As a guy who has been pretty heavily involved with photography for several years, I get asked one question more than any other by far. I occasionally get asked about a technique used for a particular picture. Or perhaps about places I have taken certain pictures. But most of the time the question I get is:
I am going to buy a camera, which one should I get?
I’ve tried to answer this question on this website a few different ways, but in hindsight it appears that every time I’ve tried to do so, I’ve answered it for everybody. I answered it for different price points and people with different interests. For example, in answering the question for everybody:
- I don’t know if your budget is $300 or $10,000.
- I don’t know if you plan to take party pics or spend hours waiting for the right light in a landscape.
- I don’t know if your output will be a print that you fuss over for hours or if you’ll just post to Facebook.
As a result, the answers, I suppose, have been slightly general. Hence people end up coming to me and asking what camera to buy.
Answering the Question for You
But I find I’m pretty consistently answering the question for the same sort of person. My guess is that it will be pretty similar for you. See if this sounds like you:
- You want a nice camera, but don’t want to spend a fortune. You’d specifically like to keep this project somewhere between $500 and $1000.
- You will primarily take pictures of vacations, get-togethers with your friends and family, kids if you have them, and other functions.
- You will also like landscapes and will take pictures of sunsets and scenic landscape views.
- You just want a better camera around that will take as good of pictures as possible, without spending a fortune.
So now I’m going to answer the question directly for you – assuming you are like that person described above. Without qualification or hedging. And I’m going to use the information that exists as of the date I am writing this, which is November 16, 2014. If my mom or my best friend walked up to me and asked me what camera to buy, this is what I would tell them.
So, specifically, here’s the question: if I had up to $1000 to get started with photography and buy a good camera, what would I buy?
The Answer: The Canon T5i
Like I said, I am going to try to answer this in his unvarnished away as possible, so let’s just start with the answer before I get into any explanations. The answer is that I would buy a Canon Rebel T5i with the kit lens, which is an 18 – 55 mm f/3.5 – 5.6. That camera and lens combo is on sale right now at both Amazon and B&H Photo for $700.
(Note that the camera is called the Canon EOS 700D outside the US).
I suppose, since I’m recommending a product, that this is a good time to mention that I’m being paid or given nothing for this recommendation (or any other recommendations made on this site, for that matter). And you might notice there are no sponsors or advertisers on this site. So this is just what I think based on the information available now.
Anyway, this camera is an 18 megapixel DSLR with an APS-C sensor. It has an ISO range between 100 and 12,800. It will shoot Raw or Jpeg files and shoots at up to 5 frames per second. It will shoot HD video. It is a good solid camera for a good price.
The lens is the standard kit lens on most Canon DSLRs. It is an 18 – 55 mm lens with a maximum variable aperture of f/3.5 – 5.6 (depending on how much you zoom in). Once you factor in the crop factor from the sensor size, the lens shoots like a 28 – 88 mm. That is moderately wide angle for scenic shots, and will zoom in to what are generally considered the portrait lengths (around 85 mm). It is a good lens to start with, but you will doubtlessly upgrade this lens if you progress with photography.
In short, you will be able to take good, high-quality pictures with this camera. It is an entry-level DSLR, but I do not think you need to start with anything more. I doubt you will notice the difference between pictures taken with this camera and one that costs twice as much money.
Questions and Answers
So that’s my answer. The T5i. But I’m obviously not saying that reasonable minds cannot differ on the subject. I would also imagine there could be some questions about other options and why I picked the one I did. So the remainder of this article will be my answers to the questions I anticipate you might have about the other options available to you.
If I get more questions I will add them to the list, so you might see this article grow over time.
Why not the Nikon D 5300?
The Nikon DSLR that is the chief competition of the recommended Canon T5i is the Nikon D5300. Why did I choose the Canon over the Nikon? In a word, price.
I would frankly choose the Nikon D5300 if the price or the same as the Canon T5i. The Nikon D5300 has a higher megapixel count for one thing. It has 24 megapixels to Canon’s 18. Other than that, they are pretty comparable.
However, with the current sale price of the T5i, I give it the nod. I don’t think it is worth spending an extra $150.
I should note that if your are reading this after November 2014, prices might have changed. If the T5i has gone up, or the D5300 has gone down, I would change the recommendation to the Nikon D5300.
Why not the Canon 70D?
The next step up in the Canon line of DSLRs is the Canon 70D. Why not step up to that?
I like the Canon 70D. Purchasing it would get you out of the entry-level (Rebel) line of DSLRs and into the standard Canon system. However, I think the 70D is too much money.
For one thing it is more than the $1000 budget. With the same kit lens the 70D is $1200. So it does not fit our criteria.
In addition, even if I had the extra money in my budget, I would not reach for the 70D. I don’t think it is significant enough of an upgrade over to the T5i to warrant the extra money. Here’s how they measure up:
- Sensor size: Same
- Resolution: The 70D has 20 megapixels versus 18 for the T5i (not much difference)
- ISO Range: Same.
- Speed: 70D shoots at 7 frames per second versus 5 for the T5i
- Focus: 19 point autofocus for the 70D; only 9 point autofocus for T5i
- Video: Both shoot HD
Are these improvements enough to justify the extra $500? I don’t think so, but reasonable minds could differ. I don’t think you will take appreciably better pictures with the 70D than the T5i. But for purposes of you (with a $1,000 budget) it is out anyway.
Why not a mirrorless camera?
I was actually torn about this question.
I gave serious consideration to recommending the Sony A6000. It has slightly higher resolution and overall specs at the same price. If you have read my Mirrorless Camera Guide, then you know that I really like where these mirrorless cameras are headed. But I still think I would go with the T5i. Here’s why:
Partly, I admit that I am just a DSLR guy. I have been using a mirrorless camera as a back-up for the last few months and, while I like the portability, I will reach for my DSLR every time given the choice. The mirrorless camera just feels like a toy. Many things just don’t seem to function as well as on DSLRs.
Further, although Sony’s mirrorless lens lineup is improving, it cannot touch Canon’s lens lineup. The opportunities for upgrades in the Canon lens departments are vastly superior. Yes, I know you can buy an adapter, but that doesn’t sit well with me.
Nevertheless, I could see a case for buying a Sony A6000. If size is a big issue for you then this may actually be the best choice.
Why not a Micro 4/3 camera?
I hear all these great things about Micro 4/3 cameras, and many of the things I hear are from trusted and very knowledgeable sources. So I am sure they are true, and I’m sure there is a compelling case for Micro 4/3 cameras.
However, the sensor size of a camera is so important to so many aspects of photography that I simply cannot bear to buy a camera with a small image sensor like that.
They say that the lenses for the micro 4/3 of our optimized to that system such that the image quality is every bit as good. However, no one says it is better. In any case, smaller sensors always give you less control over depth of field and have the potential for increased noise. As a result, I simply will never steer anyone towards a micro 4/3 camera.
What about reaching for a full frame camera?
You cannot get anywhere near a full frame camera with $1000 budget. That’s the problem.
I like full frame camera’s, and I personally use one. I’m not knocking them. But they are just more camera than you need. The full frame will not cause you to take appreciably better pictures.
It may seem like too much camera for a beginner, but someone diving headlong into photography right away might want one. Having such a camera helps cure gear-lust in that you will quickly realize that it is your skills -and not equipment – that is holding you back. But full-frame cameras are just too much money for someone just starting out. The cheapest ones are about $2,500.
What should I do with the extra money?
You may have noticed that we started with a $1000 budget, and we’ve only spent $700. What to do with the other $300?
If you don’t already have some post processing software, use $100 of the money left over to go buy a copy of Photoshop Elements. This is critical. If you aren’t using post-processing software, Photoshop Elements will improve your pictures more than any camera or lens will. Honestly, you’d be better off with a toy pinhole camera and Photoshop Elements then you would the best camera in the world.
You don’t need to become an advanced Photoshop user (although it wouldn’t hurt). You can get acquainted with Photoshop Elements in an hour or two. Check out my video tutorials that walk you through all of the basics (and there are a lot of others available as well). The ability to lighten the darken pictures, add contrast, crop, and straighten add so much to your pictures. It adds more than any camera purchase can give you.
I’d use the remainder of the money on a tripod. As mentioned in my tips on purchasing a tripod, I would start by buying a light, inexpensive model of tripod. That may be all you ever need. If you find you later need more, you can use this tripod as your travel or walking-around model.
I have no photography secrets that I keep from this website. If my best friend, one of my parents, one of my brothers, or anybody else that I liked asked me which camera to buy, this is what I would tell them. If you happen to meet me, and asked me privately, this is what I will tell you.
Again, this is not for everyone. But if you are the sort of person described at the beginning of this article, this is my answer – as straightforward and unvarnished as I can give it.