Beginner Cameras and Lenses
Although this may be your first venture into photography, don’t skimp on your equipment – buy the best you can afford. Investing in cheap quality cameras may cause you to become disillusioned and cause you to drop the hobby before you ever begin. There are many good entry-level cameras that can be found on the market. It isn’t all about having the most expensive camera, but investing in one that is good quality can make a difference to the photos captured. With this being said, even if it means buying second-hand equipment, taking up photography may not be as pricey as expected. Be sure to do some research before purchasing anything.
The cameras listed below will serve you well and help you on your way to becoming an excellent photographer. Beginner Cameras and Lenses
Here are some pros and cons for your consideration:
- Low prices ($400-$600)
- The kit lens is usually included
- Interchangeable lens mount (able to connect other lenses)
- Smaller than professional cameras
- Great image quality, able to blur out backgrounds and help your subject stand out
- Smaller sized sensor compared to pro cameras
- Slower autofocus compared to pro cameras
- Fewer control dials for manually adjusting exposure settings
- The included kit lens is a low-cost lens not ideal for portraits or low light situations
- Not sealed for weather
- Not suggested for professional use
Beginner Cameras and Lenses
Sony a5000 with 16-50mm Lens
This is the top recommendation for a beginner camera. The Sony a5000 is a 20-megapixel mirrorless camera. The mirrorless design of the camera makes the camera much smaller than traditional DSLRs, yet it still has a large APS-C sized image sensor equivalent to the ones found in our Canon and Nikon recommendations. Awesome Features of this camera include a screen that flips all the way up to make selfie portraits super easy and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC to easily connect your camera to your smartphone for easy photo sharing. This kit comes with a 16-50mm lens and the next lens we would recommend for the camera is the 50mm f/1.8 that works great for portraits.
Note: A newer version of this camera is available, the Sony a5100, which features a higher resolution image sensor (24.3MP), a touchscreen LCD, a faster auto-focus system, and a much higher price tag! The older a5000 still offers great value
Canon’s Rebel line has been a hugely popular beginner camera. The SL1 is Canon’s smallest DSLR camera. It has an 18-megapixel APS-C sized image sensor. It’s also one of Canon’s first cameras to feature a touch screen LCD display. This kit includes a new version of the 18-55mm lens optimized for shooting video that also has optical stabilization. The next lens we would recommend for this camera is the Canon 50mm f/1.8that works great for portraits.
How do Nikon’s D3300 compare to Canon’s SL1 Rebel? Both models will work equally well as beginner cameras. The D3300 features a higher resolution image sensor (24 megapixels). It also has a lower price (about $50 cheaper for the camera + lens kit). The D3300 is a bit bigger and does not feature a touch screen like the Canon SL1. Besides those main differences, the Nikon D3300 and Canon SL1 are equal. The next lens we would recommend for this camera is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 that works great for portraits.
This is one of the most affordable full-frame DSLRs available. It offers excellent value for the price. Semi-professionals or advanced amateurs will love this camera.
We started out with a 10D, an earlier version of this camera, and moved through several subsequent models (20D, 30D, 40D). They have the ergonomics and controls of the more expensive pro cameras but with a smaller APS-C sized sensor. Nikon
This is Nikon’s most affordable full-frame DSLR. This could easily be used professionally and would be an ideal choice for most wedding and portrait photographers.
This model is perfect for advanced amateurs and semi-professionals. This has a DX sized sensor, which is smaller than a full-frame camera but still offers many of the features of the more expensive full-frame professional cameras.
Beginner Cameras and Lenses – Prime Lenses for Canon
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS
This is an affordable wide-angle prime lens with a fast aperture and optical stabilization. The 35mm focal length is great for street photography and photojournalism. We use our 35mm for wide portrait shots as well.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4
High-quality 35mm prime. At f/1.4 it’s faster than the Canon 35mm f/2, and it offers better quality and value than Canon’s own 35mm f/1.4.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
The most affordable lens that will improve your portrait photography. The fast f/1.8 aperture will help you blur your background and allow you to shoot in lower light situations. It’s a fantastic all-around beginner lens and definitely our top recommendation to all new photographers.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4
We’ve used this lens professionally for years (we actually have two copies!). It has a larger maximum aperture (f/1.4) compared to the 50mm f/1.8 that makes it even better for portraits and low light shooting. It also features better build quality compared to the f/1.8 version.
Sigma 50mm f/1.4
This lens is the best 50mm auto-focus lens available. With this lens, you’ll get better sharpness, color, contrast, and less lens distortion. It is a big heavy lens that produces outstanding results.
Canon 85mm f/1.8
This is an affordable telephoto portrait lens. You will love the way your subjects pop out with this lens because of the longer focal length combined with the large f/1.8 aperture. There are more expensive versions of the 85mm, but depending on how often you use it, the 85mm f/1.8 will probably be the best value for you.
Zoom Lenses for Canon
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II
A great choice for nature or architectural photography. Canon offers slower wide-angle zooms (like the 17-40mm f/4 and 16-35mm f/4), but if you ever need to shoot in low light conditions you’ll be glad you have the 16-35mm f/2.8.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II
This is a phenomenal lens. If you could only have one lens this would be it. The color, contrast, and sharpness from this lens are unbelievable. It is a huge improvement from the previous Mark I version. This is an excellent choice for photojournalism, travel, weddings, portraits, or anything really.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
When you need to get closer, this is the lens to grab. Wedding photographers will find this lens an absolute necessity during ceremonies and dimly lit receptions (when the optical stabilization becomes quite useful). Wildlife photographers and sports photographers will also find the longer reach of this lens quite valuable.
Prime Lenses for Nikon
Nikon 35mm f/2
This is an affordable wide-angle prime lens with a fast aperture. The 35mm focal length is great for street photography and photojournalism.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4
High quality 35mm prime. At f/1.4 it’s faster than the Nikon 35mm f/2, and it offers better quality and value than Nikon’s own 35mm f/1.4.
Nikon 50mm f/1.8
The most affordable lens that will improve your portrait photography. The fast f/1.8 aperture will help you blur your background and also allow you to shoot in lower light situations. It’s a fantastic all-around beginner lens and definitely expert’s top recommendation to all new photographers.
Nikon 50mm f/1.4
This might be the only 50mm you’ll ever need. It is not as cheap as the 50mm f/1.8 but it’s still quite affordable. In addition, the larger maximum aperture will let you get more background blur, and shoot in even lower light situations. An excellent
Zoom Lenses for Nikon quality lens that could easily be used professionally.
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8
A legendary lens. This is possibly the best wide-angle zoom lens in existence and provides incredible image quality. Perfect for landscape and architectural photography.
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
An excellent mid-range zoom. This is a very versatile lens, and a great choice for photojournalism, travel, weddings, portraits, or anything really.
Third-Party DSLR Lenses for Both Canon and Nikon
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8
This is a much more affordable alternative to Canon’s own 24-70mm f/2.8. Performance is nearly on par with the Canon version, and the Tamron actually has the benefit of image stabilization (a feature not found on Canon’s 24-70). Tamron actually offers quite a few different SP lenses that are both affordable and offer good image quality).
Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8
An affordable wide-angle zoom. It doesn’t have the same build quality compared to Canon’s 16-35mm f/2.8, and the autofocus is slower, but it’s still a sharp, fast lens and it is way cheaper!
These lenses are fun to experiment with and can give you some really creative results! The recommendations here are very general. You can find these specialty lenses available in different focal lengths and from many different manufacturers.
Do your research! Try to borrow or rent these lenses before actually purchasing them, you might find them fun for a weekend but they’re probably not the type of lens you’ll use as often as your other prime and zoom lenses. These are also great lenses to search for on the used market.
Macro lenses allow you to do an extreme close up photography. These are fun lenses to experiment with. We use them in wedding photography for wedding ring shots.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro
A newer, more expensive, version of this lens is available that features image stabilization. This older version is still excellent, especially if you can find a good used copy.
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Lens
This is Nikon’s 100mm macro lens, which will let you get really, really close! This lens does feature image stabilization, which helps you keep your shot steady when you need to use slower shutter speeds.
A more affordable option compared to the macro options above are extension tubes. You attach these tubes to your camera and then attach any lens to the tube, and you will be able to focus much more closely than the lens normally does.
A tilt-shift lens allows you to tilt and/or shift the plane of focus by moving the lens around. This allows you to control depth of field in really special ways. Tilt-shift lenses require focusing manually. They also require a lot of patience!
Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
The 45mm tilt-shift used a lot with portrait photography. Canon also has tilt-shift lenses available in 17mm, 24mm, and 90mm.
Nikon PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED Manual
Focus Lens for Nikon SLR Cameras
Nikon calls their tilt-shift lenses “Perspective Control” (PC). Focal lengths available include 24mm, 45mm, 85mm.
These lenses are kind of like the poor man’s tilt-shift. They allow you some control over the plane of focus, not nearly as precise as a real tilt-shift. The image quality that they produce also is not as good as a dedicated tilt-shift – but sometimes you might want a softer dreamier look. Lots of fun to experiment with and a whole lot cheaper!
Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye Lens
A fisheye lens allows you to exaggerate perspective giving you an extremely wide angle of view, curving lines that would normally be straight. This Sigma lens produces pretty good results and is one of the more affordable options out there.
A teleconverter allows you to extend the focal length of a lens. So for example, if you have a 70-200mm lens, once you attach a 2x teleconverter that lens will then become 140-400mm. The downside of using a teleconverter is that reduces your effective aperture, so f/2.8 would become f/5.6. Teleconverters are available for both Canon and Nikon.