Any good sub $400 used dslrs for online product shots?
November 11, 2011 5:03 PM   Subscribe

I need a good, used dslr for my online (Etsy) product shots. Hoping to pay $400 or less (including lens). Looking for advance on both camera/lens & where I should be searching to purchase.

Hello MetaFilter,

I am an artist who recently started posting his work on Etsy and it has become very apparent that I need a better camera than the little point and shoot I am currently using. My camera knowledge is above novice level but not by much. My art ranges in size from roughly 35"x35", to smaller pieces approximately 7"x 7". Due to the nature of my work, I would like to take high resolutions shots to show off the detail.

Based on the research I've done, I believe a 4/3's micro would be the best fit for my needs; something like the Sony Nex5, or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 however both of these are outside of my budget. This is why I am looking for used dslr recommendations.

- What new/used cameras would you recommend in the sub $400 (w/lens) category?

- For used cameras, do you have any recommended vendors/websites?

Thanks, MetaFilter. :)
posted by ogunther to Technology (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Will you be only using this camera for studio photography? Are you fine with manual focus?

The size advantage of the NEX and Micro 4/3 cameras are irrelevant for studio photography, but it will be nice to mount old glass, as long as you don't need autofocus. You could get an OM or K mount adapter and then pick up quality old lenses for a song.

(Alternatively, you could just get any Pentax DSLR and use old K glass without an adapter!)
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:33 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

B&H used cameras or KEH have cameras starting from $200 and above.

As far as cameras go, any Canon EOS 400 or later model, Nikon D70 or D80, or newer models like D3000, Canon EOS XS should work. I would think 10 megapixels is a good start for the resolution. With lenses, focal ranges from 35 - 100 mm should be sufficient. Using lower focal lengths would result in distortion which could be removed in post processing.
posted by ssri at 5:35 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and for used cameras, you should use KEH, with B&H and Adorama trailing closely behind.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:35 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

For Etsy, the prevailing style is pretty much shallow depth of field like this. I can do that with my now-old and now-inexpensive Canon D400 with the stock lens. I can also take regular photos without that lens setting on and they're crisp and retail-ready. My camera knowledge is exactly novice and consists of this camera + full natural light or DIY lightbox + golillapod tripod = acceptable photos.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:37 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the advice/answers everyone. It is much appreciated. To answer some of your questions and perhaps clarify a little:

- Yes this camera will primarily be for product shots; if I can use it for other photography opportunities then that is a bonus but not something that will sway my decision.

- I have much more Photoshop experience than photography experience so I am fairly familiar with doing post processing on photographs (in fact that's how I've managed to make my little point-and-shoot shots adequate when it would otherwise be abysmal)

- 10+ megapixels is what I was thinking as well though I am much more concerned with the size of the cmos sensor and how good it is. If I had to choose I believe I'd go with lower megapixels and better cmos...right?

- As to the 4/3's vs dslr, when I was originally doing research (a few months back) I was planning on using this camera as a family camera as well, thus why the smaller size appealed to me but right now price trumps portability so I'd probably go with a dslr.

- As far as other equipment goes, I have a very nice aluminum tripod, a 2000 Watt Lighting Studio Portrait Kit and a backdrop. While not an ideal setup, it seems to be working well from what I can tell with my current camera.

Thanks again everyone; I really appreciate your responses.
posted by ogunther at 6:14 PM on November 11, 2011

Most dSLR cameras these days (and the ones I mentioned) have at least an APS-C sized sensor which is a big step from the point and shoot sensors. As long as you are shooting with ample light, with low ISO, the noise levels should be quite low. The better ones have full frame sensors, but they are not cheap.
posted by ssri at 6:24 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I dunno, the more recent point n shoots with all-manual settings like the Canon S100 that just came out (or its predecessor the S95), and the fancier Panasonic Lumix DMC series might be good enough. I think the Lumix allows for a hot shoe for external flash triggering if you needed one... if you need flash at all. Usually they have a tripod mount on them if you want to put 'em on one, too. I mean, they're getting pretty freakin' good. At some point in the future (dunno when that might be) I dare say I would not be surprised if the bulk of people out there who don't have to shoot something ultra-specialized (like something moving really fast in nearly pitch blackness, or ginormous landscapes) don't all use some kind of point n shoot sized thing instead of the (D)SLR's of today. And I'm a guy who has shot both film and digital SLR stuff for 10+ years.
posted by bitterkitten at 6:47 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

For what you're doing, if you're using an SLR, sensor quality and megapixel count are not at all important; feel free to cross those off the list.

I would say that more or less all SLRs made since 2004 or so have had sensors that are entirely good enough for what you want to do - including the oldest 6mp CCD models. You're shooting stationary objects with controlled light and support. This eliminates the need for the two things you'd gain from using a newer/better sensors - better performance at high sensitivity, and better dynamic range. You're also shooting for the web, which eliminates the need for many pixels (6mp would be more than enough).

You might want a better sensor for your other uses, but you don't need one for product shots. Unless you are planning on splashing out some cash for better lenses later, you also won't gain anything meaingful by going over 10mp with a kit lens in ANY situation, but you might gain some low-light performance just by having a newer sensor.

Size of the sensor is not an issue - all DSLRs you can afford have approximately the same size. Canons are a little smaller (not meaningfully so), Nikons, Pentaxes, Sonys are all the exact same. Since you've ruled out m4/3s for being more expensive, you're in APS-C territory only (good choice - I am an m4/3 user, but they do cost more than cheap SLRs). That said, if you can find a cheap enough m4/3, it will be fine for this too.

I think you'll be fine with anything you can find from Canon, Nikon, Pentax or Sony from KEH, B&H, or Adorama. Like others, I recommend sticking with them because if they sell you a camera, it will be good, and it will work properly, or if somehow it doesn't, they will make it right very quickly.

The fact is, when it comes to low-end DSLRs, they're all very similar and all totally good enough to take great pictures. High end DSLRs are much nicer to operate, but don't really produce better results with non-moving subjects unless you move into larger sensor sizes at the $2k-30k level.

If you have room to shoot with a slight telephoto, you might skip the kit lens and buy a cheap 50mm instead - it will produce really high quality images with ease, and not really for much more money. But its use in general photography will be fairly limited, since 50mm is an awkward focal length on APS-C.

I will mention, though it's not what you want to hear, that since you're shooting flat art and not looking for a shallow depth of field effect, that a quality compact (preferably one with a 1/1.8" or larger sensor) would do a fine job. The Canon S95 appears to be $330, and it would do you very well. I would honestly expect that it will provide you as much or more actual image data (specifically in the corners) than a DSLR and kit lens, and so in a tiny package that is very useful and fun outside of the studio.
posted by pinespree at 9:45 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

BensBargains routinely features EVIL / Mirrorless-ILC cameras for ~$300, such as this Panasonic GF2 for $330 at Amazon.

Or, you can buy a refurbished Rebel XS from Canon for $350.

The primary advantage of an inexpensive Canon DSLR is access to the cheap (~$100) 50/1.8 lens, which will allow for shallow depth-of-field.
posted by unmake at 10:14 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you want to go really cheap, a used Canon G-series would be more than adequate.
posted by unmake at 4:55 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lumix DMC-LX3 which came out in late 2008 is very good for mirrorless as is the Nikon D40 for DSLR. Either are now only available used and should be well under $300.
posted by bz at 10:44 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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