Low-end used Nikon DSLR for a beginner
October 14, 2010 12:45 PM   Subscribe

What's a good used Nikon DSLR for a beginner? Any models out there that also do video? Looking to spend $300-$400 on the camera body, another $200-$300 on a lens and I have no idea at which of the zillion models to focus my eBay searches on.

I'm a beginner, never owned a DSLR, but I'm jealous of the vastly superior photo quality my buddies' cameras produce. They all have and love their Nikons, so if I'm going to start investing in lenses I'd like to stick to Nikon (or am I too much of a n00b to be worrying about things like that?).

I'd love video, but if it's not possible in this price range then I can live without it.

What do I plan to photograph? People at parties, vacation shots, my future kids, etc.

The lens I'm looking to get is a used Sigma 18-200mm and I'm basing that on this comment and because Sigma lenses seem to be cheaper than Nikons. Is this a good choice to replace my 4X zoom P&S PowerShot?

And finally, should I be looking at sites other than eBay for used camera stuff?

Thanks for your help, I've been reading previous AskMes but I'm looking at the low-end and the marketplace changes very quickly so I'm afraid of relying on older answers.
posted by exhilaration to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The D0 is a great model that ken rockwell thinks is a great beginner's dslr. I'd also suggest sticking with nikkor glass as ken says about the sigma/tamron:

Tamron and Sigma have dinky new lenses with the same zoom range, but they are primitive lenses missing some or all of the other features which make the Nikon 18-200mm such a breakthrough. It's not just the optical range and quality, it's how well it all works together.

He's not a god photo/camera god, I just trust his reviews.
posted by TheBones at 1:09 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

D40, sorry
posted by TheBones at 1:10 PM on October 14, 2010

In that price range, you'll probably want to look at the D40, D40x or D60. You can compare them on dpreview to see which model has the best specs for you. None of these will autofocus with non-AF-S lenses, but you're not going to get that unless you want to go older and get a used D50 or D70, mayyyybe a D80 if you're really lucky.

You're probably not going to get video in that price range and you're definitely not going to get usable video (even video on the D90 isn't that great, doesn't track focus while shooting).

If you want to photograph people, especially indoors (parties, future kids etc), this lens will serve you well, and it will autofocus on all of the models I listed above.

For $200 or so, the base 18-55mm VR kit lens is a pretty decent value for still subjects and will give you a wider perspective. The Sigma lens will give you that 55-200 reach, but will be pretty useless indoors (it's a slow lens). If you do go with the Sigma, make sure you are able to test it out before you buy. Some third party lenses are notorious about misfocusing issues. Don't know for sure about this particular model though. Personally, I would prefer the Nikon 18-55 + 55-200 combo over the Sigma all-in-one, but I also don't mind switching lenses.

I would say spend less on the camera and more on the lenses. Any of the models I listed will be more than enough camera if you're just starting out.

Also, be really careful with ebay. If possible, try to find something on your local Craigslist that you can actually get in your hand and inspect the quality of before you drop the cash.
posted by crosbyh at 1:10 PM on October 14, 2010

I've had a nikon D70 for years and still love it. I know people who have the D90 and swear by it, as well.

I'm a fan of prime lenses and always encourage people to go for the Nikkor 50mm/1.8. Nifty 50, it's the one I shoot with most. Guess it depends on what you want to shoot too...The 50mm/1.4 will set you back more money, if you can do it, then go for it, but know the 1.8 is a stellar lens for not that much.
posted by gertrude at 1:13 PM on October 14, 2010

D70 owner here. It's the perfect backup camera; I doubt I will ever sell it. The thing is a tank and works perfectly after several years and tens of thousands of shutter actuations.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:36 PM on October 14, 2010

or am I too much of a n00b to be worrying about things like that?).

given your budget and your newbdom and willingness to buy used I think you shouldn't decide between canon and nikon untill you've actually seen what's out there to buy.

There's nothing more pointless then c vs n arguments. I have had canons - why you ask? because when I bought my first DSLR Canon's model I liked more and it was cheaper.

(I hate shooting 50 mm on a cropped sensor - I think its useless - different strokes et al)
posted by JPD at 1:38 PM on October 14, 2010

Didn't see anyone mention the D5000. This one shares the same sensor as the D90, but is cheaper and comes with an articulating LCD screen. If you're really serious about getting your feet wet with DSLR video, this is probably the cheapest Nikon DSLR I can think of to get started. It's not a bad camera either and great to get started on.

For lenses, an 18-200 is great as an all-around walk-about outdoor lens. I'd suggest the Nikon 35mm F/1.8 lens as well. Very small, lightweight, decent indoor/night pics (you mentioned parties?) and the D5000 at ISO3200 is fairly usable.
posted by liquoredonlife at 2:38 PM on October 14, 2010

From what I've seen, the D5000 used is still a on the upper boundary or out of the price range given by the OP. It has the same limitations on video as the D90 in that it won't autofocus or let you make adjustments to the settings after you start recording. To me, this puts the video feature into squarely into "nice to have, but not worth buying for" territory. I think that with a budget of about $700, it makes sense to get less camera and more lens.

Choosing between Canon/Nikon is definitely a matter of preference, but if you have friends with Nikon cameras and some lenses that you could borrow and play around with from time to time, that's probably good enough reason to start out with Nikon.
posted by crosbyh at 3:16 PM on October 14, 2010

@TheBones: You may trust KRW, but he asks you not to trust him :)

@OP: The budget you have is pretty low, was going to suggest perhaps a D80, however you may need to look at earlier models, like a D70? There are other entry level models like the d40x, D60 etc, however these models lack the focusing motor, and are unable to autofocus with certain lenses. Apart from ebay, you might want to check used places like keh.com

Re: Sigma 18-200 - if possible, avoid! It is very slow at the long end at F6.3; Nikon's own 18-200 is relatively slow, but still at F5.6. F5.6 is supposedly Nikon's slowest aperture that allows autofocus. The sigma lens is pushing it. I personally have owned 3 sigma lenses, all have failed at some point in their life. I now use only same-brand lenses.

Would suggest looking at the 18-55vr for your first lens, and perhaps adding the 55-200vr at a later date to compliment it (My personal combo for travel is 16-85 + 70-300vr).

Also, before you make the purchase, what exactly is "vastly superior photo quality"? If it's technical quality you are after, and your friends have the latest and greatest, whatever camera you purchase at this price point is probably not going to offer up much competition.

Digital photography is actually fairly expensive; apart from my camera gear, I have also additional equipment such as
- IPS Monitor (8 bit per channel, not the 7 bit per channel on most TN lcds)
- Colorimeter
- Calibration software
- Raw processing software
- Printer maybe, if you are going that far.

I personally prefer slrs for my photography, but a P&S in the hands of a good photographer is nothing to sneeze at.

I use Nikon because out of the few systems I've tried (minolta, canon, nikon) - nikon provides me the fastest way around the camera. Funny thing is, I actually prefer the handling of the cheaper Canons versus the more expensive models (lol).

Oh, as an addendum: if you are shooting indoors, budget for an external flash, and read up on flash techniques* once you've understood ambient exposure.


Oh, you might also want to jump in the nikon section at photo.net ;-) Lots of answers there.
posted by TrinsicWS at 4:01 PM on October 14, 2010

In your case go Nikon one way or the other.

The reason is that your buddies will be able to be more helpful in terms of "tech support" and answering your questions than they will if you have a camera from a different manufacturer.

My answer has nothing to do with the relative merits of one brand over another.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:48 AM on October 15, 2010

I bought a new D60 with an 18-55 a year and a half ago for about $450, so I'd be surprised if you couldn't find a used D60 body for less. You might be able to snag a used D5000 for $400 soon, as the camera is rumoured to be out of production now (the implication being that it's due for a replacement). Generally speaking, the hierarchy of bodies you should probably be looking at is something like this:

D40 <>
Though the only reason the D40 is at the bottom of the list is because it's only 6 megapixels; the tradeoff is it's actually supposed to be a bit better in low-light conditions than the D40x/D60. The D90 is at the top of the list because unlike all the other cameras you might be able to buy, the D90 has a built-in autofocus motor, meaning you won't have to worry nearly as much about whether your camera can autofocus with older AF-D lenses (of which the cheap 50/1.8 is one; to get a fully usable 50 on a D40/D60/D5000 you need to buy the 50/1.4 AF-S, which is closer to $500). On the other hand, good luck getting a used D90 body for $400.

Incidentally, this is one of the few convincing reasons to start with Canon rather than Nikon—far fewer worries over whether your camera will auto-focus with lens X, and easy access to the cheap 50mm prime. Video is the other convincing reason; you'll have to decide whether you want or need better video capabilities. Chances are you don't.

As for lenses, you have a choice. You can get the kit lens, which will give you some flexibility because of the zoom range; or you can get the 35/1.8, which has no zoom and lacks reach (so it's definitely not a portrait lens) but works much better in low-light and will almost certainly get more use if you plan to take a lot of party pics, indoor shots, shots of kids, etc. My kit lens sits in a closet, still in the original box, having been used maybe twice or three times for actual photography (as opposed to "ooh I got a shiny new camera let's try it out!"). My 35 goes with me everywhere. I even use it at concerts!
posted by chrominance at 5:56 AM on October 15, 2010

er, sorry, I think the HTML filters ate part of my post. The list, in order from worst to best (relatively speaking):

posted by chrominance at 5:58 AM on October 15, 2010

Getting the "vastly superior photos" like your buddies does not have to mean getting a DSLR. You sound like you want a camera that takes good reliable and sometimes stunning pictures. I would recommend reading and understanding photographic techniques and composition skills and you`ll be amazed how much better your photos look.

As for gear, DSLRs for generic, all-purpose photography is just more $$ for same, often poorer results as you`ll be increasingly frustrated with the effort you need to put in to get good pictures with it. Look at the Canon S90 or the G10 - those pack a lot of power in $400 bodies, is easy to learn and use, and gives you the flexibility to experiment with a ton of settings etc.,
posted by cusecase at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2010

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