Help me buy a camera?
September 25, 2011 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I want a digital SLR. Which one and what accessories?

I have about $750 in credit and have been wanting a digital SLR for years. I still have a film Canon EOS Rebel G and the 28-80mm lens it came with (though it could use a cleaning) so I want a dslr that the lens would work with. I'm looking for gear that is appropriate for an advanced amateur or beginning professional. Specifically, I am interested in gear that would be useful for portraits, macro shots, and/or landscapes.

I want a camera body (obviously), but also lens, protective gear, and accessories recommendations. (And anything else you can think of.) Because of the $750 limit, does that mean I should be looking at used gear? I would definitely sacrifice newness if that means I can buy higher quality equipment.

So far, I have looked at Canon T1i, T2i, and XSi cameras and a 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Ultimately, anything you recommend must satisfy two conditions: able to be found on and compatible with Canon.
posted by mewohu to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Just FYI, that lens really isn't good enough to limit your decision to a single brand (Canon). It's worth maybe $50-$70, and on a crop-body DSLR it'll have the not so useful range of 48mm - 136mm.

Don't get me wrong, Canon makes great cameras, but if you're essentially starting from scratch with no (or very minimal) investment in glass, you might as well consider the m4/3 systems and the Sony NEX cameras, not to mention DSLR systems from other manufacturers.
posted by unmake at 6:27 PM on September 25, 2011

Best answer: The 28-80mm lens isn't a very well regarded lens. The "Nifty Fifty" 50mm f1/8 is an excellent purchase. The 18-55mm IS (image stabilized) kit lens is also pretty good.

You don't specify the kind of photography you're doing. This affects your choice of camera and lenses. I agree with unmake; don't be held back by the fact that you have a pretty old and underwhelming lens. On the other hand, I shoot Canon and find their products to be excellent.

All of the current Canon cameras are excellent. I would recommend you purchase better lenses and lesser bodies. You'll upgrade the body eventually, but a great lens will last forever. The technology of DSLR bodies continues to improve, but lenses really haven't advanced at anything like the same pace.

You'll have to look around on Amazon and see what deals you can get.

Some references for suggestions:
posted by blob at 6:32 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Used Rebel XSi with the 18-55 IS (don't get the non-IS version).

Shoot. A lot. Shoot more than you think you should. When you start feeling limited because you lack a certain focal length, look into something from that focal length.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:06 PM on September 25, 2011

Best answer: The 550D/T2i/Kiss 4 is great, and the kit EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is quite decent for the price. You'll get roughly the same zoom range as you're used to with the 28-80mm on your 35mm film camera.

For portraits, the 50mm f/1.8 (equiv. 80mm on an APS-C body?) is very good for the $100 it costs. Also tiny and light, so it doesn't weigh you down.

If you find you need more range, get the EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS, which is remarkably sharp considering the $200 price, but you'd still bust your budget.

You could get an older, used body, but it really depends on what you want to do with it. The 550D takes better video than the previous models. The 600D basically just added a swiveling screen as far as I can tell.

The Sony NEX, recommended above, is a really cool camera and takes great pictures, but I was shooting with a friend's one and found it less... fun. The controls were a bit cumbersome, and I really missed an optical viewfinder.
posted by Aiwen at 7:29 PM on September 25, 2011

If you plan to do any video, don't get a lesser canon camera than the t2i. The lower models do not shoot proper HD video. While you will still be able to watch the video that they record (if they do in fact record, I don't know if all of the models do), they will give you weird files with strange frame rates, and other issues that will make editing them and doing anything with them later very difficult.

The t3i with the 18-55 is kit lens and the 50mm 1.8 would be a great combination. The 50mm will allow you to do the more artsy shallow focus stuff, and the kit lens will work great for an all purpose lens.
posted by markblasco at 8:09 PM on September 25, 2011

Go to a store and try one. The feel of the camera and its operation should suit you, as you'll have to use it for a while. Ergonomics matter! Don't get anything you won't be happy toting a lot more all over the place.
posted by Strudel at 8:46 PM on September 25, 2011

Keep in mind that the crop factor on digital slrs means that your lenses will have different focal lengths. A 50mm lens will be equivalent to an 85mm lens if you use it on a digital slr. If you want a 50mm equivalent you need to use a 35mm lens.
posted by twblalock at 1:08 AM on September 26, 2011

For clarification, a 50mm lens will have a viewing angle of a 75mm lens on a 35mm camera if used on a Nikon DX format SLR; not an 85mm.

I'd start out with a Nikon or Canon entry level model, and after you thoroughly familiarize yourself with it's capabilities you can figure out what accessories or additional lenses you'd most like to add.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:50 AM on September 26, 2011

Response by poster: I know the lens I already have isn't that good, but I am familiar with Canon and don't want to waste anything if I can help it. I have used a few different types of dslrs (all borrowed) but I've found that Canon normally feels the most comfortable in terms of ergonomics and operation.

Can anyone with experience with them explain how big of a step in quality it is from the T2i to the T3i?
posted by mewohu at 7:49 AM on September 26, 2011

Can anyone with experience with them explain how big of a step in quality it is from the T2i to the T3i?

posted by Sticherbeast at 7:57 AM on September 26, 2011

Best answer: For your budget, I would definitely go with used gear. I'm a hobby photographer, my girlfriend is a professional, and we both prefer Canon gear. With your constraints (budget/Amazon) and the kind of photos you want to take, your best bet will be to get a crop-sensor camera body and at least one more lens.

The sensor in a digital camera is what records the light entering through the lens (apologies if I'm telling you what you already know here). Full-frame sensors record an image equivalent to a 35mm camera, such as the EOS Rebel G you already own. A crop-sensor camera has a smaller sensor, which affects the image in a few ways, mainly zoom and depth of field. You'll notice the difference when you use a crop-sensor digital camera in that the lens will look like it's zooming further, and your depth of field will generally be shallower, than what you might be used to on your 35mm film camera. So your 28-80 kit lens will feel a bit different. blob is right about the 28-80 not having a great reputation, but you certainly shouldn't get rid of it and you probably won't notice much of a difference in the glass quality until you do a fair amount of shooting with other lenses. Your budget doesn't allow for high-quality glass anyway.

In terms of lenses and types of photos: your 28-80 kit lens will shoot at 48mm-136mm on a Canon crop-sensor camera. This isn't very wide at the low end, which means it's not especially good for landscapes. At a 48mm equivalent, it's a useful zoom range for portraits, but at f3.5 your depth of field isn't very shallow, so it's not great overall for portraits. The minimum focusing distance is 1.3 feet, so it's not a macro lens either. You're not going to find a single lens in your budget range that will be good for all three of these purposes. That said, you can make a good start at it. The standard starting lens is the 50mm f1.8, aka the "nifty fifty," and for good reason. It's a bargain at $100, it's good for portraits, it's pretty sharp, and you'll likely be using it for a long time, even if you upgrade your camera body later to a mid-range or pro-level camera. Generally speaking, you get more bang for your buck with prime lenses over zoom lenses, so in your situation you should definitely focus (ahem) on a prime lens.

If you were to spend all your budget on a body only, you could get a decent used mid-range body like a 50D. However, you probably wouldn't be satisfied taking portraits, macro shots, or landscapes with the lens you have. If I were you, I'd get the nifty fifty lens and put the rest of your Amazon money into a used crop-sensor body. If you ever want to shoot video on your camera, you'll want to get a body with a DIGIC 4 processor like the T2i (aka 550D). In fact, in your situation I would get a used T2i at $560. If you can fit a used T2i with the 18-55mm kit lens into your budget, that would be worthwhile - the 18-55 is a better lens than your 28-80, and would be more versatile for landscapes especially. Look here for a handy chart comparing specifications on Canon bodies, including a timeline. You should definitely go to a local camera shop and handle some of these cameras. Ergonomics is a legitimate consideration, and you should know what you're buying.

This leaves you $90 to spend on accessories. A backpack- or sling-style camera bag is quite useful if you'll be walking around with your camera, and I'd sink the majority of $90 into one of these. The Lowepro slingshot series is handy, as well as some of the Tamrac ones. You won't need a tripod yet unless the kind of landscape shots you want to take includes night-time shots, like downtown city skylines or long-exposure sky shots. You likely won't use a remote switch much if you got one at this point. If you want to take outdoor portraits, you might consider getting a reflector and/or diffusor.

I'd shoot (a LOT!) on the nifty fifty and your kit lens, and if later you find yourself feeling limited by the lenses, look into adding to your lineup. You can rent lenses at most camera shops these days, which should help you decide.

On preview - see that link above for a side-by-side comparison of the T2i vs. the T3i. They're essentially the same camera in terms of specs (processor, ISO range, MP, screen res), the T3i is a year newer and has an articulating screen. I'd go for the T2i.

Good luck!
posted by hootenatty at 8:00 AM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would go the opposite direction and buy a lower end body with a couple of nice lenses - more flexibility, and more bang for buck in my opinion. The difference between two bodies is small, but an extra lens is a huge result.
And to be frank, a lot of the advice in this thread assumes you are a whole lot more into photography than somebody buying their first dSLR. Save some money by buying a low end kit until you know what you want.
For what it's worth, my dSLR is Pentax and I have a bunch of old manual lenses that I bought for pocket money on ebay. That is enough gear to take some pretty good pictures.
posted by bystander at 4:58 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just learned something new about lens selection for portraits - changing focal lengths often changes the way facial proportions appear in your photos. The 50mm lens most closely approximates the human eye in terms of field of view and depth perception. This article explains.
posted by hootenatty at 9:46 PM on October 5, 2011

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