Hey everyone. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m actually good at this photography stuff, or if it’s just because I post a lot of pictures online and act really arrogant about it and thus come off like I know what I’m talking about, but people ask me for advice on buying cameras on a somewhat regular basis. Spending a large pile of cash based on my dubious words of wisdom seems like a recipe for disaster to me, but hey, it’s their paycheck they’re blowing, not mine.
Recently (just now!) somebody asked me what kind of digital SLR they should look into getting. The circumstances? Enjoys taking pictures, wants to get more serious about it, perhaps taking some classes and even getting involved semi-professionally, doing wedding/event photography or otherwise. Basically, somebody that is prepared to drop a decent pile of cash on some decent quality stuff. But, somebody who is bewildered by all the options. Note that this is different from somebody who just wants a point and shoot that takes good shots, or somebody who wants to be able to take a wide variety of good pictures but doesn’t anticipate wanting to take the next step of obsession and start spending millions of dollars on interchangeable lenses. There are answers for those people too, and the text below probably isn’t it. What I’m getting at here is: camera equipment is not a one-size-fits-all kind of game. There are a zillion different choices, and a large number of them are the perfect choice for somebody. It all comes down to what you’re looking for.
Anyway, I spent a decent amount of time writing up an email to answer my friend’s questions. And I found myself saying some of the same things that I’ve found myself saying somewhat frequently lately. So, I figured all the time I spent writing up my response could actually help a wider audience, so I decided to post it here in its entirety. Everything below this paragraph is that response. Enjoy! And please feel free to share any thoughts or comments below. As much as I like to pretend I do, I definitely don’t know everything, so please feel free (no, feel like it is your DUTY) to enlighten me or set me straight. Note that I’m writing this in early May, 2010, so depending on long this stays on the website without being updated, it may be horribly out of date. That’s part of the fun! Happy reading!!
So yeah, I am a Canon guy, but what I usually tell people is that you literally cannot go wrong with a Canon or a Nikon. Obviously there are several choices available for each, but before you get TOO wrapped up in which exact model you’re looking for, just remember that you will undoubtedly be really happy with ANY of them, and which one in particular you decide on just comes down to which features you want and how price sensitive you are. Obviously, the newest ones will be the most expensive, but they will also have all the cutting edge new features, and marketing departments get paid big $$$ to make all the new features sound like stuff you can’t live without. But, believe me, you CAN live without it, and even the older models were cutting edge once.
So.. that being said.. Canon or Nikon? I think the best way to answer that question is to go to a store and play around with each. They each have different button layouts and such, so you should hold them both, see which you prefer. (Or even rent one for a couple days, that would be an even better test.) Pay attention to how it feels in your hands (the build, the weight, where the buttons are, how you would adjust various things like ISO and white balance, etc), as well as how it works (how the menus are laid out, which buttons can you reach while you’re holding the camera up to your face, how you look through pictures, etc.) Both manufacturers have spent a lot of energy trying to make them as intuitive as possible, but one may be more intuitive for how your brain works than the other.
It’s true that Canon has a larger share of the market, but there are still plenty of pros that use Nikons. I’d stay away from all the other manufacturers though. I’m sure they make some great cameras, but you’ve got to figure that once you buy your first lens, you’re stuck with the system that you picked. And, it’s just the way it is, there are FAR more lenses available for Canons and Nikons than the other guys. (both 1st party lenses – Canon and Nikon – and third party lenses, like Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, etc.) Both of them have a great reputation around image quality, so I don’t believe you can say anything like “X generally makes better lenses than Y”.
So.. Once you pick your manufacturer, you still have to pick the exact model. Like I said before, that just comes down to price vs. features. Unless you’re looking at buying used, realistically only the past 1 or 2 generations will be available, and you may not be able to find THAT screamin’ of a deal on them. Buying used is a possibility, but since these are very complicated electronic devices, I would only really consider that route if you’re seriously just planning on using it to start, and you’d be buying a new camera in less than a year. Other than that, go new. You just don’t know the history otherwise, and even if it’s still got warranty coverage, warranty repair is a pain in the ass. Lenses aren’t quite the same, but then again lenses hold their value REALLY well, so you won’t be saving too much buying used vs. new.
For Canon, that means you’re basically looking at the XS or XSi at the lower-ish end, and the T1i or T2i at the higher-ish end. (Although that’s really mid-end, aka sub-$1000. Good enough for everything you’d be shooting, and even good enough for pro wedding or event photography I’d say – that applies to all 4, not just the T1i and T2i.) I’d stay away from the XS unless you’re REALLY price sensitive, because the other three have a bigger screen that’s REALLY nice, as well as better high-ISO performance, so for those benefits the money (less than $100 I think) you’d save on the XS isn’t worth it.
The choice between the XSi and the T1i is the big one. The two big differences there are a higher resolution screen (same size, just more pixels on the T1i), and the T1i shoots movies, the XSi doesn’t. The T1i has a very slight advantage in high-ISO quality, but it’s barely discernible. It’s totally a toss-up depending on how much you want those features and whether they’re worth the cost. I’m not that clear on the differences between the T1i and the T2i, but I haven’t seen anything to justify the extra $150 or whatever you’d be spending, so stick to the XSi or the T1i.
As far as lenses, I think the Canon equivalent pro-necessity would be the 28-125 or something. But definitely don’t go there until you know you need it. For now, stick with the kit lens (Canon comes with an 18-55) and maybe pick up a cheap ($100-$250) telephoto (like a 70-300). As you use them, you may find yourself getting frustrated at one aspect or another of your setup, then depending on what the frustration is, you can figure out what you need to do to overcome it. For example, maybe you hate carrying multiple lenses and swapping them out. Then a superzoom like an 18-200 or a 28-300 may be the way to go. But remember that there’s always a trade-off, with a superzoom you’ll be sacrificing some image quality. They do everything okay but nothing great. If you find yourself wanting sharper images, then you can buy higher quality optics. If you want to be able to take pictures in lower light, you can look at getting a “faster” lens. If you want to be able to take wide angle shots, you can look at a wide angle lens. Get where I’m going with this? I can’t tell you what kind of shots you’ll find yourself wanting to take, so I can’t recommend the best lens for taking them. But, with both Canon and Nikon, the kit lenses tend to be very very good lenses, so you’re not really sacrificing anything while you figure out what lens you want to buy next. Personally, my go-to lens is the Tamron 17-50 (available on both Canon and Nikon mounts), but since you don’t know how the kit lens performs in your kind of shots, you won’t appreciate the difference, and you probably won’t be confident that it was $450 well-spent. Plus, while 17-50 is the perfect range for most of the shots that I take, to do wedding photography you’ll probably want to get closer in than that, so a 28-70 or a 28-125 may be better. See where I’m going again? That you’ll have to decide from experience where your equipment is holding you back, and you’ll have to research what the right thing is to buy to remove the roadblock. For now, start with the kit lens, and maybe a telephoto.
One thing you’ll DEFINITELY need if you’re thinking about wedding photography and whatnot is an external flash, but if you take a class I’m sure you’ll figure that one out. For indoor people pictures, it’s ALL about the lighting. 😉
Hopefully that’s helpful. I think I’m going to cut and paste this all into a page on my blog, this much effort deserves to have a wider audience.