camera shortly.

I hope this will get you started on what to look for in a budget camera. As I mentioned earlier, Nikon also have an equivalent camera that can be had for about the same sort of money. I would strongly suggest not worrying about the bells and whistles. Even a basic body will provide the functionality you require so get one in good condition and it will serve you well. When you start feeling the functionality lacking you can look to upgrade but it is far more important to invest in good quality lenses than it is to worry too much about the body.

As always please feel free to ask questions or share your views below, and if you found this post useful, please share it with others who you feel may also benefit.


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