Entry Level DSLR Solution

(updated on January 1, 2010)

I am often asked about an entry-level DSLR solution that would be ideal for someone entering the DSLR world from the point-and-shoot world. Here are my recommendations based on a Canon kit. I am sure Nikon, Pentax, Sony etc. have some great cameras but I am not familiar with them. I update these recommendations every once so often.

A DSLR unlike a point-and-shoot isn't just a camera but a set of entities that make your entire kit. The following is a list of things that you need in order to be really effective with your Canon DSLR Kit. The list is in the order of priority so if money or time is an issue then buy what you can from top-to-bottom. Keep in mind though that its the knowledge and proper use of lenses that is going to make you a better photographer. Don't skimp on lenses. They seem expensive but money on them will be more than well spent.

Please read this post in conjunction with the post on my tips for good photography

1. Camera Body
Canon 500D (or Ti) is the best entry-level camera out there. It costs about $700 and has excellent image quality. Canon now ships a decent lens with the kit so getting the kit lens is a good start.

2. Lens

While the kit lens is good enough, I do recommend the following two (in the order of priority) as they will help learn and add a new dimension to your photography.
2.1. Canon 50mm 1.8F. This is medium telephoto lens and probably the best lens for the price ($100). It is a prime lens (fixed focal length so no zoom) which is the cheapest way to get sharp photos. 
2.2. Canon 28-135mm F/3.5-5.6 IS USM.  This lens costs about $400 and is a great addition to the kit lens and can be the ideal walk-around lens outdoors. 

3. Flash
Canon 430EX II is probably the best flash for the camera mentioned above. It costs about $250. Make sure you get rechargeable batteries or your batteries are going to end up costing you more than the flash in a very short time. The Flash eats up your batteries like crazy. If you are going to photograph kids then don't fool yourself -- you need the flash because you'll be indoors a lot and there is almost never enough light indoors.

4. Tripod

Bogen Manfrotto 190XPR0B 3 Section Tripod and Bogen Manfrotto 486RC2 Ball Head are the best entry-level combination for under $250. Take note that any serious tripod is really a combination of a tripod and a head. The head connects to the tripod the camera connects to the head. Ball heads are the easiest to use for beginners.

5. Other stuff
Get a 2 GB memory card, a spare battery for your camera and a set of rechargeable AA batteries and a charger for your flash. Get a decent Camera bag. Try some LowePro bags as that is the most popular and practical brand. All of this will cost you maybe another $300-$400.

6. Software
You learn a lot by looking at your pictures and comparing the good ones from the bad ones. Take good care of your pictures and catalog them properly into albums. Use Picasa to get started on Windows and move on to Photoshop Elements or Lightroom as you mature.

7. Backup solution
Buy an external hard-drive such as Western Digital's myBook and a backup software such as Retrospect Express (that comes on some drives pre-installed) or Turbo Backup and make sure you back those photos. Preferrably take multiple backups and keep a disk at a friend's place away from your home.

8. Printer
Using a good printer and printing your photos is another great way to learn and be interested in photography. There is nothing better than looking a printed photo that shows true colors just as life designed them to be. If you would rather print using a service then go with Shutterfly. Nothing beats their quality.

9. Photo sharing site
Upload and share some of your shots on a photo sharing site such as Flickr, Smugmug or Picasa Web. It is a great way to lean from pictures of others and also keep a remote backup.

To get some quick entry-level photo tips see my earlier post on what I learned from my photography class here.