Recommendation for best DSLR
June 9, 2015 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Hi, I want to buy my first DSLR because apparently they take better quality pictures. But I would like one that meets the following conditions

- Portable, I don't want to be carrying a huge machinery everywhere I go
- Not super complicated
- Not super expensive. I started thinking about a camera $200 or less but I see that DSLRs tend to be more expensive than that. So if the quality really justify it I might be willing to go for $300 maybe slightly more.

Also any advice on whether DSLRs are really worth it, and the best in the categories I mentioned above is very much appreciated! The thing is that I don't have much time to compare all sorts of features among different cameras, so I would like a simple thumbs up recommendation from those in the know.

posted by iliketothinknu to Technology (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For you, not worth it. With those criteria I'd go for something in the Fujifilm X line. This guy used is close to your range.
posted by supercres at 8:42 AM on June 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

100% no, do not get an DSLR. They really aren't portable (i.e fits in your purse/pocket)
posted by sandmanwv at 8:46 AM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Getting a DSLR is like buying a set of extremely high-quality paintbrushes. A very good painter will know the difference. It will make painting easier and they may be able to do things they couldn't do with cheap paintbrushes. But it doesn't make sense for someone with little to no experience painting to get them--yes, it may make some things easier but lessons and practice will do far more to improve their art.

If you are new enough to photography to be asking this question then a point-and-shoot is a better choice. Invest the extra money in photography classes, that will have way more of an effect on the quality of your photographs than whether you get a DSLR or not.
posted by schroedinger at 8:48 AM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Agree with everyone that you don't want a DSLR. This Sony camera is a bit older (so it fits your budget) and well-reviewed.
posted by mikepop at 8:51 AM on June 9, 2015

You are dreaming. Even if you find a decent 2nd hand DSLR body at $300 you won't have a good lens. To make a DSLR worth it you need at least 2, probably 3 different types of lenses.

I would recommend looking at Micro 4/3 cameras. For amateur photographers you can get amazing quality shots. The lenses are much much cheaper than their DSLR counterparts. And best of all, Micro 4/3 are incredibly portable.

A fantastic setup would be this: 2nd hand Olympus EM5 + Panasonic 20mm + Olympus 45mm, but it is going to cost you more like $600, minimum. Equivalent setup, at similar quality DLSR is going to be much more pricey than that though.
posted by 0bvious at 8:55 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

What's your current camera? What kind of pictures do you like to take (indoor/outdoor, people/landscapes, dim light/bright light, fast-moving things/still things)? All these things are important to know in your choice of future camera (which, I agree, probably shouldn't be a DSLR if you want below $300 and portable).
posted by Questolicious at 8:56 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

No. As supercres and mikepop suggested, look for mirrorless cameras. The Wirecutter's recommendations for affordable mirrorless cameras also explains why not a DSLR:
For most people (but not everyone), an entry level mirrorless camera makes more sense than an DSLR. The image quality’s on the same level, and the smaller size means that you’re a lot more likely to take it out with you. Anything to help stop you from leaving your camera to languish in a drawer somewhere is a good move. Mirrorless cameras also tend to have better integration of bonus features like wi-fi than DSLRs do right now.
posted by JackBurden at 8:58 AM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know; I think it may still be worth getting a "real" DSLR if you're serious about photography as a hobby. It's hard to tell what you mean by "portable" though. I have a Nikon D3200, and it's "portable" by DSLR standards, but it's certainly bulkier than the two cameras linked above. You can find it (or its cousins, D3100, D3000) used on craigslist for within your price range. For example, here is a D5000, an upgrade, with a pair of lenses for under $400. I also think the micro 4/3 setups are going to be more expensive than slightly out of date DSLRs, especially near the low end of the name-brand lines (Canon, Nikon, etc).
posted by craven_morhead at 8:59 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy this beautiful slide show of photos taken (by a professsional photographer) with an iPhone and a small attachment: Chad Copeland at Outside Magazine
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 8:59 AM on June 9, 2015

If you just want "takes better photos than an iPhone", something like a mid-range Canon point-and-shoot would be my choice, especially if you go to the previous generation to get the price down.

For instance, you can get a Canon S110 for $250. That gets you a good f/2.0 lens (which is better than most DSLR kit lenses), optical image stabilization, 5x optical zoom, full manual controls... and you can actually put it in your pocket.
posted by smackfu at 9:01 AM on June 9, 2015

I briefly had a DSLR. It's not portable. And the settings were really more complicated than what I would use.

I have a Sony Nex-5N (not sure what the difference is between that and the TL mikepop linked to). I only have one fixed lens. I have a flash attachment but I have never used it (other than to test it). I bought 3 years ago or so, and it's been on so many trips with me.

I keep thinking about buying a second lens, but it's expensive and I'm not sure I'd go through the trouble of bringing a second lens and changing it. I don't even remember to bring the flash.


* cheaper than DSLR
* small body + fixed lens = very portable
* automatic setting + fixed lens = easy point and shoot, I can actually enjoy touring rather than spend 15 minutes to stop and take pictures. I take lots and lots of pictures, so some of them are better than others.
* RAW images = I can fix things in post and make them look good

Being a good photographer is not about the camera you have, not until you are very advanced. It's much more about color and composition, which you can get even with an iPhone camera, but the high MP and the fact that RAW images are much more fixable in post means that I get higher quality photos with the Sony NEX-5N than with my phone. It's been a great compromise for me.
posted by ethidda at 9:27 AM on June 9, 2015

DSLR's are bulkier and use separate lenses. Cheaper DSLR's usually come in kit form that include basic zoom lenses.

If you wanted to get a nicer lens, that would be over $200 just on it own. I don't think your budget is ready for a DSLR.

There are a lot of settings, but do include mostly automatic modes. I think it'll be more fiddly than you want though.

There are various better ranges(canon G series, etc) of point & shoots that include larger (but not dslr) size sensors and better lenses than the basic models while style retain portability. They may be replaced by the mirrorless cameras in the marketplace though.
posted by TheAdamist at 9:34 AM on June 9, 2015

For you, not worth it. With those criteria I'd go for something in the Fujifilm X line. This guy used is close to your range.

I love my DSLR (Nikon D5000) The images are beautiful, and the amount of control I have over an image is great. I also have multiple lenses for it, allowing me to shoot under a variety of conditions.

But, I hardly ever use it. I use my iPhone and the Fuji X20 linked to in the quoted comment. The X20 is an excellent camera, small, quiet, easy to handle, and produces wonderful images. Plus, you can use it in all-auto, all-manual, and other modes in between. It has a smaller sensor than my DSLR, meaning that side-by-side enlarged prints won't be as good, but at normal sizes (up to 8x10) and definitely all online viewing, the image quality will be excellent.

I use my DSLR less and less, maybe 4 times a year now. On a recent week-long trip to L.A., my wife and I took our DSLRs for one reason: we had a whale-watching trip scheduled. That's the only day we used them. The Fuji x20 (and her Pentax MX-1), and our iPhones did everything else. And honestly, if we hadn't taken the DSLRs, our smaller cameras would have still given us excellent images.
posted by The Deej at 9:48 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another vote for a Sony e-mount camera and not a DSLR. The NEX-5T is an excellent, portable camera that has the same sensor as a DSLR in a MUCH smaller body. It's $350 for a lens on Amazon. For walking around pictures, it's going to be as good as an SLR.
posted by cnc at 11:41 AM on June 9, 2015

Yeah, I rarely say this but what you are describing is not a DSLR. "Better quality pictures" than what? If anything, get a newer smartphone. The newest Samsung and Apple phones take pretty high-quality photos.
posted by capricorn at 11:42 AM on June 9, 2015

Sorry - my original post should say it's $350 with lens on Amazon.

And the difference between a smartphone and a bigger sensor is enormous. Smartphone pictures taken by pro photographers are almost always color and noise corrected and taken during the day, during perfect conditions for that photo. Don't be fooled. A larger sensor camera is going to take much higher quality photos than a smartphone. They'll be sharper, with lower noise and you'll be able to print larger sizes, especially in regards to low light.

Photography is more a function of the person than the tool. If you're not highly skilled, develop better skills, and buy a little better tool.
posted by cnc at 11:54 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a Nikon D3200 and was gifted with a pretty nice lens that I probably never would have spent the money on otherwise.

If you're serious about wanting to get into photography and take quality pictures, you should probably re-evaluate your budget and expectations. If you get a DSLR, you're going to have to carry a case with you at all times, minimum. However, if you're truly married to something easily portable and in that price range, then no, you don't want a DSLR.

I know absolutely nothing about mirrorless cameras, but I trust the Wirecutter. I'd check out their link above.
posted by JimBJ9 at 12:23 PM on June 9, 2015

A secondhand Canon Digital Rebel of some kind with standard 50mm f/1.8 should be in your price range, if old enough. Image quality much higher than a phone or a compact due to the much larger APS-C sized sensor, and much more substantial lens. I got some decent images with mine before moving up to a full-frame DSLR.
posted by w0mbat at 12:39 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding w0mbat. I got a Canon Rebel XT back before phone cameras got this good, but I still prefer it. This is maybe more about me than the camera, but I just frame my pictures (mostly people pictures) better with it. I honestly think people present themselves better when they see it than they do to a phone. Taking it to my sister's wedding next week!
posted by mmiddle at 1:01 PM on June 9, 2015

Yes on the Canon rebel, just make sure you have a real viewfinder, with an adjustable diopter, so matches your eye's ability to focus.
posted by Oyéah at 1:22 PM on June 9, 2015

It only ever makes sense to buy a DSLR if you plan to be changing lenses with some frequency and you absolutely have to have an optical viewfinder. DSLRs are best used when you're going to buy multiple lenses, and probably bigger, heavier lenses.

Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are closer to what you say you want, since they're usually cheaper, or smaller. But they still make the most sense if you plan to buy and use multiple lenses.

Bluntly, you sound like the kind of person who's going to buy an interchangeable lens camera and the kit lens and then never change lenses. The camera companies are making a lot of money off of those consumers, but it's just not the best idea. You're better off with a high-end compact camera, as they've really raised the bar for photo quality, and they're small enough to put in a purse, or in some cases, a pocket.

What you want is the Sony RX100. It should fit in most pockets and is capable of great photo quality when used properly - its sensor is considerably larger than a smartphone's, or the sensors on small cameras built in the past, and the built in lens should cover most of your needs, and it has an electronic viewfinder so you can see the photo you're going to take quite clearly. Its complexity should be manageable for you; I believe it's less complicated than many DSLRs on offer. But DSLRs are complicated so you have more options, so you can take the photo the way you want. Some other people swear by the Fujifilm high end fixed lens cameras, though I'm not generally a fan of those.

There are three different iterations of the RX100, and the older ones are cheaper. Realistically, any of them will be adequate for your needs; you only have to decide how much you're willing to spend. They should be available used, too.

Why should you listen to me?

I've read a ton about all of this, and I've been shooting with my DSLRs and ~30 pounds of lenses alone for years.

You won't want to tote a big, heavy DSLR with you everywhere you go, and you acknowledge as much.

As others have stated, better photos will come with practice, technique, and often the use of a tripod.

If you want to see another digest, The Wirecutter is a good resource. I don't 100% agree with everything they say, but their recommendations tend to do well for people who are not well-versed in the subject.

If you need further clarification, ask.
posted by Strudel at 4:19 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

...because apparently they take better quality pictures.

No, they don't. You can make better-quality pictures with them. That's a different thing. Take a high-resolution RAW file straight out of a DSLR, and compare it with a compressed, processed JPEG from a smartphone or a point-&-shoot. The DSLR will lose every time. Because it isn't designed to "point and shoot" and if you use it that way, then you will get poor results.

If you plan to learn photography and develop your photos—yes, you need to "develop" digital RAW files just like old-school film; the files are designed with the expectation that you will do this—then a DSLR is the way to go. However, if you don't plan to learn Lightroom or some equivalent software, then you are wasting a lot of money on a tool that wasn't designed for your use. If you want to point and shoot, then you should buy a point-&-shoot.

any advice on whether DSLRs are really worth it

Home Depot is filled with expensive, complicated woodworking tools that I don't know how to use. I have no background in woodworking. If I cannot pick up some tool and BOOM! build a great porch, does that mean the tool "isn't really worth it"? No. Almost certainly the tool is worth it. But equally, I shouldn't buy it.

A DSLR is not for you. Good luck, and have fun. Photos are neat.
posted by cribcage at 5:24 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

nthing a DSLR is not for you.

If you're not interested in learning how to process RAW images (and it sounds like for you, shooting jpeg might be just fine), carrying around a dedicated camera bag, picking out camera lenses, they don't bother with a DSLR. As cribcage mentioned, a DSLR isn't really point and shoot, and if you only plan on using it that way, there's a better tool for you.

I own several DSLRs and quality lenses, and when I was something uncomplicated and portable to take digital photos with--I leave them at home and borrow my partner's point and shoot camera.
posted by inertia at 4:37 PM on June 10, 2015

« Older What can a friend do to get adequate pain meds for...   |   Minimalist iOS calorie counter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.