With new releases of camera equipment and lenses flying left and right, it’s hard at times to decide what you really need. Here’s a condensed guide on getting a kit going, whether you’re a first-time camera shopper, or looking to trade in your old equipment for some new stuff.
So, what do you need? We’ve presented three different guides, with everything you’ll need for a head start in photography.
1) The Budget Plan ($1100)
2) The Midlevel Plan (Under $1800)
3) The Pro Plan (Under $3500)
First Things First: Nikon or Canon
If you want easily purchasable used equipment (which I highly recommend), Nikon and Canon are the best brands. Now, which is better? That’s a totally unanswerable question by itself. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Whatever brand you have more equipment for at the moment (or that you you know you have easy access to) should be your first pic. Beyond that, my personal preference lies with Nikon; their lenses are built up to higher standards most of the time. However, Canon bodies are generally higher performing and less expensive than their Nikon counterparts. Either way, you can’t go wrong with both brands.
Step 1: A Camera Body
- Budget: Nikon D5100 or Canon T3i (approximately $600)
- Midlevel: Nikon D7000 or Canon 60D (approximately $800-$900)
- Pro: Canon 5D Mark II or Nikon D700 ($1600 – $2100)
For those that want the latest equipment: Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 ($3500)
Cheap and high-performing DSLRs are becoming ever more mainstream. Pick up a Nikon D5100 or a Canon T3i for less than a thousand, and you’ll be astounded at the image quality differences from DSLRs made from just a few years ago. The midlevel choices are great. If you prefer a sturdier build for the Canon route, go with the Canon 7D instead; however, you’ll find that its image quality is virtually identical to that of the 60D, with a significant price hike.
Finally, there are the full-frame pro bodies. The 5D Mark II has been the world’s favorite (relatively) low-cost full-frame camera for ages. You can easily pick one up on eBay for around $1600; oftentimes, it will be bundled with the 24-105 f/4 L series lens, which retails for about $800. There’s also the Nikon D700. The D700 has superior noise control to the 5D Mark II, and is better for those solely focused on photography. Its glaring omission of video will leave many disillusioned though.
If you have deep pockets, consider the 5D Mark III or the Nikon D800; these are great cameras that come with hefty price tags. I highly advise against buying them. The 5D Mark II and the D700 are such high performers already, and the money left over would be far more effectively invested in more lenses.
Step 2: General Purpose Wide Angle Lens
- Budget: Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC ($350)
- Midlevel: Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 Xr Di-II ($500)
- Pro: Canon 24-70 f/2.8 ($950) OR 17-40 f/4L ($750) , Nikon 16-35 f/4L ($1200) or 24-70 f/2.8 ($1800)
The budget and midlevel lessons are pretty straightforward. These are high performing third-party lenses will serve 80% of all your photographic needs.
For the pro lens, it all depends on how wide you like to get. If you choose to get a 24-70 in this route, forego the normal fast prime, and get an ultrawide prime or a telephoto prime. On the other hand, if you choose to get the wider zoom lens, it would be best to get a normal prime.
Step 3: Fast Prime
Prime lens: what a broad category! However, I do believe that every photographer should have at least one prime lens, regardless of its function. Budget and midlevel shooters should stick to this guideline for the most useful prime lens:
- Budget: Canon or Nikon 50mm f/1.8 ($80), Nikon 35mm f/1.8 ($180)
- Midlevel: Canon 85mm f/1.8 ($300), Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ($420), Nikon 85mm f/1.8 ($350-$400)
- Pros: For the pros, it’s a different story.If you chose to get an ultrawide zoom (i.e. a 16-35 or the 17-40), get the Canon 85mm f/1.8 ($300), Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ($420), or Nikon 85mm f/1.8 ($350-$400)If you chose to get a general-purpose zoom (i.e. 24-70 f/2.8), there are a variety of options to get:
- LANDSCAPE SHOOTERS: Nikon 20mm f/2.8 ($370), Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ($350) for manual focus enthusiasts, Canon
- PORTRAIT, MACRO, SPORTS: Canon and Nikon offer truly outstanding lenses: the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM ($550) and the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G VR ($850). These moderate tele lenses are excellent portrait lenses, macro lenses, and outdoor sport performers!
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