Really just want to take some cute pictures of my kid.
August 16, 2010 8:07 AM   Subscribe

I want to buy an entry-level dSLR for everyday toddler/family pictures. Should I go with a Nikon D80 or a Canon Rebel Xsi? And which lens(es)?

I'm fixing to buy my very first dSLR ever, and I desperately need the wise hive mind's help in deciding which one to get. Initially, at least, I would be using this camera pretty much ONLY to take day-to-day snapshots of family. Thus, it's mostly important to me to find a camera/lens combo that works for medium-to-close-range shots of people (and in particular, of a very mobile toddler). Macro, evening, landscapes, video, etc. are less important.

What I want out of the equipment, in order of importance:
  • Decent bokeh (probably the biggest reason I want an SLR. I've tried faking this in Photoshop, and the results weren't pretty)
  • Low distortion
  • Sharp, bright shots with good detail
  • Low noise both outdoors and indoors, in reasonable lighting conditions (my current p&s is hella soft and noisy)
  • Overall usability when I'm in a hurry-- which, let's face it, is pretty much all the time when you have kids.
On my shortlist are the Canon Rebel Xsi and the Nikon D80 (skipped over the D40/60 because of the lack of on-board autofocus). But after reading a billion reviews, I'm having trouble sorting through the details to see what would really be most important for my particular purposes. Live view, various qualities of kit lens, Nikon vs. Canon lens systems in general-- which of these will actually matter to me?

In the case of the D80, I'm also wondering about the implications of buying a very old model. I'd probably have to get a rebuilt/used version-- is that a horrible idea for a long-term purchase? Will the fact that it's an older model mean that I'll have trouble finding support or accessories in the future?

And lastly. I am totally out of my depth in thinking about lenses for this. I think I want to get 1 zoom lens (possibly the kit lens?) + 1 prime, but would a 50mm/1.8 prime be better, or do I need a 35mm? And given that I'll be shooting portraits, should I try to add or substitute a cheapie manual-focus zoom for an expensive auto-zoom?

My total budget is ~$800, and this would be partly a Christmas present, so if anybody has any vendor/shopping tips between now and December, I'd also love to hear them!

1. Which intro SLR should I buy for toddler snapshots?
2. Also, which lenses?
3. And where?
posted by Bardolph to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend the the Panasonic GF1.
It is small and as good or better than the other ones you list. Also is in your pricerange. Either of the kit lenses that it comes with are amazing.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:11 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lack of on-board autofocus? Only for old lenses. All new lenses will auto-focus just fine. I shoot Canon myself, and I'm happy with my (XTi) Rebel, but Nikon's just fine too.

I'd suggest the 35 for your first prime, since that'll be about normal for you. The Canon 35 f/2 is great, though quite noisy - as in audio; it's optically great. Dunno about Nikon's equivalent.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:11 AM on August 16, 2010

For beautiful toddler/child pictures, take a look at a Nifty Fifty lens for whichever camera you choose. Really affordable (or it was for my Nikon) and oustanding results, especially for portraits.
posted by jquinby at 8:18 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd recommend you try and play with both cameras for a while (maybe even rent them?). Nikon vs. Canon is very close and either will be perfectly fine for your needs - it'll really come down to personal preference, how the camera feels in your hands.
posted by alaijmw at 8:18 AM on August 16, 2010

The bokeh is driven by the lens not the body. The 50mm lenses suggested above will get that for you at a cheap price. Don't focus too much on this though - eventually you'll get tired of that look.

Arguing over Canon vs Nikon is IMO a waste of time. Go out there and feel the cameras- which ever one feels good in your hands and is priced well for you get that.
posted by JPD at 8:31 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

For your needs either a Canon or a Nikon will work fine. They both have full auto modes. They both are more less identical in terms of functionality. Go try either out and see which you like more. If you know someone who can lend you equipment, go with whatever system they have.

If you are interested in background blur that's a function of the f-stop and the distance you are from the subject. (Bokeh is a term used to describe the 'quality' of how a lens renders its out of focus area. It's also the stupidest word on the planet.) Since you are taking pictures of babies, you probably want something a little telephoto so you don't have to get all up in their face. I'd get the cheapest 50mm lens you can, which should be a 50mm f/1.8. A 50mm prime is going to be stupid sharp, especially when compared to most zoom-lenses. Of course, when taking pictures of people, you really don't want a lens that is clinically sharp.

Eventually you will want to get a 28 to 35mm lens, and that will be a 'normal' lens on your crop body camera.
posted by chunking express at 8:31 AM on August 16, 2010

Definitely go with either Canon or Nikon. While other manufacturers often have quality bodies, the meat of the SLR is the lens... and both Canon and Nikon have excellent lens lineups, plus lots of compatible third-party lenses, plus cheap converters for oddball lenses.

This is the biggest drawback of going "third party."
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:36 AM on August 16, 2010

Best answer: I would recommend the XSi, but I'm a Canon guy. When I bought my XTi, the kit lens was junk, so I just bought the body and got the 18-55 zoom lens that is the current kit lens with the XSi. At 18mm, it gets okay bokeh (does that rhyme?) if you're close to the subject. But I would try both brands and read pro reviews discussing advantages/disadvantages of each-- you want people who've had extensive hands-on time with both.

Primes are tough on a crop-factor camera (everything up to the Canon 5d). The 50mm f/1.8 is great... if you can manage to get ten feet away from your subject. But it's cheap, which helps. I have the 35mm f/2 that Tomorrowful mentioned, which I think is a good compromise. 28 would be even better, but it's more expensive yet.

I recommend the aperture-priority mode if you want as narrow a depth-of-field as possible-- just keep it cranked low and choose the right ISO for your surroundings.

This isn't immediately relevant, but you might also look to see which high-end camera from both companies you like better. Once you have a bag full of lenses compatible with X, you tend to stick with X unless you're rather well-off.

Also: BATTERY GRIP. It doesn't have to be name brand-- I have this one. It's truly brilliant to not have to charge your camera and swap out batteries constantly. Plus-- portrait-orientation shutter button and controls!
posted by supercres at 8:51 AM on August 16, 2010

Best answer:
Thus, it's mostly important to me to find a camera/lens combo that works for medium-to-close-range shots of people (and in particular, of a very mobile toddler).
Get the 35mm prime lense at f/2.0. The 50mm will require greater distance between you and the subject, often more than is available indoors, and you will experience frustration as you try to compose shots.

The Canon and Nikon are both great cameras, of course. They'll suit your needs just fine. Ultimately, you're buying into a camera ecosystem -- the more lenses and accessories you acquire, the more you're committed to a particular brand.

People are prone to disparage the 18-55mm kit lens as if it's useless junk, but that's nonsense. The Canon model will take beautiful pictures under the right conditions (i.e., decent light), and the IS is an added plus. Picture quality will be impacted much more by the skill and experience of the photographer, which is generally lower in the case of a new photographer using the kit lens. The narrower aperture range means you won't get strong bokeh, which is where your wide-aperture prime comes into play.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:25 AM on August 16, 2010

Strong recommendation here for buying a brand new camera. The current lower end Nikons and Canons will all be superior to a model as old a a Nikon D80 in terms of operational speed and convenience, quality of the rear LCD display, and "right out of the camera" image quality. Plus, you'll start out with a warranty and a body with zero actuations.

One feature I find especially worthwhile particularly if you ultimately end up with multiple lenses, is a sensor dust removal capability. I thought this was a gimmick for the many years I used DSLR bodies which didn't have it. However, my two primary working cameras both do have it, and I have not ever had to manually clean the images sensors in 30 months and around 50,000 exposures with them. And, I frequently change lenses while on the job.

If I were in your shoes I'd but a new camera with the kit lens and one of the manufacturer's low or mid-line external flash units, so that you have bounce flash capability for a far more natural look than the camera's internal direct flash.

Get that stuff, shoot a ton of pictures,and really learn to use and understand what you have. In the course of doing this you'll eventually figure out what other items you'd really like to have.

There's always a real amen chorus on Metafilter hyping the cheap, fast, 50mm lenses, but for some people, that focal length just doesn't work well, whether it's mounted on a full frame body or a smaller sensor body.
posted by imjustsaying at 9:29 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I bought the Canon after having the same decision to make (for the same reasons--kid pictures) . I reasoned that the differences between Canon and Nikon were not significant for my purposes, so I looked for a sale and eventually bought a display unit Xsi for ~400. It's done well, and I'm currently waiting for a sale on a prime lens. The 50mm 1.8 prime can be had for under $70 occasionally if you price-match.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2010

My daughter bought the Nikon and, though it takes great pictures, it seems finicky. It's broken down several times and it takes several weeks for it to come back from Nikon repairs. Not sure if this is an issue with how she treats it but it doesn't seem very rugged. Back in the old days, ruggedness was definitely part of the Canon brand identity - not sure if this has changed or not.
posted by jasper411 at 9:49 AM on August 16, 2010

I have a Nikon D40 with a 35mm f/1.8 and I love the combination.

I would suggest the new D5000 and the 35mm lens. Plus, the D5000 shoots HD video as well.

Should easily be in your budget. Here's some combo deals from Adorama:

When I got my 35mm it was half the price of the 50mm too.

Here's one of the first shots I took with it to show the depth of field it has:
posted by damionbroadaway at 9:51 AM on August 16, 2010

I take a great many candids of my nieces and nephews and I absolutely adore the 55-250 zoom for ad hoc kid snaps. You can get in nice and tight for head shots no matter how quickly they jet around and the price is brilliant. It isn't the sharpest lens but I've very pleased with the results on little faces. The classic bokeh shot is with a medium zoom around 125 with autumn leaves blurred in the background. You'll get tired of it after a few hundred iterations, but you'll get raves from your Facebook friends. It should only run $75 or so over the kit lens and the longer reach will come in handy so many times for shooting your toddler. I really only end up using the 18-55 for landscapes and group portraits to get the really wide shots and it is not useful for the high speed toddler action shots at all. I think the versatility of the bigger zoom will make it well worth the extra bucks and it isn't as bulky as the big telephotos to carry around.

In terms of the prime, I'm with BurntHombre and others who find the 35mm far more versatile, especially for indoors. I find that the 50 is just awkward in terms of the real world distances I'm usually at from my subjects. It probably doesn't make that much difference because you'll adjust to either one, but it seems to me that I'm always at the wrong distance inside with the 50mm and having to step backwards to get the composition I want. But there is a reason it became the standard lens -- its versatile.

I don't have any insight on the Canon vs Nikon thing. I've just always had a Canon and a passel of lenses and accessories, so it was a no brainer for me. I know plenty of people equally happy with their Nikon who take amazing pictures.
posted by Lame_username at 10:06 AM on August 16, 2010

Best answer: As far as I can see no one has mentioned the fact that the Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f1.8 will autofocus on all Nikon cameras. It's a bit more expensive than the 50mm f1.8, but you might end up spending less overall if you bought it with a D40/D60/etc.

I have both lenses, but prefer the 35mm prime because of the more practical 'normal' angle. I understand that longer lenses are often recommended for portrait photography, but then if you wanted to take close-up, dynamic shots of your child then maybe a wider angle would produce more exciting results, especially if you're inside.

I'm not sure if Canon do an equivalently-priced lens to the Nikon 35mm: their 35mm f2 is $100+ more expensive on Amazon.

Also, your kit lens will be able to shoot at either 35mm or 50mm – why not buy the kits lens before you get a prime, so you can experiment with shooting at both focal lengths before making a decision?
posted by mattn at 10:22 AM on August 16, 2010

Best answer: It's important to note that in the world of SLRs, it's (largely) the lens that matters, not the body. Depth of field, sharpness, zoom—these all depend on the lens you choose.

Since this is your first SLR, you might encounter a larger learning curve than you'd anticipated. Sure, you can just set the camera to full auto, but then, why bother with a higher-end camera at all? Learn to shoot in manual mode, leave the flash off... if you're used to shooting with a regular point and shoot camera, you're going to have to re-train yourself about what is and isn't possible in terms of low lighting, editing, etc.

Keep in mind that a large chunk of your question is Canon v. Nikon, which is, essentially, a matter of taste and/or convenience. If you have a friend with a bunch of Nikon lenses, I'd go with Nikon.

Data point: I shoot Canon, and have been very impressed with both the durability of their equipment and their customer service.
posted by reductiondesign at 10:31 AM on August 16, 2010

As for backwards compatibility, I can only speak for Canon. All Canon lenses are either EF or EF-S. An EF lens will work on any digital Canon SLR; EF-S lenses work with Rebels (and maybe the newer, nicer models like the MKII or the 7D. Don't quote me on that).

I'm sure someone can provide the same sort of insight for Nikon lenses.
posted by reductiondesign at 10:34 AM on August 16, 2010

Since no one else has mentioned it, I'll put in a plug for the Olympus E-PL1. I just got one, and I'm absolutely CRAZY about it. It's about the same price as the Nikon and Canon, comes with a very decent 14-42mm kit lens, and takes astonishingly beautiful program shots. Olympus' "iAuto" setting allows you to trust the camera to decide all the settings, then gives you one-click access to override things like what it calls "background blur" - it's so simple to use. It has the same full manual types of settings as other DSLR-class cameras and takes HD movies.

It's also about half the size and weight of the Nikon and the Canon, which to me was a very significant advantage. By purchasing a flat 20- or 17mm lens nicknamed a "pancake," it's roughly the size of a big point-and-shoot. If the old adage about "the best camera is the one you have right there with you" holds true, the Olympus would be an outstanding choice to just slip into the pocket of the diaper bag when you're out and about. Cute kid photos guaranteed...

Fair warning: the Olympus is a Micro Four Thirds camera. All this means in REAL life is that your legacy Canon, Nikon, etc. lenses can't be mounted on it. If you don't HAVE any of those, it's really not an issue, because the Micro Four Thirds lenses are about the same price as everybody else's.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:45 AM on August 16, 2010

The Olympus PL1 and the Panasonic GF1 (both of which have been recommended) are both Micro Four Thirds camera, which are a newish competitor to dSLR. I have the Panasonic GH1 and love it; definitely give MFT a serious thought. Within the MFT, there are several good choices, including both of these (and the GH1/G2, depending on your needs.) If you do go MFT, the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 is a fantastic lens with decent bokeh. You can also use all sorts of old legacy lenses, but without autofocus and using a very inexpensive adapter. (OneMonkeysUncle turned one of the greatest strengths of MFT into a weakness. Not sure why.)

I recommend reading for reviews of cameras and to see what will meet your needs.
posted by JMOZ at 10:57 AM on August 16, 2010

Best answer: I have the Canon Xsi, the kit lens, the nifty fifty everyone raves about, and the cheapie 55-250 zoom.

I have a toddler, and another baby on the way.

I love the Canon. The nifty fifty is the lens that lives on my camera most of the time. Of the three, it most consistently takes shots that please me, much more than the kit lens or the zoom. That being said, there are times where the 50mm on the crop sensor is too close in, and I often finding myself wishing for a wider angle lens. Then I switch to the kit lens, and grar too slow.

If I had to do it over again, I would probably skip the kit lens completely. And I bought the zoom before stumbling across what for me is the best best best way to figure out what lenses work for you: rent before buying! When it comes to photography, we are each our own special snowflake, and we each have our own priorities and tradeoffs of price/weight/speed/width etc. That's something you'll have to work out for yourself. Which is why...

I am a big fan of It helps that I am local and can just stop by and pick up/drop off, but renting has allowed me to affordably try out lenses without having to commit first, and I think it's a fantastic thing. The downside is that you can rent and fall in love with a really expensive lens, but that's the risk you take. It allows you to test out various models for performance, weight, etc.
posted by ambrosia at 11:46 AM on August 16, 2010

I went through in the Nikon vs. Canon thing about 6 months ago. The one thing that tipped me to the Canon side was the fact that for entry-level DSLRs, only Canons have a depth of field preview button. If you really want to see how much bokeh you're going to get with various apertures, it's a really cool feature to have.
posted by rocket88 at 11:52 AM on August 16, 2010

Best answer: If you must have a DSLR, go with either a Nikon or a Cannon. Those are the two biggies and each has it's enthusiastic user base (I'm a Nikon guy!!!)

I'd recommend a Nikon D40 or D40s as a cheap entry level DSLR that is easy to learn. Don't mistake that for bad, however. I've seen many amazing shots taken with either. I wish my first DSLR had been a D40. Mine was a D50 (the previous model). I was shocked by how much easier of a camera to learn the D40 is.

For Bokeh, (great bokeh, really), get a D40s and a 50mm 1.8 lens. Yeah, the 50mm 1.4 lens will get even better bokeh, but the 50mm 1.8 is really cheap, really sharp, and produces outstanding bokeh.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:08 PM on August 16, 2010

Best answer: I have a Nikon D80 and have found it to be pretty excellent. It's higher on the food chain than the D40/60, but because it's older it's pretty close in price. It does have a depth of field preview button, and does have the autofocus screw for older autofocus lenses.

I got mine refurbished body-only, and when I looked in the firmware it was only showing around 100 shots on the shutter, so basically brand new as far as these things go.

Because it does have the autofocus screw, you can save some money and buy lenses that are "AF"; these are gonna be older lenses but you can get some great deals.

I'd definitely recommend getting a 50mm either at 1.8 or 1.4 for portraits. Because of the 1.5x crop factor on the CCD it'll be basically like a 75mm, and at 1.8 or 1.4, you'll have perfect depth of field for portraits and natural-light photos.

For general purpose photos, the ubiquitous 18-55 that you can get for pretty cheap is very versatile and has pretty good image quality. Build-quality is a bit cheap though, so you'd wanna avoid knocking it around too much.

I'd also look into getting a flash, such as the SB-600. Bounced flash is so much better than full-frontal it's kinda ridiculous.

I would wager that Canon has a similar lineup, so either way is fine, but I'm a Nikon guy so...
posted by Bonky Moon at 12:10 PM on August 16, 2010

Oh, as far as concerns with accessories and support; it's mostly a non-issue. Every Nikon to date has been able to mount any Nikon lens made in the last 30+ years (there's a couple exceptions for the really old ones). At worst you'll find that you have to go fully-manual with a lens. As far as support, you'll be in good company with a D80, I really doubt you'll have problems finding places that will service it.

Fully manual old lenses are fun but not incredibly practical. I have a 50mm 1.4 from 1977-ish that I just adore. It's amazing for posed portrait shots, but can get really frustrating if you're trying to hit a moving target.
At the very least, you want something that has autofocus, an older screw-type autofocus (marked "AF") will be slower to focus than the newer ones that have an internal AF motor (marked as either AF-S for Nikon, HSM for Sigma lenses).
posted by Bonky Moon at 12:28 PM on August 16, 2010

I have a Panasonic Lumix G2, which came in at $799 (before shipping and memory cards on Amazon). One of the main selling points for me was the auto focus point selection. Page 5 of that dpreview gives more detail, but basically, I select my kid's face on the touch screen and it keep's him in focus wherever he runs. This, with the continuous shooting mode, has got me some great photos of him charging around.
posted by IanMorr at 2:55 PM on August 16, 2010

Sorry, I skimmed - did anyone mention this? Because it's what I want next and it seem like something you could take anywhere.

Sony Alpha NEX-5

Here's David Pogue's NY Times review
posted by nnk at 4:24 PM on August 16, 2010

I bought the Rebel XTi three years ago before our little dude was born, and went with the 28mm/1.8 instead of a kit. My wife then bought the 50mm/1.8 as a gift, and I love both lenses. The 28 is great because I'm rarely too close to use it; the 50 is good if you're sitting around while the kid is all over the place playing. (An example of the bokeh you can get with the 28 opened up to 2.0.)

I wanted to use available light instead of the flash whenever possible, so that helped me learn how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO all relate. (Like supercres mentioned, I shoot in Aperture Priority almost exclusively.)
posted by DakotaPaul at 5:11 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know much about the rebel-level bodies, but I would suggest 2 things to consider.

One is that taking pictures of very mobile children can be challenging for an autofocus system and lens. The Canon 50mm f1.8 is a great lens, but its focusing motor is slow (and kinda loud) because it's the older micromotor technology, not ultrasonic, and autofocus can have a hard time when the aperture is opened up. Not being able to focus quickly enough on your subject can be really irritating and makes you lose shots. Relatedly, you may want to consider the size of the body's buffer; for fast moving subjects, you may want to be able to hold down the button and fire off 4-5 shots at a clip without worrying that the buffer can't keep up. I know that the older rebel-level bodies had a relatively small buffer, so if you shot say 5 frames in a row, the buffer would fill up and you couldn't take another picture until the buffer freed up. Very irritating (and hopefully that has been fixed).

Second, you should budget for an external flash. This will be important indoors. You don't want to be forced to open up your aperture just to be able to use available light, since shallow DOF might not be what you're going for, and you also don't want to be forced to bump up your ISO to too-noisy levels. While the onboard flash is helpful in a pinch, you probably know well that direct flash is unflattering. An external flash gives you much more acceptable flexibility, because you can bounce the light off the ceiling or walls. You will be very happy that you can take nice pictures at all hours of the day or where the light is poor.
posted by odin53 at 5:11 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

nthing a micro four-thirds camera. I have a GF1. It's such a great little camera at $800 on Amazon currently. There's a lot of reviews on the web. You should serious consider it.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 2:59 AM on August 17, 2010

Best answer: Lots of advice in this thread.

You don't sound like a photo geek so you probably don't care about the differences between Nikon & Canon - which are more historical than anything else - unless you're planning on buying all the amazing used (and cheap) old Nikon manual focus lenses.

You want photos that have good Bokeh (small depth of field, back/foreground gently out of focus).

You also want photos that are sharp.

You also want a camera that will do this without a lot of fuss.

You want it for under $800.

1. Bokeh.

Bokeh means a narrow depth of field - very little is in focus, and the out of focus stuff looks nice.

This is (put briefly) a function of three things.

a) The Aperture & lens. The larger the aperture (smaller numbers) the smaller the area you can put into focus. Large apertures are also good for low light photography - they let in a lot of light. The focal length (wide, tele, normal) and the quality of the glass itself also plays a role.

b) The distance between you & the subject vs. the distance between the subject and background. Everything is relative. A depth of field of 6 inches at five feet may be 20 inches at twenty feet. If you're not getting bokeh with your camera now, it may make sense to learn how to produce bokeh with your camera now - keep your subject much closer to you than the background.

c) Your or your camera's ability to focus on your subject.

Which brings us to

2. Sharp Photos.

Sharp photos are a result of a few things.

a) Your or your camera's ability to put what you want in focus, in focus. This is working against Bokeh here - if Bokeh is blur, then sharp photos are the opposite of blur. Bokeh needs a narrow depth of field, sharp photos prefer a wider depth of field (larger areas in focus).

b) Smaller aperture (larger numbers) will put more area into focus.

c) No stray light hitting the lens - if stray light hits the lens, it'll cause a "haze" over the image that will make the image less contrasty & sharp looking.

d) The quality of the glass.

e) Fast shutter speed so you don't shake the camera & any fast moving objects stay don't blur, which in turn is tied to "film speed" which may introduce noise (and aperture, but let's ignore that for now).

3) The abiity to pick up your camera & do this easily.

So you're asking for a camera that you can pick up on the fly, and take pictures of quickly moving objects (kids), keep the kids in focus, put the background out of focus, without you having to do much thinking, in low light conditions, and for under $800 camera & lens included.

That's a bit of a tall order.

Here's what I'd recommend.

1. Get a Canon G11. The lens, low light performance and autofocus are all decent, it's cheaper and compact enough that you'll actually take it with you.

2. I'm a Nikon guy, so the D80 with kit lens and a 50mm 1.8 sounds great. I use my 50mm 1.8 all the time. Get rubber lens hoods, which will help protect the lens from impact and reduce the aforementioned stray light. Learn how to use the camera's on board autofocus and don't shoot wide open at 1.8 and expect your kids to be sharp - stop down to f/4.0 - you get less bokeh, but you get more in focus kids. You can shoot at f/1.8 but don't expect every photo to be tack sharp - the depth of field is so small that the tip of the nose can be in focus, but the rear eye won't be.

The 1.8 is the lens I use the most for portraits. You can see some of my 50mm portraits here. It's a good focal length - not much distortion & you can stay close enough to the model to direct them.

Down the line, you can get a 70-200mm zoom if you like. Don't be afraid to go off-brand and used to save some money.

Your photos will improve from having an SLR, but if you're not a good photographer & you don't know how to get Bokeh already, don't expect magic to happen.

Get the el-cheapo SB-400 flash, which has just enough options to bounce flash and is small enough to take with you. It'll also help keep the camera from running the batteries down when using flash. And one of my favorite new accessories - the $10 Strobies On Camera Diffuser, which will soften the light coming out of the flash.

Support for the Nikon line is strong - you can use lenses going back to the 1970's (which you can't say about Canon), and I don't know what accessories would be D80 specific that you have to worry about a lack of support. I have a D200 that I got used and it's still a great camera.
posted by MesoFilter at 1:41 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to update: I ended up getting a moderately sweet deal on a manufacturer-refurbished Rebel Xsi with kit lens (public service note: Canon has a "loyalty program" offering substantial discounts on refurbished DSLRs if you can send in an existing broken Canon dgital in exchange), and later purchased a 35mm f/2.0 lens, mostly for sharper portraits and indoor shots.

I adore my Rebel and have found the learning curve very manageable, although I'm sure I'm still only taking advantage of like 5% of what the camera has to offer. External flash and battery grip are on my wishlist. Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to help educate a photography newbie on the complicated ins and outs of camera shopping!
posted by Bardolph at 9:54 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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