Magic Monday: What Camera Should I get?

What camera do you recommend I get?”

I have gotten this question emailed to me so often, that I finally decided to post my response on my blog!   I hope it helps!

The most important aspect is understanding how your camera works, and understanding light and composition.  This is the overall key to taking great photos.  Be sure to include in your camera purchase a plan for learning how to use the camera (take a class, or check out my book recommendations…)

This is what I usually recommend as far as camera’s go… they’re priced in tiers of expense as well as quality.  Any of these camera’s will do the job fine if the operator knows how to operate 🙂

Camera Recommendations:

Good: Canon Digital Rebel XSi, **Nikon D80 (discontinued now, but a great steal if you can find one)

Better: Canon Digital Rebel T1i, Canon 50D , Nikon D90

Best: Canon 7D, Canon 5D MarkII, Nikon D300, Nikon D700

Whats best between Canon and Nikon?

Welcome to the eternal debate reminiscent of mac vs. pc.  You’ll find loyalists in each camp.  As I stated earlier, the most important aspect of good photography is understanding how a camera works and mastering shooting in manual instead of auto.  Each camera will yield some great photos if you understand the principles of photography. That being said, I personally am a very happy and loyal Nikon shooter but have several Canon users in my classes.  I think Nikons are more user friendly, but that small difference can easily be overcome.  You adapt to what you have.

So much is in the lenses

My suggestion to everyone is regardless of the camera brand or body you get, is to get a nice lens.  Lenses make the overall biggest difference in the quality of your images.

I always recommend the 50mm 1.4 or the 50mm 1.8 to everyone.  This is quite affordable but will allow you to do those beautiful pictures with a subject in focus and the background blurred, allow you to shoot indoors without a flash easier than other lenses will, and I feel it is actually sharper and provides richer color.  I have lenses that cost over $1000, but still use my trusty 1.4 lens about 75% of my shooting.

Many people purchase their camera with a kit lens that comes in the package.  Though this lens is “decent”, the 50mm will make your images soar.  If your budget is limited, buy the camera body separate and add this lens as a replacement for about the same price.

*do be aware that this lens is a fixed focal length, meaning there is no zoom.  You will need to move forward or backward yourself to compose your shots.

**WARNING: in addition, if you purchase  a Nikon entry level SLR such as the D40, D60, D3000, D5000  the 50 mm is not compatible with these lenses.  Instead, Nikon has made the 35mm 1.8 lens to serve the same purpose.

This is one reason I don’t have these models on my recommendation list.  Not because they aren’t worthy cameras, but because not every lens is compatible.  According to the Inkleys store rep I chatted with, Nikon never intended these cameras to be “professional”–but made this change to make their SLRs more affordable.  The downside I see to this, is that I have students with these models who end up falling in love with photography, their knowledge and skills expand, and they reach a point where they are interested in upgrading their lenses and gear.  When you have to buy specialty lenses for these cameras, or if you ever choose to upgrade your camera later on, you need to upgrade your lenses as well.  In the long run, if you think you ever have a chance of loving this art so much you want better equipment, I’d stick with the Nikon D80 or D90 as a safe starter SLR in the Nikon family.

Where to purchase your gear?

I usually purchase all my gear on  I saved a whopping $1000 on my last camera purchase compared to the local photo store!  They always seem to have the cheapest prices yet still sell from reputable stores that have warantees and customer service.  I’ve also had great experiences with BH PhotoPictureline, and Calumet.

BEWARE: If you find a site that sells camera gear for super super cheap— it is very likely too good to be true and will end up being a bad deal in the long run.  I’m one of the most frugal people I know, but can’t stress enough the importance of buying your gear from someone reputable.  Especially if you’re going to be spending several hundred or even thousands of dollars. Be smart.  Be safe, and stick with amazon or BH Photo, or other reputable stores.  You may have to pay slightly more, but thats a whole lot better in the long run to loosing out or getting drug into a bait and switch scam.

Hope thats helpful!  Good luck!

Anything anyone else would add?

Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. She recently learned how to yodel so she could perform upbeat polka songs in the kitchen for the baby boy she is smitten with. Her delightful husband sings bass and does a great oom pah line to accompany the yodel chorus. She wrote an opera once, and dabbles in cowboy poetry.

Brooke teaches private photography lessons as well as monthly photography classes in Logan, Utah.

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12 Responses

  1. Great guide Brooke. One thing you might want to clarify is that the D5000 is in the same boat as the D40, D60, and D3000 in regards to lenses. I can vouch for that as my Nikkor 50mm 1.8 has no Auto-focus on my D5000. I love the D5000 in every other way, but I do wish it had an AF motor in the body (like the D90).

  2. I have a question friend! Okay so my Canon came with a lens. Now…I still know jack squat about it all. It says on it 18-55mm. Is this similar to the 50mm ones you speak of? Because I don’t really find it’s that great of a lens and I find it hard to do nice photos inside and even outside with it. But my other lens is too much for inside close up shots. xo

  3. Kristi Friend! Nope, its not the same lens. The 50mm is a fixed lens–meaning that there is no zoom. It has one focal length: 50mm. And it is much lovelier than the kit lens that came with your camera. Your lens has a focal range of 18-55mm (wide–18mm- to more close up–55mm) and although you can definitely zoom to a 50mm focal length on that lens the only similarity at that point is your focal length–how much of the image you see in your frame. The 50mm lens has better glass, will produce sharper images, richer color, and provide the opportunity for even more amazing boca (blurry background) than your kit lens is capable of doing. Hope that helps!

  4. Hi! I just wanted to say that I really admire all your work and I’ve learned a lot from just reading your blogs. Also, I have a question. I shoot a lot of child portraiture and I’ve been using my 50mm. However, I’ve started shooting outside family portraits as well and I feel like the 50mm just isn’t cutting it when I’m not close by. I’m looking at buying a longer lens. What would you suggest? Is the 85mm really that much different from the 50mm?


    1. Thanks Claire! I’m glad you enjoy the blog! Thanks for commenting! I LOVE COMMENTS 🙂 It lets me know who’s out there listening 🙂 I use the 50mm more than the 85mm when shooting families because its wider. I do have the 85mm 1.8 lens which is lovely, but I usually use it for portraits of a single person or a couple, rather than a family. You could still shoot a family at 85mm, you just have to be further away. I guess I just like to be closer. Totally personal preference only, not necessarily the “right” way. I do love the 85 though. You get a bit of background compression to your images at that length–which can be absolutely lovely. I should probably try it on families, since I never have 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. Our local camera salesman told us in a class that Amazon is mostly grey market and to be careful. If it’s a grey market camera your warranty is void. Just a little FYI. I second that B&H is a GREAT place to make purchases.

    Thanks for all the great info!!

    1. I’m not surprised that a local camera salesman would say that. Not sure if he’s right or not, or just trying to bring business into his own store, but I have had absolutely great customer service with amazon, and have even made returns on extremely high priced items with absolute great success. As always, if the purchase is not through amazon’s store but a third party, always check rating and the credibility of the store. When I say that I buy camera gear from Amazon, the third party stores are places like Cameta Camera and Calumet who are fantastic. I would be so totally for supporting local stores over anything online if they price competitively.

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