Which DSLR Camera should I buy for Christmas?

I get this question every year. Someone wants to know which camera to buy someone, or him/herself, for Christmas. Every year, I end up giving the same advice. This year I thought it would be a good idea to put it into a post to make it easier to share with others.

So who is this guide to buying a DSLR Camera for Christmas for? The people that ask me this question are usually buying their first DSLR camera for someone. The person who will receive this camera usually has not had a DSLR Camera before either. All they know is that they want to make the jump from point-and-shoot, to DSLR. Before diving into which DSLR Cameras I think are best, lets discuss why you would want to go DSLR in the first place.

Owning a DSLR Camera to use as your main camera means that you are willing to carry more on you. DSLR Cameras are still larger than their Point-and-shoot counterparts and so are the accessories. DSLR Cameras are not convenient or easy to conceal. They often require their own bag to properly store them. This has been my issue as I have three kids and that makes it hard to carry yet another bag with us when we travel or take trips. I have forever been on the hunt for a camera that produces the same quality of images but is compact enough to put in my pocket. I have yet to find this camera.

The first bit of advice I offer anybody looking to buy a DSLR camera is to buy a solid camera they can use for a few years and spend more money on lenses if their budget allows for it. Most people think that quality images comes from the camera. This is somewhat true, but the difference between your images and mine is going to be the quality of glass you attach to that camera. There is a reason why some lenses are $2000+ and others are $200. Entry level DSLR cameras these days have fantastic sensors which have the capability of capturing amazing images. If you put low quality glass in front of that sensor, it’s going to produce a lower quality image. To get the best images for your money, you should get a decent DSLR camera and then purchase better lenses before you spend money on a better DSLR. This post is going to skew towards Canon because that is what I have shot with since I purchased my first DSLR Camera in 2005. Canon and Nikon are pretty close in price and features. The only reason I chose Canon at the time was due to a deal I was able to get on the camera.

So, What DSLR Camera Should You Buy for Christmas?

Canon t5i DSLR CameraCanon EOS Rebel t5i: The camera I find myself recommending to most people is the Canon EOS Rebel t5i. This camera has a 18 MP APS-C CMOS sensor. This means that the camera has an 18 Megapixel sensor and that sensor is a crop sensor. A crop sensor is a smaller sensor than the full frame cameras such as the Canon 5D and Canon 6D. There is no reason you would want to choose a full frame camera over a APS-C (crop sensor) camera unless you have high quality lenses already. The Canon t5i also shoots full HD video at 1080p. It’s lightweight and easy to use as well. I have personally owned this camera. When the t5i came out, I bought two of them to use for video. They are great for shooting video. I could easily shoot weddings and events with this camera. The only realistic features you will gain from purchasing the Canon 70D over this camera is faster autofocus and an internal camera body structure made from metal instead of plastic. The Canon EOS Rebel t5i is a fantastic DSLR camera for the beginner to novice photographer.

At the time of writing this, you can get the Canon EOS Rebel t5i with the 18-55mm STM lens for $649 from Amazon.com (View it here).

Canon SL1 DSLR CameraCanon EOS Rebel SL1: At a slightly lower price point than the Canon EOS Rebel t5i is the Canon EOS Rebel SL1. This camera has the same sensor as the Canon t5i but lacks a few features I think are worth spending the extra $100 on. The Rebel SL1 has a maximum native ISO sensitivity of 12,800. This means that the SL1 will not perform as well in lower light situations. The live viewfinder screen on the back of the camera is fixed and does not articulate like the t5i. Having an articulating screen is nice when you want to hold your camera at angles where looking through the viewfinder would be challenging. The SL1 comes in a kit with the same lens as the t5i.

At the time of writing this, you can get the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 with the 18-55mm STM lens for $549 from Amazon.com (View it here).

Canon 70D DLSR CameraCanon EOS 70D Digital SLR Camera: If you are wanting to step into a camera that feels and performs like a professional camera, The Canon 70D is a great place to start. The 70D packs a 20.2MP APS-C CMOS Sensor which means it is still a crop sensor but is a higher resolution sensor than the t5i and SL1. This camera also has a much improved autofocus system with a 19-Point All Cross-Type AF System. The camera body also feels more professional as it has a magnesium alloy body. This means that the camera will take more stress over it’s lifespan and it feels more solid in your hand. The 70D has the same ISO sensitivity range as the t5i, but it seems to perform better than the t5i at those higher ISO ranges due to the Digic 5+ processor. At this range of Canon DSLR Camera, the controls are a bit different than lower level DSLR Cameras. The controls on the 70D are more in line with professional level DSLR cameras. It is easier to make changes to settings without having to pull the camera away from your face and look to see what you are doing. On the t5i and SL1, it is almost impossible to make adjustments to settings without looking at the buttons, which means you could miss a shot while you fuss with getting your settings right.

At the time of writing this, you can get the Canon EOS 70D with the 18-135mm STM lens for $1349 from Amazon.com (View it here).

Canon 7D Mark II DSLR CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera: For those who want superior photo and video performance from their DSLR but are not ready to step up to the full frame game yet, the Canon 7D Mark II is a fantastic choice. At the time of writing this, the Canon 7D Mark II is the most recently updated of the Canon cameras. With it’s 20.2MP APS-C CMOS Sensor, it sounds a lot like the 70D, but here is where it gets amazing. The 7D Mark II has a 65-Point All Cross-Type AF System and features a Dual Digic 6 processor. It has a Native ISO range of 16000 and can shoot 10 frames per second continuously. This camera is a powerhouse. If you are interested in video, it shoots 1080p at 60 frames per second. The 7D Mark II is the highest level DSLR camera made by Canon before going full frame.

At the time of writing this, you can get the Canon EOS 7D Mark II with the 18-135mm STM lens for $2149 from Amazon.com (View it here).

So why would you choose a crop sensor camera over a full frame camera or vice-versa? I have a video going up on 11/27/2014 on the Ditch Auto Podcast that shows the difference between the two and I discuss the pros and cons of each sensor type. Learn how to subscribe to the free podcast here. Episode #10 explains the difference and I also provide examples of how each sensor performs using the same lenses. On the Ditch Auto Podcast, each week I release two videos. One is on cameras and the other is on editing photos. Learn how to subscribe here.

Though I mentioned a lot of specs to compare the above cameras, it comes down to what you would need those specs for. I mentioned the specs that are most important to me such as ISO sensitivity and autofocus capability. ISO and Autofocus are going to be the main differences between most cameras because they are important specs to pay attention to. Anything over a 10 Megapixel camera is going to be more than you will probably need unless you are printing large prints of your photographs.

Regardless of which camera you buy, think about how you will end up using the camera and what features are important to you. I only outlined the basic differences between the cameras listed above. If you are unsure as to what you would want, most of these cameras can be tested by visiting your local big box store such as Bestbuy. Canon vs. Nikon vs. Sony or whatever… They are all good cameras and have similar features around similar price points. Though I focused on Canon in this post, you can easily find the equivalent Nikon camera. I shoot Canon because they are known for excellent customer service and Canon has historically been better in low light than Nikon. This is not as much the case these days but I have never had an issue with any of my Canon brand name equipment. Not one failure to date.

All of that said, you should really have a good understanding of how to use a DSLR Camera in Manual Mode before you decide to spend a bunch of money on a higher end DSLR. Spending $2000+ on a DSLR and using it in Auto Mode is not going to get you a much better photo than using the SL1 in auto. Though Auto is better on some of the higher end cameras, it’s still auto. To maximize the potential of your camera, you need to use it in Manual Mode. That is the Ditch Auto way and you can can take my free course on “How To Ditch Auto and Start Shooting in Manual” here.

In the Ditch Auto Facebook group, we discuss topics like this often. Feel free to join the group and ask questions (Link to Ditch Auto Facebook Group). You can also ask your questions in the comments section below this post.

Merry Christmas!!

BTL: Capturing my Daughters Birthday with my Smartphone

Not every photo has to be taken with high priced gear. You don’t even have to have top of the line equipment to get great photos. This photo is a good example of that. I captured this photo using my iPhone and the Sony QX30. The Sony QX30 is a camera that uses your smartphone as the viewfinder. You also use the phone to control the manual settings on the camera. Though the QX30 does not have full manual mode, it does have Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes, which is pretty close to manual. The QX30 turns my smartphone into a camera capable of shooting in just about any condition.

emmy-1st-bday

I know that I can get decent photos using my iPhone 6 Plus so long as the lighting in the room is decent, but my iPhone can not capture a photo I would deem worthy of printing and putting up in our home. This is why I often default to using my DSLR for all situations, but DSLR cameras are large and you can’t easily share photos from them to social media. Not yet anyway.

The lighting for this photo was only window light from across the room. It was about 9:30 in the morning when I took this photo and the sun was actually on the other side of our house so the light coming through the the windows was not that bright. Below is a photo of the windows so you can get an idea of the lighting. My daughter was facing the windows so the light came right through and lit her face.

Window Light

The Sony QX30 camera seems to do it’s own smoothing on photos when the ISO is rather high. You can kind of tell in the photo as the ISO was set at 4000. When using an ISO as high as 4000 on most cameras, you would see a lot of sensor noise. The Sony QX30 seems to attempt to combat this noise by smoothing out the photo. This is very noticeable when you zoom in 100% to the original photo in photoshop. This camera will produce a RAW and JPG file. At the moment, I can not get the RAW image to open in Photoshop or Lightroom. It will probably be a month or so before the camera is supported, so all I have is the JPG file to work with.

sony-qx1-iso4000

I went with a 1/200 shutter speed because my daughter is all over the place. She is almost moving so it is hard to get a sharp photo of her unless the shutter speed is higher. This is why I used Shutter Priority mode as opposed to Aperture Priority. Most people choose to use Aperture Priority because they want to control the depth of field. I preferred having a sharp photo every time over having manual control over aperture (fstop). Because the ISO was set so high, the photo ended up a little blurry because the camera had to work so hard to produce a well lit image.

Sony QX1 Smartphone Camera

The nice thing about the Sony QX30 is that it’s a small camera that connects directly to your smartphone. I like this because I can capture the photo and instantly share it online through my phone. In the past, I would take photos with my Canon DSLR and also take a couple photos with my phone that I could share right away. Now I can capture nice photos with my smartphone. The QX30 connects directly to my smartphone using Wifi. If you are using an Android device that has NFC, you simply turn on the camera and tap the phone against the NFC logo which instantly creates the connection and opens the Sony PlayMemories App which allows you to control the camera and take photos. (Pictured above is the Sony QX1 which is a Mirrorless Camera that allows you to use any Sony E-Mount lens of your choice. I paired the QX 1 with a Zeiss 32mm 1.8 lens.)

Camera Mode: Shutter Priority
Focal Length: 32mm

Shutter Speed: 1/200
Aperture: 2.8
ISO: 4000
Flash: No Flash

The Sony QX line of cameras also stores the original image to a micro sd card on the camera itself. You can connect the camera to your computer to transfer the images to your computer. I have the camera set to transfer a 2MB image to my phone. This way I don’t have each 20 Megapixel image I capture transferring to my phone. I only plan to use the photos on my phone to post to social media anyway, so the full size image is just overkill.

Sometimes I will edit the images I capture with the QX30 or QX1 in Snapseed. Snapseed is a photo editing app from Google and it’s available on iPhone and Android. It’s easy to use and very powerful. I often use it to bring back some of the shadows in photos because most smartphones have a hard time with shadows and highlights.

Aside from the QX line of cameras not having manual mode, which I assume is just a shortcoming of the Sony Playmemories app, the cameras are pretty awesome. I have tried using my Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II and Canon 6D, which both have Wifi and can transfer images to my smartphones but there are extra steps involved. With Canon’s smartphone app, you can only transfer images to your phone, you can’t take the image and have it directly stored on your phone in one step. That is the killer feature for me, being able to capture the photo and have it saved to your phone at the same time. If Canon would allow for that, I would have no need for the QX cameras. There are ways of doing it using Eye-fi cards or other forms of digital transfer, but none that come as close to how fast the process is using the QX cameras and the Sony Playmemories app. This camera is also a conversation starter. I have used it to liveblog events over the past few weeks and people often stop what they are doing and watch you use it.

Gear used in this photo:

Alternative Gear mentioned in this article

I am always on a search for convenience. I have three kids ages 4 and younger so the lighter I can travel when it comes to photography gear, the better. I also do not like having my large camera in front of my face when I should be experiencing precious moments first hand. My Canon 5D Mark III covers up my entire face, so my kids can’t see me smiling at them. Using smaller gear that does not get in the way as much as my DSLR gear is a win for me.

Here are a few other photos captured with the QX30 attached to my iPhone 6 Plus. These photos are right out of the camera with no editing or cropping. You can see more photos I took and share to my Instagram profile: http://instagram.com/jeradhill.

IMG_7802 IMG_7806 IMG_7812 IMG_7777

BTL: Sun Starburst Effect Wedding Party Portrait

In our fantastic Facebook Group, a question was asked about how you can exaggerate the sun coming through the trees. This came at a perfect time because I had just photographed a wedding where I had the sun shining through the trees to create a natural sun starburst effect.

Natural Sunburst Wedding Portrait Photography

Not all camera settings are created equal when it comes to trying to capture the sun in this way. It also becomes challenging to capture a sun starburst while at the same time, keeping your subjects in the foreground exposed properly. As you can see in this image, I probably could have used a bit more light on my subjects but overall the photo turned out pretty good. Due to the excessive amount of light coming through the tree, there is some degradation in the finer details of the leafs of the tree. If you don’t zoom in on the photo, you probably won’t notice.

Most tutorials online will suggest that you need to close down your aperture to something like fstop 18 or even 22 to achieve this effect. As you can see, my aperture was set to 6.3. I was able to achieve the sun starburst effect because the sun was so overpowering and because my focal length was so wide. This is also why I decided to have the sun backlight my subjects. If the sun was behind me, lighting the front of my subjects, they would have barely been able to keep their eyes open. I would rather combat strong backlighting than force my subjects to hold their eyes open while the sun blinds them.

This photo could have been improved had I been able to bounce some light back onto the front side of my clients. Because the sunlight was behind them, there was less available light to expose their faces. By either using a larger flash or a large bounce card, I could have exposed them better. It was not the end of the world, as you can see below when I explain my post production process on this image. My goal however, is to get the image as close to perfect in camera.

Camera Mode: Manual
Focal Length: 28mm

Shutter Speed: 1/160
Aperture: 6.3
ISO: 400
Flash: 1/32 Power – Manual Mode

The only post production editing done to this image was in Lightroom. I decreased the highlights to remove a bit of clipping that was happening near the sun starburst. I increased the shadows a bit to add some exposure to my subjects. I applied a light noise reduction to the image to remove a bit of the noise that was created by increasing the shadows.

Gear Used In This Photo:

BTL: My Son on the Dock in Newport Beach

newportbeach-1171

This is one of my favorite photos I have taken of my second child. I captured this photo while we were on vacation in Newport Beach in 2013. He was 17 months old at this time. He was sitting on the steps of the dock and I just happened to have my camera in hand. I walked right up to him and said, “hey buddy.” He looked up at me, smiled and I took the photo. The sun was low as it was less than 30 minutes from sunset. The sunset was actually behind me but it was blocked by houses. To compensate for the fact that the sun was not out and shining at that point, I increased my ISO and opened the aperture wide. This also gave the photo a nice shallow depth of field, which I believe helps draw your eyes to him. A shallow depth of field puts everything in the background out of focus. You can see that in this photo, though the furthest point of the background is not far away, it is out of focus. I made sure to quickly focus on his eyes using back button focus rather than allowing my camera to focus as I pressed the shutter down (I will post a tutorial on back button focus soon). I have missed focus so many times by allowing the camera to focus as I press down the shutter button, especially when I needed to capture the photo fast before the moment had passed. I kept the shutter speed at 1/160th of a second to avoid any blur that could have happened due to the quick movement of my boy. My kids are always on the move, so most of the time I keep my shutter speed around 1/160th or higher. Earlier in the day, we were at the beach and they were running around. I increased the shutter speed to 1/250th of a second to make sure my photos did not get blurry.

When photographing people, it is easy to miss the correct focal point which results in key features of the human face being out of focus. There are two areas of the human face that need to be sharply in focus, the eyes and the lips. These are two areas we often focus on when we are looking at the face of another person. Even if we don’t realize we are doing it, the eyes and lips are where we look. When you shoot with a wide aperture, meaning setting your fstop to something 2.8 or lower, the depth of your focal area becomes smaller. This makes it much easier for something to fall out of focus. Depending on the lens, when shooting as wide as fstop 2.8, the tip of the nose could be in focus, but the eyes slightly out of focus. Subconsciously, when we look at a photo of the human face, we can tell that something is not right. Even though we might not notice the fact that something is out of focus, we know that something is not appealing in the photo.

Camera Mode: Manual
Focal Length: 38mm

Shutter Speed: 1/160
Aperture: 2.8
ISO: 800
Flash: No Flash

Another really appealing aspect of this photo is the angle. Because kids are so much smaller than adults, the angle of the photo can really change the emotion of the photo. I love looking at this photo because this is typically how I see my son unless I sit down on the floor to be at his level.

In post production, I made slight changes to color correct the photo. All adjustments were made in Adobe Lightroom 5.

Gear Used In This Photo:

BTL: Rick Santorum Daytona 500 Pit Road

Rick Santorum Daytona 500 Pit Road

I had the opportunity to shoot photos at the Daytona 500 this year and it was an amazing experience. This was my first NASCAR race and first pro sports event I had the chance to photograph where I had actual credentials to do so. The group I was with was a non-profit that was doing some work with Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum. Hours before he arrived at the track, I was told that his staff photographer was unable to make it and that I was going to become his photographer for the day. Part of my job was to continue covering the event for the non-profit I was working for while now at the same time capturing photos of Rick Santorum interacting with people. The access we had was unbelievable. Before the race, we were walking down pit road at Daytona Motor Speedway. Rick was out front along with members of the non-profit and a couple of high ranking Air Force officers. I ran ahead and grabbed a photo of Rick who seemed to be amazed himself at what he was experiencing. After posting this photo to Twitter, Rick Santorum’s staff asked for permission to use this photo on their website and to be able to post it to Rick’s social media accounts. This gained me a lot of retweets and some followers. Rick Santorum himself even followed me on Twitter.

When you are photographing events like this, where lighting changes quickly depending on the direction you are pointing your camera, it is important to have a good understanding of your camera. Here were my camera settings when I captured this photo:

Camera Mode: Manual
Shutter Speed: 1/160
Aperture: 2.8
ISO: 2500
Flash: 1/32 Power – Manual Mode

While taking photos on pit road, depending on my angle I was using my aperture to increase or decrease light. I typically always leave the shutter speed at 1/160 if I am photographing people. If there is a lot of movement, such as people dancing or running, I will increase the shutter speed to something like 1/250 to help freeze the action. Too low of a shutter speed will result in blurry subjects. Photographing the actual NASCAR’s themselves was a different story. Though I don’t consider this to be an all-in-all amazing photo, it captured the essence of what was happening and the subject of interest in the photo looks great. During live events, things are just happening and you do not have control over them. You have to be flexible. Learn how to better control your camera in manual mode by taking my free course: Ditch Auto – Start Shooting in Manual.

In post production, I made slight changes to color correct the photo. I also sharpened it up a bit to make it look a bit more edgy. All adjustments were made in Adobe Lightroom 5.

Gear Used In This Photo:

Ditch Auto Hits 41,000 Students!

Ditch Auto 41000 StudentsWhat an amazing milestone. When I first launched the Ditch Auto – Start Shooting in Manual course on Udemy.com, I figured that friends and perhaps past clients of mine who wanted to learn more about photography would take the course. I could not have imagined that over 41,000 people from all over the world would end up taking the course.

What is next for Ditch Auto?

In the coming weeks we will be launching a podcast and start posting tutorials to this website. I want Ditch Auto to be more than just an introductory course. The feedback many of those who took the course have provided let me know that there is a need for more information. Though there is plenty of good information already on the internet on photography, it’s always good to have different perspectives on things. I am a hands on learner and teacher, it seems that people are drawn to that teaching style. Through this website, the podcast, my Youtube channel and future courses, I hope to continue to help people Ditch Auto and get the most out of their cameras.

Here are some of the things people are saying about Ditch Auto:

Went from having no understanding of how to shoot in manual to gaining a good understanding of cause and effect relationships with that will allow me to take better photos. ~Nathan

I really enjoyed watching and taking part in this course Jerad Hill is a great teacher and he’ll show you part of his knowledge in a easy way. Thanks to Jerad Hill and Udemy for this course. ~Francisco

Although I have many years behind a video camera, I’m new to Dslr and I was looking for a good overview. Jerad Hill nails it covering all the bases and also whets your appetite by giving overviews on a couple of more advanced or not quite on topic subjects. I recommend this course for anyone who would like to get more out of their camera. ~Shane

Great intro for Manual photography. I am a beginner in this area and at least now have a basic understanding of how to shoot manually in different situations, lighting, etc. Thanks Jerad so much for offering this free course! Anyone interested in getting started in Wedding photography would benefit greatly from this course as well! ~Kpeers

 

Ditch Auto: Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop Workflow

Ditch-Auto-Screen-Car-60q

I am happy to announce my next workflow course which will help you regain the life your photo was destined to have.

We don’t always have perfect lighting conditions. Sometimes we have to stretch our cameras to the limit to get the shot. That can leave the photo feeling a bit flat. That was the case with this photo.

andysti-before-21web

The photo you see is right out of my camera. I didn’t have a flash on my camera at the time and the lighting was very low due to the sun being almost completely gone. What do you do when you are shooting at 1/125 sec; f/2.8; ISO 4000? Most cameras can’t even get to ISO 4000 and if you went there, the image would be grainy. You would most likely throw away the photo and try again when you have better light.

With the right techniques, you can bring back life into that same photo and produce a nice end result such as you see in the photo below.

andysti-21-Edit-2-web

Here is what you can expect to learn from this course:

  1. Importing of images into Adobe Lightroom
  2. Image Adjustment Settings in Lightroom
  3. Repair of Underexposed and Noisy Images
  4. How to bring back detail in the image
  5. Opening a photo in Photoshop from Lightroom
  6. Editing and Cleanup in Photoshop
  7. Sky Replacement
  8. Returning to Lightroom to Color Correct
  9. Watermarking
  10. Image Export

I look forward to sharing with you in this course, to take the course, click here.

Ditch Auto – Learn To Shoot In Manual

Why Take This Course?

You have a DSLR Camera or a fancy Point-and-shoot, but have not been using it to it’s full potential. You know that the scary “manual mode” holds a whole new level of customization which would result in better quality photos but have resisted. Terms like Shutter Speed and Aperture sound confusing and you don’t know where to start.

If that sounds familiar, I want to assure you that by the end of my FREE course you will understand what those settings do and be on your way to controlling your camera rather than your camera controlling you.

You made an investment in a decent camera and it’s time to start using it’s features.

In this course you will learn the basics of DSLR Photography and how to shoot in manual mode. My goal is to give you the tools so you can train your brain to think like a Photographer. You will also know how to control your camera instead of leaving it up to Auto Mode to try and to it’s best.

Take the course for free on Udemy: https://www.udemy.com/ditch-auto-start-shooting-in-manual/

How Long Is This Course?

So far, the course is just over 4 hours in length. You can watch it in chunks or all at once. It is best to watch it with camera in hand so you can pause and follow along with your camera. All DSLR Cameras are different so your settings may look different than mine.

What Should I Expect?

You should expect to be able to shoot photos with confidence in pretty much all situations. Whether you are taking pictures of your kids for the memories or are considering Photography as a profession, this is everything I had to teach myself in order to understand my camera.

Who are you Jerad Hill?

I am a Wedding Photographer with over 6 years of professional experience. I have shot over 200 weddings, 120 engagement sessions, 150 portrait sessions and 1000’s of photos of my own kids. For fun I have shot live concerts and music videos. I am also a Wedding Videographer and do a lot with video. Expect a course on DSLR Video soon.

Thanks for checking out my course. Please subscribe and make sure to share it with that friend of yours who has a nice camera that is always complaining about not understanding it.

What’s in the course?

  • Over 37 lectures and 4.5 hrs of content!
  • Learn to use your camera in manual mode
  • Feel more confident shooting with a DSLR
  • Maximize the potential of your camera

Course requirements:

  • DSLR Camera, though not required. Much of what you will learn will help you shoot better photos with any camera.

Who Should Attend?

  • Photographers, Bloggers, Parents, Hobbyists, and anybody who wants to take better pictures with their camera.