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I'm starting in a semester-long "Intro to Digital Photography Class" and I'm completely new to anything photography-related. The most experience I have with picture taking is on my cell phone. That being said, my professor gave a list of requirements for the camera we're supposed to get, and doing google research is getting me nowhere.

He wants us to purchase a Digital DSLR camera with "manual shooting mode", and he lists "(manual controls for: shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and color balance)" and that shoots in RAW or DNG file format. (related but unrelated, he lists that it should have a charger, upload cable, batteries, and memory cards)

I'm attempting to find a type of camera that fits these requirements but the camera descriptions online don't seem to go into enough detail as to whether or not the camera has these features. Preferably I'd want the camera to be within the price range of $300-$600 (he says that a camera of this description is typically at least $300) and I need an answer ASAP as I need to get the camera this week. Thanks!

  • Clarifications: by "batteries" do you mean that he expects you to buy a spare battery? (That would seem sensible, because if your battery goes flat during a lesson and you don't have a spare, it's a waste of time). By "memory cards" do you mean any memory card, or specifically SD? (There are some, not many, DSLRs which only take CF). Finally, did he not specify anything about the lenses? I would have thought he'd say that you need to have at least one lens with a focal length in the range (say) 40 to 100mm. – Peter Taylor Aug 24 '17 at 7:25
  • Presumably if they expect you to have a USB cable for it, it doesn't matter what card format it uses. – dgatwood Aug 25 '17 at 22:24
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Some point and shoot cameras lack the manual controls and RAW capture mode required, but I don't think any DSLRs were ever made without them.. So, these basic requirements will be met by any digital SLR. Pick one you like and can afford and there you go. You really can't go wrong; despite a lot of hand-wringing on Internet forums, all DSLRs made today are excellent.

You might check with the instructor to find if a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses (like those from Fujifilm or Olympus) are also acceptable; these would fit everything except the SLR part. Or you could not worry about that and just happily pick up the DSLR.

  • In a sweeping statement...wouldn't a DSLR kit be often found cheaper than a mirrorless kit? – osullic Aug 23 '17 at 22:51
  • @osullic Possibly; depends on what you can find used, and I figure more options are better than fewer. – mattdm Aug 23 '17 at 23:00
  • @mattdm A beginner might not be informed enough to make an informed choice...while the instructor probably is based on experience integrated over many beginners. – user50888 Aug 24 '17 at 2:15
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    @ben ... Yes? Did I say anything that contradicts that. – mattdm Aug 24 '17 at 3:07
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    I think the mirrorless camera option opens up a can of worms that is not relevant to the question since the instructor specified a DSLR. Particularly since there are no advantages to a mirrorless camera in this context. Generally, because I think that beginners lack the KSA's to make well informed tradeoffs when presented with an array of options because that's what it means to be a beginner. As the beginner finds their photographic voice, experience will allow evaluation of tradeoffs like composition via viewfinder versus back panel (<$600 mirrorless tend not to have view finders). – user50888 Aug 24 '17 at 14:39
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As everyone else has said, pretty much every DSLR currently on the market (even the used market for cameras made in at least the last decade or so) has manual exposure modes that allow full control of ISO, Tv (shutter time), and Av (aperture value). They all allow the user to save images in a raw file format. If bought new they all come with a single battery and a battery charger.

Most DSLR cameras do not come with a memory card. Those need to be bought separately. Different cameras use different types of memory cards, so you need to wait until you purchase a camera to select a memory card appropriate for that camera. The camera's manual will tell you what kind of memory cards are compatible. In the price range you are looking almost all current DSLRs use a form of SD memory cards: most are either SDHC or SDXC compatible or both.

Transfer cables come with some cameras and not with others. Most cameras use one of several standard cable forms such as mini-USB to USB, micro-USB to USB, or USB 3.0 to transfer from the camera to a computer or other device.

Batteries are very camera model specific. You should consider at least one spare compatible with whatever camera you choose. Third party 'generic' batteries in the proper form factor and voltage are available from a variety of sellers at much lower cost than original batteries from the camera manufacturers. Choose wisely and a third party battery may well outperform an OEM one.

One thing that hasn't really been mentioned is what kind of lens you need for the course. If the camera comes with a "kit" lens (generally a zoom lens in an 18-55mm or so focal length range) that will probably be good enough for the course. If you buy a camera "body only" you will also need a lens. Different cameras use different connection designs (called 'lens mount' in photographic circles) to attach the lens to the camera. Be sure the lens you get is fully compatible with your camera. Again, the user's manual of your camera will tell you what kind of lenses are compatible with that particular camera.

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Currently in the US it is possible to purchase a new Canon, Nikon, or Pentax entry level DSLR in that price range from online retailers such as B&H Photo. All provide manual controls meeting the requirements. Often the price will include one or more lenses in addition to the body. Other manufacturer's may also be available, but it is less common.

Used equipment from a reputable seller is also an alternative, but the absence of warranty and uncertainty around the transaction may not be within an individual's risk tolerance. Used equipment also tends to require more research because there are more options to choose from.

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All of today's SLR's are of excellent quality, and even the historical cameras are quite good. But what matters most are lenses and the quality of those lenses - and it's with the lens that most of your money will be spent.

Kit lenses are generally junk - so I would avoid purchasing a new camera 'deal'. I understand the want to purchase new - but what you'll get is a great modern camera with a junk lens and, at the end of the day, you'll end up spending more on a new lens anyway.

So, I'd recommend to you that you look into the used market from reputable sources like B&H Photo (New York) or your local camera shop, like Pro Photo Supply or Shutterbug (Portland).

Look for a Pro-sumer camera - you'll get better features you can use down the line. I shoot Canon these days so can add that perspective:

This frees up some of your budget for quality glass.

As a beginner, I'd recommend shooting with a prime (single focal length lens. Not a zoom). Why? Because you'll have enough to think about with aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. You don't need to add zoom into the mix. Start with a single focal length and learn it well, then add on another.

The max aperture of the lens will govern your ability to shoot decent shutter speeds in poor light - and trust me, you'll want the opportunity to shoot hand-held in poor light. So get a lens at LEAST f/2.0.

I would highly recommend the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens ($125 New).

This combo will get you through your class and allow you to learn what you like and don't like. If you decide you really want to dive further into photography, you can swap brands or cameras later, or stick with Canon and buy different lenses.

And if you decide you don't like photography, you will be able to offload this gear for around 3/4 what you paid for it.

Good luck in your class!

  • Nowadays, you can also get Canon EOS 40D, Pentax K10D and Nikon D200 very inexpensively. These were all designed for a semi-professional use. Which is very suitable for the enrolled student, which is a type of actual semi-professional. – rackandboneman yesterday
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If you are in this much of a rush then you're going to need specifics - so as a Nikon guy, here is a specific recommendation. I am not saying these are better than a Pentax / Canon / etc etc.. I'm just saying that in my sphere of knowledge, limited to Nikon, this is what I recommend from their range.

Used Nikon D90 or D7100 and start with either the 35mm f1.8G lens, or the older (and awesome) 35mm f2 D (or non D).

Why? Every camera manufacture knocks it out of the park once in a while, and for Nikon the big winners over the years that are great bang for the buck are the D90, D7100, D700 and D3s.

For the D90: The D90 is an exceptional camera that stands the test of time. It's performance in low light doesn't keep up with todays cameras but there are some REALLY important things going for it.

1) If you work eBay well you can get both this camera and lens recommendation near the bottom of your budget. 2) You don't know what you don't know right now, so that leaves some budget for additional lenses 3) The D90 has a built in focus motor which means it can work with every autofocus lens that Nikon has ever made. The great pro lenses from the early days of auto focus film cameras kick ass compared to even more expensive consumer lenses of today. (D3xxx and D5xxx fail miserably here)

For the D7100: The difference in price between a used D7000 and D7100 is so close, I recommend the D7100. It's quite a jump from there to the newer D7200, so the D7100 and one of these lenses are within your budget. If you see a killer deal on a D7000 it will do the job too, but the D7100 although now 2 generations behind in the D7xxx series still feels fresh.

It has the same lens advantages as the D90, but also can read the aperture setting on vintage manual Nikon lenses.. and if you're on a budget and really want to master photography this is huge. On the D7100 crop sensor camera a great portrait lens is a 50mm. You can pick up a manual focus 50mm Series E f1.8 lens for under $50 on eBay. That's HUGE.

So - that's my take from a Nikon perspective. Avoid the trap of "entry level" Nikons as you might save a buck or two, but you're trapped into buying latest lenses.. either affordable mediocre consumer lenses or very expensive pro lenses.

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Even the base level Canon dSLRs have manual mode available and shoot in RAW. I suggest searching around Canon or Nikon website to see what cameras are included and base prices. Currently the 'Rebel T5' is the least expensive at USD $550 including lens. There are comparable models from Nikon.

I suggest these brands as they are the most common, and available. There are the most accessories for them, and they perhaps will match the units used in class.

I would suggest however, that you look locally on Craigslist or visit a camera shop in your area, and purchase used. You can save a lot of money, and even sell it after your class.

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