I get asked this question on a pretty regular basis from family, friends, acquaintances, and near strangers. The answer might be different for everyone but I wanted to write up a quick post about the advice I give to people about what they should buy.
Note that my advice in this post comes from my experience as a portrait photographer, shooting with Canon equipment.
I am aware of the DSLR bundles out there that you can buy. Costco, especially, is notorious for bundling up a camera body with a couple of all-purpose or “kit” lenses, and a bunch of accessories for a really great price that seems irresistible. I am not a fan of these. What most people don’t realize is that those lenses are very basic, very general, and well, in my opinion, not very good lenses. Good lenses are made for a very specific purpose. An all-purpose or “kit lens” tries to fulfill a lot of purposes all in one lens and by doing so it can’t do any of the purposes very well. I hope that makes sense. If it doesn’t, just know this: don’t expect a kit lens to be expert at anything. The one exception would be if you want a lens to throw on your camera and not worry about anything because you are just going to put your camera on AUTO and well, just not worry about anything.
There is a website that I found early on in my photography years that I studied thoroughly! It’s called The Digital Picture and it reviews Canon cameras and lenses in depth. I ended up learning so much about photography just by reading about different lenses. It didn’t take long for me to begin to value the properties of a lens perhaps even more than a camera body. A good lens is very important when you are learning about photography. If you want to learn landscape photography, for example, you are going to want to use a wide-angle lens to be able to capture it, all side to side, east to west, whatever you want to call it. If you want to shoot wildlife you are certainly going to want a lens with the highest zoom capabilities you can afford. For me, I wanted to learn to shoot portraits. I needed a good portrait lens. The Costco camera bundles do not offer a lens that I would be happy shooting portraits with.
Going back to the question of “What camera should I buy?” I think the more appropriate question would be, “What lens should I buy?” And if asked that question I would ask, “What is it that you want to learn to shoot best?” I suggest talking a look at The Digital Picture and click on the lenses specific to what you are interested in and go from there. Put your money where the lens is, if needed, and buy an entry level DSLR. Then upgrade your camera later if you can, but definitely go for a good, specific lens!
When I bought my first DSLR, I was on a tight budget. I wanted the biggest bang for my buck. I bought the following to start out to keep it simple and really focus on learning. I would do it all over again and again.
1- an entry level DSLR. At the time it is was a Canon Rebel.
2- A portrait lens. I started with the “nifty fifty” Canon 50mm fixed portrait lens. It was so inexpensive at around $50, yet it produced some amazing pictures! I’ll talk more specifically about this lens in another post.
3- I bought a basic bag to carry the two in so I could protect my investment :)
4- I bought the book Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. It was perfect for learning the basics of photography and putting it all together to make great images. I still recommend this book to everyone just starting out with the basics of photography!!
When my own little custom camera/lens bundle arrived in the mail I was determined to put my camera in Manual Mode and force myself to learn how to use it.
I’m determined that customizing your own camera/lens bundle is a much better way to buy a camera. I created my first bundle over 8 years ago and in all my years of learning and shooting I have never wished I owned the lenses that come in one of those Costco bundles.