Help me buy a cheap SLR camera
June 5, 2007 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I need the cheapest SLR possible.

I am taking a photography class this summer. I am a student and have to be as frugal as possible, so buying used is okay. I can see this being a long term hobby.

My class reqs:
* 35mm camera that has full manual control of the aperture, shutter speed and focus simultaneously.
* the aperture and shutter speed should have a range of five stops each. This means that it must have five units of measure for the aperture (the adjustable diaphragm in your lens). A standard example of this could be f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16 or f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22.
* The shutters f-stop range will look something like this: 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000.

I have no idea what to do next. Help please!
posted by k8t to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Digital or not?

For film, you should be able to find a serviceable Pentax K1000 on eBay for a reasonable price.
posted by stopgap at 12:07 PM on June 5, 2007

Used Rebel XT and the Canon 50mm f1.8. Very modern usable even if you keep shooting fairly seriously afterward.
posted by kcm at 12:07 PM on June 5, 2007

Digital please!
posted by k8t at 12:09 PM on June 5, 2007

How cheap is cheap? You can get Canon Digital Rebels for 500ish at the camera shops in New York, and the 50 f/1.8 is about 100. You can probably get better deals used if you look. (Old Nikons are probably also cheap.)
posted by chunking express at 12:11 PM on June 5, 2007

Pentax makes some pretty cheap Digital SLRs as well, which I have been told are pretty alright.

(If you were doing film, I'd also suggest the Pentax K1000 and a 50mm SMC lens.)
posted by chunking express at 12:12 PM on June 5, 2007

I have no idea how cheap cheap is yet...
posted by k8t at 12:13 PM on June 5, 2007

Is this a good deal?
posted by k8t at 12:14 PM on June 5, 2007

Do you mean digital or film SLR? I was halfway through a response when I caught the "5MP+" at the bottom. (Does nobody do introductory photo classes with film anymore? That's sad.)

Anyway, if you want digital, probably the cheapest you're going to find is a Nikon D40, although maybe you can get an older one on eBay. I think a new D40 will run you about $330, and then I'd budget another $100 for a basic lens.

Options for used Digital SLRs aren't like used film ones. The ones I've seen in stores are generally overpriced for a used camera, compared to new ones with more features; I'd say CL and eBay are your friends. Maybe you can get a Digital Rebel that someone is letting go since they've upgraded.

I don't think you'll find too much below $300, though; if you do see something that looks 'too good,' make sure you get a return policy. Except for a few mechanical and basic sensor issues, it's nearly impossible to (economically) repair digital cameras.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:15 PM on June 5, 2007

Seconding the used Canon Rebel with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens. That is a fixed focal length lens, which means no zooming, but as a beginner, zooming just gives you another variable to be confused by. For a $75 lens, it produces pretty amazing pictures—the f/1.8 aperture can give you some really cool depth-of-field effect.

IIRC, it has a 6 blade diaphragm, which means the blurring effect will tend toward hexagonal shapes. More expensive lenses have more blades in the diaphragm, which produces more round shapes.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 12:21 PM on June 5, 2007

I'm with kcm: refurb XT + 50mm.
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:21 PM on June 5, 2007

I'm only a prospective DSLR owner, so I'm no expert, but you might check out the older Canon D60. It's several models 'out of date' now, but I've heard good reviews. It's a 6-megapixel digital SLR. Check out a (dated) review. There are a few on eBay right now for decent prices.

(Just watch out buying online, as it seems like cameras have a disproportionately high number of scams associated with them.)
posted by fogster at 12:22 PM on June 5, 2007

Check for used cameras (film and digital; they sell new gear too). They've got a good reputation, and I've had good luck with them as well.
posted by AV at 12:22 PM on June 5, 2007

Okay, so that $330 price may have been a red herring. Seems that the D40 is up around $550 with lens from reputable dealers, $475 used.

Cheapest DSLR at B&H is the Pentax K100D, $380 for the body after rebate, and you can get a basic 28-80mm mini-zoom for $60. Not a great lens; if you're willing to spend more you could get this, which is faster (f/2.8), or shop around and find a used 50mm f/1.8 or even f/1.2. The K100D is compatible with the older film SLR lenses (bayonet mount) so you can shop around.

posted by Kadin2048 at 12:25 PM on June 5, 2007

A new XT w/50mm will run about $600. Memory card is pretty cheap, $20-40.
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:27 PM on June 5, 2007

You can do what I did and start out with something along the lines of a few generations old 35mm Canon SLR like my Canon Rebel 2000. I got mine with the kit lens for about $100CDN. That way once you have the money to get a digital body all of the lens and flashes you've picked up in the interim will be compatible. I don't know if the same holds true for Nikons when going from 35mm to digital SLRs.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while your conditions about manual control and shutter speed will be an attribute of the camera body, your conditions about aperture are going to be tied to the lens you get. But you're not asking for anything that doesn't come standard in pretty much every SLR made in the past 15-20 years.

But if you need a digital SLR, well, we need to find out how you define cheap.
posted by thecjm at 12:27 PM on June 5, 2007

You can probably find a used Canon Digital Rebel somewhere pretty cheap; I'd check the used sections of B&H, Adorama, or KEH. It meets all your needs (when coupled with a lens, anyway; the 50mm f/1.8 is a good lens and very inexpensive).

The Rebel XT was the next camera in the line past the DReb; it's since been bettered, so there are probably some out there on the used market, but they're likely to be more expensive than an original Digital Rebel.
posted by Godbert at 12:29 PM on June 5, 2007

Ah i didn't see the follow-up asking for a digital. Get the cheapest Canon Digital Rebel you can find. If you want a zoom lens, stick with the kit lens. If you don't need a zoom just buy a body and get the 50mm/1.8 II for $80. It's a much better lens but it has a fixed focal length. A very usable fixed focal length btw, but fixed nonetheless. All of your concerns about aperture and shutter speed are moot; every DSLR and lens for them will fill your requirements.
posted by thecjm at 12:31 PM on June 5, 2007

I love my Pentax K100D. The best thing about it is that you can use every single Pentax-compatible lens ever created, which could save you a bundle on glass. The 110D (same camera without shake reduction) should be a little cheaper.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:49 PM on June 5, 2007

@thecjm: Nikon is pretty good with lens compatibility. You can put pretty much any Nikkor lens made in the past 50 years on a modern camera and it will fit mechanically.

Nikon didn't even change their lens mount when they went from manual to AF, like Canon did when they went from the FD lenses to EOS. (I used to be a hardcore Canon guy but I got burned by them in this transition and switched to Minolta when I went autofocus.)

Of course, you won't get any features (auto-focus/aperture/flashpower) not supported by the lens, and the camera may not be too happy about it...but it'll fit.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:53 PM on June 5, 2007

You can get a brand new Nikon D40 for around $500 including an 18-55mm (27-83mm equivalent for 35mm film cameras) zoom lens. It will do everything you need.
posted by AstroGuy at 1:34 PM on June 5, 2007

A) If you want a digital camera, then 35mm doesn't mean anything.

B) The cheapest new SLR is the Nikon D40, which is a very good starter camera that comes bundled with a good lens. See here.

If you want something cheaper, you'll have to look into used cameras, but given the rapid rate of change in camera technology, it may not be worth your time.
posted by designbot at 1:35 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Nikon D40 with kit lens is really nice... you might find something cheaper but I think the D40 is a great value if you can afford it.
posted by exogenous at 2:12 PM on June 5, 2007

Be warned that the manual controllability of many digital SLRs kind of sucks (aperture and shutter) at least on the low end. It was so easy on the old style film SLRs. I would have thought that a photography course that emphasized those things would still use film SLRs.
posted by DarkForest at 2:15 PM on June 5, 2007

If you're looking to make this a long-term thing, you're probably better off sticking to the more mainstream systems.

The Canon 10D and D60 bodies can be had for around $350 and $300 respectively on eBay. The original Rebel goes for around $300, it looks like. The latter is more of a consumer-grade model while the 10D and D60 will feel more substantial in your hands.

With Nikons, used D50s seem to be the least expensive.

Get yourself a cheap used kit lens or 50mm prime for whatever system you decide to go with. You can probably find either for $100 or less.
posted by roomwithaview at 2:27 PM on June 5, 2007

Get a used Nikon D50. I would recommend against the D40, since it only supports autofocus on Nikkor AF-S lenses, and said lenses also tend to lack a manual aperture ring (as well as having a really crappy focus ring), since they're mainly intended for automatic operation. With a D50 you can use any Nikkor CPU lens (e.g., one with a good focus ring and manual aperture support) and still get autofocus and auto-aperture (if you wish to use them), or you can just use any old Nikkor lens in manual mode.

I don't want to get into the whole Nikon-vs-Canon thing, but Nikon is way better for supporting legacy lenses. The Nikon lens mount hasn't changed in decades. Do note, however, that with old lenses you won't have metering support (you need a CPU lens for that, since the D50 relies on metering information from the lens instead of having its own meter). The more expensive Nikon cameras (e.g. the D200) support metering through any lens, since they have a CCD metering array, but the cheaper ones don't.

I haven't checked prices lately, but I imagine a used D50 and a used D40 will be approximately the same price (the D50 being somewhat more sophisticated but also an older model). I would recommend the D50 for the reasons above, but also because it's way friendlier in manual mode, since it uses a b&w LCD on top of the camera to display exposure information, instead of using the main color screen on the back like the D40 does. The D40 takes a fraction of a second to power up the screen and update it when you make changes, which I found aggravating when trying one out.

The Pentax K110D (or K100D; unsure of the difference) might be worth looking into, since its MSRP is even lower than Nikon's offerings, and I've heard it can use the old Pentax Takumar screw-mount lenses (which are great quality manual lenses). I'm unsure about its metering support, though, and really know next to nothing about the cameras.

If you want to go film instead, I would recommend without reservation getting an old Pentax Spotmatic F. Open-aperture metering (with DOF preview!), a great focusing screen (way better than any DSLRs I've tried), shutter speeds up to 1/1000, and it uses the (very sharp and fast for the time) SMC Takumar lenses.
posted by neckro23 at 3:05 PM on June 5, 2007

As expected, you all were very helpful. A-shopping I shall go!
posted by k8t at 3:48 PM on June 5, 2007

You've received conflicting requirements. 35mm and 5MP+ won't exist on the same camera. One refers to a film size and the other to the resolution of a digital sensor. Apples and oranges.

Unless you've been told to invest in a 35mm lens for a digital SLR (which amounts to the 50mm standard used in most beginning photo classes). Make certain that you're clear on what you need before investing in anything.

If you do decide/need to go with a film camera I reccommend a used Olympus OM2. They're beautiful, compact cameras that are a joy to use. You can probably find a decent body and a 50mm 1.8 lens for less than $200.
posted by aladfar at 4:27 PM on June 5, 2007

D50s can be had on eBay for around $400 with the kit lens, or a refurb from a place like Adorama will run you around $100 more, since the body alone is around $400. I'd go with the one from Adorama, myself, since it has a (very short, but still useful) warranty, and you can get a two year Mack warranty for about $35. You probably can't get that with one from eBay or CL.
posted by wierdo at 10:47 PM on June 5, 2007

I am also shopping for DSLR and I have found several kits with multiple lenses on eBay for appx $500 (for the rebel xt with 3 or 4 lenses)

I also shop at frys when on the west coast and saw that samsung has a new DSLR which (again new) goes for about $399.... and from what i have read they have reliable quality.
posted by chasles at 9:10 AM on June 6, 2007

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