The Best (and most often) Piece of Advice I Can Give To You For Buying Your First DSLR

I get asked this question from my friends and family at least a few times a week, and typically my answer is always the same:

1) Buy the cheapest Canon or Nikon DSLR (body only!!!)
2) Buy a 50mm 1.8 lens
3) Start shooting immediately!

Canon T4I (Body only)

While this post will probably be outdated in a year in terms of Canon’s bottom of the barrel DSRL, my advice is simple: buy the camera body only. The lens that it typically comes with is crap and you won’t be able to sell it for much. Moving up the DSLR pyramid the cameras may give more battery life or the ability to shoot more frames per second, but for the most part, not higher quality! And to set the record straight, more megapixels does not necessarily equal better photos!

Canon 50mm 1.8 II

This is such a small, compact lens. I even use it on a ton of my commercial shoots, so it’s not a starter lens that you won’t use later in life. It’s a fixed lens (can’t zoom, so you’ll have to get closer to your subject if you want a closeup or farther away if you want a wider shot).

*** The 1.8 means that the lens opens up to an aperture of 1.8 to allow more light to enter into the sensor, meaning that you can get the really creamy shallow of depth (blurry background) to set your subjects apart from anything behind them (or in front of them). Thus, what real photography is… telling a story with your images!

Here’s some of my examples of shooting on a nifty fifty at an aperture of 1.8.

Ryan & Michelle

Dave & Norelle

Aaron & Vanessa

Shallow DOF

Chad & Alicia

B&H sells the lens for $107 w/ free shipping. Amazon also offers a great price on the lens. You can’t beat that for a lens that does so much!

Bonus tip: Stop shooting your camera in Auto mode and set it to Aperture Priority. Then set your Aperture to 1.8. Just make sure you can move your focus point to focus on what you want in focus. Fire away!

This post isn’t a knock against other camera manufactures like Sony or Panasonic or the like; Canon and Nikon have the widest assortment of lenses. It’s about the glass baby!

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25 Comments on "The Best (and most often) Piece of Advice I Can Give To You For Buying Your First DSLR"

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Sad to influence people to buy a specific brand. Sony also has a wide set of lenses and all Minolta are compatible. If you had to that, all the other companies selling objectives with A-mount… you just got yourself a deal.
Otherwise, cheap DSLR and 50mm 1.8, the best choice to begin !

Waheed Akhtar


Am planning to buy DSLR but not sure where to start. Am a new to photography (but have passion to shoot photos) so have no idea which camera will work best.

Jen Webb

I LOVE this advice. I’m still a newbie, but I had the good fortune to get myself a 50mm 1.8 not long after I got my d5100. I am so happy with it. 🙂

Joseph Barnas

Hey Chaz!

What if you are a filmmaker….? What would be the best camera body to get when progressing from your first DSLR (the Sony a57 for me)?

christopher steven b. photography

I always feel like the only working pro amongst online photography colleagues who still swear by the 50mm 1.8. It seriously hasn’t really let me down in 55 weddings. And if it does, if it dies, I’ve always got another in the bag.

The Soul Explorer

Thanks for the advises. I’ll take note on this.

David Geer
Interesting advice but….the cheap Nikon 50mm f1.8 does not auto focus on cheap Nikon DSLRs ~ anyway APSC and 50mm equate to 75mm or thereabouts in 35 mm or FX terms so you are really using a short telephoto lens! The Canon would be my choice since it has a built in motor for non afs lenses but actually I have down graded from Nikon cameras to Lumix G3 because their size and the glass is an awesome combination. The pancake 14mm f2.4 gives you a fast semi wide angle view (28mm) which is hard to achieve with APSC cameras.… Read more »
Kristin Whitehead

I’m hoping to get my first D-SLR soon so I really appreciate the simple tip!! 🙂

I have had the Nikon: D70, D70s, D80, D300, D700 and now the D800. My favorite for outdoors is the D300 with fill flash, the colors just seem to come alive more. For indoors I love the D700 without flash. I just bought the D800 and it is sitting there. I was so excited but I shot about 20 pics and after that nothing but blur. I was at a wedding! I always have 2 cameras ready to go so I can exchange and run. I was told this D800 was the answer to all photos, that there was nothing… Read more »
Chris Aldworth
I stumbled across your website while trying to find an inexpensive 50 mm f 1.8 for my Olympus E410 DSLR. Great advise. I just wish I had read it before buying a second hand Olympus. I am looking for a lens to shoot in low light situations. My children play basketball and the gym is the worst place for light so I am looking for a prime lens with a f stop of 1.8 or 1.4 to capture the action. My kit lenses are pretty terrible. Can anyone help me out? I am looking for suggestions for an inexpensive 50… Read more »
Amber Hoekstra

Thanks for the advise! I’m still a young photographer trying to get all the “basics” down. I’m going to try the 1.8 aperture for my next shoot!

Hi i agree to all what you said but i would like to add something. The difference between the body and the 18-55 Kit lens was 30 euros when i was going to buy my Canon 600d so i though it was good deal to get a wide lens for 30 euros which can get great photos if you know the weakness and strength of your lens. It is also a good macro lens since the 50mm is not popular for their macro capabilities. So i got my Canon 600d with 18-55 kit lens just for 30 euros more(compared to… Read more »
James Rinehart
I took your advice and picked up a used Nikon D70s and a Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8. I was able to do it relatively on the cheap… I love the photos that I’m taking with the auto settings. This marks the beginning of a move away from the iPhone photos that I’ve been taking (and the heavy post processing) towards a “all-glass” approach. Only one problem (and I’ve only had it an hour), but I cannot get the Nikon to accept anything but the minimum aperture locked in. Using a manual setting of 1.8 (and having the camera set… Read more »
Sara Dodson

Last year i was a young photographer who was starting out and low on a cash. I did some research and found that the nikon L100 slr is actually a really good buy. even though its still a point and shoot in the coolpix family so far its served me well and is easy to use and very light weight I would say the only down side is that while the lens on it is great you cant interchange it. JUST REMEMBER DONT LET THE WORD DSLR FOOL YOU.

Zachary Hedgepeth

I’m shopping for my first DSLR and have been trying to decide between the Canon T3i vs. Nikon D5100. I am leaning more toward the Canon at this point but I was hoping you guys might be able to give me some more insight to make the best choice? Also I just want to say thanks for the great info already on here.

Nate Kay

Hey Zachary,

Both are solid choices for your first DSLR. I’d say pick a brand you’re comfortable with as you probably will stick with them as you upgrade your equipment. As the article recommends, just start shooting. Have fun!

Stelrad P. Doulton

A less expensive starter kit would be an old stock or used Samsung NX10 with the 30mm f/2 pancake.
Pretty much does what a bottom of the range Canon/Nikon does with the same size APS-C sensor, and the 30mm is fast and gives you almost the equivalent of a 50mm on a full frame camera.
It’s a great little beginner or second camera and you can pick it up with the kit lens (v. sharp 20-50mm or 18-55mm) AND the 30mm for £250 if you’re lucky.
If I’m honest, it has rendered my much more expensive Canon kit redundant as a daily shooter.

bill Boggs

I’ve been left behind with an old Olympus OM 35mm film camera. I’ve got a small digital point and shoot but I miss the 35. Too bad. I loved that camera but the digital has put me out of business.


That is excellent advise. I would add …. learn and understand the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Amber Davila

Thanks for this post. I love blurry backgrounds. It’s nice to know there is a lens that does it automatically.

Thanks for all your posts. I am learning a lot from them. Also, I checked out your website, and I am so impressed. You are an inspiration.

Please keep on posting.

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