Some people have asked me to suggest them a DSLR for taking photographs of their family and day to day life.

These people are not interested in learning photography. It seems they are under an impression that a DSLR will automatically take great photographs.

Budget is $453.

Kit lens will disappoint them, I think. Prime lens will be problematic for them due to the lack of zoom? (Just my guess)

What should be recommended for such people? Will it be sane to recommend them something other than a DSLR?


Some people have asked me to suggest them a DSLR for taking photographs of their family and day to day life.

These people are not interested in learning photography. It seems they are under an impression that a DSLR will automatically take great photographs.

I'm going to go against the flow and disagree with many here in that I see absolutely no reason someone -- including a non-photographer -- can't use a DSLR for family and day-to-day life photography and be satisfied. My experience is that a non-photographer (or beginning photographer) looking for a DSLR is likely doing so because of the image quality difference they see. And, really, you can't blame them -- the image quality of a large-sensor DSLR is notably better than the photos they usually look at taken by their phone.

Similarly, think about when somebody tells you "wow, you must have a really nice camera!" It doesn't take a professional to recognize the quality difference over a phone camera.

Hand the non-photographer a DSLR (or other large-sensor camera), set it on auto mode, and let them start taking photos and I bet they'll be happy in many cases. Sharper photos, better color, smoother tones. And, click over to scene modes and they might be able to get good results in other more difficult situations, such as taking photos of their kid playing soccer.

Of course, that's not to say that I would just tell everyone to buy a DSLR and point them at an entry-level kit and be done. I remember, for example, speaking with someone who didn't really want to learn about photography but did want to take photos "where only the face is in focus" (thin DOF). She was thrilled to use my camera for a few minutes and take these very photos instantly and easily, so what was I shooting with because she was ready to go buy it! Well, wait... I actually chose the big aperture on purpose, selected an AF mode that I knew would achieve lock easily, had previously metered and set exposure, and really just handed the $5k in camera and lens over to her to press the shutter. I knew she didn't really want to hear the details but I quickly spoke about aperture size and cost. Clearly a DSLR kit with an 18-55 was not going to do what she wanted, and I wouldn't recommend it.


It's utterly sane to recommend something other than a dSLR in this case. However, you may want to start with an explanation as to why you think a dSLR may not be what they need (vs. what they want). If they're still insisting after you explain this, then there's no hope and it's not worth tanking a friendship or ticking off family. Let them shoot themselves in the foot--some folks gotta learn it the hard way; I know I did. And you never know, maybe they will put it to good use and not waste their money.

When explaining why a dSLR might not be ideal, I generally use a 2-3x cost metric (i.e., a basic dSLR setup is typically 2-3x the cost of the basic camera kit, due to needing additional lenses, a bag, flash, etc., so $1000-$1500 instead of $500). Then I make the analogy that a compact fixed-lens camera is like a Swiss army knife, while a dSLR is like a big red toolbox that you still have to fill with tools (full argument here). And then I mention the weight of my Canon bag o' gear: 10-20 lbs. (I bird with a 400/5.6). And suggest that having to carry that and a diaper bag while child wrangling (because this type of purchase is often prompted by the introduction of a baby into the works) could be cumbersome.

You may also want to arm yourself with some good phone photography websites, just to impress on them that it ain't the tool. :) If they're stuck on sensor size, maybe send them to the guesstheformat website. Or tell the story of what Ansel Adams went through to get "Monolith, the Face of Half-Dome" (i.e., climbing four-thousand feet with glass plates and a 20-30lb. view camera--and then getting it all back down again), and stress it's not so much the camera as the person behind the camera that takes the photo. (I.e., just because Itzhak Perlman plays on a Stradivarius, doesn't mean that buying a Stradivarius instantly bestows the ability to play like Itzhak Perlman).

If they're still with you, you can then make the case for an enthusiast 1"-sensored compact (RX100, Powershot G7X), a large-sensored compact (probably outside the budget, new but if they really want low light/thin DoF capability maybe they can find something used...) or, if they're ok with a camera bag, a used mirrorless setup.

See also: What do I need to consider to choose between dSLR, mirrorless, or a compact as my first "serious" camera?

  • Your point about new parents is especially valid, that's a steep enough learning curve without adding complicated new toys... on the other hand, integrated diaper/camera bags are a thing. Apr 4 '16 at 17:40
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    @junkyardsparkle Yup, but then you can't carry enough of either supplies. :) OTOH, a changing pad might be useful as a reflector. :D
    – inkista
    Apr 4 '16 at 17:47

As enthusiasts we are all familiar with this type of question. You will likely find friends/family that fit into one or more of these buckets:

  1. Want to spend money
  2. Want higher quality/performance
  3. Want to learn photography

The premise is that they all have a vague idea that "professionals" carry around large DSLRs and they remember back in their schooling that they were forced to use an SLR. The obvious solution to their woes is to invest in a DSLR.

Don't want to learn

I of course don't agree with a DSLR as a solution. A DLSR is a great tool, but for those not willing to fit into the third bucket(desire to learn) a DSLR will likely be left at home on a shelf collecting dust. Or they will bring it along with its added size and weight only to use a single kit lens its entire useful life.

Want to spend money

For the friends of yours that just simply want to spend money, it's likely futile to try and convince them that a DSLR isn't going to be a magic bullet and do all of the work for them; including learning how to use it. I would advise just nods and agreement with whatever shiny object these people set their sights on. The good news is with a budget like you've proposed, it doesn't sound like you are dealing with this type.

The people you can actually help

Finally, for those types that aren't gadget hungry, want better performance, and aren't afraid to learn just a bit - the great news is that the market has really adapted to them well over the last few years. Many examples of great compact sized cameras exist with larger sensors, full manual controls, and great performance; all within a very reasonable budget. As a basic example, take a look at the Sony RX line of today.

To me the current crop of enthusiast compacts fits the bill for all but the most demanding "curious photography friend". The images they are capable of will far exceed the point and shoot they bought 8 years ago and the smartphone camera they complain about. The biggest advantage over a DSLR in my mind is that these cameras are simply small enough that people will actually carry them around and enjoy doing so.

  • 1
    The budget I stated is "too much" amount of money where I live. Apr 2 '16 at 9:20
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    @dpollitt, I think that the OP means that $453 make them belong to your first bucket where they are living (=spending money)
    – Olivier
    Apr 2 '16 at 13:41
  • @Olivier - I see, thanks for the comment. If in fact that is gratuitous spending to the OP, I would advise just letting them buy whatever they think they need. But the problem is that you can't buy much camera at all for under that budget either outside of great used deals.
    – dpollitt
    Apr 2 '16 at 13:43

Kit lens will disappoint them, I think. Prime lens will be problematic for them due to the lack of zoom? (Just my guess)

What makes you think that? While it's true that kit lenses on entry-level DSLR's are meant to help minimize the cost of the entire kit, manufacturers also know that it's the first lens that they will use and may be the only lens that many people will own. They may not be the best lenses that money can buy, but that doesn't mean that they're bad, and they can certainly produce some beautiful images.

Don't guess about what they want. Ask them. Be their source of reliable information. Be willing to explain the difference between zoom and prime lenses without going into so much photographic minutia that their eyes glaze over.

I know people who aren't at all interested in cars but still wanted to be able to find a reliable vehicle and learn how to operate and care for it. Many of those people can even drive a stick shift. A car is a tool for getting from place to place, not something interesting in its own right. Your friends may be in this category: they want better images and are willing to learn what they need to get as far as they want to go, but they don't care about photography for its own sake.

Budget is $453.

A refurbished Canon Rebel T5 at $325 would easily fit that budget at the time of this writing and leave room for some accessories like a bag or a 50mm f/1.8 lens. A refurbished Nikon D5200 at $400 would also fit the budget. these are fine cameras for someone starting out, even if they're not the newest thing on the market. They're designed to be as easy to use as someone who's not all that interested in or knowledgable about photography needs them to be, but they offer the opportunity for learning and improvement and the ability to take excellent photographs.

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    The thing about guessing vs. asking is that in cases like this, people may not really understand that, say, the shallow DOF is why they like the photos coming out of that big DSLR, so the answer to this question will likely involve a certain amount of intuitive "feeling out" of the situation, if not exactly outright guessing. Apr 4 '16 at 18:21
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    @junkyardsparkle That's a good point. When you're gathering requirements, people will often tell you that they think they need rather than what they really want. The solution is to dig deeper. I need a DSLR. Why? I want my photos to look better. In what way? I'm not sure, but my friend has a DSLR and the photos he takes of his grandson are just gorgeous...here, I'll show you... Now you're getting somewhere! "Feeling out" is a good way to describe that process, but it's about asking and providing information and coming to a common understanding, not guessing.
    – Caleb
    Apr 4 '16 at 18:41

My (short) answer: Any DSLR with kit zoom that comes within budget will do. Just tell them to use Auto mode. There's no point thinking/worrying too much about it - if they bought a Canon EOS-1D X II, they'd still be disappointed. At least when they realise they're disappointed, they are at least in possession of a camera that allows them to make settings changes to improve their results.


A new Pentax K50 w/ 18-55mm kit lens would be under budget. Is a great camera for any novice or intermediate photographer. Combine that with Adobe lightroom and you'll get some stunning results.


Get the kit lens. They've almost always got enough zoom to replace a compact / improve on a phone camera. They tend to be lighter the more expensive lenses and DSLR novices tend to find them heavy.

The entry level models from Canon or Nikon have the advantage over other brands that there are many more second hand lenses for future upgrades, and more tutorials.


What should be recommended for such people?

There are a number of camera brands that do not get enough exposure and appreciation because of the huge market share of a few manufacturers but still are important for camera development and should be supported.

One of them is Pentax/Ricoh which does not have too much funds for advertising itself against stronger brands. I could advertise something else, too, but most other similar OEMs that produce competitive technology do not have DSLRs in their product list (Olympus, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Samsung). Sigma is another OEM with DSLRs but its top of chart resolution causes several compromises.

So, if you want to advise something to people who have no clue but still want a DSLR, suggest the most expensive camera from one of those brands to support them: people will simultaneously get great technology and support market diversity this way.

This is what I do myself, too (yes, I actually buy from brands which I'd like to support if they fullfil my needs fine).

Will it be sane to recommend them something other than a DSLR?

Is it sane to recommend a non-DSLR? Yes, sure, it has been so for a few years already.

Digital Single Lens Reflex is in no way obligatory for getting a high quality image and in some ways only makes image quality worse. The camera+objective combination can be made significantly smaller and lighter if the objective is seated closer to the sensor. For example: there are excellent non-huge lenses for mirrorless cameras which are not made for a DSLR with the same sensor size: Canon EF-M 22mm F2, Samyang 12mm F2, Samsung 16-50mm F2-2,8, Samsung 30mm F2, Mitakon 35mm F0,95 (second version is better than first). Also, Sigma 30mm F1,4 A for Sony E mount is lighter and shorter than its DSLR counterpart, and Fujifilm's 56mm F1,2 provides capabilities similar to those of 36x24 frame camera with an 85mm F1,8 objective yet may be bought for less and is lighter, there are other examples too.

Additionally, Pentax, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic are implementing in-body image stabilisation which will work with virtually any objective mounted onto them, and Sony's version will also work in combination with in-lens stabilisation which is the first such implementation aside from older consumer cameras without interchangeable objectives. Canon and Nikon are years behind from this perspective.

Also, there are a few recent cameras with excellent non-interchangeable optics which include: Sony RX100, Sony RX10, Panasonic FZ1000, Canon GX-series, Panasonic LX100, Ricoh GR, Sony RX1, Olympus Stylus 1, Pentax MX-1 - with varying price and capabilities, which may or may not satisfy the consumer whom you instruct, but are perfectly fine for high quality photographs.

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    Downvoted, because I would never recommend a camera to someone just because i think the brand needs a promo push. Canon offers small light pancake primes (e.g., EF-s 24mm f/2.8 STM), and the US$800 Fuji 56/1.2 is substantially more expensive than an US$350 85/1.8 in Canonikon land. May want to correct that to 85/1.2, if that's what you meant, but also realize that the dSLR 85/1.8 and 85/1.2 are full frame lenses.
    – inkista
    Apr 3 '16 at 18:05
  • @inkista: you kept logic fine in your edit, I made one small inverse edit. Also, I won't change my answer and I suggest to discuss why I won't in the chat room. Apr 3 '16 at 18:11
  • Feel free to suggest means of improving this answer if you downvote, in said chat room. Apr 3 '16 at 18:32
  • I don't believe Leica has a 35 mm f/0.95. They have a 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, which is not huge. They have a 50 mm f/0.95 Noctilux, which is pretty large. Both are very expensive, though (the 35 Summi is ~$4600 USD, the 50 Nocti is ~$10k USD).
    – scottbb
    Apr 3 '16 at 23:11

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