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by Bart Arondson

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I'm trying to decide what kind of camera to purchase. At first I had it in my head that I needed a dSLR and I've asked a couple questions before on this forum to help me figure out which ones I like. But more recently I've started questioning whether I really need a dSLR right now so I'm starting my search from square one. Here goes:

What kind of photographer am I? I am a "serious amateur" according to CNET's digital camera guide. I am a "dabbler" according to CNET's digital SLR guide. I don't have much experience in photography, but I have an interest in it and I have done my research to learn the principles (Exposure, DoF, etc). Now I'd like to get some hands on experience putting those principles to use.

The camera I purchase must have:

  1. Great value. (Not just low price, but quality for the money.)
  2. Larger sensor than point and shoot cameras.
  3. Fast autofocus.
  4. Capable of at least 720p video.
  5. Image stabilization (preferably in camera).

It will be a great bonus if the camera also has:

  • Compatibility with a wireless shutter remote. (Or at least a cable shutter release.)
  • Autofocus and track subjects while shooting video.
  • 1080p video capability.
  • Interchangeable lenses.
  • External mic jack.

I've tried to organize these in order of importance to me. I would be interested in recommendations for general categories of cameras that would meet my requirements and specific models. Price-wise, I'm not paying for anything more than an entry level dSLR.

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3  
What's your budget? –  ElendilTheTall Oct 25 '11 at 21:28
    
As an aside, those CNET lists are terrible. In the first one there's basically photographer (which they classify as "serious amateur") and non-photographer who just needs a camera (all their other categories). That's fine for some purposes but doesn't really answer the question of what kind of photographer you are (other than confirming that you are one!). The second list is even worse, because it breaks things up into weird and arbitrary categories clearly created by a writer with no clue. I don't mean this as a reflection on you, but as a caution against CNET for anything but gadgets. –  mattdm Oct 26 '11 at 21:22
    
If you're willing to sacrifice one or more of your requirements (especially video) in order to get good /value/, you might want to look into buying used gear (browsing KEH.com might be a good starting point). You have a pretty varied list of requirements, though, and you may find that while there are many inexpensive cameras that can fulfill one or two of them, you'll need a significantly-more-expensive camera to do all of them well. Finally...if you are willing to skip the larger sensor and interchangeable lenses, a cheaper P&S or bridge camera might better help you learn your personal style. –  drewbenn Oct 27 '11 at 7:29

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Take a look at Are there disadvantages to a prosumer camera for a beginner, aside from cost?. Personally, I think (as you can see in my answer there) that there are enough significant advantages — especially given your expressed interest and background knowledge — that you should consider stretching your initial budget beyond that of an entry-level SLR.

I won't duplicate my answer there, but in short: going up a tier gives you more direct control and puts less emphasis on black-box features which aren't helpful for learning.

The Online Photographer has a somewhat tongue-in-cheek (but serious) article where Mike Johnston recommends a high-end camera and lenses to someone just starting out, and it's well worth reading (along with the followup, where Mike summarizes the whole thing as "Sometimes, economizing isn't."). I'm not sure I'd really go that far, but it's worth considering.

When I got my first DSLR, I decided to start at entry-level, and ended up selling it for a higher model in less than a year — an upgrade I've never regretted, except to wish I'd done it sooner. Someone has asked what your budget is, but I'll counter with a suggestion for what your budget should be. This isn't all initial investment, but a basic plan for the first two years.

  • $1000 for the camera body, give or take a couple of hundred. This is basically the buy-in point for camera bodies with the level of control and mid-range features geared towards anyone serious about photography.
  • $100 for memory cards, spare batteries, and etc.
  • $400 for a decent prime lens or $800 for a basic constant-aperture zoom.
  • $600-$1200 for additional lenses in the first two years. Don't plan out exactly what to get just yet, but have it in mind.
  • $200 for a mid-range flash. Many beginners "know" that flash sucks, but the secret is that bad flash sucks and controlled light is awesome.
  • $150 for a basic tripod — more if you're serious about landscape photography, but spending less than this is wasted money.
  • $100 for cheap light modifiers and stands — you might skip this initially, but it's worth putting on the list. This number can easily go way, way up.

So that's about $2500 to $3500. Whew — I know, a lot more than the "Okay, I can spend $600 to get an on-sale entry-level DSLR and I'll be happy" that I started my thinking with. Remember, this isn't all up-front cost, but I think it's realistic. You can economize, stretch, or skimp on some parts of this list, but you'll be happier if you're in this ballpark. And remember, if you spend more now, the less likely you'll end up unhappily replacing things later. (I still use the then-expensive-for-me prime lens I bought with my first camera, three camera bodies later; if I'd gone with cheaper lenses, that probably wouldn't be the case.)

You can definitely do photography on a budget, and there's ways to make sensible decisions which avoid throwing cash away, but the fact is, this is an expensive hobby, and part of the secret to enjoying it is to get over the sticker shock and just accept that you're going to spend a certain bigger-than-it-seemed-at-first amount. This will let you move more quickly to not agonizing over differences in gear and get to the good part of taking pictures with equipment that allows you to concentrate on photography.

Make sure to think about the total price of the camera and a few basic lenses. If you do have to compromise somewhere, it's totally respectable to disregard my suggestions above and to get a cheaper camera body and sink your real money into lenses. Don't buy every lens you think you might want, because you really have to get shooting with a system before you know what you need, but take it into consideration in your budgeting — particularly if you have certain interests which might suggest a particular sort of lens (for portrait photography, macro, or street photography, for example). However, if you go the lenses-over-body route, realize that you're probably making a plan involving replacing the body more quickly than you would with a mid-range camera body, so the total savings might be small or even negative.

I don't think Stack Exchange lends itself well to specific brand/model recommendations for cameras — they change too fast and are too prone to brand wars. With that caveat, I'll throw out the Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000 as where I'd be looking were I starting now. These cameras are above entry-level price, but have very good features for direct control — and they feature modern sensors offering amazing image quality. (And they fit your wishlists reasonably well.) But first, take a look at How much do lens lineups vary across platforms?, because the different systems do have some differences which it's good to understand going in.

You may also consider a mirrorless camera — one of the new systems emerging in the marketplace. Personally, though, I think the optical viewfinders (another reason to go up from entry-level, by the way) are enough ahead of current electronic viewfinder technology that a DSLR is still the way to go — unless the size and unique modern flavor of such a system has a particular appeal to you, in which case I say go for it and make it part of your style.

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I just realized that I recommended some of the same links in my answer to your previous question. Well, same advice still stands. :) –  mattdm Oct 25 '11 at 22:09

I would like to suggest a straight answer for this -

Canon EOS 550D(Rebel T2i)

18Mpix, interchangeable lenses(DSLR!), kit-lens has IS, ISO upto 6400 (less noise seen)

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I guess the reference to what kind refers to "dSLR" more than "Canon EOS..." So your straight answer should have been "dSLR" given your answer. –  Eshwar Oct 26 '11 at 7:47
    
Please explain why you make this recommendation, beyond a short list of features. –  mattdm Oct 26 '11 at 10:14
    
I just thought after ditching the point and shoot, one would like to go for a camera like this. Its value for money and many other features asked. –  akshay1188 Oct 26 '11 at 12:12
    
Sure, but why that one? Why, particularly, is it value for the money? Why are megapixels and ISO 6400 useful, even though they're not mentioned in the question? Will this be useful advice in a year? –  mattdm Oct 26 '11 at 13:32
    
Well I did ask for categories of cameras as well as specific models. –  Stainsor Oct 26 '11 at 17:34

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