Your First DSLR – Which One Should You Buy?

August 15, 2009

Recently, I have been getting a bunch of questions about what cameras I use, camera tips and suggestions, etc. Most of them are along the lines of “I’m thinking about getting my first digital SRL. Which one should I buy?”. In the past, I used to throw back a few questions like “What’s your budget?” and “What kind of photography are you interested in? Portrait, landscape, etc.?”. However, nowadays I think the most important thing is to find out whether photography is something you truly like before making an investment in it. I have seen quite a lot of people who went out and bought a brand new DSLR after seeing their friends’ cameras or some nice photos. They shot with it for a few months and rarely picked it up again after that.

So, how do you find out whether you really have a passion for photography? You definitely are going to need to have a camera with a lens and shoot lots of photos for a while. My advice is plain and simple; start with something inexpensive. This way if photography ends up not being what you expected, your camera gear won’t be too much of a money waste. If you buy used and decide to sell, you won’t lose as much money as buying new and selling it. Having said that, I recommend buying a cheap used camera body such as a Nikon D70, which goes for about under $300 on eBay with extras, rather than a $600 brand new entry-level Nikon D3000. You may argue that the D3000 is more advanced, hence the $600 price tag. You are right but do you need 10.2 megapixels and all the more advanced features to take good photographs? Probably not. Those are the nice-to-haves. Many consumers seem to have misconceptions about megapixels. If you aren’t sure, go ahead a few articles on the topic.


For the lens, instead of going with a wide-zoom, telephoto-zoom, or megasuper-zoom, I always recommend starting with a prime lens such as a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D or a Nikon 35mm f/1.8G. These two are very inexpensive and top notch lenses for  any photographer. Below are few images taken with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D and some a D70 body.

With this combo or something similar, go out shoot and enjoy. After 6-12 months, you should know whether photography is something you really like and want to invest in (it gets expensive!). If you want to move up to a better body or stick with the first longer, that’s your choice. The reasons/contributing factors for buying your second camera are going to be entirely different.

By the way, I mention Nikon here because I shoot Nikon. I need to get a lot of updates on Canon and other brands to make a sound recommendation. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either Nikon or Canon and their resale values are very good. Another thing—I am not specifically recommending Nikon D70. It happens to be my first digital SLR. I started with a film Nikon FE before moving to D70. You could certainly look into D40, D50, and the alike. As a note, if you put an AF lens on a D40, autofocus will not work. D40’s autofocus only works with AF-S lenses. On D70, anything goes. It even has a higher flash sync speed, works with all kinds of Nikon and third-party lenses. Even David Hobby mentions in his Strobist Lighting DVDs that he uses/used  a D70.

One last tip—camera bodies depreciate in value much faster than lenses. For instance, I bought a D70 in 2004 for about $1000 and sold it for $350 in 2007. On the other hand, a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D cost me about $100 in 2004 and now it’s about $125 brand new and $100 used on eBay.









D70 picture from