December 9, 2017
I get asked all the time about what is the best camera to buy within a $500-$700 budget. I also know that many of you are looking for a new upgrade for Christmas! While the camera can definitely make a difference, the lens is typically where I advise people to first invest their money when they are looking to upgrade. I recommend purchasing an average or above average dSLR body only (meaning it doesn’t come with a lens) and purchase the lens that best fits your life and your interest. Read more below to understand what is best for you and feel free to comment or email with any additional questions!
Crop vs Full frame: Why does it matter?
Crop sensor and full frame sensor refers to the size of sensors. Nerd moment: The 35mm standard film gauge was set as the standard back in the late 1800’s. Anything smaller than that became known as a ‘crop sensor’ and anything larger became known as ‘medium format’ and anything fitting the 35mm standard size became known as ‘full frame’. This full frame results in a 2:3 aspect ratio which is why we have 4:6 printed photos. Ah ha! Right? Now, most standard dSLRs have a crop sensor camera, but what exactly does this mean? It means the physical size of the sensor affects what you see. It means that while physically the lens on your camera might be a 35mm lens, you won’t see the full 35mm image because it is on a crop sensor. See an example below.
With all that being said, the crop sensor camera is still a great way to get started with photography. The lenses that come with a camera or come in camera bundles are often referred to as ‘kit lenses’ and limit you a lot in what you’re able to do with them. They might have limited zoom range or a high aperture setting which makes shooting in low light situations or shooting quality portraits hard. I know I’m starting to speak a new language but hang with me! Aperture is the number after the lens distance. For example, 18-55mm kit lens has an aperture of usually 3.5-5.6 and you can see the difference below in how that affects your images. I have offered some suggestions for dSLRs as well as lens below but feel free to email or comment with any other questions you might have!
Nikon or Cannon?
This is a question I get asked ALL the time and, to me, it really comes down to personal preference. There are strengths and weaknesses to each but honestly at this level they are really the same. I started on one of the first cannon rebels with a 50mm lens and loved it! I learned how to shoot on manual on this camera, and I started my photography career on this camera. My mentor shot Nikon so when I invested in a full frame camera I choose the Nikon route. I have found that my Nikon equipment is sturdier and can take a little more of a beating than Canon products, but as a result Nikon’s equipment tend to be a little bit heavier in comparison. I love the picture quality and colors of Canon and it’s low light capabilities. While Canon has great quality images in l
ow light, Nikon, to me, handles harsh, bright light better than Canon. I almost switched to Canon a few years ago, because their video quality was ahead of Nikon’s, but I stuck with Nikon because of the investment I already had in their equipment. So truly, personal preference in my opinion!
Crop Sensor Beginner dSLR and Lens Options
Nikon D3400 (Body Only) : The biggest plus of this camera compared to the Canon equivalent is the longer battery life (1200 shots vs. 380 shots). It also has a higher ISO performance than Canon allowing better quality photos in low light situations. This camera does offer bluetooth capabilities so you can transfer images to your device immediately. While lighter in weight than the Canon Rebel SL1 it is a larger camera in size. If sports photography is your focus this camera out performs Canon with its increased amount of focus points.
Nikon 5600 (Body Only) : The 5600 is very similar to the 3400 above. The biggest benefit over this camera is its features, but generally speaking they are pretty similar camera in photographic abilities. Some features this body offers over the one above are: wireless connection, a moveable screen, touch screen, timelapse capabilities, and better audio recording.
Nikon 35mm 1.8 DX Lens : This is a prime lens so keep in mind your lens will not zoom in and out. It is fixed at one distance and you just move yourself forwards or backwards to frame the shot that you want. I think it is the most versatile lens for any of the beginner DSLR crop sensor cameras. I think it gives you more space and versatility than the 50mm and is perfect to use on vacations or while traveling. It still makes a great portrait lens but is good for buildings and landscapes as well.
Nikon 50mm 1.8 DX Lens : This is also a prime lens so keep in mind your lens will not zoom in and out. It is fixed at one distance and you just move yourself forwards or backwards to frame the shot that you want. The 50mm can be tight or close up on your subject on a crop sensor camera, but it is a beautiful portrait lens. This is great for babies, children and other portraits in outdoor settings, but it can be a little too tight sometimes indoors. This lens is nicknamed the ‘nifty 50’ because most people feel it is super practically when starting out photography. It’s a good middle group lens and most people feel this is the only lens they need.
Nikon 18-300 DX Lens : I haven’t personally used this lens because it was never needed for work that I have done but those that are capturing sporting events like soccer/baseball games or nature photography love this lens. They love the ability to shoot very wide or very tight without having to change lenses and many people comment on how they loved how sharp the focus was as they adjusted their zoom. It’s definitely more of an investment but as you become more serious about photography it sounds like a good investment!
Canon Rebel T5 : This is very similar to the Nikon D3400 listed above. This camera has the ability to record full HD video and has the flip out screen (a great added help when videoing especially). There are more autofocus points so the focusing ability on this camera is pretty accurate. This camera has great ISO performance as well.
Canon Rebel T7i : This is a step up from the T5 in price and features. It offers a few more features including: tilt-swivel screen, touch screen, built-in wi-fi, pairs with smartphones, built in bluetooth, improved auto-focus performance and many more AF points (45 vs 9), longer battery, external mic jack, much higher res screen, and higher ISO.
Canon 50mm 1.8 : This is also a prime lens so keep in mind your lens will not zoom in and out. It is fixed at one distance and you just move yourself forwards or backwards to frame the shot that you want. The 50mm can be tight on a crop sensor camera, but it is a beautiful portrait lens. This is great for babies, children and other portraits in outdoor settings, but it can be a little too tight sometimes indoors. This lens is nicknamed the ‘nifty 50’ because most people feel it is super practically when starting out photography. It’s a good middle group lens and most people feel this is the only lens they need.
Canon 24mm 2.8 : This is also a prime lens so keep in mind your lens will not zoom in and out. It is fixed at one distance and you just move yourself forwards or backwards to frame the shot that you want. I love this lens. It’s super light weight and much wider than the 50mm. It is a beautiful landscape lens and has the ability to capture buildings and scenes at a close distance. I’ve heard it even works as a good macro lens as well if you want to photography water droplets or other subjects up close.
Mirrorless Camera and Lens Options
The main difference in a mirrorless camera vs. a dSLR is the weight/size and its discreteness. It is much quieter when shooting and the size is the similar to that of a phone making traveling with these cameras a breeze. Lenses for these cameras also tend to be smaller and more compact, but you might not have as many options for lenses as you do with a dSLR. The cons are that the image quality isn’t quite as strong but mirrorless cameras are closing that gap more with each model. I will say thought that the average person shooting photos in daylight wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in quality. I’ve started using mirrorless for some video work and I have been really impressed with the quality.
Sony Alpha a6000 : I included a link to the ‘holiday bundle’ that includes just the body of the camera, a case and an extra battery. From using this camera and hearing other feedback you will need the extra battery. The autofocus on this camera is amazing! I mean really amazing. For sports or fast kiddos, this strength alone should be enough to sell you. This camera does offer you full frame coverage, wifi, and a tilt screen.
The video quality is killer and offers 1080p video recording and 4K conversion playback for images. The added bonus to this is that the Sony Alpha a6000 offers a really high ISO performance in low light situations. Like REALLY high.
Olympus and Sony offer other mirrorless options but I’m not super familiar with them. I’ve had great first hand experience with Sony’s mirrorless cameras though and highly recommend them!