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I basically decided on a whim (from reading this site, talking to some friends, and always admiring great photos) that I want to get into photography.

Are there disadvantages to starting out with a prosumer camera like the Nikon D7000? I know stuff will be more expensive, but will there also be greater frustration or complexity?

(I am the kind of person who tries to find reasons to justify the extra cost even when I know deep down that it's not necessary...)

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See also Is an SLR camera a must when learning? –  mattdm Nov 22 '11 at 3:09
    
I've always thought of prosumer level cameras as non DSLR cameras, something like the current Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. Usually they have bigger optical zooms, don't fit into a pocket, and do not have interchangable lenses. The Nikon D7000 is certainly used in many cases by professionals, so in my mind that excludes it from the prosumer category. I think it might help to define what exactly a "prosumer" camera is for this question to make sense to all. –  dpollitt Apr 29 '13 at 20:15
    
@dpollitt The description you've given seems to match what people often describe as a "bridge camera". I agree that there is overlap in these marketing terms, but as demand for features has gone up and the price of bridge cameras gone down, they don't mean the same thing anymore. Prosumer is a mix of pro and consumer, of course, and that's basically what it means: the price point above mass-market or entry-level cameras, but not the higher-end workhorses. As a rule of thumb, I'd say it's cameras which are introduced in the $1000-$1500 range. –  mattdm Feb 21 at 15:46
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Of course the term is kind of silly, as real professionals use whatever tool is the best for the job given the budget, including many entry-level SLRs. And many of the most expensive "pro" models are really purchased by amateurs with a high hobby budget. So, the name really is just marketing, but there does tend to be a real distinction in features since the target market tends towards more intermediate and advanced users. –  mattdm Feb 21 at 15:48
    
@dpollitt ? Unless i did worse at my first-grade math than I remember, "introduced at $1199" fits right near the middle of "introduced in the $1000-$1500 range". –  mattdm Feb 22 at 20:29

11 Answers 11

up vote 41 down vote accepted

On the contrary, I think these cameras are better for beginners, if your intention is really to begin — that is, to start from here and (as you say) get into photography.

The lower-priced entry-level cameras focus on fully-automatic modes, and emphasize ways of making the camera work without any thought from you. The biggest example is scene modes, which basically say "You want to take a picture of that? No problem! Turn the camera to that mode, and I'll handle the rest." And then what they do is a black box operation, from which it's hard to learn.

On the other hand, the complexity in higher-end cameras is there to make it easier for you to tell the camera what to do. You get separate dials for aperture and shutter speed, and a quick way to set ISO. You get a top LCD screen so you can glance down to see settings without turning on the distracting, bright, badly-placed main rear LCD screen. You get an easily-accessible metering mode switch, so you can use the right metering mode for the situation. (On entry-level cameras, this is usually an option buried in the menu, making it a set-and-forget thing rather than something easily switched for every situation.) There will be more settings you can customize, and one or more "user modes" which you can define, rather than trusting the camera to guess.

And on top of all that, you get a more solidly-built camera, and a better viewfinder, and (depending on model) the ability fine-tune autofocus on a per-lens basis.

So, while it's certainly not necessary to get into photography, it's definitely nice. And there's some certain threshold features that, once you're used to, you probably would never dream of living without. (The dual control dials, for example.)

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Awesome... so nikon or canon? :-) –  Tom Dec 20 '10 at 21:45
    
I assume you saw my comments on that over on another recent post. :) –  mattdm Dec 20 '10 at 22:10
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But to answer seriously: sure, Nikon or Canon are great. I'm not a fan of the ergonomics of Canon cameras, so I have a personal preference for Nikon between the two. For me, though, the answer is "Pentax" because I love their Limited-series prime lenses. However, the Nikon D7000 looks very, very nice -- it's basically Nikon's answer to the Pentax K-7, and much cheaper than the K-5. –  mattdm Dec 20 '10 at 22:12
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as far as nikon vs canon... whichever fits your hands better. I personally hate the way nikons feel... but I have a friend who has the opposite opinion. –  chills42 Dec 21 '10 at 17:30
    
+1. Note: I've been holding off on accepting the answer until I actually get my camera :-). But I have done quite a bit of research now and I do like what you have to say. One thing I might change: you say that "lower-priced entry-level cameras concern themselves with automatic modes". I'm not sure what you consider "lower-priced", but all the cameras I have looked at have automatic modes: canon 60d, canon 7d, and nikon d7000. –  Tom Dec 28 '10 at 2:46

The main disadvantage is that the best camera is the one you have with you -- if the camera you buy isn't something that is easy to carry around, you will tend not to. The ability to carry the camera with you is why (back in the film days) people stuck with rangefinder and even simpler cameras after SLRs became popular.

There is even a photography book called "The Best Camera Is The One That's With You" that is filled with nothing but pictures taken by the author with an iPhone.

There is also the "EVIL" class of camera: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirrorless_interchangeable_lens_camera

(Note -- I have a big, heavy DSLR but you did ask for the disadvantages)

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+1 because I don't think beginners realize what an issue size/weight can be. I went with kinda big/heavy -- but I can appreciate what you're saying :-). –  Tom Dec 31 '10 at 1:24
    
There's also the issue of obviousness. Carrying around a big camera gets you a lot more attention, especially if you are doing street photography. I find the lens is often more of a draw that the camera itself though. –  AngerClown Jan 11 '11 at 20:53
    
A DSLR is neither big or heavy. It's medium-small in both. You could take it almost anywhere. compare this to a large format camera. Now that's something that's both big and heavy. But I used my Sinar X in the field for years. –  Kevin Won Mar 21 '11 at 5:43
    
I think most all SLRs are big and heavy. Sure, less heavy than a large or medium format camera, but in comparison to every point and shoot, the SLR is giant. Even small ones like the D3100. –  Billy ONeal Jun 21 '11 at 21:45
    
@BillyONeal - I remember when I got my first DSLR (a Rebel xTi) and thought it was a giant compared to my old HP point and shoot. Then I got my first professional DSLR (a Canon 5DM3) and now the xTi looks even smaller than the HP did. –  AJ Henderson Apr 29 '13 at 19:17

Contrary to others, I don't think that the fact that a camera is complicated is a good thing for a beginner.

First reason

When comparing a DSLR with a point-and-shoot compact camera, I would recommend the first one for every beginner who may want to become a professional photographer one day, and a second one for every person who just want to take family photos, without having to think about what she's doing.

On the other hand, when comparing a basic DSLR with a more advanced DSLR, I would strongly suggest a basic one for a beginner:

  • To learn photography, you don't need a $6000 Nikon D3x. The most basic DSLR would force you to learn how to take photos, how to choose the aperture and the shutter speed, what is ISO, how ISO affects noise, what is the difference between RAW and JPEG, etc.
  • If you start with a complicated DSLR, you may be quickly discouraged by photography in general.

It's like learning how to fly a plane. You never start with a Boeing 747. Because it's just too complicate. Because there are lots of control panels and buttons. Because it can discourage. And finally because just by flying a two-seat Cessna, you learn pretty everything about how to fly a plane.

Second reason

More advanced DSLRs are expensive. It means that you spend a lot of money while you're just a beginner.

If you succeed well in learning photography, in a few years, you will notice that your camera is a bit obsolete, or you need more lenses. If you spent all your money for an expensive DSLR from the beginning, you will have less money to spend in future for lenses/new camera body. If, on the other hand, you had a basic DSLR from the beginning, you may easily upgrade to a more advanced DSLR and buy more expensive lenses.

My experience

My first DSLR was a Nikon D60 with a 18-55mm non-VR kit lens. Currently, I have a recent D7000 with a few more advanced lenses. I'm glad that I've purchased a basic DSLR with a basic lens first. The DSLR options were easy to understand, letting you to do everything manually at the same time, so it was a good choice for a person like me who used only point-and-shoot compact cameras before. With a small and light lens, it was also easy to carry it with me everywhere, without attracting too much attention.

If I started my DSLR experience with my actual DSLR and lenses, I think I would abandon photography quickly. It's heavy and big, and it's really discouraging to attract attention when you're just a beginner. It also has a huge amount of options, so you have to spend some time digging in a manual, instead of taking real photos.

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It's different, though. What if, in a Cessna, the elevator control was accessible by pressing the menu button, scrolling down to Lateral Axis Control, pressing right, scrolling down to "Elevator", pressing right, then moving a graphical slider left or right on a little scale, then pressing ok? –  mattdm Dec 21 '10 at 14:55
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I have to agree with @mattdm. Thanks for your answer, but I have trouble upvoting this so I'm just leaving it alone. I tried my friend's higher end camera and I found the controls more intuitive! (This is basically what @mattdm said). You second reason is not really a valid reason because in my question I said "aside from cost". Also, you can look at it another way. If I buy I higher end model now, I may feel less inclined to upgrade the body later and I can spend the saved cash on more lenses :-). I think the weight/attention thing could be a valid concern though. –  Tom Dec 28 '10 at 3:00
    
I'm sorry to disagree. My D300 is a lot easier to operate than the D70 I had before. It has a lot less options and only options that matter. –  Rene Jun 26 '12 at 13:16
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You are overdoing the "complexity". There is only those same old three as there always has been. Shutter speed, aperture, ISO. Big large camera has the dials to change those without a need to dive into menus, without giving up and letting Auto-mode do it all. Of course there is a ton of menus to set this and that setting, but it is those settings you can safely forget when learning to take photos. They will still be there for later use, when you start wondering what they might really do. –  Esa Paulasto Mar 23 '13 at 12:24

No disadvantage at all - in fact, a huge advantage

I gave a relatively high end camera to my GF who is a self-confessed beginner in photography (it was a body and kit zoom I wasn't using).

She finds the pictures it takes to be so much better quality than anything she took on her compact camera, and as a consequence of this she has started taking pride in her photos. She has become so much more interested in photography now, and she takes (and prints) so many more photos - all because she reckons the photos are so much better in quality.

When we go somewhere and take photos she is beginning to take almost as long as me to get a shot just the way she wants. She also shows me the odd picture and asks "what is the reason for this" when referring to a certain blurriness here, a certain color cast there, or whatever. She has taken countless photos of friends' kids and sent them prints as gifts, and is proud to show some of her better photos. She asked me all about manual mode once. I'm happy. I believe the best way to be a better photographer is to take lots of photos and figure out why some are better than others. If a more expensive camera encourages you to do that, then it's a net gain.

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Other than all the normal caveats that apply to picking a platform (you'll probably end up spending more on lenses and accessories than you will on a camera body, so choose a body with that in mind), I can't think of too many pitfalls of starting with a prosumer body if you're going to go with a DSLR. These cameras all have an "auto-everything" mode, and they'll do a fine job in that mode while you're learning about all the other options at your disposal.

About the only real detriment of these higher-end cameras is weight, so as always, it's best to go handle a couple of cameras before you make a decision.

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A sensible answer, thanks. I like that you mentioned it's important to keep the lenses in mind. At the time I posted this I don't think I realized this :-). (I'm still deciding what I want to get...) –  Tom Dec 28 '10 at 2:41

Another disadvantage is the 'wife' factor, especially if you are taking a lot of kid shots. You own a nice, expensive SLR, but she doesn't want anything to do with it. I ended up with my SLR and a higher end point and shoot for her that I could at least do a little fiddling with when necessary.

It can be frustrating for her when you have all the settings tweaked and are taking pictures then she wants to use it. She wants to use it now, right now, not in a few seconds after I put it back in mostly auto mode (Canon full auto won't let you shoot RAW).

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I kind of had that problem. But then, I liked to use my D70 in a kind of semi-automatic mode, anyway, so I managed to find a compromise: I left it in Aperture mode with spot-metering and when handing it over, all I had to do was check the aperture wasn't too wierd. That way, it was still point-and-shoot for her, and still produced great pics for both us. –  staticsan Jan 11 '11 at 22:17
    
Haha -- so does the fact that my girlfriend wants to learn how to use manual mode mean she's a keeper? :-). –  Tom Jan 12 '11 at 0:37
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yes Tom, it's definitely a good sign that she wants to read your manual ;) –  jwenting Mar 18 '11 at 7:22

While you'll likely spend more money with a DSLR system (if you get into it you'll end up spending more money on lenses and accessories than you do on the body), the only real disadvantage is probably the increased cost (when compared with a point-and-shoot camera).

Another downside is that a DSLR has the potential to be more complicated, but I actually see this as a positive thing because you'll have the option to get into the various manual controls and learn more about the technical aspects of photography.

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I started out with a D3000 a year ago, because it was my first SLR and I wasn't sure that I would ever "get it."

Well, a year later, I've got the D7000 and I'm very happy with it and its features make it easier for me to experiment.

I don't regret buying the D3000, because there was no D7000 out at that time, but I'm really happy that I've go the D7000 now.

I'm still a beginner, but at least I do know my way around the camera and the D7000's pro-like features are a real blessing for the experimenter.

Thank you, Nikon!

Oh and the low-light performance is light-years from the D3000 and that alone makes it worth the cost.

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Not that it's a problem to thank Nikon, but it's worth noting that other camera makers offer cameras with similar features in approximately the same price range. –  mattdm Jan 26 '12 at 4:00

I would say that a more advanced model is more difficult to operate, from the standpoint of a beginner. While they may offer features that enable faster, more reliable, or otherwise better performance in less-than-ideal shooting conditions, I would not normally recommend to a beginner anything above a Canon EOS 60D or Nikon D7000 as they are not worth the added complexity.

Past this point, you start to have more complicated control layouts and less assistance for the user to learn basic photography principles. These control layouts are designed to enable experienced photographers to quickly change settings and get the camera to work exactly the way they want, but beginners will only find that it gets in the way of learning the basic concepts. The Nikon D300S, for example, does not have a mode dial and requires the use of a MODE button and a separate control dial to select modes. There are no scene modes at this point, and it can become very difficult for a beginner to understand what the camera is doing and what he/she needs to do to get a desired result. The same holds for a Canon EOS-1 series camera.

Furthermore, a more advanced camera is larger and heavier. While they are often designed to be more durable as well as enable shooting in inclement weather, they make it more difficult to carry and can discourage going out with the camera. A beginner needs to be able to go out and shoot without having to deal with the weight of say, a 1.8 lb (820g) Canon EOS 7D - and this figure does not include a battery, memory card, or lens. These will easily push the weight towards 3 lb or more and will quickly discourage a beginner from going out with his/her camera. (The midrange Nikon D7000 weighs 780 grams, but with battery and memory card installed.)

On an entry-level or midrange model, all of the exposure modes are easily found on a mode dial and scene modes are easily accessed. There is often assistance on how to achieve a certain effect, and control layouts are simpler and easier to work with. While they may not offer the efficiency of more complex interfaces for experienced photographers, they allow a beginner to grasp the basic concepts of photography in a relatively painless manner. They are also lighter and easier to carry than a higher-end model as well.

For what it's worth, I use a Pentax K-r and I started out with the scene modes and tried to understand what the camera was doing until I got more experienced and learned to use the semi-automatic modes like Tv and Av. My camera is usually left on P to allow quick shots when they come up, but I'm perfectly happy switching to a more advanced mode. Had I started out with a K-5, I would have needed more time to learn the controls before I could do this, and since the K-5 does not have scene modes, it would have been more difficult for me to learn the basics.

To answer your question, a D7000 is fine, since it has scene modes and is still fairly beginner-friendly, but I certainly would not recommend that a beginner use a Nikon D300S, D700, Canon EOS 7D, 5D Mark II, or other semi-pro or pro-class camera, regardless of whether he/she could afford it.

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FWIW, I think it's generlly accepted that the Nikon D7000 or Canon 60D (or Pentax K-5) would be in the prosumer category asked about in the question. I think you're right that going above that level might be hard for an absolute beginner, but on the other hand if one is a fast learner and very committed — and not easily discouraged! — it could work. Anyway, +1 from me for a thoughtful answer even if I don't completely agree. –  mattdm Apr 5 '13 at 15:59

Only one possible disadvantage I can see (apart from the size/weight already mentioned, but if you're already considering the camera you've probably decided that's not a factor, and that's that it's easier to get swamped by all the options and capabilities it offers over more basic models, things you don't yet know how to make use of. You have to consciously limit yourself from playing with the advanced stuff until you understand the basics, and a lot of people have trouble with that. They get frustrated. With themselves for not getting the results they yearn for, with their equipment for not being as easy to use for them as they'd hoped, with their hobby for being frustrating. And then they put that camera back in its box and either shove it in the bottom of a drawer where it gathers dust for years until rediscovered by their children (this is how I got my first camera, teehee) or they sell it on eBay for a fraction of what they paid for it a few hundred photos before.

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Put it that way: I gave my mother my 400D and she hated it... - she preferred the results (!) from the older Canon PowerShot A610. (Well, the 400D is now my backup body when I need it :))

Many people have no concept of aspects such as the depth of field and no patience for them either - they want to hit a button and have the picture taken, period. In fact, some people will even have issues with the concept of AF points... - though it seems straightforward enough to me...

So if you just want a fancy point and shoot, it is possibly a waste of money to buy an SLR. Micro-Four-Thirds might in fact be a better option then. If however, you plan to get into photography, buying the best you can afford can be quite useful (as long as you don't stop).

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