I have about 1000£ to spend on a new camera and lens. I will be doing Street style photography and portraits. What does a camera for this use case to have?

What lens / how many mm is best for portraits and what lens is best for full body and blurry back ground?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd buy a Nikon D700 - probably used to meet that budget. "Only" [tm] 12 megapixels. Have a look at these D700 samples and see if that 12 mp is going to bother you. Look at the results in the lowest of lighting conditions. Add whatever lens most suits out of the rest of your budget and work up as you can afford. A 50mm f/1.8 is a fine starting street lens. (Note that 24 mp fives you 40% more pixels per inch. 36mp (top of the 35mm crop so far) gives you 70% more pixels per inch BUT will be downsized to much lower for quality n almost every case. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 8:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! Will check it out.. i got recommended the Eos 550 D. Do you know anything about that one? \$\endgroup\$
    – Josefina
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 8:07
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Read these: D700 review. And EOS550d review. Many many other reviews . | The 550d is sure to ba a fine camera. The D700 is amongst the top handful of 35mm low light photo taking systems ever made. You will never regret owning one. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 8:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ D700 seems to be amazing!! Don't know if i can afford that with my budget tho. Will have to look around and look at alternatives as well. Will go to a local photo shop and try both canon and Nikon. \$\endgroup\$
    – Josefina
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 11:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please see the site faq and this official blog post. Narrowing down the budget and use-case is good, but specific camera recommendations are too short-lived to be useful, brand wars are contentious, and "what would you buy?" prompts a survey-like discussion, not answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 12:00

4 Answers 4


The first choice is what what type of camera you want. It used to be that a DSLR was your only option for the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. That is no longer the case, as there is a growing crop of "mirrorless" cameras with these features.

We've got a number of questions covering this from several different angles, and I've chosen a number of them which I think make good starting reading:

This is particularly relevant because the more-compact and more discreet mirrorless cameras are often especially appealing for street photography.

You might also want to give a bit of consideration to cameras like the Canon G1 X or Sony DSC RX100, which have a larger sensor and a decent, non-interchangeable lens. These may fit your needs at considerably less than your price point.

I don't think we have a really good question about narrowing down brands of mirrorless cameras, but if you've decided that you really do want a DSLR — and that's not a bad choice! — we have some great answers comparing brands in a relatively unbiased, non-partisan way:

and don't forget

because the "next tier" brands offer some unique advantages that might fit your needs and style.

And related to all that, if you do choose a camera with interchangeable lenses, it's valuable to center your decision around that, as different systems will give you different options. See:

for some great stuff on that. Traditionally for street photography, a 35mm equivalent focal length (around 24mm on a non-full-frame DSLR) is common, or else 50mm equivalent. If you're really focusing on portraits, you might want something a little longer, but that depends on your style. From your description of how you're planning to work, I'd strongly consider that you think about finding one prime lens that you really love — don't worry about covering all the options. (Reading: A great blog post from photographer Kirk Tuck on that topic, and one from Mike Johnston on prime lenses and also a few from Mike's site on the less-extreme idea of a two-lens kit.)

I know that's a lot to read and not nearly as simple as a "buy this; it's in your price range" recommendation (if you really want that, I'll point you back to Mike Johnston and his tongue-in-cheek-but serious Letter to George), but I think the links above will be really helpful and make you better equipped to make your decision.

  • \$\begingroup\$ that is amazing.. will read those threads and recommendations during the weekend! thank you \$\endgroup\$
    – Josefina
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 12:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just love the letter to George. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ FWIW only: Sony being "next tier" is a matter of perception by some and choice by Sony where it is true. Sony make the D800 sensor and other Nikon sensors. Sony own the Minolta 'lens mount' and lens heritage. Sony own the high volume professional video market. It obviously suits Sony to allow eg Nikon to remain one of the two niche market leaders - while Sony churn out a vast range of lower spec models that do not do as well as they enable Nikon to do. Interesting. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 0:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Josefina - I hope you've read the fictitious "Letter to George" from Mike Johnston that Matt quoted. I've given up on any expectation that you'll take my advice on this subject rather than all the other good advice here - BUT do note what Mike uses as his example camera in his letter. He recomends two lenses, rather than one, which makes the focal length chosen different than if you bought only one. Note he suggests that the 35mm f/2 he mentions was bought 2nd hand. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 2:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon — I should clarify that by "next tier" I simply mean in market share, not in quality, heritage, or features. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 2:11

What to buy is an immensely personal issue. I don't actually have much hope that you'll buy the camera "Ferrari equivalent" that I'm suggesting - but knowing what is available will give you better perspective.

Added: You could buy what looks to be a pristine condition used
D700 and a Nikkor f/1.8 50mm on ebay UK for GBP1200 all up - see towards end.
That exceeds your budget by GBP 200, and carries the risk of a used camera, AND buys you something akin to a Ferrari in automotive terms.

The D700 has been the second to top low noise low light 35mm camera in the world for about 4 years (the newer larger twice as costly D3s was about a stop better). Even now the very top cameras are just starting to exceed its capabilities. By the time you are finished you will have bought several more lenses - but a single lens will do what you want to start, and adding a cheap kit zoom will add some flexibility.

Why a 50mm lens to start with? See "lens choice" below.

What I'd buy on your budget will draw derisive comments from some. But it IS what I'd buy in your position if at all possible. The most camera per $ yet made if you can get it at that price.

I'd buy a Nikon D700 - probably a used one to meet that budget - but prices are falling with the D800's arrival. "Only" [tm] 12 megapixels. Have a look at these D700 samples and see if that 12 mp is going to bother you. Look at the results in the lowest of lighting conditions.

Usually the lens is a vital component of a system. And it is here too. BUT any sensible lens that meets you requirements with respect to focal length range will work "well enough" on a D700 to make you ecstatic both initially and for a while".

Add whatever lens most suits out of the rest of your budget and work up as you can afford. A 50mm f/1.8 is a fine starting street lens. (Note that 24 mp gives you 40% more pixels per inch. 36mp (top of the 35mm crop so far) gives you 70% more pixels per inch BUT will be downsized to much lower for quality in almost every case.

Most will recommend "more lens" and "less camera". I can understand that. But, I'd try for a D700! :-).

Camera reviews:

These by FDPReview - one of the very top camera information websites available - according to me (whatever) and a very large number of other people. D700 review.

EOS550d review.

Many many other reviews .

The 550d is sure to be a fine camera in its class.
It has features that the D700 lacks - such as video capability. But there is ! no comparison to the capabilities of a D700 if you are interested in taking real world photos.

The D700 is amongst the top handful of 35mm low light photo taking systems ever made.
You will never regret owning one.

Lens choice:

I mentioned 50mm as a starting point because 50mm was for many decades THE standard full frame lens if you had a fixed lens "rangefinder" camera. The lens / film size combination approximates the human eye in perspective. Some photographers will happily take eg a D700 and a 50 mm f/1.8 or "faster" lens and happily go out for a day's street photography. I find it too limiting but it's great when you want large aperture and shallow depth of field.

You can buy a 50 mm f/1.8 Nikkor used in very good condition on ebay UK for GBP65 - and sometimes probably for rather less.

All manufacturers make a low cost but high performance 50mm "fast" prime lens as part of their range. Aperture is usually about f/1.8 which allows in 3 x as much light as an f/2.8, 4 x as much light in as a f/3.5 and 9 x as much as a f/5.6! With the low light performance of a D700 and an f/1.8 lens, the camera will see better "in the dark" than you do.

A manufacturer's 50mm prime lens is almost always the lowest cost lens they sell BUT because it is easy to make and has been being made in one form or other for decades (literally) the value for money is superb and the performance is as good as that of zooms costing many times the price. ie quality per $ a Rokkor 50mm is hard to beat and it is a very usable lens in a street and interview situation. Yes, you WILL need "foot zoom" to use it in every situation. But it will do most of what you most want to do.


Maybe you want to buy a very cheap used DSLR first to get a feel for what can be done. Even a many years old one with say about 5 or 6 megapixels and APSC sensor will produce results that are amazing compared to any "point & shoot". Megapixels are nice BUT other things matter more in most cases.

Example of used D700 in UK:

D700 UK ebay. Claimed shutter count of 461 !!! <- indistinguishable from new if true.
Seller has 351 trades with 100% feedback.

ebay UK D700 2 batteries - GBP1100 including postage in UK - no lens

2 batteries
Sandisk extreme III 2 GB memory card

50mm ponderings:

~ The wonderful world of 50mm prime lenses - that's what the page is called ! :-).
An excellent "why a beginner wants to use a 50mm prime lens" page.

~ Rediscovering the 50mm prime lens - this is an advertisng page for a course but summarises the idea.

50mm, f/1.8, 1/45s no flash, tungsten-fluro mix etc as per next image. Object here is to demonstrate field of view and grouping with 50mm lens on APSC and effect on facial perspectives etc. This is handheld at 800 ISO - obviously with this camera in this light a 'quality' photo would need a tripod or additional (mood spoiling) lighting.

enter image description here

~ Rave writeup - Leica M9 + 50mm - Classic Combination?

A number of photo sample accompany his rhapsodising. He says -

  • There's nothing more classic than a rangefinder camera and a 50mm prime standard lens. Apart from the fact that this is the best camera and lens I've ever bought, the combination of the M9 and Zeiss 50mm is an option I find very enjoyable to use. Also far from feeling restricted by just using one prime lens, I find it a liberating, creative and versatile kit.

~ Prime lenses - and why you really need to get your paws on one. He says:

  • ... What do you want out of your photography? If you are looking for convenience and holiday snaps, by all means, go for the first and best zoom lens. Hell, I’ll admit it freely: Most of my photos are taken with zoom lenses (I’ve got a Canon 28-135mm f/3.5 IS, a Sigma 17-35 f/2.8-4.0 and a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 that I use extensively), but still, there’s a certain feeling of zen about using prime lenses.

    They can be slightly limited, sure, but they’re also sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel, cheap as a bag of crisps, and they are just a better idea overall, especially as you are just learning about photography.

Image: 50mm f/1.8 lens. 1/45s.
APSC 1.5:1 crop sensor so 75mm equivalent. Tungsten/fluro lighting mix, no flash. Manual white balance.
Note depth of field from large aperture.

Main aim here is to demonstrate acceptability or not, as the user may judge, for portraiture at this sort of range

enter image description here

Response to depth of field query:

NB Photo below is using a 500 mm lens.

And think a canon 600d might be my answer.. the lens you get with it is a 18-135IS. Would you say that this lens can be used to street style (blurry background?)

Small depth of field (leading to "blur backgrounds") is enhanced with large aperture (small f number), longer focal length and closeness to subject compared to background. You will be able to achieve this effect to a reasonable extent with the 18-135 kit lens but a lens with larger maximum aperture will do this in a wider range of circumstances.

As can be seen below, even at f/8, shallow depth of field can be achieved if other conditions are met.

The photo below was taken with a fixed f/8 mirror lens, 500mm focal length on an APSC camera (750mm equivalent on full frame) with the bird at about minimum focusing distance of about 5 metres. Even at f/8 the long focal length and short distance (relatively) to subject result in a very shallow depth of field - probably under 2 inches in this photo.

The "donut" shapes in the out of focus area are caused by the "mirror" lens optics. The depth of field would be the same for a conventional lens of the same focal length.

enter image description here

  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't recommend a 50mm lens with a full frame camera if the subject is going to be portraits - faces close-up will look slightly distorted and odd. I'd go for something longer - camerapricebuster.co.uk/prod141.html perhaps. \$\endgroup\$
    – user456
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 9:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am going for face close ups/ details photography as well as full body shot. what lens would you recommend if not a 50mm? \$\endgroup\$
    – Josefina
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 10:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Josefina For details you want a macro lens (one that focusses really close). The Nikon ones are pricey, however there are third party (Tamron/Sigma) lenses that focus almost as close as a true macro. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 10:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The D700 is relatively large/weighty if you're not used to DSLRs it's worth holding one (a D800 will do as a surrogate if you go into a shop) before making a purchase. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 10:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NickMiners - 50mm was THE full fram lens of choice for decades of 35mm full frame rangefinder cameras. The film-size + focal length combination is held by many to best match that of the human eye. "Looking odd" is not what you'd expect from a 50mm lens. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 12:40

I'd go for something like the Canon 550D with the kit lens (for wide shots), plus a macro lens, and normal lens.

  • Canon EOS 550D Lens Kit (EF-S 18-55mm IS) £509.99
  • Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro USM £339.00
  • Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II £86.89

Total: £936

The 550D is lightweight and easy to use. I've picked Canon based on their fine 60mm macro lens, which doesn't have an equal at the price on any other system. Macro means it focusses really close, so you can shoot objects as small as 2cm. It will also take razor sharp portraits.

The 50mm lens is included for low light work, subject isolation (shots with a blurry background) and because it's exceptional value for the price.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for that! Would you say that a 550D is as good as the 600D or 650D? the price difference to the 600D is not that much. Is it worth going for that? \$\endgroup\$
    – Josefina
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 11:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The 550D and 600D are very similar in spec, the only major difference is the 600D has an articulated LCD screen, if you plan to shoot video or want to use live view to shoot at awkward angles then it's worth getting the 600D \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 11:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ 50 & 60 mm are very close in focal length. Quality of the 60mm is presumably better (I not having checked) but the extra 339GBP seems large given the budget. Macro can be done very cheaply and well either with a reversed lens adapter and any of many cheap otherwise not usable lenses OR an extension tube set - probably about GBP10. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 7:35

The difference between Nikon and Canon is mainly ergonomics. I'd recommend you to stop buy your local photo / electronics shop and try to use both brands. I have friends that swear to Nikon, but I feel the same for Canon, due to the ergonomics. It might also be an idea to get the same brand as people you know. That way you can borrow lenses and other equipment of each other.

It's always an option to rent a camera + a few lenses before you buy, to figure out what you prefer.

You might want to try lenses around 24mm-50mm (and probably primes) with a cropped camera with your budget.

  • \$\begingroup\$ as my budget is around 1000 I think a canon might be the better choice for me. The Nikon D700 is more like 2000. I will look at these. thank you! \$\endgroup\$
    – Josefina
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 11:01

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