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  1. #1
    cloud9's Avatar
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    complete beginner's SLR?

    hi,

    i just discovered this site about a week ago...
    i'm interested in learning photography..

    so i want to buy myself a nice beginner's SLR.
    bear in mind that i dont know ANYTHING about slr cameras..
    ive never used one before, and i dont really know anyone who could teach me, so i think im just going to try to self-teach myself with some books and internet resources...

    what kind of cameras would you recommend?
    what kind of features do i need? (or dont need?)

    thanks!!

  2. #2
    Bill Hahn's Avatar
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    There are many possible answers here...I just tell you on what equipment I learned....

    I learned photography on a Canon Elan IIE. You could leave it fully automatic, but I forced myself to use it in completely manual mode most of the time. Although the lenses are auto-focus, you can switch them over to manual focus as well. (Used Elan II bodies are available at keh.com for less than $100.)

    I started with a cheap zoom lens, eventually tried other lenses, and what I learned is that (for me) I prefer wide-angle to telephoto.

    You might want to invest in a tripod...you will quickly find out that it's easy to take blurred shots with slower shutter speeds you get with overcast conditions and slow lenses.

    Finally, if you hear the term "mirror lockup", it's not some fatal defect in the camera -- it's a feature which allows the mirror to move out of the way of the lens a few seconds before the shutter releases - the motion of the mirror can cause the camera to shake leading to blurred shots. It can be useful in macro shots...the Elan II had this feature.

    Just mentioning how one photographer learned....you will get other opinions I bet (ha!).
    "I bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright

  3. #3

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    If you really want to learn, get a nice manual camera. Your don't need all the frills like autoexposure or autofocus. They only make you lazy and not think. The Pentax K1000 is a good choice. I can also recommend a Fujica ST801 (if you can find one cheap enough). Other options are a Nikon FM, Canon FTb, Pentax Spotmatic, Minolta SRT series (the X series is nice also, but don't use the auto features when learning). Out of all those mentioned the Nikon is the nicest, but also the most expensive. With most older cameras you may have to replace the light seals (cheap and easy to do) and some are difficult to find batteries for.

    I book I recommend for beginners is the National Geographic Field Guide. Well written and well illustrated.

    Steve
    The soul never thinks without an image.
    - Aristotle

  4. #4

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    Hallo,
    As someone who was in a similar position not so long ago, I cannot recommend these two books highly enough for a person just starting out in film photography. I went through a lot of stuff, both written and off the web but heartily plum for these.

    1. Black and white photography: a basic manual (Henry Horenstein) third edition, revised. (Little, Brown - publishers). Available on www.amazon.com
    [Basic Photography (Michael Langford). Seventh edition ( Focal Press) is also excellent but Horenstein is less dense and easier to read. www.amazon.co.uk]
    2. Composition in Art ( Henry Rankin Moore) (Dover Publications). An invaluable guide to composing a photograph. I believe it is out of print. I bought mine off ebay. A terrific and concise book. Not a word wasted.

    Both are applicable to digital. good luck M.

  5. #5
    Sparky's Avatar
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    Years and YEARS ago - I used to sell cameras at a shop. It's funny- because I took a very unusual tack to my job. I would be honest with customers. I'd tell them to forget about all the hoopla... go as manual as possible and use ONLY one lens - and no zooms or silly filters! It doesn't make me more money that way - but the customers REALLY appreciated. Actually - I got bonuses for really high sales since everyone would come to me since they trusted me.

    But what I really think on the issue is simply this. Go as high quality as you possibly can. Think about what you want to DO with the camera. Aperture or shutter priority auto models might be a good thing depending on what you're doing. But with prices of 35mm slrs being SO LOW right now... it's easy to buy quality. Without knowing too much about what you're doing - I'd say go with a Nikon F3HP and 55 micro lens. you should be able to pick up a kit for less than $350. It's a REALLY solid high quality camera - with a REALLY excellent viewfinder. I cannot stress enough the importance of ergonomics and easy use like this in a camera you're just starting out with. If the design is too funky - then it'll be a turnoff - and you may never really make it out of the starting blocks. The lens I menioned... while a tad slow - is unbelievably sharp and will allow you to get in as close as you need to any subject whatsoever. Many people might suggest a beginner pick up a low-quality camera to begin - but I think that's anathema to learning. Other good choices would be spotmatics, nikon f or f2, SRT-101 or 102 (if memory serves), yeah, the canons are good. If you can get something with removable prism - that's a great and useful thing at times (nikon F2, F3, canon FT).

    I stress the one-lens approach also because that way you'll be able to train your vision and your composition better without being fettered by too many choices. The more things remain the same - the faster you'll go forward. I know that may seem like a hard thing. But you'll have to trust me on this.

  6. #6
    Sparky's Avatar
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    oh - by the way - also get yourself a GOOD separate light meter - even if your camera has one built in. Don't use the camera meter. You'll actually get really good at guessing exposures to within half a stop after awhile - and for those rare situations where you'd be stuck WITHOUT a meter - your new skills can save you.

  7. #7
    T42
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    Hi Folks.

    I resonate with those who say to learn the basics on a fundamentals-centric camera like an F, F2, F3, FM2, FM3, Nikomat, Minolta SRT, Pentax Spotmatic, etc. I think I would add that a serious student will come to appreciate an SLR with depth of field preview. Unfortunately, the near lengendary K1000 does not have this.

    The hand meter is also an excellent idea, as is learning how to use a gray card or an incident dome on the hand meter.

    Henry

  8. #8

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    Good Afternoon, Cloud9,

    The advice you've been given above seems fine. I would emphasize that any SLR you get should be fully functional (except possibly for the light meter) WITHOUT a battery. There are dozens of good possibilities, and most of us have our favorite(s). I'd start with an all-mechanical model from the '80's or even the '70's; try to get one which seems to have been well taken care of and shows no obvious defects. The prices on most models will be relatively modest, so the risk is somewhat limited. Suggestion--do an APUG search on various brands and you'll should find a lot of information. Keep your eyes open--sometimes these days, people actually give away perfectly good 35mm film cameras.

    Konical

  9. #9

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    Others have given good and (mostly) consistent advice, and I concur with the overall themes. My own advice is this:

    • Go all-manual. You can always upgrade to a camera with as much automation as you like later. If you buy used, the prices are low enough that the camera purchase price is pretty minor; you'll probably pay more for 2-5 rolls of film and processing than for a basic used camera. A manual camera has the advantage of not tempting you to use automation. This will force you to slow down and think about what you're doing, which will help you learn about things like motion blur, depth of field, backlighting, etc.
    • Buy used. Consider your first SLR camera a try-out. Don't buy a new camera with all the features you think you might want; instead, get an inexpensive used one so you can learn the basics and figure out which features you'll really want for the long term. After a few months, buy a new or used camera with those features. This will then give you two cameras, which can be handy. You can load them with two different types of film or use your first (presumably less valuable) camera in environments that might be hazardous for the camera.
    • Choose your mount. Most SLR manufacturers use lens mounts unique (or almost unique) to the manufacturer. For instance, you can't fit a Canon lens on a Minolta camera. There are a few exceptions, though. M42 screw-mount (aka Pentax screw mount or Praktica screw mount) lenses fit many makes from the 1970s and earlier, and a few later models. The Fujica ST-801 mentioned by magic823 is an M42 camera. (This was my first SLR, and it makes a good learning camera.) M42 lenses take longer to change than do bayonet mount lenses, though. Another multi-make mount is the Pentax K-mount system, which was used by many manufacturers, including Pentax, Ricoh, Chinon, Cosina, and a few others. A few of these are still making cameras. The most popular mounts are probably M42, K-mount, Canon, Minolta, and Nikon (in no particular order). I'd stick to one of those types if practical -- but if you don't invest in extra lenses at first, you can choose to switch mount types with your second camera and not throw away a big investment. Note that many manufacturers have made cameras in multiple mounts -- particularly M42 and a more recent bayonet mount. (Everything except M42 and a few rare types are bayonet mounts.)


    FWIW, I'm most familiar with K-mount cameras. If you're interested in them, you might want to consult this table, which summarizes most of the K-mount cameras made between 1975 and 1994. Try loading the table into a spreadsheet or something and sort by the features that you want to have (or not have). You can then search for those models on eBay or take a list to a local used camera shop. Perhaps somebody else can suggest similar resources for other types of cameras.

  10. #10
    Matt5791's Avatar
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    I think that my advice will simply amplify ther others here.

    I used to own a Canon EOS autofocus SLR. One day, by chance, I sold it and bought a Pentax K1000. It was the best move I ever made and I learnt nothing while I had the EOS because the level of automation and features made it hard to figure exactly what was goin on and you don't need that when you are a novice - It is a bit like trying to learn to play a Cathedral organ without having learnt a bit on the Piano first.

    So my advice is Pentax K1000, and you can always sell them when you want to move on as a lot of courses stipulate students should buy K100's.

    Matt

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