How good a camera can I get for $600?
February 11, 2014 6:41 PM   Subscribe

And how do I research on cameras? I want something more than your usual point and shoots. Give me some guidance please!

I want to move "beyond" camera phones and point and shoot cameras. But I am new to the world of cameras. So where do I start?

I have decided to set aside a budget of $600 for a new camera. Is that a good amount?

Based on my experience so far with all kinds of cameras, here are some of the things I am looking to have in the new camera -

1. Long range optical zoom. I have seen cameras with digital zoom and I don't like the "grainy" look when you have an optical zoom.
2. Decent ability to capture photographs when objects are moving at a speed.
3. I would like to have a good video capture ability. I am not planning on spending separately on a "video camera" per se, but I do intend to capture videos.
4. Ability to shoot well in the dark. This is kind of vital. Perhaps an add on flash bulb unit can help?
5. All of the above both indoors and outdoors. Meaning, I would like to be able to shoot good pictures with sufficient zoom and in relatively dark lighting both indoors and outdoors.
6. Ability to shoot good "zoomed in" photographs. If I am not much mistaken, this is a "macro" mode, correct?
7. Sufficiently long battery life. Even with flashes.

This is bit of a stretch, but
8. I would like a camera that is relatively "beginner friendly" but has advanced, powerful features that I can use one I start learning more about photography.

Any suggestions? Am I looking at SLR? DSLR? Anything else perhaps?
posted by harisund to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
oh, and another point I missed. I would like the ability to cover a big "width". In other words, if I am taking a group photo with 4 or 5 people, I would prefer not to keep backing up till everyone fits, if you get what I mean.
posted by harisund at 6:45 PM on February 11, 2014

For $600, I don't think you can get to have a camera + lens that 1) shoots well in the dark 2) has a fast shutter speed for moving objects 3) has a long range 4) shoots close-up objects really well. You can pick maybe two of those, and there are probably limitations on which two can be paired. And some of those are based on the lens, not the body. I don't think you'll get 1 + 2 together, and you won't get 3 + 4 together with one lens. (A long lens will shoot far away objects. A short lens will let you shoot objects close to you.)

I got an entry-level Canon Rebel T3 body and 18-55mm lens kit from Best Buy/Target and then I got a discounted 55-250mm lens for buying that kit, all for a total of about $800. It's not to the level of professional cameras, but I was able to go to the sideline of pro soccer events and take photos and get some decent ones. At night, the ISO had to be pumped up and they got a bit grainy. But in natural light, I was able to take rather decent photos of fast-moving action. I used my 250mm lens for that. When I wanted to take photos at someone's birthday party inside a house, I used the shorter lens.

If you don't want separate lenses and to deal with that, I think you just want a fancy/expensive point-and-shoot. Some of those have a pretty powerful zoom -- it won't be as clear as an actual separate long lens, but can work depending on what you want to use it for.

You should really think about what you'll be using it for before you decide you want these features, or decide on a camera.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:00 PM on February 11, 2014

The Wirecutter has some helpful camera picks. I generally trust their judgment. This article should be especially useful to start off.
posted by rensar at 7:00 PM on February 11, 2014

I just bought a new camera and I found the in-depth reviews at The Wirecutter invaluable.
posted by not that girl at 7:00 PM on February 11, 2014

To answer AppleTurnover, basically i have been using my current point and shoot cameras for basically everything I mentioned above ... photographing kids while playing sports, birthday parties out in the starry night .. etc etc. Hence my question.

But thanks for your answer!

What about upping my budget to $700?
posted by harisund at 7:17 PM on February 11, 2014

Nthing The Wirecutter.

DPReview and Steve's Digicams are also good resources.
posted by box at 7:19 PM on February 11, 2014

You might also check out Canon's G series, with or without the CHDK firmware.
posted by box at 7:23 PM on February 11, 2014

Improvements in DSLRs are kind of minor and incremental at this point. There is nothing wrong with finding the best one from the last generation and then finding it used on craigslist.

I bought a Nikon D5100 with extra battery and the 18-55mm lens for $400 used. It has since been replaced by the D5200 and then the D5300 hundred but they aren't that different.

It has an auto mode that takes awesome pictures in all of the situations you describe but you can totally learn your way around the many, many settings to achieve even better results.
posted by VTX at 7:33 PM on February 11, 2014

You might be a good candidate for a DSLR if you think photography is a hobby you might enjoy and pursue. You can't feel like a real photographer, even as an amateur hobbyist photographer, with a point-and-shoot style. And, also, you can always save up and get an additional lens or better lens later. It's something you can ease into. I shot an international sporting event so I rented a super duper lens for the day. I think it was something like $40 for a day and a half of using it. And it's not bad in the long run to get good at using entry level equipment before moving up.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:37 PM on February 11, 2014

I like the Canon G series. I use the latest one, the G16. It does everything you listed, except for maybe number 5. You can't shoot zoom in bad light and get good results without spending tons of money.

A lot of camera nerds bag on it online, because it doesn't have a big sensor like the latest Sony, and they removed the articulated LCD, but I still use mine way more than my 7D.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 8:46 PM on February 11, 2014

I second the canon rebel T3's. I got two for the photography class I teach. Seriously solid. Got each one refurbished on amazon for 350 with the kit lenses. That plus another lens could hit most of your needs. As a teacher the rebel t3's are seriously sturdy and easy to learn on.
posted by mariecheri at 9:07 PM on February 11, 2014

An entry-level DSLR coupled with am 18-200mm lens should just about fit in your budget. It will not be great at low-light shots but will be ok, and likely better than your camera or point and shoot camera. You can add lenses as you go after that if you are getting enjoyment out of it. Just be aware that is f you do start buying more and better lenses you will likely get rid of your initial lens and camera.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:08 PM on February 11, 2014

A nice bridge between point-and-shoot and DSLR is the mirrorless segment. Smaller body, more portable, but you can still buy and swap lenses.

This is the Wirecutter's pick for best mirrorless camera under $500. For some reason Sony is clearancing them out to phase in a new model, even though the Nex-3N is only a year old and has gotten great reviews as a camera that is a great first step above a point and shoot.

You can buy other lenses to swap and you can full-on work with aperture, ISO, focus, etc. just like a DSLR (only a bit simpler). Or you can just use it as a really nice point and shoot- its sensor is great.

Walmart sucks, but at only $289, you will not find a camera this good at this price. It's a better camera than almost anything else in the $500 range. This bundle would've run you $550 as recently as October or November.

And if you buy it and outgrow it within a year or two, it's only $300... not too huge of an investment into a new hobby.
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:28 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

a deal like this on a decent DSLR, plus a 35mm 1.8 lens and a 55-200.

this will completely be possible for $600 if you wait for deals on the lenses, and check sites like craigslist and

Note that this isn't going to get you to the good low light performance WITH zoom, but to get that you'd need to buy something like a 17-50/55 2.8 which will cost as much as the majority of your budget.

It will get you good low light performance without zoom though, and everything else you wanted.
posted by emptythought at 9:36 PM on February 11, 2014

In addition to the Wiercutter, the Flickr Camera Finder might be helpful.
posted by Gev at 5:27 AM on February 12, 2014

I am thinking about getting a Nikon D3000 used for around $200 with kit lens, and then getting several used 35mm lenses (probably just MF to save money). I don't know if this is a terrible idea because I haven't done it yet though.
posted by miyabo at 6:21 AM on February 12, 2014

Paying full price for a camera is just not a smart thing to do unless you are an established pro.

Fortunately, new and second hand deals are abundant. Given your questions, Old Man McKay is pointing to a very good recommendation. Once you get to know the camera, you can put the rest into one or more lenses that better fit some of your specific needs: fast primes, wide angle, long zooms, etc.
posted by magullo at 11:44 AM on February 12, 2014

The Wirecutter's Best Mirrorless camera under $500 is now $319 on Amazon. This is a steal. The Sony 55-210 lens (to get you your zoom) is another $350, so it is over your budget, but it's an excellent camera.

There's also nothing wrong with superzoom point and shoots. There are certain things they don't do as well as SLRs, but they are more convenient and they'll produce good images for the money.

Buying a used/refurbished SLR is also an option, as others have mentioned. Good luck!
posted by cnc at 5:27 PM on February 12, 2014

I wouldn't recommend a DSLR for most people who aren't serious about photography. Don't get me wrong, I shoot a DSLR myself and I would never give it up. But the benefits of a DSLR only make sense if you're planning on investing in the hobby.

For instance, a DSLR lets you change lenses. If you are going to buy/rent additional lenses, this can be a fun, inspiring, and totally worthwhile benefit over a point-and-shoot. But if you aren't actually going to try different lenses, this won't matter to you. Similarly, a DSLR packs a high-quality sensor and lets you shoot in Raw, which allows you leeway to push around the pixels in post-processing. But if you aren't going to learn Lightroom or Photoshop, then again, what's the point?

You listed eight criteria. Of those, only #8 jumps out as maybe requiring a DSLR, and even that you can easily accomplish with a point-and-shoot that includes manual shooting. If you want to buy a DSLR, go for it. I love mine. But if you hadn't specifically mentioned a DSLR, I don't see anything in your question that would have pushed me to suggest one.

As for learning about cameras, I'd suggest reading reviews. DP Review is a good starting point. They publish their own reviews, and you can browse their forums where people chat endlessly about gear. That's really the only way to learn about all the gear that's out there. Of course you've gotta use it to really understand it, but that's later.
posted by cribcage at 10:14 AM on February 17, 2014

Ok, I bought a Nikon D3000 and 3 lenses used from KEH ("bargain" grade) for $240 with shipping. Everything works perfectly, and there are only the tiniest cosmetic imperfections on the camera (like stuff that would happen anyway with a few weeks of normal use). I'm not going to impress any of my rich friends with my bargain-basement gear but the pictures are just as good.
posted by miyabo at 10:08 AM on February 26, 2014

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