buying a new DSLR camera

Simple and not-so-simple tips that will help you buy a working camera

I remember when I was choosing my first camera. It was a bit overwhelming; I tell you that. I was drowning in information. In the end, I chose Canon 60D, which at the time was a very decent “crop” camera to start your way in professional photography. I did a few mistakes though. When I started, I got a lens that wasn’t so good for crop cameras and I had a little trouble with focusing: I was constantly getting my images out of focus and I didn’t understand why. I wish I had some list I could follow. 

So, if you’re going to buy a new camera, these tips will show you how to properly check the camera and how to identify a defective one. 

Getting ready

To make a successful purchase, it is better to gather some information at home. I can write a whole article about differences between camera manufacturers, but there are universal notes that you can take into account.

Information To Gather

– Make sure the chosen model is not out of date, and it’s still relevant. Check out the information on the manufacturer’s website: have newer models of the same class come out with better characteristics? New models tend to have new image processors built-in, which make your life easier: faster processing, less noise, and overall quality of life improvements. 

– Check out customers’ feedback on the Internet. Finding reviews is very easy. It is enough to open any search engine and type in the search line: “Camera model name” reviews.

– To minimize the risk, it is best to buy a camera in stores with a good reputation. It seems like an obvious choice, but I remember how I was constantly tempted to buy the camera in some unknown stores with a suspiciously low price. Most likely, they sell the goods from “grey” batches, that have no official warranty.

Things To Expect

– Do not expect that a regular store consultant will help you to choose something. It is important to understand that their task is not to pick up the best camera for you but to make the best deal. It is not always the case, but I advise you to gather and filter all the information you’ll get and only then decide what is best for you. 

– If you are new to photography and photo technology is not your strong suit, do not buy used cameras. It is quite difficult to check them, there can be many hidden defects in them. If you do decide to buy a used camera, you need to check its shutter counter: how many pictures the previous owner has taken. I’ll talk about it later.

– When you’re checking the camera, you have to have an idea about its controls. Download the manual from the manufacturer’s website and study it. Examine how shooting modes are selected, how exposure, aperture, and light sensitivity are configured, how to change release modes, how autofocus is turned on and off, how the quality of the images is configured, how the focus points are chosen.

– Keep in mind that cameras are almost always sold without a memory card in the kit. Make sure you have a memory card with you and a good one. I’ll just recommend buying UHS-I Class 10 card straight away, buy the fastest possible, it’ll serve you good in the long run.

Check the camera

We’re in the store. In front of us is a box with a camera. How to check the camera if you’re on your own? Let’s get to the bottom of this.

Visual inspection

Examine the box: it should not have damage of any kind. Find a warranty card in the box. Check that this is the official warranty card of the manufacturer, and it is not from a third-party service center. Check out the serial numbers on the packaging, camera, and warranty card. Some manufacturers allow us to check the serial number on the official website. 

There should be no traces of previous use. Everything has to be wrapped in bags. If any traces of use are found, don’t listen to the seller’s comments, but simply demand another box without any trace of use.

If you buy a camera kit, check the lens for scratches or dust, then set it on the camera. The lens should be fixed tightly.

Testing camera mechanics

After a visual inspection, we move on to testing the camera.

Install battery and memory card, turn on the camera. If the battery is discharged to zero ask for a charged one. Set the mode to Auto and make a few test shots. Check to see if the built-in flash is working (if the camera has one).

Check the work when you’re filming. Change shooting speed mode, usually, it is marked as Cl and Ch on a camera, then press the shutter-release button: the camera will continuously take a few shots while the button is held by you. This way we will check the performance of the camera shutter.

Check the camera for defective pixels

It is important to check the camera’s sensor for broken pixels. You may have heard about it in the context of computer monitors before. A broken pixel is a non-working element of the camera sensor. In photos, it will look like a bright spot. 

How do I check my camera for broken pixels? Here’s a detailed algorithm of actions:

– Cover the lens with a cap. The idea is to get your picture to be completely black. On a black background, you’ll see all the defective pixels perfectly.

– Turn on camera the shutter priority mode (S).

– Set up the image to JPEG in maximum quality.

– Turn off the autofocus.

– Set up the exposure in 1/25 s and minimal ISO. Usually, it’s ISO 100.

– Take the picture. Explore it on a 100% scale (this is important: otherwise, you won’t see possible broken pixels straight away). If you see visible points on the black field of the picture, refuse to buy this copy of the camera.

Back focus and front focus. What’s it?

This is an autofocus error when the lens is not focusing at the specified point, but either behind it (back focus) or in front of it (front focus). As a result, pictures will lack sharpness at the desired spot. Back and front focus problem is specific to SLR cameras only. Compact and mirrorless cameras do not suffer from this defect, because their focus system is works differently. Back and front focus is not so scary for owners of top models of SLRs. In these cameras, you can precisely adjust autofocus through the menu.

How do I check the camera and lens for back and front focus?

Things To Keep In Mind

– If you want to be 100% sure, ask for help at a specialized service center. By the way, the manufacturer does not consider this as a defect. Service center specialists can adjust autofocus easily.

– It is important to understand that in practice any problem with focusing is photographer fault. Therefore, if you get blurred frames too often, ask yourself, are you using the camera the way you suppose to?

There is a way to check the focusing system by yourself. To do this, we just need to picture some objects with small details at a 45-degree angle. The test is best conducted in natural daylight.

– Let’s set up the camera: choose “A” mode, then choose the widest-open aperture. Set ISO at “auto”.

– Autofocus should be turned on.

– Let’s choose the central focus point.

– We will select an object for shooting: it can be a piece of paper or a box with letters on it, a newspaper, or a simple ruler.

– Let’s focus on the central point on a predetermined location. It’s important to remember exactly where you will focus. 

– Let’s make some shots, about a dozen. Please note that you must take pictures from the same position and angle (45 degrees). 

Review The Images

Study the images: if the focus (sharpness) is exactly where you were focusing, then everything is fine. If the sharpest part of the image has shifted from the focusing point, then there’s an obvious problem with the autofocusing system.

So, if the camera has passed all these checks, then I’m sure you can buy such a camera safely! I know this can be overwhelming at first but remember this. It is safe to say that it takes about three years for every newcomer to learn all the technical and creative parts of photography. In addition, It is important just to put your heart and enthusiasm into it. 

It is important to remember that if you decide to become a photographer, you should be prepared to edit raw pictures to achieve the best result. The easiest way to find your style is to use presets like Rockshutter, which will save your time in editing and will help you to spend more time learning the creative side of photography. I hope you like this article, if you have any additional questions, I’d be happy to answer them below. Good luck!