What’s A Good Camera For Me To Buy? – 31+ Days To Better Photography

Yesterday’s Topic: Choosing A Lens

Posts on the internet about purchasing cameras often list multiple examples in a ‘buyer’s guide’ fashion. But that’s not the question I get asked often. It’s never, “Can you list some options, rank them by price and a number of features I don’t understand and then make ambiguous suggestions with an even balance of brands so as to not annoy your sponsors?”  which is what is seems some websites think people are asking. For me it’s straight and to the point, “What’s a good camera for me to get?” “I’m thinking of buying a DSLR for my wife/husband/vet/bunny wrangler. What’s a good, simple camera that’s not too expensive?” “You cut your hair?”

These are the types of questions I get. Few people want options, so I try to ask probing questions pertaining to funds available and intent. If you have the money, I’ll suggest some spendy equipment and be glad to help show you how to use it. If you have a small budget, there are ways to squeeze a few more drops out of the turnip if you wish.

With that in mind, here’s my own DSLR Buyer’s Guide:

Buy a Canon.

No, really. It’s all I know well. Canon pays me nothing to say it, but say it I do, over and over again. I started on Minolta film cameras and made the switch to Canon when I went digital 9.6734 years ago. I don’t hate Nikon or Sony or Pentax or anyone. I just know Canon. I’m not going to suggest another brand because I don’t know them. I’m sure they are fine cameras as many professionals use them. I’m going to tell you about what I know best and I’m sure there are equivalent models in your favorite brand.

To make it clear; I love photography. I don’t care much about which camera I use.

I have preferences, sure. But when it comes down to it, I’ll use whatever is put in my hands. This often makes me less of the aficionado that most people assume me to be. I have a camera I am very happy with and I am getting shots I am very happy with and when I’m very happy, I don’t look around at other camera options.

With that in mind, my suggestions will all be for Canon equipment. As mentioned, except for the affiliate payout from the Amazon links that will follow, Canon pays me squat. I don’t lust after them, I just like them bunches. Enough explaining!!

Low End Suggestion – Canon Rebel T2i (550D) – $660

At one time I owned two of the predecessors to this camera and they are fun, light and give decent video. It is an entry level camera for sure, but the image quality is good with a decent lens (more on lenses in another post). It has the fancy Canon DIGIC 4 processor, their latest, and it has ISO up to 12,800 which means you can shoot in some pretty low light situations (just remember the problems with using very high ISO). This camera has some automatic modes for those wishing to not think much and which you will not need after this month’s worth of blog posts. The manual modes all allow for the same creative use of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed as available in the higher end cameras. The camera is light because it has a partial magnesium body which makes it not as super strong as its bigger brothers. I tend to suggest this camera to those who care about weight or have small hands. It fits both of those categories well and has a decent 3.7 frames per second speed to keep up with some forms of action (think kids’ soccer games). Grab this camera if you want something simple, easy to learn with and nice to take on a vacation without breaking the bank.

Buy Your CanonT2i At Amazon

Middle Of The Road – Canon 60D – $900

The next step up in Canon’s line is the 60D. This started out as the D30, then D60, then 10D, 20D, 30D, etc… I haven’t used this line since the 60D back before they invented light. I know it fits a price point, has faster frame rate then the T2i and the body is beefier. It also has better flash sync speed (1/250). One of the coolest features is the flip out screen which can be used for self shot videos (making sure you are in the shot without walking back and forth to the camera) and it’s a blast for kids to use as my daughter would spend a half hour just making goofy faces and seeing herself on the screen of our old G1. It’s also handy for hard shots like holding the camera over your head or down low to the ground.

Buy Your Canon 60D At Amazon

Higher – Canon 7D – $1500

This is the camera I currently own. I love it and hug it and pet it and named it George. No really, I like this camera a lot and it works wonders. It is beefier still, compared to the 60D, has a bad ass 8 frames per second for all your action shooting joy. The movie mode, while only shooting in mono (it has a stereo in mic jack and you can easily find a simple stereo microphone which mounts in the flash hotshoe), can shoot at 1080 for High Definition action. I love the feel of this camera, especially with the optional power grip which adds a shutter release for portraiture shooting as well as some other buttons. The camera has a standard port for hooking up to studio lights if you want to go that route, HDMI output, an infrared remote control port and a standard corded remote control (great for long exposures and other timed shots). It has the smaller sized sensor, the one with a 1.6X crop factor, which gives a boost to zoom lens use, but makes wide angle a bit more difficult as Canon does not have a lot of the higher grade wide angle lenses for this camera. But still, I use a nice Canon EF 10-22mm and like it. I have had this camera for a year and it has been a joy traveling and shooting weddings. I’m not going to get too tech geeky on you, that’s what sites like DPReview.com are for. George is my friend.

Buy Your Canon 7D At Amazon

Biggerest – Canon 1Ds Mark III – $9000 with 70-200mm L lens

If you’re going to blow the wad, go with the top of the line. Super big, super beefy, this camera will make you feel like a pro, whether or not you have the skills yet. It’s highest quality everything and it shows. Environmental seals means it can take weather and dust abuse. Only 5 frames per second (as compared to the 1D Mark IV which is up to 10fps) but it’s 21MP in a full frame sensor. If you have the money, grab one (and use the link below 🙂 ).

Buy Your Canon 1Ds Mark III At Amazon

Something Lighter With Good Zoom – Canon SX210IS – $300

Taking a few steps back, I bought the predecessor to this camera (the SX200IS) for my daughter last year for a trip to Africa. I was really happy with the purchase as it allowed her to zoom in on distant animals and have lots of fun with video. The SX210IS boosted zoom to 14X optical, which is really nice.  And the IS, or image stabilization, is needed at that length. 720P video, too. And it has the fun face detection technology where it will wait until you are in the scene, while using self timer, before it shoots (while using the same face detection technology to make sure your smiling face it expose properly). I almost puked at seeing they added a “miniature” effect to simulate tilt-shift. I think this gimmick is annoying and ugly and pray for the day it is no longer a fad. Get the pretty camera (comes in gold and purple and gray) but just don’t use that mode, please?

Buy Your Canon SX210IS At Amazon


Some people have asked here, in email and on Twitter why I didn’t include the Canon 5D Mark II and went with the 7D. I previously owned a 5D Mark I (if there is such a Mark) and loved it except the constant need to clean the sensor. I’m sure the 5D Mark II is a great camera as well but when I was trying to decide which camera to upgrade to, I listened to some advice from fellow photographer Ron Dubin and came to these conclusions of why I wanted the 7D and not the 5D MII. These are only my personal reason, you might be happier with the 5DMII instead of the 7D.

  • Better autofocus (19 points vs. 9)
  • Cheaper – $1700 at the time vs $2500
  • Video mode was better
  • 8fps vs 3.9
  • Buffer was larger, meaning longer high speed shooting
  • More metering spots hopefully means more accurate light metering
  • Popup flash. This was a big one as it works well traveling as a quick fill and it also controls multiple off camera strobes remotely.
  • Exposure compensation range was larger (10 stops compared to 4)

Those were the main items. It wasn’t easy as I had a nice 16-35mm L lens that I would have to trade in for a different wide angle with the 1.6x crop sensor. I’m sure the 5DMII has other merits, it just wasn’t the camera for me, but it might work for you. I don’t know enough about it to really recommend it.

That’s it for what I know about which cameras I would get if I was looking. EDIT: I just realized there is now a Canon Rebel T3i (600D) to replace the T2i. I’m sure it’s even more mass cool (and cost more money).

Do you have a particular camera you have been looking to buy? Even if it’s not Canon, drop a note in the comments section and let me know how you plan to use it. I’ll be happy to give it a look over and offer my opinion.

And if you’re looking for camera lens suggestions, take a look at this post yesterday.

Up Next: Photography Travel Gear Recommendations

31+ Days To Better Photography is a series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey on The Carey Adventures.Com. The series is designed to unravel the mysteries of photography so you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome. Also check out 31 Days Of Photography Experiments to practice what you learn.

26 Replies to “What’s A Good Camera For Me To Buy? – 31+ Days To Better Photography”

  1. Phil Burkett

    Great article and really liking your series.
    Just wanted to add my tuppence worth!
    I’ve gone down the route of good second-hand equipment.
    Still able to use all the advice but i can afford a better camera than i would if i was buying new.
    (I think that was about 2p’s worth)

    • Peter West Carey Post author

      Second-hand is always a great idea and I’ve sold a number of quality lenses on eBay. Of course, I don’t get a kickback from Amazon if you go that route. 🙂
      I also was able to purchase my daughter’s camera with a points program, so that’s another option.

  2. Erin K

    I am of the opinion that if you know how to use what ever equipment you have, you will take stunning images. And when people ohhh and ahhh at your stunning images, they don’t ask what brand of camera you used. Personally, I learned on Pentax cameras, so I have a Pentax K10D that is sturdy, water resistant (important in Seattle), and has not given me any problems at all in nearly 3 years. I want a K-5r. When I have money. In the distant future.

    • Peter West Carey Post author

      Erin, You are right, they rarely ask what camera I use. I sometimes through some P&S images into my slideshows and people ask, “Really?” when I point it out. You just have to understand the basics of photography and know the limits of the camera you have.

  3. George Maciver

    I love these articles and have already linked a few mates here. Yes, cameras, I’d welcome your input on my next camera body. I have the 50D, which I love. I don’t have a name for it but I do have a name for my 70-200 f/2.8 L IS (Beastie). I’m not a niche photographer, I just shoot zillions of stock photos. This means, of course, that I shoot as much landscapes as I do towns and villages as I do wildlife. I’ve been swaying between the 5D and 7D for ages for my next body as they both have plus points but neither seems to be able to do well what the other one does very well. I guess the 1D would be able to do both what the 5D and the 7D can do well even better than both? If so, I have some saving to do.

    • Peter West Carey Post author

      First, thanks for passing the site around. Second, going from the 50D, if you are doing well with stock, I don’t think either the 7D or 5DMII are a bad idea. They both improve on the 50D. I just added an addendum to this post explaining why I went with the 7D over the 5DMII and maybe that will help. Right now the price delta is $1000 between the two so you have to ask, How quickly will having the 5DMII pay for that delta?

      • George Maciver

        Thanks Peter, the 7D does sound like the next body. By the way, I took an Open University course on digital photography and think this series is better at explaining the basics. You’re a good teacher.

      • Fiona

        Hi Peter

        As a woman photograpaher (and I don’t speak for all woman) I find some camera gear very heavy. I went with the canon 7D because it is an amazing camera and not as heavy as the 5D or 1D. As soon as I put a 16-35 or better yet a 70-200 I would not be able to carry it around for 8-10 hours while shooting a wedding. The price was fantasitc aslo.

  4. Deb Scally

    Am curious why you left out the 5D? The 1D is so far out of reach for most, but the 5D would seem to be the perfect complement to the 7D so you get optimal width (5D) along with optimal depth and fps (7D). Is there a downside to the 5D, in your opinion?

  5. Olivier Du Tré

    Everybody looks something else in a camera. I was at a 7D launch party with 2 pro’s and they both thought it was an awesome camera. A few weeks later one of the two completely killed the 7D. His thing was that the camera produced a lot of noice and did not pick up very fine details. I’m sure some software update took care of that.
    As for myself the 7D was an option as well. But I went with the 5DmkII Because as a landscape photographer I could care less about fps, 19 focussing points and video. For me the big sensor and 21mpix were important. Downside of the 5D? It is heavy.

  6. ickledot

    Great post, thanks. I think you are correct in writing that people do not appreciate lists of options with many stats they probably don’t understand. I’m at the lowest price level at the moment with a Canon 450 Rebel but your comments about the T2i are whetting my appetite,

  7. ickledot

    Canon T2i. Is that a 550D in the UK? £530 from Amazon UK body only. Same source, Canon 60D £690.

    • Peter West Carey Post author

      Yup, the T2i is the 550D (thanks for the reminder, added in the detail to the post as I forget of the different naming in other parts of the world).
      £530 is fairly high as that’s about $850. I triple checked on the price I listed above (body only) and sure enough, it’s accurate for the US. That’s a $200 difference!

  8. Christine

    Just putting in another vote for the 7D…Recently upgraded to this from an earlier Rebel. Happy Birthday to me 🙂 I am still learning and playing with it’s features, but so far am deeply in love 🙂

  9. D. Travis North

    Had to throw my hat into the ring as a Nikon User – but not in the way that you would think. I don’t believe in the Nikon vs. Canon debate…both are great systems, and I would recommend either brand to any user. There are times where I wouldn’t recommend a Nikon. Macro or close-up shooter? You may have better options with Canon as their Macro lenses are slightly better, and significantly cheaper (in general). If you’re looking to do basic lighting wirelessly, Nikon’s CLS (creative lighting system) is a bit more robust…but there is a there is a threshold at which the CLS is below your needs. The other advantage that Nikon has is cost of lenses…their newer lenses are significantly more than Canon’s. But there are thousands of lenses that will work on your NIkon from the 70’s on up (though you may need to work in manual mode) because Nikon has never changed their lens mount.

    But Nikon or Canon are both good recommendations. My overall recommendation is pick one or the other. My view of the true debate: Canon and/or Nikon vs. the rest of the market. That may sound rather broad…but it’s true. Pentax and Sony are – technically – great cameras…but Nikon and Canon combined cover about 70% of the market, and they’re often neck and neck. With that amount of pull, there are a ton of third-party companies making products – even lenses – for these two systems. Sigma and Tamron are two companies that make lenses for Nikon and Canon at a fraction of the cost of the proprietary equivalent…which is often an economical advantage. Sigma’s lenses are quite nice…but you won’t be able to mount all of their lenses to Pentax or Sony.

    Nikon or Canon…that’s my advice.

    • Peter West Carey Post author

      I haven’t had a chance to test the T3i but Canon does a good job of making sure each new camera is, for the most part, a decent improvement over the last model. Sometimes it’s little stuff and not worth the upgrade, but 80% of the time it’s worth more money.

  10. Becki

    I really enjoyed this short ditty. As a non-fanatic presently, I happen to be doing Nepal trek this autumn, and your post has inspired me to strongly consider getting equipment that will better document this almost-once-in-a-lifetime event. It never occurred to me before that my P&S probably won’t cut the mustard at Everest Base Camp. Appreciate your short and simple advice. I look forward to reading the rest of your posts! 🙂

  11. Kirstin

    I just started teaching a photography class in Kyrgyzstan this semester and half of my students have point-and-shoots and are looking to upgrade, so this is a helpful article. There are only two Nikon users and the rest are Canon, including myself. We had a short discussion about the different brands and they had all sorts of ideas that one brand had “better” colors, was easier to use, etc etc etc, but really I think if you’re not picky about all the little details (D. Travis wrote a great comment up there on Nikon v Canon) then the beginner photographer is probably most swayed by what their friends used or whatever brand they get their hands on first. (For me, my mom used Canon, my high school photography teacher used Canon, therefore…)

    Another P&S model to add that I’ve had a lot of fun with is the Powershot G11 (or G10, G12). I didn’t research it much, but it seems like it most of the same things that a Rebel does, but you can’t change lenses, which can be a great option for someone who’s intimidated about throwing down hundreds of dollars on new lenses.

  12. Raul Saavedra

    I was recently looking for my first DSLR, and was between the Canon 60D and the Nikon D7000. My brother has older Nikon equipment, so that was a strong point for Nikon to start with. I’m a long time Canon user though, right now have the Powershot S95 (love it!), and I used a Powershot G3 for maaaany years before the S95, and before the G3 I had a Canon film snapshot (can’t remember model number). I had read recommendations from Ken Rockwell (mostly pro Nikon DSLRs) as well as from this and other websites (pro Canon, or pro both).

    I tried both cameras in my own hands for quite a while during two visits in a store before deciding. They both offered great handling and ergonomics to my relatively large-fingered hands, the Canon maybe slightly better only because of slightly more room between lens and your holding fingers, but not a big deal, and it depends on the lens anyway. Eventually I chose the Nikon D7000 for the following reasons:

    – Viewfinder is 100% (the Canon isn’t by a very small % though)
    – Crop factor is 1.5 instead of 1.6 (slightly larger sensor)
    – The sensor on the Nikon D7000 is way better than the sensor on the Canon 60D (even though the latter has slightly higher resolution, and is no slouch anyway). From what I’ve seen online, I think sensor-wise Canon is slightly behind the times, at least in the mid range cameras. That’s what the DXOmark rankings online suggest:
    Still, the sensor alone isn’t everything in the final picture quality; camera software plays a big part in it, and Canon’s does an excellent job on that in spite of the older sensor.
    – Nikon has an outstanding 35 mm lens for the APS-C format cameras (the 35mm /1.8 DX). Canon has also 35 mm lenses, of course, but from reviews online I gathered the normal/affordable ones aren’t a match for this inexpensive and excellent offering by Nikon.
    – Nikon has (allegedly, I have no experience with it) a more friendly/intuitive integration in its multi-flash system.
    – And finally the strength Nikon started with: my brother already has older Nikon gear I could use 🙂

    So eventually got the Nikon D7000 with the 35 mm lens plus the 55-200 zoom, another very inexpensive yet sharp lens (for its price). Went against the 2/3 – 1/3 rule for lenses + camera because these lenses are excellent for their price, and my budget was limited. Yet with Nikon I don’t have to buy (for example) a macro lens, since my brother already have 10+ years Nikon 105 AF macro lens that still works perfectly.

    Canon’s are great cameras and lenses as well, I’m sure the 60D, and particularly the 7D, are great cameras. If Canon had a sensor as good as Nikon’s, even with my brother’s gear advantage I would have likely chosen a Canon.

  13. Fotofanatix

    I bought a NikonD90, Not because i’m a pro, far from it, i am definitely in the ‘Amateur Camp’. One of the main reasons i bought it was:- HOW IT FELT IN MY HANDS!!! the equivalent Canon ( can’t even remember which model it was – sorry Canon enthusiasts) felt too light, small and dare i say it ‘Plasticky’ (is that even a word heehee). But after getting over the fact that $500.00 to $700.00 wasn’t going to get me close to a New DSLR (well not in Australia in July 2010) didn’t think then of the second hand market!!! i decided to up the ante to around the $1500.00 mark which i made sure my conscience was happy with – bugger conscience, it felt GOOD!!! – i realized that took me into ‘Mid-Range’ territory from there it was back to doing research and it came down to a two horse race, the Nikon D90 and the equivalent Canon, and like i said when i held them both and fiddled a bit the Nikon D90 just felt RIGHT, the fact that i spent in total with the camera bag, memory card and the Manfrotto tripod near on $2000.00 made no never mind, i felt good about the decision – i also got $200.00 cash back via redemtion so that was a little bonus …
    basically buy what you’re comfortable with holding and handling!!!

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