I'd first like to add in a quick yet important preface for this section:
The equipment does not make the photographer!
While it's true that having the right equipment does help with different kinds of photography, in the end it's the photographer himself that matters the most. Simply put, a great photographer will make great results even with the most basic of gear, and a bad photographer will make bad results even with the best of gear.
A good rule of thumb about upgrading is to stop and ask yourself, "Do I really need this?" or "Did I really outgrow my current gear?" If the answer is "no", then chances are you won't notice any improvement in your photography with an upgrade.
That said, this will address some of the most common equipment needs for beginner photographers.
The first thing people always ask about is the camera body. While it is an important part of photography, it's only one part of the camera system
itself. When you buy into a brand, you're actually buying into the system of bodies, lenses, and accessories that brand offers.
One of the first things people look for when looking at cameras is the megapixel count. Keep in mind, the number of megapixels does not have anything to do with image quality
. Megapixels is simply a measurement of an image's resolution. The higher the megapixel count, the higher resolution the image is. This means that you can blow up the picture larger or crop more before you see some pixelation.
To give you some perspective, a 6MP image means that you can blow up an image to an 8"x10" print without any pixelation. What really matters is the sensor size itself, and since all these DSLRs we will be looking at have the same sensor size, image quality differences between these bodies are minute. I will note differences where it exists, but keep in mind that no where will there be a "night and day" difference.
Out of all the brands, Canon and Nikon have the largest systems. Both command the largest lens and accessories market counting both brand-made and third party products. If you're planning to be serious about photography as a hobby and will upgrade down the road, I heavily suggest you go with Canon or Nikon. Else, if you want a good DSLR that just works and have no interest in upgrading down the road, it's worth checking out other brands. As of the time of writing this, the Sony Alpha a550
and Pentax K-x
hold many awards for offering the best value for a camera body.
Beyond this, since I'm mostly familiar with Canon and Nikon, I'll focus exclusively on these brands. Keep in mind that there will be a bit of personal bias for certain features in the following paragraphs to give you an idea of what a photographer might want. I know that my tastes are definitely not indicative of all photographers, but hey, it might help.
As of the time of writing of this article, the current Canon bodies of interest to beginners are the Rebel T3/1100D, Rebel T2i/550D, Rebel T3i/600D, and 60D.
Something to note with Canon nomenclature: For Canon's entry level bodies, there are different names for different market regions. The American market goes by the Rebel xxx naming scheme, whereas the European market goes by the xxxD/xxxxD naming scheme. The Japanese also has the "Kiss xx" naming, but since they're much more uncommon, I won't be using those names.
The Rebel T3/1100D
is the newest entry-level offering. It's an upgrade from the previous Canon Rebel XS/1000D. It boasts a 12 MP sensor and is coupled with Live View and Video mode. Improvements to the T3 over the previous XS include a 9-point AF system (the XS only has 7 AF points) with a cross-type center sensor, 720p video, a larger rear LCD with higher pixel count, and an improved metering system. The metering system is said to be the one from the 7D itself. It comes bundled with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens, which has no
optical differences from the previous IS kit lens, and only has a rework of the body to make it cheaper to manufacture. The T3 also has a new Intelligent Auto mode that allows you to choose the scene for the image, as well as helps walk you through some of the more technical aspects of photography. In my opinion, this is a great tool for the beginner. In all, this is an extremely powerful and capable entry-level DSLR that is comparable to the Rebel T1i.
The Rebel T2i/550D
is Canon's previous model in the consumer category. This camera is a step above the other Rebels if you can afford it. It has better video capabilities, offering 30FPS @ 1080p and manual exposure settings in video (The T3 can only shoot video in automatic settings at 720p). The T2i also has the metering system adapted from the professional grade Canon 7D, and has an 18.1MP sensor. As the T2i shares the same sensor as the 7D and 60D, it also has the 7D's low noise, high ISO performance and high resolution as well. It may be a year older than these other cameras but still is a very strong DSLR, sharing the same sensor as the newer T3i/60D and the more expensive 7D and offering excellent IQ for the money.
The Rebel T3i/600D
is Canon's latest consumer model. It shares the same basic body as the other Rebels, and comes bundled with the T2i's sensor. This means it shares the same 18MP image resolution and high ISO noise performance as the T2i. Where it differs from the T2i however is the T3i comes with the swivel screen seen on the 60D. The screen itself is sturdy as is the hinge that uses it, and is useful for those who take videos with their DSLRs or do macro or over-the-head photography where line-of-sight into the viewfinder is not always possible. It's also the first Canon DSLR to have a digital zoom in video mode, capable of cropping from 3x to 10x. It's also the only Canon Rebel to come with an integrated wireless flash controller for use with Canon's Speedlights in an off-shoe setup. Like the T3, the T3i comes bundled with the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens and comes with the Intelligent Auto mode.
is Canon's only current "semi-pro" offering. Right off the bat, this term is used more for marketing than anything, and doesn't have much bearing when it comes to image quality itself. That said, the 60D has a much different body compared to the Rebels. While all the Rebels have very similar bodies, the 60D has a much larger body with a more solid shell, partial weather sealing, and a back thumb dial that functions as a second control used exclusively for aperture control in manual mode. Like the 60D, it also offers video at 30 FPS @ 1080p and borrows its metering and AF from the 7D. In fact, image-wise the 60D performs almost exactly like the T2i. Exclusive to the 60D is the articulating/swivel back LCD screen, which can be used in Live View for those shots where shooting from eye level isn't possible, such as above-the-head shots or close-to-the-ground shots. If you find the LCD screen to be something you need, or if you don't like the ergonomics of the Rebel series and want something bigger, look here.
At the time of writing this article, the current Nikon offerings are the D3000, D3100, and D7000.
is Nikon's entry-level body. Unlike all the other DSLRs here, it features a CCD sensor instead of a CMOS sensor. Unfortunately, this means that the D3000 has worse high ISO performance compared to all these other cameras. The D3000 also lacks an in-body autofocus motor, so the camera cannot
autofocus with any AF series lens. It can only autofocus with AF-S lenses. However, the image quality on the D3000 is still spectacular, and is still capable of some great images. What I do find good about the D3000 is its "Guide Mode", something most of these other cameras lack. While it's not something an experienced photographer would use, I find it's a great tool for beginners who want to ease into manual settings. Rather than throw numbers at you, the Guide Mode has a pictoral representation of aperture, with a picture of a lens opening becoming bigger or smaller as you move the dial. This could help the beginner photographer a lot with understanding instinctively the basic concepts of photography, and is a friendly guide into Manual mode. If you want a simple DSLR to take great photos and don't have any old lenses, consider the D3000.
is a new offering from Nikon and is, in my opinion, one of the best bang-for-buck cameras there is. Unlike the D3000, the D3100 has a CMOS sensor, which means much better high ISO performance. Unfortunately, like the D3000, the D3100 lacks an in-body autofocus motor so it cannot autofocus with AF lenses and can only autofocus with AF-S lenses. The D3100 also comes equipped with Live View and video at 24FPS @ 1080p. The D3100 also accepts the newer SDXC cards, which will come in handy if you plan to take a lot of videos. Needless to say, the D3100 has great image quality. If you want a Nikon camera with good high ISO performance, or a cheap Nikon camera with video, then the D3100 is worth considering.
is Nikon's newest DSLR. It sits in between the D3100 and D7000 in terms of pricing and performance. It features the same 16.2MP sensor as the more-expensive D7000. This means you will get the exact same picture quality, including resolution and high-ISO performance, as the D7000. The D5100 also features a swivel screen, redesigned from the old D5000 and now looks more like the screens on Canon's DSLRs. The D5100 also comes with a movie mode, featuring 1080p @ 30FPS max video recording. Like the D3100, the D5100 also lacks an in-body autofocus motor and can only autofocus with Nikon's AF-S lenses. The D5100 also features the same 11-point AF system seen in the D3100 and accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. If you're looking for a D7000-quality sensor in a cheaper and/or smaller package, the D5100 is a great camera to consider.
is Nikon's current semi-pro offering. It features a larger body than the D3000/D3100 with a magnesium-alloy shell, partial weather sealing, and two scroll wheels versus one, allowing for dedicated control of aperture and shutter speed. The D7000 can do 1080p video @ 24FPS, features Live View, and has a 16.2MP sensor. It is also the only camera in this list to feature dual memory card slots, and also has support for SDXC cards, as well as an integrated GPS unit for GPS tagging of your photos. Unlike the other Nikon bodies, the D7000 has an in-body autofocus motor so it can
autofocus with Nikon's AF lenses as well as its AF-S lenses. If you want a larger body, second dedicated control, or have old Nikon glass you'd like to use, you should consider the D7000.
Nikon or Canon?
Between these two, I'd say that both brands have very strong offerings. The best way to choose is to look at the list and find a camera with features that you'd need/want the most. If you can't find a single camera that suits your needs, or if you simply can't decide, the second best thing to do is go to your local electronics store and hold the cameras yourself
. The Rebels, 60D, D3xxx, and D7000 all have different ergonomics. Since everyone has different ergonomic tastes, the best way to decide what camera you find the most comfortable is to hold it yourself, and if the features list fails you, simply choose the camera that feels the most comfortable to you.
For more information on DSLR bodies and systems, feel free to read sti_boy's A Guide to DSLR Systems
In photography, the lenses are the biggest contributor to image quality
as far as equipment goes. Having an older body with a great lens will give you much better pictures than the newest body with a bad lens. Lenses also offer the photographer versatility with his/her photography, which is one of the biggest strengths of the DSLR system over that of a point and shoot. Below are the most frequently-asked, frequently-needed upgrades by beginner photographers.
To start, let's define the two. Telephoto means a lens that has a very long focal point (i.e. is able to see far away), whereas zoom means that the focal length is variable (i.e. you can change the focal length of the lens). This means that while a lens like the 17-40mm is a zoom lens (since you can change the focal point), it isn't a telephoto lens since it can't get in close to a subject far away.
For photographers wanting a bit more reach, the best choices for Canon and Nikon are the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS
and Nikon AF-S 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
. Both are relatively cheap lenses yet offer great image quality, and the IS/VR compensates for camera shake which is very noticable at long focal ranges.
Primes are lenses with a fixed focal point. Because of their simpler nature, they are usually cheaper to produce, are capable of larger apertures, and offer superior image quality for the price. Primes are well-suited for low light
and narrow depth of field
because of their large apertures.
For Canon, a very popular prime lens is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8
, nicknamed the "Nifty-Fifty". For Nikon, a good lens to use would be the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8
. The reason I recommend the Nikon 35mm over the cheaper 50mm is because the 50mm is an AF lens, meaning it won't be able to autofocus on the D3000 and D3100. Nikon has also recently come out with the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G
. Keep in mind this is different from the AF
50mm f/1.8 from Nikon. The newer AF-S
autofocus on Nikon's entry level bodies; the older AF
lens won't. Regardless, all these lenses will give you great low light performance, great image quality, yet won't break the bank.
Again, for more information on DSLR bodies and systems, feel free to read sti_boy's A Guide to DSLR Systems