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My soon to be 14 year old daughter enjoys taking pictures of nature and things around her. I would like to get her a good first camera that is not too expensive and possibly comes with different lenses and accessories. Her father and I are divorced and I am going to ask him to help out (it’s a birthday gift) but not sure he will. Any suggestions? Her perspective from the pictures she has taken is in my opinion, pretty good for a 13 year old.

Thank you.

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    That is incredibly hard to answer and very much opinion based. Can you give us a bit of a budget idea? And can you give us an idea how she treats her stuff? Some kids appreciate delicate equipment - some are more robust with their things. – Kai Mattern Feb 21 '20 at 11:03
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    Also, how social-status-minded vs technical-capability-minded is she? Something like a D300s will be technically fantastic (and affordable) but might be considered weird by her peers :) – rackandboneman Feb 21 '20 at 11:19
  • Is a camera really the positive answer here or would a good camera oriented smartphone not be more cost efficient as a start? – TomTom Feb 21 '20 at 15:12
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    What is she using to photography right now? – OnBreak. Feb 21 '20 at 17:56
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    She might be more invested if she were involved in the selection process. There are lots of good camera review sites on the internet. – Eric S Feb 21 '20 at 21:11
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The principal problem you will be up against is competing against smartphone cameras. The next problem you will be up against is that today's prime viewing device for teenagers are smartphone displays. A teenager will be viewing and comparing her results with peers predominantly through that medium, and the typical smartphone cameras and postprocessing apps without much of a user intervention are catering to that medium and have adapted to it very well, covering a whole lot of the "good enough" realm there.

So the main question to ask yourself is what the interest of your daughter may be regarding other media. Nature interest is not the worst for that since you either want rather detailed macro shots or poster-scale wide angle shots. Either are not really a good fit for the limitations inherent in smartphone optics and sensors.

How do the walls in your daughter's room look? Is she one for posters and pictures, and larger scale portraits?

If not, a dedicated camera might appear to her as a cumbersome substitute for an expensive smartphone with optics and electronics as good as they get these days. And there is no turn-off like having no answer to being the girl who drags around pounds of gear because her parents cannot afford a proper smartphone.

At these times and days, starting with film is an expensive endeavor and there is little point in prodding someone to do so who does not feel the desire herself. It seems more effective to learn the basics on digital first.

To differentiate from smartphone photography with regard to the visuals, you want something with a reasonably large sensor and aperture and a detailed image and of course ways to choose all parameters. The basic question is just how high a threshold it will be to wean oneself off the point-and-shoot mode that every digital camera invariably offers.

Another answer proposed just going with a 50mm/F1.8 lens and DSLR and that's it. The problem with that approach is that for landscapes, 50mm is already more "tele" than desirable, particularly so if the DSLR is "APS-C"/"DX" format rather than full-frame, and you will not be able to afford a full-frame anyway. 50mm is a nice portrait/wedding lens, particularly at F1.8.

My own choice for nature shots would be a DSC-R1 which is a "compact" camera (no interchangeable lenses) with APS-C-like sensor from 2005 and consequently somewhat affordable on the used camera market. It has a number of comparatively significant shortcomings, like viewfinder and display not permitting to judge photographic quality without moving to some other device, not-really-great autofocus, bulky size, slow shooting, moderate sensitivity (but not all that dissimilar to film), and with regard to media prices, you'll want to stack 32GB (not larger!) micro-SDHC cards in a micro-SD to Memory-Stick (PRO) Duo adapter within a Memory-Stick Duo to Memory Stick adapter.

However, its sensor and aperture size are large enough that depth-of-focus is a constant issue of attention, it has a sharp and detailed lens going from 24mm effective focal length to 120mm with a manually linked zoom (that's largely preferable over motor zooms), it has excellent color rendition. It doesn't do video at all.

So it tends to be bad in some categories where smartphones are good (particularly size), it has some points where smartphones cannot keep up, it prepares the user to some degree for moving to film eventually (and wasting less time and money on the film basics). And it's great for nature shots.

But it's a dinosaur. Which can be cool or not. But you need buy-in. This is just one proposal: DSLRs of somewhat younger date with a good(!) lens may be a better choice in some regards. To get similar quality, you'll end up paying more and you won't have as much of the retro-chique factor to rely on. How much that ends up a boon or disadvantage is something you need to figure out with your daughter either way. So I strongly suggest involving her into the selection process: she'll have to grit her teeth and survive the comments of her peers, and having involved herself in the choice (even if that involves talking you out of the idea and ending up burying this idea) is certainly one thing that could help.

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  • +1 for figuring out what kind of gear she wants to carry around. I dissagre about one thing about your answer thou, landscape shoots are not restricted to wide angle, in my own landscape photography I much more often use lenses in the 300-400mm range than wide angles. There are many more compositions availible if tou can ”zoom” in with a telelens and not need 120 degrees of field of view to be uncluttered. – lijat Feb 22 '20 at 13:21
  • I doubt the target audience here wants to shoot weddings :) As much as I usually hate these things: A superzoom (as in, old nasty 28-200mm lens) might be a good complement to the 50mm ... this will give a DSLR capabilities that one-up everyone's smartphone, and also teach some optics lessons.... – rackandboneman Feb 22 '20 at 22:00
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I agree with the others that it's hard to compete with a modern smartphone for flexibility, connectivity, and even technical quality. You certainly won't get a good competitor in a "compact" digital camera as was common fifteen years ago. You might go for a mirrorless or DSLR interchangeable lens camera, which is a great and powerful option in combination with a strong drive to learn such a thing (and to, in the future, aquire more lenses and lighting options).

As the parent of two daughters about the same age as yours, though, I have an alternate suggestion — look into Fujifilm Instax. This is an instant film system, like the old Polaroid cameras, although with smaller output. These are great because they produce an immediate physical artifact which is very very different from Instagram or Snapchat.

The downside, of course, is ongoing expense for film (about $10 for a pack of ten, or a little better in quantity). But on the other hand, your up-front cost is much lower.

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    ...and shot discipline is taught. :) +1 heartily to the Instax recommendation. I'd actually say get a smartphone printer, like the Mini Link, or the LiPlay hybrid printer/camera rather than one of the cameras, though: pick'n'choose the best images, and you retain digital as well as have the print. :) That, or go completely retro/analog with a PolaroidOriginals/Impossible Project camera. – inkista Feb 22 '20 at 20:15
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It sounds like you want to enable your daughter to expand and explore their photography.

I would suggest rather than shelling out for a fancy DSLR camera. Instead, pay for her to go on a short (weekend, 6 evenings, etc) photo composition course.

Technique beats fancy gear!

Depending where you live, a local high school or community college may have a 'night school' class that would suit. Also check out meetup.com to see if there are any local photography groups.

A local camera specialist shop may be able to point you in the right direction as well.

If you can't find something local, there there are always online courses (by pluralsight, udemy, skillshare etc etc)

For your daughters needs, a cheap 4 to 16 megapixel camera with a manual mode (it will have probably have a dial with M, P, A, S and maybe some other symbols on it) from eBay should be fine.

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The point of "different lenses" is building a system over time.

If a system camera (with interchangeable lenses) is what she wants to use, get a first set that, from the get go, plays on the advantages of that principle compared to mobile phones.

Semi-professional DSLRs from ca. 2010 can sometimes be had very cheaply (eg Canon EOS 40D or 50D, Nikon D200 or D300/D300s). Do check with her if the size and heft of such are acceptable/desirable to her. If that route is interesting: A basic set of lenses (50mm f1.8 prime, maybe an old school 28-200, a kit zoom like an 18-55mm, a basic 70-210) should be available used for around $50 each. A 70-210 or 28-200 makes pictures possible that a smartphone cannot reach well, and teaches perspective since it is radically different with these lenses.

Assuming she has some kind of smartphone too, do get an USB-OTG cable so anything from the camera can be quickly transferred for viewing to that phone.

A possible later add on would be a TTL speedlight (Godox/Neewer/... system) with a set of basic modifiers and radio trigger.

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Can she take care of gear?

I am a bit worried because she will need to learn by herself, including taking care of the camera because it seems photography is not your strongest point.

Forget about "accessories"... that word can mean nothing or can mean a lot of stuff.

Probably try to get a DSLR, with a 50mm 1.8 lens. That is it. I do not know if you want to get a used one or a new one. The simplest model of any recognized brand will be great.

But take a look at this similar question: What should I look for when shopping for my first DSLR?

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Your daughter seems to be an enthousiat and a talent in becoming.

If it's about learning, improving, and be (more and more) creative, I recommend a fullframe (~ 24x36) body and fixed focal lenses, because it gives the most possibilities in terms of aesthetics and rendering, and possibly the best quality. The downside is indeed the weight and eventually the price. Among the fullframes, I recommend the Nikon D700 and D800 series, and Canon 5D (II, III, IV) and 6D (I, II), which is very interesting in terms of possibilities/price.

I strongly recommend big classical fixed focal lenses: 50/1.8 85/1.8 35/2.8 28/2.8 24/2.8 (price: 100-400$ each, new) Why ? Because by working with those we develop a feeling of perspective and relation between the image, aesthetics and where to go physically to make an image. Zooms are very practical, but we don't develop as much these feelings, because position/perspective/framing are all mixed up. You might also want to consider pancake lenses (8mm/..., 40mm/2.8, etc), which are even less expensive.

I would start with determining a budget, and then involve your daughter in the selection process.

I would also think about the computer to go with: you'll need a proper screen (with IPS technology), and enough space on the hard drive and a backup (eg., external drive). And a proper bag to store and transport the set.

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