Recently I had a friend tell me that she was interested in buying an SLR camera. I told her not to buy it until she talked to me. While writing her an email I thought that maybe others would be interested too. Here’s what I said.
I recommend 3 things for anyone buying an SLR. Here are a couple of links to a Canon and a Nikon setup with these 3 things plus one extra that is optional.
1. First is a camera body. At the consumer level most camera bodies come with a kit lens that is 18-55mm 3.5-5.6. The first numbers refer to how wide or far the lens will zoom (18mm-55mm). The second set of numbers tell you how fuzzy the out of focus area can be–the lower the number the fuzzier the background. 3.5 is the fuzziest that this lens can be when the lens is at 18mm and 5.6 is the fuzziest it can be at 55mm. These kit lenses aren’t fantastic, but they get the job done. Images from these lenses are comparable to a high quality point and shoot camera. Anyone buying an SLR and buying only the kit lens would be better off getting a high-quality P&S. They are much less expensive and much easier to pack/carry etc… I have a p&S that I love! I can slip it in my pocket and take great pictures easily. With these SLRs to get the camera body you have to buy this kit lens. And it’s a decent lens to have anyway, it’s just the weakest link in this setup. The camera will really shine with a more appropriate lens.
Second, because of the capability of SLRs to change lenses I recommend buying a 50mm 1.8 lens. This is by far that best lens for the price anywhere. It’s a great lens for taking pictures of kids. It’s going to be able to give you that out of focus background that make pictures look so nice. It is also good at taking pictures in lower light without a flash. If I could have only one lens it would be this one.
Third, but probably most importantly, I recommend these videos. They are fantastic. They are designed to teach non-photographers the basics of how to use an SLR. They also go into fun composition and techniques for getting great images. Often people tell me that they don’t like their pictures and want to buy a new camera. I always recommend these first. So often they can really improve pictures with changes in the photographer (which are more affordable) than with a new camera :-) The first video is helpful for any parent with any camera. The second simply and clearly describes the mechanics of an SLR and how to use it. Again, without something like this I would recommend sticking with a point and shoot.
The last thing is an extra on these lists. It’s a lens that would be fun to have. It’s totally optional and you could pick it up at any time. I just threw it in for you to consider. IF I were looking for an relatively inexpensive setup to photograph my family, it would be the next thing that I would purchase after the camera, 50mm and videos.
Nikon D60 camera with 18-55 lens-$529 (Body only-$458)
Nikon 50mm 1.8-$132 (This lens is a must have for anyone with an SLR. If I could have only one lens it would be this one.)
Sigma 55-200-$138 (totally optional lens that’s affordable and would be fun)
Nikon D40 camera with 18-55 lens-$409 (This is a less expensive body that’s still available. I do not think that it is worth the $110 savings between the D60 and the D40. The D60 is a MUCH better camera.)