Readers of this site regularly ask me what camera would be good for them to get started with photography. These answers are also in my gear section.
Any camera does photography just fine. If you already have a smartphone or a point and shoot camera it will be fine for landscapes and posed pictures. The difference in buying a larger camera like the ones listed below is sensor size, lens quality, and ergonomics. Both of these kits come with APS-C sensors, the largest you’ll get aside from buying a professional camera, and both come with high quality prime lenses that let you isolate a subject and keep the rest of the photo out of focus.
- A small SLR like the Nikon d5200 body ($589 new) and the Nikon 35mm f1.8 lens ($196 new). Fixed lenses take better pictures: they are higher quality for the same price, lighter weight, and you are forced to move around to get a good shot instead of standing in one place. I only used fixed lenses on my Leica.
- If the Nikon is too big, a small mirrorless camera like the Fuji x100s ($1,299 new, $849 used) does just fine. The Fuji is small enough that you can always carry it with you, it shoots six frames per second silently, and has an awesome built in flash.
Two shots from a Fuji x100 (left) and x100s (right). The cameras are almost identical except for autofocus speed.
How to save money:
- Buy any of these cameras used to save money. The used price for the Nikon d5200 and lens is $645 on Amazon (about 19% savings). The used price for the Fuji x100s is only $849 on Amazon (about 34% savings).
- Buy aftermarket second batteries. An OEM battery for the Nikon d5200 costs $46, but the generic d5200 battery only costs $19. It’s only $27 in savings, but the generic batteries have always worked fine for me. You can save an even higher percentage buying generic batteries for the x100s (official battery is $31, generic is only $9. 1)
- Buy the older generation camera. You can get the Fuji x100 for only $597 used, saving 30% off a used x100s. You can get a used D5100 for $297, saving 45% off the cost of a used D5200. Both of these cameras will have slightly lower specs than the newer cameras, but if you’re on a tight budget the savings is enough to cover an airplane flight.
Two shots on an older Nikon D40 with a Nikon 35mm f1.8 lens. Both from New York in 2011. The D40 is several generations older than either the D5100 or D5200, it’s only great in daylight.
Are these cameras good enough? Absolutely. They were my main cameras until 2013 when I started shooting full frame cameras and film. These cameras are perfectly adequate for getting started in photography and using for your first several years as you develop skills. After that, if you decide to quit your job and photograph full time for a year, maybe you’ll want to get a full frame camera like the Leica ME or Leica M.
- I’ve had some issues with Fuji generic batteries that didn’t stop charging until they were dangerously expanded. This was with an aftermarket charger. Make sure you check this before hitting the road, and return them and leave a negative review if you have any issues. But this only happened once after years of buying generic batteries. [return]