Over the years I have had people express an interest in photography. They will sometimes ask what camera or lens they should buy in order to take “really good” photos. The answer to those questions depends upon several factors; your budget, the subjects you will be photographing most often, and if you plan on upgrading your equipment. This blog entry is not intended to guide you to purchase a specific camera or lens. The information here is meant to get you thinking about your purchase before you have spent your money.
Your budget will determine how much of a camera or lens you can afford. You can purchase new and used cameras online from around $200-$3,700 or more. The more expensive cameras are considered professional cameras and most are also known as “full frame.” The cost of the used or new lens can be very inexpensive to very expensive; starting from $80-$25,000. The more expensive the lenses are often heavier in weight, longer, have a tripod collar, and are designed for very specific uses. Buying new or used online is good if you know the reputation of the company or seller, which can be difficult. Many photographers have had very good success buying from ebay, Adorama, or B&H Photo. These three companies have very good reputations and have been known to provide excellent service and products.
The subjects you will be photographing will make a difference in the type of camera and lens you buy. The technology has changed so that some cameras are built to have faster burst speed when shooting more than one frame for second (3-6 frames per second for some cameras). There are also a few cameras that have more sensitive sensors and are better at astrophotography. The professional cameras have the ability to have the software upgraded to use higher ISO (a term that related to the speed of film…higher ISO can be into the 12800 range or higher for some professional cameras). Sports and wildlife photography often require the use of telephoto lenses (70-200mm, 100-400mm, and 200-400mm are examples of telephoto lenses) or super telephoto lenses (a 300mm lens is an example of a super telephoto lens). Portrait photography lenses are those that range from 80mm-200mm (a good telephoto zoom can work for portraits). The better macro photography lenses are those where the ratio is 1:1 and give a very close focusing on your subject. You can find out the ratio by looking at the technical specifications of the lens and asking the sales person. Macro photography can be anything from the detail on a dollar bill to the small insects in your yard. Be aware that a telephoto zoom that has the word macro may have a ratio that isn’t 1:1 (some may be 1:2 or 1:3).
If you plan on upgrading your equipment in the future you will need to be aware of the various differences in lenses and sensor sizes. The entry level cameras for Nikon and Canon have APS-C sensors, which means they have a smaller sensor than the more expensive professional (full frame) cameras. Those entry level cameras are sold with a lens that may not be made for a full frame camera. Note: if you purchase a lens that works mainly on the smaller sensor APS-C camera and then upgrade to a full frame camera later, your lens may not work on the full frame camera. There are adaptors that may allow you to use some Canon lenses on Nikon cameras (and Nikon lenses on Canon cameras), though these can impact the ability to use your auto-focus on the camera and lens. You may need to manually focus the lens if you use a different lens on your Canon or Nikon camera. Carefully look at the different manufacturers of cameras and lenses before you decide to get into DSLR photography. Some photographers start with one camera manufacturer then switch and discover they now have to find a way to sell the cameras and most of their lenses, which can take a considerable amount of time and money.
What is your budget? How much can you realistically afford to spend on a camera and lens? What subjects will you be photographing most often? Will this be a hobby or perhaps more? Do you plan on buying more lenses or a professional camera in the future? Are you familiar with how Nikon cameras and lenses differ from Canon? Have you held a DSLR and spoken with someone who knows about photography equipment?