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)
Canon

While this post will probably be outdated in a year in terms of Canon’s bottom of the barrel DSRL, my advice is simple: buy the camera body only.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
1.8

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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  1. greg

    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 !

    • Chaz Curry

      Greg – did you not read till the end of the article?

      ‘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.’

      To be honest, there are a lot more reasons why I recommend buying Canon that I chose to leave out.

      1) 95% of the shooters around me in the professional field shoot on Canon bodies, and I have borrowed or rented lenses from them all the time, especially in last minute situations.

      2) A ton of my clients have actually demanded their project be shot on a Canon to maintain the continuity of their other videos.

      3) Canon is constantly updating their camera bodies and lenses. This company is really, really pushing the boundaries in both the photographic industry as well as the film industry.

      4) Other lens companies like Tamron and Sigma make most of their lenses for Canon and Nikon.

      5) Wether you are out shooting for a hobby or shooting professionally at a wedding, if you need help asap because you can’t figure out your camera or something just isn’t working, more than likely somebody else knows the answer if you’ve got a Canon. Your Sony or Pentax? Not so much…

      6) Even monitors like SmallHD can use Canon batteries to power their monitors. Now I can buy a few more Canon batteries instead of having to deal with more batteries and chargers from SmallHD.

      With all this said, I don’t even own a Canon. I mainly shoot on my Nikon D3s or my RED camera for the higher end gigs, and sometimes have to resort to a Canon for reasons specified above.

  2. Waheed Akhtar

    Hi,

    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.

  3. 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. :)

  4. 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)?

    • Chaz Curry

      @Joseph Barnas – Good question! To be honest, DSLRs have really changed the game for filmmakers. For good reason, a lot of them are using DSLRs for short films and even the RED camera is being used on feature films.

      I would definitely recommend any of the bottom of the barrel DSLRs that do video (ie a Canon Rebel or Nikon D3100). You will want 1080 but again, the quality comes from the lenses, not necessarily the body. I have a $5,000 Nikon D3s but even a Canon 7D renders much better video quality.

      The depth of field I mentioned is what real photography and film is all about, not to mention that it lets in more light to the sensor.

      Remember, just because your eyes sees a scene with a certain amount of light, a camera can’t encompass all of that dynamic range. If you don’t have a lens that opens up to an aperture of 1.8, in most interior locations your camera will then have to add grain to compensate for the lack of light.

  5. 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.

  6. The Soul Explorer

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

  7. 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. Also the Panasonic 7-14mm lenses gives you a true 14mm at its shortest very hard to get from anything else anywhere near its price point!

    To get the classic equivalent to film 35mm or FX (full frame) digital you need to use something like 35mm Nikon Afs but it is more expensive than the 50mm. I have both and preferred the more normal angle of the 35mm on APSC.

    THERE IS ABSOLUETLY NOTHING WRONG WITH THE STANDARD KITS LENSES….FROM ANY MANUFACTURER….HOWEVER AS OTHER MICRO FOUR THIRDS USERS WILL NOTE, IF YOU SHOOT 4 x 3 12mpg or more you have the ability to crop to full frame 6 x 4 or 10 x 8 and this together with a number of other factors like size and choice between brands, Panasonic or Olympus makes and made 4/3rds sense. It’s a shame neither Nikon nor Canon joined in and as much as I like my Lumix set up see my next cell phone possibly eclipsing it if not altogether much more than currently. So I recommend what I am most happy with; Lumix start with the kit lenses they are more or less free and very versatile and will cover 50mm in real terms though do give more depth of field which does not matter for the illustrations you use…

  8. Kristin Whitehead

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

  9. Laura

    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 better. Why can’t I get it to work if it is so easy to use? I am not a newbee here!
    Help!
    Laura

  10. 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 mm f 1.8 or f 1.4 lens for my Olympus camera. What can you recommend?

    Is there an inexpensive and easy to find 50 mm for the Olympus? …or can I purchase another brand with an adapter?

    I really want to be able to use the auto focus as well.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Chaz Curry

      Hi Chris.

      Unfortunately I don’t think even Novoflex makes an adapter to for Nikon or Canon lenses to Olympus.

      Moreover, Sigma and Tamron are two popular companies that primarily make lenses for Canon and Nikon cameras, but unfortunately to the best of my knowledge they don’t offer lenses for Olympus.

      With that said, Olympus does make a Zuiko 35-100mm f/2.0 but it runs for nearly $2,500. Certainly not the price point you were looking for.

  11. 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!

  12. Christos

    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 the body only price) along with the Canon EF 50mm 1.4.

    To summarize this if the price between body and the one with kit lens(18-55) is not much go for it. But please don’t invest on the other kit lenses except this one.

    Let me know what you think

  13. 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 to “M” for manual), all that I get is a “fEE” indication, and the shutter button is disabled.

    I may get it worked out before you actually read this and reply, but I’d appreciate some help just in case that I can’t (or if someone else Google’s with the same issue). Thanks for the help, and thanks for the great advice.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. Mistur

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

  19. 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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