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I've been wanting to get into photography as a hobby for a while (I've been restricted to getting creative with screenshots in video games in the meantime), but the main thing that's been keeping me from getting into it is what sort of camera to buy. I hear a lot of criticisms about beginners immediately wanting to jump into the very large and complex world of DSLRs, but I know that there is more on the market than just those, I'm just not sure how to figure out what is best for my needs.

I'd like something with manual settings and ideally the ability to photograph in RAW, but what I'm not sure if I want is to be able to swap out lenses - which, I have been lead to believe, is the main draw of a DSLR.

My desired budget is around $200 - another reason why I've been extremely hesitant about purchasing a DSLR, since they're typically much more than that.

Is there a P&S (or other type, I really have no clue what's out there) camera that I can get that will work for me?

And please, if anything I've said makes no sense re: photography (ie not wanting to explore lenses) please let me know, anything you can offer will help me make any future decisions.

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  • @mattdm, thinking the same thing, but the $200 budget puts a whole 'nother spin on things... – inkista Jan 26 '16 at 21:56
  • Yea my initial search mostly turned up people with larger budgets than mine - if only I could spare more! – jackwise Jan 26 '16 at 23:42
  • DSLR for $100 : youtube.com/watch?v=T4ZvAFCt5Sk Seriously, either of these old cameras would be great to start out with. I still have an old D40 kicking around and took some great shots with it over the years. It's not fancy, but it's an awesome little camera to learn on. – J... Jan 27 '16 at 1:39
  • I would'nt discount DSLRs or mirrorless because you CAN change lenses. You don't HAVE to and it doesn't make it harder to use. Changing the lenses is easy. If you are happy with the kit lens that comes with it, and I suspect you will be for your purposes, it isn't a drawback at all. – wedstrom Jan 27 '16 at 18:19
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Generally what and how you shoot and your budget tend to be the three big deciding factors in what gear is appropriate and the best fit for you.

Interchangeable lens system cameras, like dSLRs or mirrorless cameras are generally the most versatile types of cameras, because of the ability to switch out lenses and use hotshoe flashes, etc. But they also tend to be the most expensive, because, well, you have to buy a system, not just a camera body. And the body, in that system, is actually the most disposable piece of gear that tends to get upgraded for a lot of folks, like cellphones or computers, every 3-5 years. I tend to think a beginner starting out with dSLRs should budget anywhere from $1000-$2000 for a basic setup. And that's assuming you get a modest low-end body to start with, leaving at least half if not more of the budget for lenses.

dSLRs, however, are probably your best choice if you plan on shooting fast action (say, sports or wildlife), or need to do something really exotic (like use a fisheye or tilt-shift lens). Mirrorless is better if you need to go small and light and are willing to sacrifice some versatility, since the overall systems are a bit smaller, given that they're much newer systems. dSLR systems can typically leverage film-era gear and lenses.

But there is nothing stopping you from learning photography seriously with a fixed-lens camera. You will be limited to the fixed lens, for sure. But that can be good or bad. It's really good for the wallet to have fewer "add-ons" to buy. And it can be good in pushing you to try post processing techniques like panostitching or HDR. And a lot of fixed-lens cameras have more limited function and smaller sensors, than their interchangeable-lens counterparts, but that doesn't mean you can't shoot pictures seriously with one, or that you can't learn to make up for some of the limitations with post-processing.

However. A $200 budget is a pretty serious limit when it comes to camera gear. You may want to consider whether you can save up and use your phone's camera (if you have one you're ok with) for a while. Finding a $200 new camera that does full Manual mode and RAW is already going to be tough. The more serious compacts with large sensors are definitely out (those cost roughly the same as a dSLR body). And it could be that the only way to get something like what you envision is to go used or refurbished. And that's not a bad thing.

Sensors have been getting really good over the last three to five years, so even getting what would be considered antiquated, like a Canon Powershot S90, or any of the equivalent Panasonic, Olympus, Sony, etc. models would get you pretty decent performance, manual controls, and RAW capability, in a convenient package.

  • Thanks for the input! I've got a tendency to try to refrain from putting a lot of money into a hobby before I've gotten good at the basics, which is one factor of my budget (the other being I can't afford much more). For example, I didn't buy a sewing machine until I'd hand sewed things for 2 years – jackwise Jan 26 '16 at 23:48
  • @JackF Eminently sensible. Used gear sites I'd recommend would be KEH, and the used sections on B&H and Adorama's websites. As a Canonhead, I can also point you to Canon USA's refurbished Powershots. – inkista Jan 27 '16 at 0:58
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    @JackF And holy hell. I just clicked through KEH, and saw a Powershot G1X for $209...(that has a 4/3" sensor--same size as some mirrorless, close to dSLR size, Manual mode, RAW, and a flash hotshoe) so, y'never know. You might find a bargain. (But big sensor doesn't play well with macro). – inkista Jan 27 '16 at 1:04
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A smartphone is the most obvious solution to me. You don't need a fancy camera(i.e. DSLR) to be a photographer. Explore the tag on this site for great examples of why many are choosing smartphone photography these days.

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    Wouldn't that depend on the smartphone? Mine is fine for a photo with bright natural lighting, but not much else, and I also can't really control the ISO or fstop, for example, which is what I want to learn how to do. – jackwise Jan 26 '16 at 23:44
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    @JackF - Sure it can depend on the phone (i.e. Android with Lollipop or root access). Try out other apps beyond the stock app for example. You can certainly explore lighting themes using constant lights and a smartphone so you aren't limited to just bright natural lighting. Overall, I wouldn't dismiss the camera you already have (smartphone) as too limiting to learn anything from; it's a great place to start by exploiting it's feature set and build your skills. – dpollitt Jan 27 '16 at 0:00
  • If one already has a smartphone with a good, manually controllable camera then your answer applies fairly well. But without such an existing choice already available such an option is well out of the $200 price range included in the question if one takes into account the true cost of a "free" or "near free" phone bundled with a two-year service contract. And I personally feel that anything with a viewfinder that can be held to the eye beats anything that can't (yes this eliminates most current compacts on the market). And shutter lag less than 200+ milliseconds also helps. – Michael C Jan 28 '16 at 0:02
  • Thanks for your opinion Michael. I disagree. Feel free to add your own answer. – dpollitt Jan 28 '16 at 0:04
  • There are a couple of other answers that have already said what I would have, so I just +1ed those answers. I just think that generally speaking anyone already with a smartphone with one of the better cameras in them will probably also have more than a $200 budget for a camera. And the small sensors on most really limit control of depth of field, the ability to take long exposures, etc. – Michael C Jan 28 '16 at 0:08
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I'm a big fan of compact mirrorless. You can get Sony NEX cameras near your price range, you just missed a sale on the old NEX-5 that was $250. I highly recommend going with a compact mirrorless or DSLR over a point and shoot, and you are right on the cusp with your budget of getting a used entry level interchangeable camera and lens.

I know you don't care about swapping the lens just yet, but the other features and overall quality and control bundled in is hitting what you asked for right on the head. I exclusively used the kit lens with my NEX-3N for over a year with fantastic results.

  • Compact mirrorlesses seem to be my best option right now - thanks for the input! – jackwise Jan 27 '16 at 18:30
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    With the introduction of the Canon EOS M3, you should be able to find a pretty good deal on a used Canon EOS M or EOS M2 as well. Just as with the Sony NEX cameras, you have many more options with a budget of $250-300 than you do at $200. – Michael C Jan 27 '16 at 23:49
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While your budget of $200 is a challenge, with some research and persistence you can probably find something to meet your needs.

  • Try doing a camera feature search at sites like dpreview.com. You can narrow your search based on all sorts of features, such as RAW-capable, manual mode, etc. Unfortunately, you can't search or sort the results based on price. When I searched at dpreview.com, it became apparent there were very few choices at or below $200.

  • If you are up to the challenge (and risk) of using non-manufacturer-written software, there is a project called CHDK (Canon Hack Developer's Kit). This software does not permanently modify the camera's firmware. It unlocks features that are internal to the camera, but that were not implemented as user-controlled features, such as RAW, manual control over ISO, aperture, and shutter, etc. Note that not all features are able to be used on all Canon cameras. At the above-linked site, they list all Canon cameras that are supported, and the features that are enabled with the software.

Those are just a couple ideas to help you find cameras that will give you the control you want at your price.

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There are some non-dslrs with amazing image quality like the Sony cyber shot RX100 which rival dslrs. But I feel an entry level dslr will help you understand which type of photography you are best in. Like macro photography or landscape or portraits. Interchangable lens cameras can be used with a lot of different lenses which have lots of different uses. After you understand and experiment a lot , you can find a point and shoot ( I mean fixed lens non-dslr :) ) suitable for you type of photography and needs. You can sell the dslr and lens then if you want.

  • The RX100 is more than twice the $200 budget of the OP, and there are few, if any, entry-level DSLRs w/ kit lens for under $350. (To be fair, I am ignoring used). This answer isn't well-tailored to the OP's question. – scottbb Jul 11 '16 at 2:54
  • @scottbb the RX100 was just just an example . And I was trying to explain the flexibility of a dslr. – Janardan S Jul 11 '16 at 9:29
  • Mirrorless cameras have the same flexibility, i.e., an interchangeable lens mount and "lots of different lenses for lots of different uses". Why would a dSLR be better for learning than a mirrorless? – inkista Jul 11 '16 at 9:45
  • @inkista by dslr actually I meant both dslr or mirrorless (ILC). I believe interchanging lenses gives a lot of flexibility to beginners. – Janardan S Jul 11 '16 at 10:08
  • The reason I said "this answer isn't well-tailored to the OP's question" is because you posted an exact duplicate answer to another question within an hour of each other. – scottbb Jul 11 '16 at 11:40

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