What camera to buy with $1,000?
April 8, 2008 11:12 AM   Subscribe

I have unexpectedly been given $1,000 for a digital camera. What should I buy?

A removed member of my extended family, who I never met, died and left some money. Her son decided that I should get $1,000 - towards, he said, the DSLR I've been thinking about for years. Usually I save, but I think it would bring both him and me happiness to get the damn thing.

So: what should I do with $1,000? (I'm willing to top that amount up if need be.)

I'm an avid, though untrained, photographer. I tend to photograph both people in indoor and low-light situations, and urban and natural landscapes. From time to time, I take a pretty good picture.

I do well with cheap cameras, but better with good ones. I adored the ancient Konika SLR I had until I left it in the back seat of a cab in Africa. I've burned through a number of pocket digitals of varying quality over the years since. I'd like to make a lasting investment now, in a camera that can grow with me.

I'm partial to Canons. By default, I've been looking at the Rebel Xsi or 40D. But I'm open to suggestion! What do you think?
posted by bicyclefish to Shopping (38 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have the XTi (Xsi would be your newer option), a friend has the 40D, it just depends how feature fancy you want to get.

I would recommend, if you often shoot indoors and low-light, the 50mm f/1.4 lens. You can go cheaper with the 50mm f/1.8 lens, but 1.4 is a bargain at $300 and I have enjoyed it, and it has been faithful as my only lens for almost a year now.
posted by sararah at 11:18 AM on April 8, 2008

I've got a 5d and a 350d, and my sister has an Xti. It's pretty damn sweet. YOu could get a mid-level zoom (28-135 ish), and maybe a nifty 50 (50mm f/1.8) for a little more than your budget.
posted by notsnot at 11:24 AM on April 8, 2008

pentax k10d. i love mine.
posted by zadiecharbon at 11:28 AM on April 8, 2008

After the camera,.......... buy storage for the data. Ya gonna need it.
posted by Freedomboy at 11:31 AM on April 8, 2008

I highly recommend that whatever you get you get one of the Canon Speedlite (or third party equivalent) external flashes. They mount on the hotshoe on the canon and make a world of difference for low light photography.
posted by true at 11:32 AM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

You buy into a lens system rather than a body, really. If you have no lenses already, it's kind of a coin flip between Nikon or Canon, though you'll find people who will have strong preferences for both.

The Rebel and x0D lines mostly differ in their physical size as far as basic photography needs go. Try them both in your hands and see what you think.

The 50mm f1.8 mentioned above is definitely a must-have at $80, if you go Canon. The f1.4 and metal construction of its $300 big brother is not terribly worth it unless it's your primary lens - I'd rather spend the extra money on a used Sigma 20mm f1.8.
posted by kcm at 11:34 AM on April 8, 2008

For a bit over 1k, you can get a Nikon D40 along with Nikon's all powerful 18-200mm VR lens.
posted by MillMan at 11:34 AM on April 8, 2008

What i've found is most of them take awesome pictures, so instead of focusing on brand, go to a camera shop and see which one feels best in your hands. I had my heart set on a Canon xti and ended up going with a Nikon because it felt like a better fit to me when I was in the store.
posted by jazzman at 11:38 AM on April 8, 2008

The Canon 5D is (as far as I know) the cheapest DSLR that does NOT effectively magnify the length of the lens, so that a picture taken at 28mm with the 5D will have the same wide angle view as it would if taken with a film camera. That's a huge differentiator for me, and is really the reason I haven't yet bought a new DSLR (I have an old Canon D30 that I bought on ebay), because I don't have the money to spend on a 5D. You have the money. Go for it. :-)
posted by thomas144 at 11:50 AM on April 8, 2008

Seconding jazzman -- Definitely go to a store and hold the different models. Personally, I didn't notice much of difference between an XT and D40 (I ended up with the D40) -- both are compact DSLRs and therefore weren't built to fully accommodate average-sized hands. However, I've held a D80 and it was heavenly. If I had a grand, I'd get the D80 just for the comfort factor (and few extra megapixels) over the D40.
posted by puritycontrol at 11:59 AM on April 8, 2008

Have you considered a Leica? I've recently been exposed to the Leica series of digital cameras and am in love. We use Leica microscopes in our labs where I work and they always work beautifully and the lens are pretty sweet so I'm assuming that transfers over to their cameras. FWIW, I haven't had the opportunity to play with a camera IRL so my opinion may change when/if I actually do get that chance.
posted by LunaticFringe at 11:59 AM on April 8, 2008

jazzman speaks the truth. If you have no lenses, try each body out.

So does Freedomboy. Make sure you budget for: the body (decide whether you want the kit lens or not), at least one more lens (I recommend a nice fast prime, f/1.8 or f/1.4), perhaps a nice strap, some memory cards, a memory card reader (if you so choose -- I find it easier to use one to download shots to my computer), and other accessories. And don't forget image management software and Photoshop, if you want to get into digital photography workflow.

You will probably end up spending over $1000 after all is said and done, not to mention every photographer's inevitable lens wishlist.

thomas144, the 5D is way out of the original poster's budget. $2,125.00 on Amazon right now, for the body only.

Personally I find that Canon works better for me for low-light and indoor photography.
posted by kathryn at 12:10 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just got a new 40D and I love it! Prior to that I had a 20D which was also a great camera. The problem with the 40D is that at $1k you don't have any money left over for glass, memory, and a case. Make sure you keep that in mind when you decide on the camera you want. I know that you said you were willing to go over, but I wasn't sure by how much.

If you are thinking this is going to be something you are going to invest in, you are really buying into a system more then the particular first camera body you buy. Once you have a few lens it makes it tough to sell everything and switch to a different one. So if you have any idea, spend some time looking over the lens they offer. Canon has some amazing F4 lenses that Nikon can't touch. Nikon has the best wide angle lenses out there.

That being said, you should go to a camera store near you and hold everything they have, at least in the price range you are considering (don't pick up a "pro" body, you will fall in lust!). There is no small amount of "why I love the way this feels" or "these controls are really laid out nice" involved.

I am very partial to Canon and the Rebel XTI would be a nice camera yet leave you a little room for the extras. If you are willing to go over enough to buy a decent lens, I would suggest the 40D. Like I said, I really love mine. There are several great lens choices out there, but without having a finite budget and more knowledge of what you like to shoot I am reluctant to make anymore suggestions.

The biggest thing to remember, if you stay with either Canon or Nikon (apologies to the others) you will be getting a good camera either way.

When it comes time to buy, I really like OneCall, B&H, and Midwest Photo Exchange. Recently I have tried to do as much business as I can with MPEX because they sponsor the Strobist blog, which you should really check out once you are interested in lighting. ;-)
posted by Silvertree at 12:26 PM on April 8, 2008

no love for the sony alpha-100s yet. I love mine. I love it because my wife can't hold a camera steady to save her life. in body stabilization is priceless for us.
posted by Amby72 at 12:27 PM on April 8, 2008

I've got a Pentax *istDL, and I have to say that I love it. I have used a friend's Canon, and thought it was nice, but for an amateur photographer such as myself, the difference in pictures/picture quality/feel does not justify the difference in price at all. I'm very happy with it. There are also a lot of fun lenses available that you can get while still remaining below your $1,000 budget.
posted by Grither at 12:37 PM on April 8, 2008

Hands down the canon 40D, unless you're willing to spend quite a bit more and go nikon and get the D300. Don't worry about full frame sensors from what I gather you're not there yet. Just don't go crazy buying lenses just in case you end up there.
posted by Hitoshura at 12:41 PM on April 8, 2008

I just bought the Rebel XTi. It's pretty damn awesome and my first dSLR. I bought the Canon 28-135mm IS USM lens at my friend's suggest. It's a great walking around lens and it's taken some amazing photos for someone with no camera experience.

I got the camera, 4 GB memory card, gadget bag and the lens (the camera and lens were separate; camera was body only) for about $1,000.
posted by disillusioned at 12:56 PM on April 8, 2008

The way things are going in the camera business you could easily see some of the lesser players fold. When you are buying an SLR you are buying not just the camera but the whole system and your investment in the system can be greatly diminished if the camera maker folds, or even if it gets bought out by a company less interested in quality (Minolta being bought by Sony). I would stick with either Canon or Nikon. Either one makes great cameras and lenses and the prices are competitive. The features of the systems might be the deciding factor.
posted by caddis at 1:11 PM on April 8, 2008

Panasonic Lumix FZ8. Badass.
posted by cachondeo45 at 1:19 PM on April 8, 2008

Nthing going to the store to actually hold the camera. Nikons just feel right to me, whereas Canons feel awkward and clunky in my hands.

Canon lenses seem to be a bit cheaper, FWIW, but the price is negligible especially if you look at used lenses. You seem to be leaning towards Canon, and if you plan on shooting in low light and/or with slower lenses, that's the way to go (even though I love my D200).
posted by riane at 1:33 PM on April 8, 2008

Another vote for the Rebel Xti body and the 50mm f/1.4 lens.
posted by mewithoutyou at 1:47 PM on April 8, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, all. This is very, very helpful stuff!
posted by bicyclefish at 2:21 PM on April 8, 2008

Flickr has charts of what the users are using, I imagine many of them have done their research and are happy with what they bought. It's part of the reason I got my Canon digital rebel XT. http://www.flickr.com/cameras/
posted by hungrysquirrels at 2:29 PM on April 8, 2008

Oh, and once you know what you want, check eBay or some camera shops that have used gear. You can save a lot.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 2:41 PM on April 8, 2008

Are you partial to Canons because of past experience with their digital compacts or is there another factor?

I have a Pentax K10D so I'm biased towards Pentax. As long as you're not doing commercial work, sports, or wildlife photography, I think Pentax is a viable option. What really attracted me to the K10D was the body ergonomics, the bright large, pentaprism viewfinder, the 3-dial controls with hyper-program mode, the exotic metal Limited lenses, and lower-priced body (relative to Nikon and Canon).

For indoor and low-light, you'll definitely want a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens.
posted by junesix at 3:11 PM on April 8, 2008

Buy what your friends have so you can borrow their lenses.

Otherwise, I'm partial to Canon.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:22 PM on April 8, 2008

Probably the best camera review site out there. More grist for your mill.
posted by lalochezia at 3:30 PM on April 8, 2008

Seconding dpreview.com.
posted by Tixylix at 4:16 PM on April 8, 2008

I (had) googled the 5D and saw this price, which sounds a little too good to be true ($1199 for the body). I didn't realize that would be $1000 less than BH Photo, et al. I think the OP should buy from that site and let us know if it's for real. :-)
posted by thomas144 at 4:23 PM on April 8, 2008

As with most things in life, alas too good to be true: http://www.resellerratings.com/store/1_Way_Photo

IMHO, B&H is a good rule of thumb in pricing in camera parts. If the price you're looking at is way off from theirs it's usually a scam. And always check with Reseller Ratings.
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:57 PM on April 8, 2008

Sorry forgot to include the LINK
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:57 PM on April 8, 2008

I'm an amateur night photographer. Every night photographer I know, pro and am, considers the Nikon sensors superior to Canon for low-light imaging. Even the ones who shoot with Canons. All digital sensors have problems with noise under low light situations, but to the discerning (some would say 'nitpicky') eye, Nikon handles it a bit more cleanly and with a bit less loss of details. However, unless you're doing very long exposures or planning to make poster size prints, the difference is probably too small to matter.

For a budget as modest as this Pentax's K*0D line (K10D, and the new K20D; the line succeeds the *ist series mentioned upthread) gets you a good balance of body quality and lens affordability. Because shake reduction is built into the body instead of the individual lenses, every lens benefits while costing noticeably less. The unusual extent of backwards compatibility means that for $50 or so you can get a very nice vintage f/1.4 lens for $50 or so. The kit zoom is surprisingly decent, so all that'd be left is a wide angle for the landscapes. If your landscape photos tend to be out in the elements, it's also worth considering that this line is really the only entry-level choice that has extensive weather/dust sealing.

If OTOH you're looking to build a versatile collection of digital lenses, Nikon or Canon are the safest bets by far.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:13 PM on April 8, 2008

I was at my local Costco today and saw their $999.99 bundle of the recently introduced D60 camera body with both the 18-55 and 55-200 VR (vibration reduction) lenses along with a 1 gig SD card and a camera bag.

You can see it here.

As a rule, every new generation of digital camera substantially bests that which came before it. Both the 18-55 VR and the D60 body are very new technology, and the 55-200 VR has a very good reputation.

This package is one hell of a lot of picture making capability per dollar spent... Arguably the best available as of this moment.

I'm not sure you'd do better with anything else which has been suggested so far.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:15 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

(Disclaimer: I shoot Canon, I'm biased.)

You can do a surprisingly large amount of shooting with a Rebel body (aka the 400 or 450D if you're in Europe/Asia/Oceania) and the thrifty fifty or the nifty fifty.

I'd second the Canon Rebel body recommendations. If your budget stretches to it, there's a kit available with the rather good 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS lens - if not, a 50mm prime would be a good place to start.
posted by The Shiny Thing at 8:22 PM on April 8, 2008

Sony A200!

I love mine to death and there is an AWESOME selection of really cheap (like $50 cheap), GREAT quality Minolta lenses and flashes on ebay. You could get the A200 kit + 4 REALLY nice lenses (50mm f/1.7,"beercan" 70-210mm f/4, 35-70 f/4 macro, 24mm wide angle) for way less than $1000. On any other system glass of that quality would run you many,many hundreds of dollars more. Spend the extra money on hookers and booze.

As far as the camera itself: the built-in stabilization is fantastic. ISO control is just plain awesome. I just love the hell out of it. Your best bet is to check out flickr and use the camera finder to browse shots taken with the different cameras you're looking at. The A200 isn't listed yet (I'm guessing because it is pretty new), but you can check out my flickr page. My last 40 or so have been taken with the A200.

PS check out dyxum forum for reviews and pics with various lenses.
posted by lattiboy at 8:59 AM on April 9, 2008

Best answer: This is a tough problem because you have just enough money to get started but not nearly as much as you need to do this right.

The primary decision you need to make is not what camera to buy, but what camera SYSTEM. This is because over time you are going to spend a lot of money on glass (lenses) and the glass will outlast the body so when you get the urge to upgrade, you will be limited by upgrading in the same system, or replacing ALL your lenses and buying all new ones in a different system.

My first digicam was a Canon G1, and then I bought an Olympus E-100-RS so I could take better action photos of horses. I quickly realized that the image quality was not what I needed, and started looking into buying a DSLR just as you are doing now.

When I made this jump, I first looked at the lenses that do the best job for the type of photos I was taking - photos of horses. For my needs there was one lens that quickly jumped to the top of the list, the Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS lens. Then I looked at who was shooting Canon and who was shooting with other camera lines - in my field over 90% of the photographers shoot Canon (and most have this lens). So Canon it was.

I started with the 300D (Digital Rebel) with the kit lens, and then shopped and bought a used 70-200 f2.8 IS. I paid $1000 for the camera and kit lens, and $1500 for the 70-200. I've upgraded the body (I now have a 1D Mark II) and added another f2.8 lens (24-70). I sold the rebel and kit lens (which doesn't work on the larger sensor camera body) for a few hundred bucks.

Many people make the mistake of buying a cheap body and cheap glass, and then when their images aren't as good as they want they upgrade the body - this is a BIG mistake. They don't understand the difference between a $300 telephoto lens and a $3000 lens. Your images will never be any better than the glass you use to gather the light. Don't buy cheap glass! When you shoot with good glass you will understand. Save your money for good glass. If you can't afford to buy good glass, consider renting a good lens now and then rather than spending money to buy a cheap lens. Here's a site that reviews 8 online lens rental services:


Finally, don't be lured into thinking you need to buy the latest camera. Most of the "new features" on the latest models are rarely used by someone who is just starting out with DSLR photography. You are much better off getting an older model (used or refurb) and learning how to use all the features, and finding out which features you use most, and THEN you can decide if you want to upgrade to a newer model with better tools for the features that matter to you. If you don't shoot sports you won't need a high frame rate (e.g. 8.5 FPS such as my camera uses), if you don't shoot in low light you won't need high quality high ISO, etc. You can save a LOT of money by buying a model that has just been eclipsed by a newer model, and can put that money towards (wait for it...) Good Glass!
posted by jcdill at 9:53 AM on April 9, 2008

jcdill: I understand that a $3000 lens is amazing, but this is like telling somebody to take the bus until they can afford a Maserati, because a Toyota is a "cheap" car that will never go 200 mph and can't handle nearly as well. Well you know what? Toyota makes some great cars and they meet the needs of the VAST majority of people.

The Canon and Minolta 50mm f/1.7 are fantastic lenses that produce lovely images and can be had for less than $100. You can pick up TERRIFIC older lenses from Pentax and Minolta on ebay for $150 (not APO, D, Carl Zeissm good, but damn good nonetheless).

I have no doubt that you have much more experience and expertise on the subject than myself, but it seems ill-advised to tell somebody that reasonably priced lenses aren't worth it because you spent $1300 on a zoom lens and now believe the $300 lens is below even an entry level shooter.

Again, I don't want to seem like I'm taking stabs at you here, but I ran into this a LOT when I was seeking advice on what system to get from other sites. I couldn't be happier with my $50 lenses and will upgrade when I feel the need.
posted by lattiboy at 5:31 PM on April 9, 2008

Totally agree with jcdill. I have a 20d (relatively cheap nowadays), but my real upgrade happened when I bought the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8. You'll really appreciate the fast, fixed aperture when shooting in lower light. It's an excellent replacement for the 18-55mm kit lens.
I got it about a hundred dollars less than retail by finding one (in like-new condition) on craigslist. It rivals the comparable canon L lens that is over $1k, from what I've read. But you don't have to take my word for it. If you can afford a little extra, maybe get the 40d. Don't be afraid to buy used in good condition. Here's a fairly recent price database for reference.

Oh, and for the most bang for your buck, grab the 50mm f/1.8 - crappy autofocus and cheap plastic body, but only ~$75 and super-sharp and super-fast (really great low-light portrait lens).
posted by blendor at 11:13 AM on April 10, 2008

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