There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t see someone on Twitter asking what camera they should buy, and where possible we like to help out with advice based on the cameras we get to review. At the same time, its difficult to give full reasoning in 140 characters. This post then is a more detailed answer to the question asked by @bakedbyjoanna on the topic of what camera to buy.
Differing Geography, Models and Currency
Let me first make a note that I am writing this from our home base of South Africa so there are some slight difference in model number from country to country ( largely a Canon thing) and pricing due to currency difference etc. For the purpose of answering @bakedbyjoanna’s question more directly I will focus on USA models and pricing though certainly somethings will apply to most readers in differing budgets as well.
Purpose For The Camera
Wherever possible I suggest people ask themselves what their new camera will be used to photograph most and their budget. In this case @bakedbyjoanna gave us the following further information
@photocomment this will be my 1st slr, so I don’t want to exceed $600. I will be using it for food photography if that makes a diff. Thx!
I am going to argue here that the need to photograph food does make a difference, less so on the camera than it does on the lens and that is an important thing to think of. All too often I see people get the supposed best camera they can for their money and find that the kit lens it came with does not meet their need.
To double check my view I checked with a familiar face here at PhotoComment, Rikki Hibbert, who has done a fair bit of food photography for clients including work for a recipe book not to long ago. She second my thinking saying that she would get a good macro lens first and then the best body with whats left even looking at stuff second hand.
That brings me to my next point, don’t pull your nose up at quality used gear. Much of my photographic life I have shot using used cameras and lenses bought from a reputable second hand camera store. Much of the time the gear I bought was owned by enthusiasts who used the gear little but could afford to upgrade with each new camera, or they simply lost the interest to pursue photography.
So What Are The Options?
Okay, I did a little search on B&H Photo Video and Amazon to see what we could do in the $600 budget, here are some of my recommendations based on what I found at the time of writing.
I came up with the following in a search on B&H as options.
The Canon EOS Rebel XS – also known as the EOS 1000D and Kiss F in other parts of the world – is another of Canon’s dominating models. While most other cameras in this price range use CCD sensors, the Canon offers their famous CMOS sensor technology in this entry model that tends to perform better in low light than CCD sensors do. I also feel that Canon’s entry level cameras offer benefits which their competitors lack in this price. For example this model can take a cable release, where the other competitors I will mention shortly don’t. Canon also offer a Battery Grip which not only offers place for a second battery to power the camera but have a Vertical Release which basically means that when using the camera for shooting portraits and having to hold the the camera with your hand above or below – usually meaning you cannot tuck that elbow and your arms can tire faster – the vertical grip duplicates the camera control on the bottom of it meaning your hand is on the side as if you were shooting in landscape. Hope that makes sense.
Nikon D3000, a popular camera but which I feel falls short a bit against the Canon, its beaten in almost every area.
Sony A290, this camera comes in at $429,95 giving it an upper hand in price. What sets it apart from the Nikon D3000 is support for wireless TTL flash photography – check out TTL Strobist Flash Lighting.
Sony A390 coming in at $449.99 after rebate, this camera has a brilliant Live View system with a tilting screen and quick autofocus even in live view.
In all of the above there would be money left over to put towards a macro lens in the hopefully not to distant future which is more important than over spending on the camera body.
Used Camera Gear
Here I did things differently, I first went in search of a used macro lens and then for the camera body on B&H Photo Video. I found two Sony 50mm Macro lenses both listed under $400.00. I then went to look at the camera bodies and saw that the best deal was a Sony Alpha A200 in good condition for under $300. While the A200 is an older camera and the predecessor of the A290 mentioned above in the new section, it is in many way more equal to the Canon Rebel XS sporting the ability to use a cable release and a Battery Grip with vertical controls. In fact the A200 is the camera I used to capture the birth of my son just less than 2 years ago.
Mix It Up
One could opt to get a new Sigma 50mm Macro lens which is listed at $369.00 and if you can squeeze the budget to equal that amount or below on a camera you would find option like the Fuji S3 Pro which is based on a Nikon camera or the Sony Alpha A200. If you looked around a bit you might find a Canon EOS 20/30D, Nikon D80 body only as well though that may be a little harder to find from the brief research I have done at this time.
Bugger the Macro Lens, What Can I Find
I would only suggest this approach on second hand goods where you may find a more versatile lens than the 18-55mm kitted with most new cameras in this price range. If you do that then you are looking at options like the Nikon D80 with 18-135mm which was the only option on a list of 27 cameras worth considering.
I have come to realize one thing in particular while writing this article, used cameras in America seem to retain their value better than they do in South Africa. In some cases a used camera here sells for less than it does in the USA and our new prices are generally higher than in the States.
That point aside, the variety in this price bracket is not huge perhaps, but there are still some capable machines in the range and while some may pull their nose up at something like the Canon Rebel XS, in the hands of any skilled photographer it would do practically anything that a camera twice its price would. Remember that the camera is be out of date and in need of replacement far sooner than your lenses will and the camera impacts your ability to shoot most subjects far less than having the wrong or right lens for a job will as well.