Which SLR camera should I buy?

If you’ve decided that an SLR is the thing for you, you’re still in good shape. You really can’t go wrong getting an SLR right now; they’re all a good buy and packed with features. I generally recommend Nikons or Canons as they’re the most widely-used; that means there are more accessories and used lenses available. That said, you’ll find plenty of recommendations for Olympus, Sony, Sigma, Pentax, and the other brands.


ISO 400, 12mm, f/4.0, 1/20 sec

Which model should you buy? I generally recommend the least expensive. Right now, that means the Canon Rebel XSi or the Nikon D3000. (The Canon link is for body only; the Nikon link includes a “kit lens” that I would recommend replacing.)

You can spend more money on a camera, but your lens investment is far more important. Cameras are replaced every few years, but people hold onto their lenses. And the quality of your images has more to do with the lens than with the camera. I recommend the 50mm f/1.8 for Canon users. For Nikon users, there’s a 35mm f/1.8 available (see the comments from Matt Speicher below for more information about Nikon lenses). Fast prime (fixed focal length) lenses like these are great for a few reasons.

– they’re inexpensive

– they’re very fast, allowing you to shoot indoors without a flash

– they’re small and light, making the camera more portable

– their image quality is superior to almost any other lens under $500 and many lenses under $1000

– the single focal length eliminates a decision from every shot you take (zooming is not an option)

You can spend more money on a camera, but your lens investment is far more important.

Zoom lenses like the Canon 28-200 are nice in terms of their range, but there are trade-offs.

– they cost more

– they’re heavier

– image quality is not as good

– they are slower, which will require flash in more situations (image stabilization (aka vibration reduction) helps, but still doesn’t bridge the gap)

That said, at some point you’ll want to buy a zoom lens. That’s when friends with SLRs come in handy so you can borrow their lenses and try them out. I use pro lenses for portrait shoots, but my “walking around” lens is the Tamron 28-300. They make a Nikon version, too. The image quality is not as good as that offered by the 50mm f/1.8, but it’s very versatile (if a bit slow).

Eventually, you may want to pick up a macro lens for close-up photography, or a wide-angle lens (which was used in the photo above) for a different perspective. I’d avoid getting wrapped up in the hardware, though; there are a lot of good pictures waiting to be taken with your new SLR and 50mm lens. I just created two galleries in which all of the photos were taken with a 50mm lens. I enjoyed taking the photos and, though at first I thought not having my zoom lens along would be a problem, I was very happy with the results.



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  • […] On the other hand, maybe the delay when you press the shutter release on your point-and-shoot has resulted in too many lost shots. Or perhaps you’re looking to take even more creative control of your photos. In that case, it may be time to consider a digital SLR. […]

  • Matthew SpeicherFebruary 20, 2010 - 09:21

    As a Nikon shooter, I must mention that the latest entry level Nikon bodies like the D40, D60, D3000 and D5000 won’t autofocus that 50mm lens because Nikon took the focusing motor out of the body to save money. You used to be able to use older lenses with the entry level bodies. My old D50 could do it. Nowadays, you have to get a $800 D90 if you want to use your old lenses. The lenses that end in G (like the new $200 35mm f/1.8G) have focusing motors inside the lenses and will run perfectly on the entry level bodies. With the cropped sensor, I’d recommend the 35mm anyways because it gives you an effective focal length of close to 50mm.

    Cropped and full frame sensors and other cost cutting measures have overly complicated the Nikon lens lineup. It can be irritating at times. I have the following older D lenses and I love em 50 f1.8, 85 f1.8 and 35 f2. I also have 2 newer G zoom lenses, the 18-55 and 55-200. They are ok and do the job when I need a zoom. I used to have a nice 24 f2.8 but the crop sensor turned it into a 35 and it was a bit too expensive to just be a 35.

  • kevinFebruary 20, 2010 - 19:15

    Thank you, Matt! Your comments are greatly appreciated, and I’ve revised the post to reflect your advice.

  • […] last week’s post on choosing an SLR, I recommended that you pair your new camera with a 50mm prime lens. A prime lens can be […]