Photography/dslr camera

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QUESTION: hello,
Im looking into getting my first DSLR camera. with so many options i have no idea where to begin. I will mostly be using the camera for capturing everyday photos. cottage, camping trips, life in general. also wanting to trying shooting some wilderness/nature pictures. (animals, plants that kinda thing)  I am willing to spend about $1000. If anyone has any suggestions or can point me in the right direction that would be awesome.
I was looking at the nikon D5500, or D5300, or even any of the D300s. I just don't know if i wanna stick with nikon or maybe go to cannon or pentax i have no ideA!

ANSWER: Hello, tony,

My experience is only with Pentax. We started out with Pentax film cameras, acquired some lenses, and then waited until they came out with a decent digital camera. All the lenses work on it. The advantage of Pentax, and the reason I decided to stick with it, is because the image stabilization is in the camera. It's a patented design. Until recently, no other camera had this capability, and that may still be true. On the other hand, Canon and Nikon both put the image stabilization in the lenses, which makes them horribly expensive. So if your budget is around $1000, you probably want to avoid that.

Pentax has a camera called K3, and it is state of the art for amateurs. Images are 24 megapixels in size. I got mine for well under $1000. That leaves enough to buy some lenses. I do a lot of wildlife photography, particularly birds, so I needed some serious telephotos. I was able to get a 650-1300mm zoom lens, variable aperture, just a tube with some lenses, for under $300. It weighs only 4.4 pounds. When I expect the distances to be significant, I take that lens. I can hand-hold it in most cases, because it is fast enough that with good light, I can get 1/1000 of a second exposure, and hand-holding, you aren't going to move the lens enough to mess up the picture.

I also have a lens that goes from 100-400mm, and with a 1.7x extender, this equals going out to 680mm, which is more than most people can get, and it's lightweight. I use this lens most of the time, and don't always carry the larger lens. Most lenses that zoom to 400mm are rather expensive, but I was able to get a cheap Asian lens that has served me well. It cost me under $100. That lens is no longer available new. I have bought a used one to replace one I broke. These lenses fit the Pentax, and because of the image stabilization in the camera, the pictures tend to be sharp.

I'm not even sure if you can get the 650-1300mm zoom for any other camera, because it wouldn't contain its own image stabilization. When the light is really good, I use this lens on the 1.7x extender, which gives me a zoom of 2200mm.

The Pentax has ISO going up to 51200, although it is very grainy there, but you can get decent pictures at 1600 or sometimes 3200, and in most cases, that is adequate.

Pentax also has a number of different settings that determine things like the saturation of a picture, and one setting for black and white. The one thing it lacks is infrared shooting. But I like to use the Vibrant setting a fair amount, which gives rich colors. It also seems to work better for shooting a bird against the sky and then shooting one in bushes. You have to adjust the exposure on the fly for this type of situation, but I do so less on this setting.

For other types of shooting, I normally use a wide angle lens with the 1.7x, which means I leave it on the camera most of the time, and this helps prevent dust specks from getting on the sensor. The Pentax does have a good mechanism to shake most of that off, which you can use or not. Occasionally, I have to clean off specks, but not frequently. You can also get a standard 55mm lens, which would be inexpensive, for the casual pictures you are seeking.

Another interesting feature of the newer K3 is that it uses the image stabilization to allow a person to track stars, using a GPS type mechanism. The stabilization is built around gyroscopic principles.

I hand-focus nearly all my bird shots. The camera tells me when the picture is in focus. The display on the back is large, and the viewfinder also gives a good size view. With practice, you can learn to focus quickly, though I still miss shots occasionally. Nikon or Canon may be better at auto-focus in those situations. When you ask the camera to focus on a bird in the bushes, it can get tricky, and the Pentax tends to seek a lot.

You will have to seek descriptions and opinions about the Nikon and Canon from another person, but this will give you an idea of what you can get with the Pentax. I hope this helps.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: hey,! wow that was very helpful, i spent most of the night looking at the pentax k3 and the pentax k3ii. my main concern is the lenses. as you mentioned they are cheaper then the big two other companies lens(nikon and cannon) but I'm afraid my knowledge on lenses isn't something iv looked into yet and it kinda overwhelms me when i do. Their are so many abbreviations and short forms that i have no idea what they mean. based on what i would like to shoot from the above post, any recommendations on the type of lens i should buy? looking to get at least 2 with the camera right off the bat. unless getting one and learning the camera first would be a better option. sorry for all the questions!

Answer
Hello, tony,

You are welcome!

As for lenses, I don't consider that particularly difficult, though obviously I have been involved with them for awhile. There are a couple of terms you have to be familiar with.

Aperture means the size of the hole behind the lens, that admits light. The smaller the hole, the sharper the picture will be. It is measured in fractions, so the larger the opening, the smaller the F stop or aperture. So if you see F stop, that's aperture. The hole is made by mounting several plates behind the glass, which can be moved in a way that will make the hole larger or smaller. If you look through a lens from the front, you can usually see the pattern they make.

Then there is the length of the lens in millimeters, called the focal length. This is the distance light travels in the lens. The larger the number, the more of a zoom it has.  If you have a 55mm lens, it is used for full size shots, not closer or further away. I would recommend you get one, and sometimes it comes with the camera, depending on whether you buy one or just the body. For landscapes, this lens will do well. For wildlife, you need a telephoto lens. Realistically, you can find a 100-300mm lens for a reasonable price, but after that, they get expensive. In my experience, that's not much of a telephoto, but that's what you can get. When it has two numbers like that, you can zoom in and out, lengthen or shorten the lens, to make the object in the picture larger or smaller. Zoom because you want to be able to get your subject to cover as much of the image as possible without being larger than the picture size.

You can also get a 1.3x extender fairly readily. This will make your lens go from 130mm to 400mm. Other sizes are not readily available anymore. I got my 1.7x used years ago. You can also get 2x, and I have one, but I can't make it work with my camera. It is too old, and doesn't have enough contacts for electrical signals. As far as I know, they no longer make this extender because most people don't like the way it cuts down on available light (though with newer DSLRs, that is less of a problem than ever before.) The larger the number, the less light, so they are more useful when there is a lot of light. Regardless, I keep mine on my camera nearly all the time. The extender is a flattish cylindrical shape (not very wide front to back), which fits between the lens and the camera. It is mounted into the camera in the same way as the lens, and then the lens is mounted into it instead of directly into the camera.

A good place to order things is B&H Photo/Video online, and they have used equipment you can watch for, though not a huge quantity, so you may have to watch for what you want, for awhile. You may also have a used camera store in your city. We have one here. That is where I got most of my used lenses. Most likely Ontario is large enough that you'd have one there. B&H is in New York City, and I have made many successful purchases there.

For the camera itself, look on the web for the best price. I don't have a lot of experience with other companies, though I have bought a camera from one. I got my last one at Amazon. But Amazon doesn't always have the best price.

Feel free to ask questions about lenses.

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Pat G

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I can answer questions about the artistic aspects of photography, and tricks for shooting landscape, scenic, macro, and animal photography. I am familiar with Pentax SLR cameras, both film and digital. I have also done work in urban photography and creative photography, and I am familiar with creative uses of filters and lenses. I am familiar with composition and color theory, and know how to make use of light. I can answer questions about things like lightning photography and moon photography. I spend time studying the techniques of the well known photographers. I work exclusively in color. Although I travel anywhere and everywhere in pursuit of landscape and scenic photography, my main area of expertise is the American southwest, and I am familiar with many scenic areas. I also have familiarity with the plants of the Sonoran Desert, having studied not only their appearance but also their uses, including ethnobotany. See my educational credentials for other art that I do.

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I have spent the last ten years as a semi-professional photographer, selling my work on the internet, and having won international honors. The gallery of my most recent work, where I usually post frequently is http://patgoltz.deviantart.com/ I will take questions about how I did various photographs.

Education/Credentials
The first prize I won for my art was when I was in third grade. I have a bachelor's degree in art from Ohio Dominican University, where I learned mainly ceramics and glaze calculation. I have also done various kinds of fiber arts. In addition, I do digital landscapes, abstracts, and fractal art.

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