I am an entry level photographer and planning to buy a dSLR camera soon. Main purpose is to take photos of nature, wildlife, weddings, and flying/moving objects. My budget is somewhere around $1300 (including lens). I'm looking for advice about parameters to consider while buying such as sensor type, AF points, megapixels, frames per second, view finder coverage, etc... Can you anyone provide guidance on these parameters such as which are more important, how to tell when it is better, and the like?

  • How long have you got? :-). Your list all wold benefit from hi-ISO low noise performance - but many are getting goodish in that area nowadays. Knowing your country and example of what you can buy there at that $ would help answers. In low light IS/antishake makes a vast difference. MP - all have "enough". More is nice but not needed. 12 MP will do well enough fo eg wedding use in competent hands (as will 6 mp!!!) and nowadays all are > 12. Do at least try out the best Sony SLT the money affords. You'll probably not buy one BUT be aware what you are missing out on. Some utterly demand 100%... May 11 '13 at 12:24
  • ... viewfinder. Others are happy with less if other features make up for it. (eg Nikon D700). I value time to wake up, shot to shot time, buffer fill frames, and similar. Others care little or nowt about these. (Mt Rushmore does not rush vs Weddings give you one unrepeatable chance several times per wedding. ... May 11 '13 at 12:27

There are plenty of similar questions that demand highly and restrict things with a completely unrealistic budget. No wedding photographer would show up with a lens worth under $1000, nor with a single lens or a single camera. Getting a semi-acceptable wildlife lens is also not possible for much less than your entire budget.

There is good news and bad news: Used cameras provide great bargains because they drop in value quickly. However, used lenses keep their value. Therefore you will have to raise your budget significantly or buy the camera and rent the lenses. Now how to choose:

  • DSLRs now all use CMOS sensors. You can go with a cropped-sensor (APS-C) or a full-frame one. Full-frame sensors provide lower image-noise but cost more and generally require more expensive lenses. I'd say a recent APS-C sensor is good enough.
  • AF-Points. Many photographers use just a single one. They autofocus and recompose which becomes quick to do with lots of practice. However, when shooting subjects that move erratically, it wont cut it and here the more AF-points the better. Most cameras offer at least 11 but it goes as high as 61 which increases the odds of the camera keeping a moving subject in focus.
  • Megapixels determine how big you can print. More megapixels equals larger prints. You need to figure out how large you want to print and that tells you how many MP are needed.
  • Frames-per-second are how fast a camera can shoot continuously. When shooting moving subjects such as people, animals, birds, etc, it makes a huge difference. The faster you can shoot, the more chances you have to get the perfect photo at the height of action. Even shooting a relatively still person, the continuous drive helps get more shots where the subject is not blinking or has an un-photogenic expression.
  • Viewfinder coverage: 100% is best because you see everything exactly as it will be shot. If you get anything less, you will will simply have to do a lot more cropping to account for unwanted objects (people's heads, hair, poles, wires, etc) at the edge of your frames. It can be rather time-consuming if you shoot a lot.
  • Brand: For cameras it is a non-issue, for DSLR it is very important to choose the right brand as it controls which lenses you can use. Crucially for renting, very few stores rent anything but Canon and Nikon gear. Some do but they are the minority.

Now if you were to get the most of everything above, you would end up with a very expensive camera. What you need to decide is what is more important for you. Certain options appear only on some very expensive cameras. The great thing about DSLRs is that you do not have to buy all your lenses at once. You can buy a used camera and maybe you will be able to afford ONE decent lens for one of your needs. Then when you have more budget, buy the next lens and so forth. Until you do, rent the ones you need for each event.

  • I disagree with the "No wedding photographer would show up with a lens worth under $1,000..." I've seen it with my own eyes. ;-) In the case of those who use prime lenses I would even say lenses like the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 or the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS are perfectly appropriate sub $1,000 choices.
    – Michael C
    May 11 '13 at 15:53
  • Here 50% of wedding photographers here use the 24-70mm F/2.8, 70-200mm F/2.8 and 85mm F/1.2. The other 50% use the Nikon-equivalent. One may manage with less but not much and I've never seen a wedding photographer with one lens. Also, the EF 100mm F/2.8 is $1000, tax in around here.
    – Itai
    May 11 '13 at 16:26
  • I didn't mean to infer that one of those prime lenses were the only lens they used. The original statement in your answer eliminated any sub $1,000 lens from wedding use. I've even seen wedding photographers use consumer zoom lenses. It doesn't mean I think it is well advised, but I have seen it. I have also seen reputable wedding photographers who produce outstanding work use mid-range primes in the WA to medium focal lengths. And why not? A well built 35mm, 50mm, or 80mm f/1.4 will generally beat the optical quality of a top 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom.
    – Michael C
    May 11 '13 at 16:51

These days, you pretty much can't go wrong with any of the leading major brands (Nikon, Sony, Canon). Given your budget, I'd suggest that you pick the previous generations of any of them. I'm a Canon guy, and have two Canon 7D's and also a Sony NEX-7 (for travel and walk-around shooting). You can pick up a brand new Canon T4i (current generation of consumer DSLR) for < $600 on eBay (I recently bought one for my son)7. I bought a used 7D body for $1000 on CraigsList. There are lots of options. You can spend a LOT of time trying to identify the "perfect" camera, or you can get started.

Check sites like Digital Photography School if you want to read lots of reviews and get lots of tutorials.

I agree with the previous answer that the lens is at least as important as the camera body. That said, there are lots of excellent consumer-grade lenses (like the Tamron 18-270mm telephoto zoom or the Canon 18-200mm telephoto zoom) that are readily available, both new and used, and would provide you with excellent results as you learn your craft.

My suggestion would be - based purely on my irrational bias toward Canon - either a brand new T4i and a couple of lenses, or a used 7D for around $1000 and then one decent consumer lens. If you search eBay and Craigslist, you'll find some excellent options for either.

The advantage of the T4i (or any of the new crop of cameras) is that they do a fantastic job of HD video. The 7D (and the equivalent Nikon and Sony cameras) also do a very good job of video, so the trade-offs are slight.

I can pretty much guarantee that no matter what you start with, you'll be wanting to upgrade relatively soon, as you learn more and increase your skill and expose your preferences. Start with something you can afford, that has the features you need (they ALL do), and build up from there.

  • 2
    I would never use the word excellent in the same sentence with those two lenses. Mediocre? Maybe.
    – Michael C
    May 11 '13 at 16:01
  • It all depends on your perspective, Michael. While I have moved up to L-series lenses, these lenses delivered excellent (yes, excellent :)) results while I was learning. I think investing in high-end lenses before one knows what one is doing is ill-advised. In the realm of consumer-grade lenses, I think that these provide flexibility, good-quality images, and are affordable.
    – Doc List
    May 11 '13 at 16:14
  • 1
    I have to respectfully disagree. If those two lenses are excellent in terms of optical quality, then there are very few lenses that aren't excellent or better. There are lenses in the same price range that I would give the excellent moniker to: The Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II, Canon EF 80mm f/1.8, or the Sigma 50mm f/1.4. But those two aren't excellent lenses unless you are from "...Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."
    – Michael C
    May 11 '13 at 17:13
  • @MichaelClark - Saying " ... respectfully ..." and then citing Lake Wobegon is on a par with breaking Godwin's law :-). If one compares the technical characteristics of the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 and Tamron 18-250 f3.5-6.3, the differences in areas of relevance are very substantially less than one would assume from your metaphor. The truth is that both lenses cost in the order of $US500 and neither is as good as comparable performance lens in the $2000+ range. That's how it works (as I know you know). Here are measured results for CA, distortion, MTF (10 lpm and 50 lpm) and vignetting ... May 12 '13 at 8:16
  • ... as provided by the well enough thought of Photozone.de site. Tamron 18-270 & Tamron 17-50. The 18-270 covers an immense 15:1 focal length range and distortion is "higher than some" especially at extremes. While yoi'd rather the lens 'just worked' modern software deals with this 'well enough'. The 17-50 is fatlly poor by ALL measures in the 51-270mm range and this needs to be kept in ... May 12 '13 at 8:22

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