So you’re interested in photography? Whether you intend to practice photography as a hobby or are aspiring to one day go pro, I believe everyone should start small and work their way up to professional-grade equipment. Why? Because photography is not cheap. Yeah, it’s cheaper now than in the days of film, but I couldn’t imagine investing thousands of dollars into equipment just to turn around and have to sell it all because you’ve either lost interest or it isn’t working out like you’d hoped. Sure, you can probably get a good percentage of your investment back, but like any other piece of technology, it’s going to lose a bit of value when you “drive it off the lot”. Not to mention, you run the risk of the “latest and greatest” piece of equipment coming out soon after you purchase a top of the line camera/lens which will tank your resale value even more. So why not play it safe (and smart) and keep your initial investment under the $1k mark? Heck, I did it for only $500!
Which speaking of, I often get asked what type of camera and lens a beginner should purchase. Believe it or not, just last February I was wondering the same thing myself! The first step is deciding whether you’ll be a Nikon or Canon shooter. Yes, there are many more brands out there, but these two are pretty much guaranteed to be the best on the market at any given time. I went with Canon simply because it’s what all the photographers I already knew and adored used. So in regards to Nikon camera/lens suggestions, I really don’t have anything for you. However, I have heard from my experiences on forums and at WPPI that, in general, Nikon camera bodies seem to trump Canon’s (especially when it comes to its focusing system), and Canon glass seems to crush Nikon’s. I can’t personally say whether that’s true because I’ve never owned and used both to do side by side comparisons. That’s why you need to start right now and get on forums, into a camera store, etc. to find out what’s best for you. I honestly wish I had done more research in the brand area myself, since a lot of Canon users I know are now toying with the idea of switching to Nikon. But overall, I love my kit and think I’ll stick it out for the time being.
Okay, so let’s say you’ve done all your research and have even visited a few stores to play with some cameras in person and test the feel in your hands (yes, that’s important — you ARE going to be holding the dang thing in your hands for sometimes hours on end — it better be comfortable!). Now let’s say you decided on Canon. My advice from here is to stay away from camera stores when it comes to making the actual purchase. Of course, this is only if you want to save some of your hard-earned cash, enabling you to stretch it into more photography purchases down the road. Like I said, this photography stuff is expensive!
I stalked Amazon and eBay for the camera body I decided to buy, which was the Canon Rebel XSi. After a week or so, I had a good idea of how much I could save over retail ($150!) just by buying gently used. I then made a promise to myself not to bid/buy over that amount. Now, it might be scary to make a used camera purchase, but as long as you buy from a trusted seller through a secure site, your purchase will be covered. For instance, I bought my camera on eBay (buyer protection), from Cameta Camera (trusted seller with a warranty), and with Paypal (even more buyer protection). I bought a refurbished display model which was in a glass case its whole life, so I didn’t have to worry much about shutter actuations/counts since it was practically brand new. If you do buy a straight up used camera body, ask the seller if they have the shutter count on it. You don’t want to buy a camera too high in them because it could mean the body is nearing the end of its shutter life expectancy. Not good. Use this chart as a reference for shutter counts.
Then as soon as your camera arrives, read your entire manual book, learn to shoot on manual (from the first click!), then push your camera to the max. Yeah, you have an amateur DSLR camera. But it’s really not about the camera. It’s about you cultivating your skills with that camera.
Now that you have your camera, you need a beginner lens. I strongly suggest purchasing a camera body alone and then getting a good lens to go with it. You’ll not only save money, but you’ll also start off on the right foot since most kit lenses are — for lack of a better term — crap. My lens of choice was the “Nifty Fifty“: the 50 1.8. For $89, you can get a fast, prime (fixed focal length) lens that creates yummy bokeh. I personally love low aperture (1.2, 1.4, 1.8) prime lenses over zoom lenses. This allows you to learn a focal length inside and out so you know which lens to grab for the exact situation or effect you want while also insuring great images in low light.
Now that I’ve shared my first photography purchases I scored for under $500, let me share a few images these two created together!
Canon Rebel XSi — 50mm, f/4.0, 1/200 sec, ISO 100:
Canon Rebel XSi — 50mm, f/2.5, 1/2,500 sec, ISO 100:
Canon Rebel XSi — 50mm, f/2.5, 1/500 sec, ISO 100:
Canon Rebel XSi — 50mm, f/4.0, 1/30 sec, ISO 100:
Canon Rebel XSi — 50mm, f/2.8, 1/2,500 sec, ISO 100:
Once you have some money saved up, upgrade your lenses first before upgrading your camera body. You want to push your camera to the limits to justify new one. But more importantly, you want quality glass. My second lens was a 35 1.4L, my first really big photography purchase. That lens alone cost more than my first body and first lens together. But I didn’t make that purchase until 7 months after I began photography and only after I’d rented it to make sure it was worth the moolah.
Here are a few images using the Rebel plus the 35 1.4. You can tell how much an upgrade in lenses (and experience) affects the image.
Canon Rebel XSi — 35mm, f/1.4, 1/320 sec, ISO 100:
Canon Rebel XSi — 35mm, f/1.4, 1/160 sec, ISO 100:
Canon Rebel XSi — 35mm, f/1.4, 1/400 sec, ISO 100:
So there you have it! My “secrets” to beginning photography on a budget! I wanted so desperately to succeed in photography, but I knew that by spending as little as possible in the beginning, I would have much less to lose if I didn’t. As the fabulous Jasmine Star has stated on many occasion, if you fail at starting a photography business, at least you’ll have a really nice camera and lens for your personal life.
I hope this helps you make a wiser decision when it comes to making the big leap into photography equipment!
To see more “Golden Mean” FAQs, click here. As always, feel free to ask any questions about this post or a question you’d like answered in a future post. And Nikon shooters, feel free to add to this conversation with your suggestions for a first camera and lens!