Are you thinking about buying a DSLR? I know one of the questions I hear most often is “I’m looking to upgrade to a DSLR, what type of camera do you recommend?” Here are a few tips and things to consider before buying your first camera.
Expensive DSLR does not equal professional quality photos. I think one of the biggest surprises people may have when they get a DSLR is that their photos do not look like the professionals. It isn’t the camera that makes the amazing photos, it’s the photographer. My first DSLR even when used on “auto” was still much better than my old point and shoot but nothing compared to when I started to shoot on manual mode.
Don’t buy the “kit lens”. Wondering what the “kit lens” is? A kit lens is the lens that comes with the camera you buy. When you purchase a DSLR you have the option of buying just the “body” (only the camera body) or you can buy it as a “kit” with the body and a lens. In fact, when I was shopping for my first DSLR I found an ad for just a body and said, who in the world would buy a camera without a lens. Ha! I bought the kit lens with my first camera b/c I didn’t know better.
After I started to learn to shoot in manual I realized my lens didn’t allow me to capture the pictures I wanted. Your kit lens probably has an aperture that only opens up to f3.5. That is not a lot if you are looking for those blurry backgrounds everyone loves. Getting a lens with an aperture that can open up to f/1.8 allows you to get just feet in focus and the rest of the baby blurred out. Do you get it? Check out my post on aperture if I am confusing you!
Get an inexpensive prime lens instead of the “kit lens”. If you are looking to actually learn to use your camera one of the best ways to do that is to use a prime lens. I would recommend the 50mm f/1.8 or the 35mm f/1.8. These are both relatively inexpensive lenses.
What is a prime lens you ask? A prime lens is a lens that has a fixed focal length AKA it doesn’t zoom. So for example that 50mm f/1.8 I was talking about will not zoom. It is set at 50mm f/1.8 and your feet have to move yourself forward or backwards :O) Some people only like primes and others only like zooms. The thought used to be primes gave you a sharper image but with the fancy zooms now that run around $1600 they are just as good as a prime. Personally, I love primes. I shot only with my 50mm f/1.8 for about 8 months before I bought my Tamron 28-75 f2.8 zoom lens.
Canon or Nikon? That is a personal decision. I would recommend going to a camera store and get the camera in your hand. Does a Canon feel more comfortable or do you like the button placement of the Nikon better? If you are wanting to shoot on manual mode figure out how easy it is to adjust your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Don’t be afraid to ask the employees for help with this! Both Canon and Nikon have great starter DSLR cameras such as the Canon Rebel T1i and the Nikon D5000 (Body Only). Which ever camera you get be sure to check to see if it is compatible with the lens you want. I know with the Nikon D3000 and the Nikon D5000 the auto focus won’t work with a 50mm f/1.8.
Now what is a photography post without a picture.
What other advice would you give someone looking to buy their first DSLR??
Great tips and ones, I must say, I broke straight down the line when I bought our first/current DSLR. Don’t get me wrong, I love this camera, but I had no real idea what I was looking for when I bought it and now that I know better I would have probably done better.
I’d add that lots of people focus on the aperture range of the lens, but lenses can be upgraded as you point out. And of course most DSLR’s can do any reasonable range of shutter speeds. But I very rarely see a discussion of ISO capabilities. My current camera has 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200. I wish I had more “in between” options and that the quality were a bit better at the higher end. ISO is part of the camera body itself and can’t be upgraded like a lens and isn’t necessarily a full range like ss.
Great point! Definitely a difference with starter cameras compared to others. I know my D90 has a higher ISO than my entry level camera. Thanks for sharing!
We’re close to buying the basic Rebel – I keep telling B that having a fancy camera won’t make us better photographers, but we’ll see. We chose the Rebel because my mom and sister have one, so we can swap lenses amongst the family. ;) Thanks for the tip about the kit lens!
Good thinking about going with the same brand as others who can trade lenses with :O)
Kate, I have the Rebel T3i, I started with the T3 and I wish I had listened to many folks say not to get that one but spend a bit more for the T3i. The camera is okay and I have it as a back up but the T3i is so much better. So if you are looking and can afford just a bit more, look into the T3i. Wait to get lenses, try the ones your family has before you decide to purchase.
Ok I’ve got a question for you as a fellow D90 girl. If it were you, would you get another lens or upgrade to the D700? I’ve got the 50mm 1.8 and the 35mm 1.8 I REALLY REALLY want to get the D700 but I’m wondering if I should maybe get a good macro lens and hold off a little longer on the D700. I’m wanting to primarily do Newborns so the macro would be really helpful for those close up shots, but I want the D700 for the full frame capabilities and the amazing ISO levels. I feel like the D90 holds me back being here in the gloomy Pacific Northwest :) I’d love to hear your opinion!!
Marissa, this is a tough one for me to answer only because I’m am saving up for a Nikon D700 (See all Digital SLRs)
right now so that is all I can focus on. Honestly, it really depends on how badly you want a full frame and that higher ISO. One thing to keep in mind is that your 35mm will probably not work on a D700. Something to look into. So, a better question is are you comfortable putting all that money into a camera that you will only have one lens to use?? I wish I could give you a better answer. It is definitely a personal decision. Keep me posted! I would love to know what you choose!! P.S. I hope to have my D700 by the end of June so I’ll let you know if it is everything we dream it to be :O) he he
Great Topic!! I agree with the ISO issue! My camera does not handle the higher ISO very well. I have decided to put my money into full body lenses first, then go for the full body. I love your photographer in this post!
Thanks for your input!! Keep me posted on what lenses you end up getting!! ISO is definitely a must to consider!
nice points but i’ll have to disagree with #2. The kit lens might not be a great as higher end glass, but you shouldn’t discount it to learn with. That’s like telling a painter he can’t paint anything with crayola watercolors. A really great photographer can take any camera or lens and use his creativity to pull out some amazing pictures. If anything, a person who can take a great picture with a basic “kit lens” is learning more then those who don’t even want to try it.
Thanks for your thoughts! I completely agree that a great photographer can rock any lens!
I have a kit lens as well, and before I knew about aperture ;) and Manual mode, I didn’t realize what I was missing out on and still learned the basics with my kit lens. My next door neighbor just got a Canon xTi [I think its that one – it’s almost identical to my Rebel XS] and she has the kit lens. For her learning the basics on the kit is overwhelming. In 4 months we’ll see. She’s already in love with my telefoto, but it will take a little practice and foto challenges to be able to get comfortable with the BUTTONS ;). I love having the f/1.8, the kit, and my 75mm telefoto in my bag. I feel rounded – Macros if you don’t do it a lot? You can also buy the screw on filter macro. It’s a great way to add to your bag without breaking the bank.
Close Up filters – I found a good write up here: http://photography.timtrott.co.uk/closeup-filter-vs-macro-lens/
[note: he was not using Manual focus, I find that makes a difference with the filters] And seeing as I don’t have a Macro to do the compare. I can say the three I have +1, +2, and +4 work well for the shots I take.
Yes, I learned the basics on my kit lens too but soon realized that it wasn’t capable of what I wanted :O) My second camera I bought only the body :O) Thanks for that link for close up filters!!
oooh are you really gonna get the d700 in June? I’m so jealous! :P Have you heard the rumor about the d800 coming out in the fall? I wonder if it’s true…..
Oh Janell! Why do you torture me so!! I think though I’ll still get the D700 and let some other people work out the kinks of the D800 (at least that is how I’m convincing myself :O) he he
I know right! I really want the d700 too, and would totally get it if I could afford it. It seems to be out of stock everywhere. Plus it’s only rumors so they don’t even know if a d800 is really coming and how much. They just came out with the d5100 too. I hate playing the waiting game to see if electronics are gonna be updated. I did read that if you want the d700 you should get it soon, with the shortages of nikon stuff since the earthquake.
Yes, I noticed that the D700 is out of stock everywhere :O( Hope I can find one in June!!
Great article! :) For us, when we bought our Canon T2i, we went to a camera store that actually let us take a few test shots with various DSLR’s before we mde our decision. Like test driving a car :) My hubby really wanted something with video capabilities, which is why we went with the T2i. Plus it didn’t come with the standard kit lens-it came with the 18-135mm lens as well as a filter, camera bag, lens hood, and 2 batteries. It’s a GREAT lens and a great package! I wound up buying the 50mm/1.8 lens and was excited to be able to shoot sharp photo’s at 1.8. I was thinking they would look great like the 24-70mm/2.8 lens shot at 2.8. Needless to say I was a bit let down to learn that the 50mm is sharpest at around f/4. Have a good Monday :)
Bummer about your 50mm! Yes, each lens has it’s “sweet spot”. My 50mm is around f/2.2. Glad you were able to get everything you wanted with your T2i!
I write about this all the time. There are so many great deals out there as long as you know what you’re looking for. When I first started out, I had no clue and lucked into a lot. Now, 2 years later, I’m eagle eye Kimberly.
Great advice about the prime lens. I have three that I love; I followed the advice to buy the best lens I could afford and I traded up (selling old lenses) last year to great new lenses.
I want to throw a Sony Alpha into the ring. I shoot with an Alpha 550 and I love it. My next favorite camera is a Nikon D5000.
Other advice I’d offer is to check online. I bought both of my DSLRs on eBay. They were new at the store, however, my Alpha 300 had been opened in the store, so they knocked hundreds off the price. My Alpha 550 had been purchased and returned within 24 hours and hadn’t been taken out of the box. Got a similar deal.
I think supporting the local camera store is a great idea. I avoid the big electronic stores, because the sales people usually don’t know much about photography (in my experience) and they prices are crazy. One store sold my Alpha 300 on clearance for more than what I bought it new.
I wouldn’t buy a DSLR on Craigslist unless I was really familiar with the camera. I sold my 300 last year and the person who bought it had come across a lot of sketchy deals. I’ve bought several lenses on that site, but only from serious photographers – great deals here too.
Good luck and happy shopping.
Thanks for your thoughts Kimberly! I hadn’t even thought of a Sony camera so thanks for mentioning that one! I’m glad to hear you were able to get such amazing deals on your cameras! I need to become a better deal finder :O)
Reading reviews from different sources about the prospect DSLR’s that one wants to buy would be also helpful in the purchase. I for one, did not really experience anything about this anxiety over getting a dslr. I have shown interest on getting one but did not know where to start. The D90 that have was a gift from hubby for christmas. It came with the two kit lens. These kit lens had helped me understand what aperture, shutter, ISO and manual mode mean and basically helped me master the settings. For now, I got myself the most inexpensive lens 50/1.8 and it has never been out of my camera since then. So far, it has not disappoint men with its capability to take tack sharp photos.
I totally agree with you when yo mentioned that it’s not about the camera, it’s the person behind it. Although in essence, the gear and the lens could help too as long as the person is backed up with knowledge and experience in the manipulation of the gear.:)
Thanks for sharing! A D90 is a fabulous camera! Very true that the photographer needs the knowledge and experience it!
Thank you for posting! On our Mother’s Day excursion up north my reliable point and shoot died! Matt took me to the BX and said “Pick whichever camera you want!” I was very tempted to go with the most expensive Nikon they had but I really had no idea what I was looking for between “ALL” 3 choices they had! I ended up getting a purse friendly camera until we are settled in Alaska! But now I feel I can go shopping a little less confused!
My advice – buy one step up from what you think you want. I bought a Canon 60D and less than 6 months later am already trading up for the camera I ‘really’ wanted in the first place.
Hi… I found this site on Pinterest… I have the D3000 and a 50mm 1.8 prime lens and it does auto focus. Granted it was $100 more for AF-S, but I am pleased I invested in it… I seen you use Tamron. I’m looking into purchasing the 70-200mm 2.8 lens, the Nikon is too expensive!!! And the Tamron is cheaper than the Sigma. Would you recommend Tamron for this lens?!?
I really like my Tamron lenses. Yes, the Nikon version would be lovely to have but for me it isn’t in my budget. I don’t have the 70-200 Tamron though so I can’t vouch for that one but the two I have work really well for what I need :O)
Hi Courtney!, First of all I just wanted to thank you for the workshop you posted on SITS – it was so helpful!
I have a quick question – My husband and I are backpacking around Europe this summer and I’m not 100% sure I want to bring my DSLR – it was expensive and between the lenses and bag, it’s quite heavy and bulky. I really want to take a lot of photos though. I was wondering if you could recommend a camera that is somewhere in between a simple point and shoot, and DSLR? Thanks for your help!
Thanks Ashley! I’m so glad to hear you are enjoying the SITS girls workshop! Yay!! Is your camera insured?? If not, stop reading and insure right now :O) It’s super easy and shouldn’t cost you much through your insurance company and will cover if it is lost, stolen, broken or whatever. Okay, now that you are back from insuring your camera back to your question. I don’t know anything about point and shoots (sorry!). However, I would bring your DSLR with one lens and make sure it is insured. For me personally, I would want to capture some great pictures of our time in Europe and I know I would want my DSLR with me. But, do whatever you feel most comfortable doing!! Sorry I’m not much help :O)
I bought a refurbished Canon T1i a few months ago so that I could learn how to take pictures with a DSLR. I have a 50 mm 1.8 lens and love it, but I am interested in a new lens that has some zoom. I don’t need to zoom too far, but I would like a zoom to be able to take better pictures of my son playing sports like baseball or soccer when I’m on the sidelines. I have heard so many great things about the Tamron 24-75 2.8, but I am concerned that the zoom is not far enough for sports. What do you think? Do I need more zoom for basic children’s sports or is the Tamron 24-75 good? If not, what do you recommend?
I have the Tamron 28-75mm 2.8 and think it’s a great zoom. I use it for my daughter’s gymnastics. One of the reasons I really like it is because it has a fixed aperture. Meaning, my aperture won’t change as I zoom in and out. This is great for low lighting situations like a gymnasium. However, if you are going to do most of your shooting outside like a baseball and soccer you don’t necessarily need an aperture that wide. I also have the Tamron 18-270mm 3.5-6.3. It does not have a fixed aperture so the aperture would change as you zoom. If that doesn’t bother you, then maybe you want to look into that one. Zooms can be SUPER expensive, but I have found the Tamron zooms to be affordable and get the job done :O) Could you go to a store and play with both of them to see if the focal length is what you are looking for??
Courtney. If I may add another lens since you are a canon user, I have the Canon t3i. I like the canon 55-250mm (here is a link tso you can see and read up on it. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=canon%2055-250mm%20lens&sprefix=canon+55-250%2Caps%2C225
I love this lens for shooting outside when I am walking around. I also have an 18-135mm too. But for shooting bird in trees and such for far off I love this amazing lens 55-250mm. This past winter it was so cold here, much too cold to get outside so this amazing lens captured some awesome quality shots from inside the house and shooting through dual pane windows. The quality for the money cant be beat and many professional photographers are amazed too wtih the quality of this so called cheep lens. Hope you will look into this lens.
Opps… I meant to type the name Kasey… Sorry for the typo…
I have the. D 5000. It now has a 50mm 1.8 with a motor in it :)
You must have gotten the 50mm 1.8 AF-S. It is a little more expensive but works with that camera :) Glad you found one that works!!
I am about to buy my 1st SLR. I currently own a Canon point and shoot …yuck! I want to learn manual mode & want to learn how to take those buttery background pics. I have read the posts & understand I need to buy a ‘body’ only camera & find lenses later, right? Also…lots of talk about iso capability… I am looking at the Canon Rebel & it has an iso capability of 100-6400…is that good? Any other suggestions? Thanks :) Shelly
Congrats on getting a new camera :) Yes, 6400 is good. Depending on how much you want to learn about photography you may find it a little restricting in difficult lighting situations. A Canon Rebel is a great beginner camera :)
Hi…been reading your post and they are so helpful. I am stuck, though… I am going to purchase a nikon d90, but want to know if the lens you suggested above 50 1.8 is compatible with it? Can you help…
Yes, the 50mm 1.8 is definitely compatible with the D90. That is the combination I used for almost 2 years :) You’ll love it :)
Hello — I have been racking my brain trying to buy the best dslr for my family and I am stuck. I have thoroughly read over you blog — I absolutely love it! Thank you so much for taking the time to help others learn photography — you are terrific. A few years back we bought the canon powershot sx20 instead of an slr. It seemed like the highest point and shoot before getting into an slr. (I wanted an slr at the time, but my husband wasn’t convinced). Well needless to say we are now positive we want an slr — even my husband is positive :) I want to get an intermediate camera as I don’t want to upgrade in a year or so. I would rather spend the money now and get what we want. The majority of our pictures are of our 9 month old and 2 and 4 year old nieces — so things happen quick around here. I am looking at the Canon Rebel T3i, but I am worried I will want to upgrade very shortly. In looking above the T3i it looks like there is the 60D or the T4i and then above that. Everything I can gather about the T4i is that it really isn’t worth the upgrade and to stick with the t3i. According to my local camera store the 60d isn’t really worth the upgrade either — they thought the only main difference between t3i and 60d is the weather proofing casing. I guess I was just curious your opinion on the t3i vs the 60d or if I should jump one step up from there and what that camera would be. I feel like I am rambling — I am sorry :) Just looking for a little direction — thank you so much for your help. Oh and I am not necessarily a canon fan — I am open to either canon or nikon — I just want the best camera for our needs. One last question – do you or do you know anyone who has experience buying refurbished from Adorama. It seems like great prices and everything I read says it is a great deal – I am just hesitant. THank you so much for your help!!
I wish I could help but I don’t know a lot about Canon cameras. I had a Nikon D90 for almost two years and LOVED it! It’s a great camera and above the entry level. It may fit exactly what you are looking for.
http://www.adorama.com/INKD90.html?KBID=67623 (this is an affiliate link)
As far as Adorama, they are a fantastic company. I have purchased items from them but not a refurbished one yet.
Thank you so much for replying!! I will check further into the D90!
Lyndsay, What you have been told about the 60D and the T3i are correct, its not really an upgrade. I was wanting to upgrade just for the higher ISO but after research, I am sticking with what I have which is the T3i, its an amazing camera and take quality photos. If I wanted to go into the photography business I then would be looking at the Canon 5D’s series but for super all around quality you can beat the T3i. I know my friend has the Nikon D90 and is truly happy with it but I only know Canon.
Thank you so much for the amazing advice! I’m about to purchase my very first Canon DSLR. I’m going with the Canon T3i and only getting the body and I think I’m going to get the 50mm lens 1.4. Is there a second lens I need or would I be okay just to start out with the 50mm lens 1.4. I would appreciate any advice I can get. I’ll be spending the next few weeks on your website learning everything you have on here! So thank you!!! <3
How exciting on your new camera and lens! Personally, I think you’ll be set for a while with the 50mm 1.4 but here is a series we did on camera lenses that might give you some more information – http://clickitupanotch.com/2013/09/camera-lenses-series-everything-you-need-to-know/
Hi Allie, is this site not the greatest for help and info, so thankful it is here as I have learned so much. I have the T3i too and the 50mm 1/4 lens, Great choice for your first lens, Since it is a prime lens meaning it does not zoom, your feet will have to do the moving in and out. If you are looking for a good low to medium cost lens for walking around; may I suggest looking at the
55-250mm (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=canon%2055-250mm%20lens&sprefix=canon+55-250%2Caps%2C225) for the price you can’t beat the quality of the photos and I also have the 18-135mm as well when I need a bit wider overall for landscapes. These lens along with the 50mm 1/4are my go to lens but most of the time I reach for the two zooms, I also have the 18-55mm but it sits in my camera bag. The newest lenses out there are the STM lens and they do come in the same mm as I mentioned. They are much sharper and faster but I have been told with the T3i I will not see the quality as my camera is older. They are better geared for the T4 and T5 bodies. I have been so happy with the T3i, its an amazing camera for the price.
Please tell me how you feel about full frame vs crop- I’m looking at the Nikon D7100 vs D600.
Thank you so much!!
That question would take a whole post to answer :) Maybe we will make one. It is up to you if you want full frame vs crop. It’s such a personal decision and budget. Good luck!
Thank you Courtney, I appreciate your answer on this. I am going to go with a full frame – Now the fun begins…so excited to finally upgrade from my Nikon D80.
Thank you for this amazing site. Your articles are very helpful. I have enjoyed reading every detail!!
Enjoy your search and new camera! This is the fun part :)
Courtney, Thanks so much for the information. I’ve always been a regular old-fashioned SLR camera girl. I bought a point and shoot digital several years ago and have never been happy with it. Once an SLR girl, always an SLR girl I guess. I have decided to move into the real world and get a digital SLR. I’ve picked one out (D5000) and am saving up. Thanks for the tips about the kit lens. But I guess my question is do you know the differences in digital and regular SLR shooting? I understand aperture and ISO and shutter speed from my SLR. Is it really different in a digital?
I wish I could help but I’m not familiar with an SLR. I started with a DSLR so I can’t help you there. Good luck!
I am an amatuer photographer looking to learn to take better photos so that in the future I would possibly like to sell some framed, put on canvas, etc. I am really starting at the bottom here and am so excited to have found your site. Present time I have a Canon S5 IS but am looking to get a better camera. Some of the photos I would like to take I might want to enlarge to possibly 16×20 for some family shots. Is there something I should look for in a camera that would help me with this. For just starting out to buy my first DSLR would you recommend the Nikon D90? I am not sure what I should look for when I am ready to purchase. Thank you so much for any help. I also should state that I am not looking for a $1000 camera at this point in time though.
I don’t know if you need to worry about the camera as much as you need to make sure you are taking the images in a large format. I take my photos as a RAW because it is a large file and can be blown up. If you don’t want to shoot RAW then make sure your JPEG is on the largest setting. And test it out. Print one of your images that large and see what it looks like.
I currently have the d5100. I have had it for a few years now. I was considering the d7100 to purchase. It is just such a jump in price to go to the full frame. Do you think this is the closest cro sensor frame to full frame in quality
As for upgrading, here are my thoughts. If you know exactly what the new camera can do that your current camera can’t do then you are ready to upgrade. It is up to you if the full-frame is worth the money. What can it do that the D7100 can’t and does that matter to you?
Nikon and Canon aren’t the only games in town. For hobbyist photographers, I’d argue that it’s hard to go wrong with the Micro Four-Thirds cameras from Panasonic and Olympus.
The best thing about M43 is the outstanding selection of top-quality lenses available from Leica, Panasonic, and Olympus that produce excellent results at a reasonable price.
I’m a hobbyist photographer, so I can’t justify dropping 10K on a full-frame camera body and a nice selection of (or even 1-2) lenses.
However, with a M43 camera like the Panasonic Lumix GH3 or GH4, or the Olympus OMD-E-M1, you can have an extremely capable pro-quality camera in a small body with an incredibly affordable selection of excellent glass to go with it. What’s more, you can adapt just about any lens you already have to the M43 mount (although you may need to manually focus with adapted lenses).
I’ve been shooting with a Lumix GH2 for a little over a year, and now I’m saving up for the excellent Lumix GH4. Especially if you’re a photographer who enjoys hybrid photography (stills and video), M43 provides an excellent value proposition.
I have a Panasonic M43 GF2. I am currently using a 30mm lens with 1.7 AF-S. My only complaint with the camera is blurry photos, especially indoors, as I’m usually holding the camera and not using a tripod (I have 2 young children). Can you recommend another lens with better stabilization? I would also prefer a 50mm or above for closer range. Thanks!
Can I throw Pentax in here also? They make awesome cameras – I shoot a K-30 and have my old K100 body in my camera bag. My brother brought my first Pentax home from Korea and 1973 and I can use those old lenses or anything Pentax has made on my new DSLR – in manual of course. My husband shoots a K-3 and uses his K-20 as a backup. We also have the waterproof and shockproof point and shoot! Pentax all the way!
I love your site, it always has useful info for both those that are starting out and even for those that have experience. I am alway so excited when I see you have posted as I know the info you post will be helpful. GOD bless and keep you all safe and have a blessed and safe Memorial weekend.
Aww, thank you so much! I really appreciate you saying that :)
Ok, all these comments are from a few years ago, are there anymore updated I Found?