Which DSLR should I buy??? (late 2009)

***Disclaimer*** I wrote this article with all the people in mind who ask me what the best beginner camera is and most these people are on a smaller budget. I would obviously recommend higher end camera gear to pros, but you guys mostly know whats up anyway ;)


Ahhhh the age old battle. Yankees vs. Red Sox, Mario vs. King Koopa, Canon vs. Nikon. When will it ever end? Why should it? Each has good qualities and strategies in order to win certain market shares.

In my opinion, Nikon has better consumer DSLRs but makes sacrifices in certain areas to make things more affordable.

However, Canon is better for the more serious consumer that has plans to grow as a photographer so that is something to keep in mind though making the switch (as we did) isn’t all that difficult.


If you want to do things the right way (in my humble opinion) requires knowledge of lenses, and the future of what you hope to shoot and which lenses you may want now, or later on.

This is where it gets a little confusing. I will try and keep it simple. Nikon threw a monkey wrench in the mix when offering cheaper cameras that don’t auto focus with certain lenses.

I think Nikon has the best options for cameras when you don’t have the biggest budget. That being said, let’s start with the Nikon side of things.


If you are the type of person that can go without a bigger screen the Nikon D60 ($349) is a good way to go. This, however is one of those cameras which doesn’t auto focus with some lenses (the lens has to have AF-S in the name to work) So I recommend this body be paired up with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S ($199). Which is a great lens that is equivalent to a 50mm which is the best all around focal length. So you can get a great starter kit for $550. The downside to this is that unless you insist on using zooms the AF-S lenses while good are very expensive and the options are very limited. So you could always buy this and use it until you are ready for an upgrade and then ditch it for something better that works with the good lenses.

Useful info: Nikon cameras that require lenses with AF-S: D40, D40X, D60, D3000, D5000.



If you really want video and are willing to overcome the previously stated shortcomings of the lens selection your cheapest option is the Nikon D5000 ($650) paired with the 35mm you can walk away with a great camera, lens and video for $850.


As long as we are talking about video the cheapest option for a nikon camera that will open up the vast Nikon lens collection for use is the Nikon D90 ($769) which is really not much more and a much better handling camera altogether. If you can spend the extra $170, in the long run it’s really worth it.

Now… if you don’t necessarily need video and you would like a camera that doesn’t limit your lens choices, this is your best option financially. Keep in mind these are not the latest and greatest these are all used or refurbished. For a beginner camera, I don’t think it really matters so unless you want to spend a lot of money ya gotta compromise in some areas. If it makes you feel better all these camera offer very similar image quality. The difference is mostly in handling ( functionality, build quality ) and features.

Here we go:


First is the oldest and cheapest. The Nikon D1 ($144) is only 2.7 megapixels but for the price is really a steal. Yes it only has 2.7 megapixels. But unless you are viewing that image on a 30” display or printing it larger the 8×10, the image this camera produces will blow away any point and shoot (no matter what the megapixel count) and is up to par with cameras 10 times it’s price. Downfalls are the ISO performance, small screen, and a few other things that will still be ok if you are used to point and shoots.

Seriously if you have no money (or want to be smart and spend your money on lenses where it matters) don’t let this camera scare you away. I mean geez for that price it’s worth a shot! By the way this camera used to cost $5,000 and was (i believe) the first professional camera that was relatively affordable!


Next up is another very good deal and the very camera that showed me the world of photography that I never knew existed!! The Nikon D70 ($255)This camera is pretty old but is very decent for the price! The only thing I really don’t like is the screen. At 2 inches it’s pretty small but like I said if you want to break in cheap this is maybe the best camera to help you do so.



One more good option if you would like a bigger screen (2.5”) and a much better menu and features the Nikon D80($484) is a very respectable first camera. I almost made this my first camera, but I decided to go with a D200 which has the same image quality but a much more solid body and excellent handling. You can usually get these for a little bit more so they are worth checking out. What sealed the deal for me was using them both side by side at my local camera shop. if you want to feel the difference using a D90 and D300 together is basically the same thing. (though these are much more expensive options.)

Now hopefully you have started to figure out what you may want to look for in a body so all you have to figure out is if you want to buy one of the cameras that limit some nikon lenses, or the bodies that work with them all. here’s what I think are the best lenses Nikon offers on a budget.

These lenses will work on those camera’s that I said needed “AF-S”

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S ($199)

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 HSM ($439)

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S ($399)

These are all excellent lenses! Now the problem is, you can’t use these excellent lenses:

I am also a sucker for the fisheye lens, which is NOT AF-S. While those are pretty expensive, just know you will have to upgrade your camera down the road to use any of these lenses. Which, hey, may not be a huge deal. The one thing that kind of sucks is that you cant use the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D ($129) Which is the lens I first bought with my D200. I chose not to buy the kit lens for this reason(s): 50mm vs. kit lens

The 50mm is a very cheap way to get a starter lens to keep costs down but the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S ($199) may be the better lens anyway and it’s really not that much more.

My other beef with nikon is that they don’t offer any good non-zoom lenses that are wide-angles. They make a decent 20mm but unless you have a D700 ($2200+) it’s actually a 30mm which is really not wide at all. The do make a whole slew of “kit lens” quality lenses but as far as I am concerned they are all garbage and really slow your progress if you want to be a better photographer anytime soon.

They do make a couple (only) good ultra wide zooms – 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-S ($800) and the 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S ($1,800) OR you could get their 14mm prime which is pretty good but it’s not AF-S and it costs $1,700!

To be fair as far as ultra wides go Canon isn’t much better at least in the cheap camera realm. This is where you figure out how expensive photography really is!  =)

Bottom line is for nikon, they have great cameras especially for those starting out. They have great bodies that are easy to use and offer great quality. For me the main advantage is their build quality over canon’s cheaper camera’s but I always suggest picking them up side by side and seeing what feels better. Because if you enjoy shooting with your camera you will use it more and you will want to get better. You can always upgrade later. This is why I recommend buying used because resale stays pretty much the same when you do so making it much easier to sell and get better stuff when you are ready!

Now for the Canon side of things.

Canon, unlike Nikon offers only cameras which auto focus with any lens you buy giving them a big advantage especially with beginners who get confused easily. Let’s start with  good bargain cameras.



The cheapest way to get into the Canon game is probably the Canon 10D ($225)

Which I can’t vouch for since my first canon was the one I have now. All I know is that Holly’s first camera was the Rebel (yes, the first one). It was not very responsive or intuitive which is why I like the nikons a little better. But you have to keep in mind that this is all relative if you are coming from point and shoots you may not notice the difference. Even this little cheap camera has the same sized sensor and therefore comparable image quality to even the newest Canon 7D ($1,700) While the handling and anything else outside of image quality doesn’t come close you can use the same lenses and get very close to the same results in a wide variety of situations.

Maybe a better investment would be the Canon Rebel XTi ($349)


or even a Canon EOS-30D ($499)


which is about the same kind of deal as I talk about earlier between the Nikon D80 and D200. Basically the same sensor, just much better handling and everything else on the 30D. So of course you are going to get what you pay for. Just keep in mind lenses are very important so when possible it is better to invest in better lenses rather then camera bodies.

Now this is where things get a little pricier. One big advantage Canon has over Nikon is that they offer a full frame camera (bigger sensor) that can be had for $1,500 or less if you can wait for a good deal and buy used. Nikon has a D700 that you can get for $2,200 or less if you are lucky but that is quite the price difference.

The bigger the sensor, the better the image quality and going from any of the cameras previously mentioned to a full framed camera  is a whole world of difference in every aspect of image quality.



Once you use Full Frame cameras there is just no going back. So if you have any way to step up to a Canon 5D mkI ($1,479) just do it.

This is the only time where I would recommend spending more money on a camera and sacrificing lenses. If you really want to go all out, get what we have a Canon 5D mark II! But since they are both full frame I really think the $1,300 price difference would be better spent on lenses.

Back to the real world where 90% of you don’t want to spend more then $1000 when all the dust has settled.

Here are some good lenses Canon has to offer.

The Cheapest way to go is a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II ($99) which has it’s short comings like so-so AF speed but for the price it’s a nice little lens and it still blows away a kit lens. it’s a little more telephoto or “zoomed in” then a 35mm will be for a more all around lens but for most things it works well and is a good starter lens.

This is where Nikon has a bit of an advantage with their 35mm lens. The Canon EF 35mm f/2 ($299) is a hundred dollars more and is not as fast (good in low light, or cant get as much background blur) Also the AF is noisier but not that bad.

Personally I would spend a little extra on the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 HSM ($439) Which is much better in low light and better AF (arguably) either way they are both great lenses and blow away kit lenses.

Another good Canon is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM ($399) which is more telephoto so it would be better paired with a 35 or 30mm to get a little range. Maybe not necessary to get right away but would be a great addition to anyone. 85mm lenses are known for their sharpness, background blur and make a good portrait or close up (not macro) lens.

That’s a lot of information right? I hope your brain isn’t beyond repair!

I am working as quick as I can to show you why fixed focal length lenses blow away zoom lenses on all fronts. but you have a lot think about right now, so just get a good night’s sleep and come back and we will enlighten you some more =)

November 17, 2009 - 9:42 am

Dave Credo - Still using my old D100 but saving for that sweet D700 you showed me last year. The new Blog is great. Your and Holly’s pictures are a great inspiration. Keep up the GREAT work!!

p.s. Gillian’s picture with the parasol is Spectacular! Really liked the paisley texture layer Holly. You should teach Editing.

November 19, 2009 - 11:12 am

christina - thanks for the great blog & information. Quick question for you – do you have any experience/opinions on the Nikon D40 or D3000?

November 19, 2009 - 9:07 pm

Ryan - Dave, you can get them for like 2,200 now, do it!! Thanks a bunch by the way!!

Yeah Christina, I bought a D40 for holly back when we were starting out and it was good for a beginner camera for sure! Great camera especially for the price. Haven’t used the D3000 but it’s really just an updated version so I dont know what the price difference is but they are really not all that different. I would suggest getting the D60 since it has an updated CMOS sensor but if the D3000 isn’t much more go for it!

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