Choosing Your First dSLR for the Future Pro on a Budget

I spend a lot of time on photography forums, trying to stay on top of the latest news and equipment as well as to better learn about the concerns and difficulties of those trying to choose or to learn to use their new dSLR.  This always helps me in writing my dSLR camera guides, such as learning which functions and concepts users have trouble with, and figuring out how to best explain them.

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Unfortunately one begins to see the same posts again and again:

“I want to get my first dSLR.  Which one should I get?”

often supplemented with

“I hear/ read/ am told that Canon is better at XX but Nikon is better at XX.  Which one should I choose?”

and then

“I want to start taking wedding and portrait photos.”

typically qualified with

“I only want to spend $500.”

So to be honest, it is pretty simple:

If you are truly on a budget and don’t want to spend a lot on a dSLR, then get the entry level Canon T3 or Nikon D3100.

But, if you really intend to grow and learn and develop as a photographer, and don’t want to quickly reach the limits of your camera and have to spend more money and buy another one, start out with the advanced-entry-level Canon T3i (also called the 600D) or the Nikon D5100.  These cameras will give you a bit more room to grow with their additional features, capabilities, and image quality.

If you plan to be really dedicated to photography, to pursue it as a serious hobby or even as a semi-pro, and intend to read every book you can find about your equipment, photography, exposure, composition, and Photoshop, and be out there using your camera all the time, then it may be worth your while to start off with a mid-level or pro-sumer camera such as the Canon 60D, Canon 7D, or Nikon D7000.  That way you won’t find yourself reaching the limits of your first camera within a year and having to upgrade so soon.

But know that starting out with a 7D or D7000 is jumping in near the deep end of the pool.  You will have a steep learning curve in order to get to the point where you can take control of your camera and take full advantage of all those features and capabilities you paid for.  As can be witnessed on the forum posts where the new user says

“I just got my ($1500 camera), set it on Auto and took some photos, and they don’t look anything like (pro photographer’s) photos.  What is wrong with my camera?  I guess I should start reading the manual, but what settings should I use to take better photos?”

…spending a lot of money on a “better” camera does not automatically, instantly lead to great images.

If you wish to become serious about photography, you need to understand that “photography” and “budget” do not belong in the same sentence!  If you want to do wedding and portrait/ child/ pet photography eventually, and want to be paid for it, then you need to change your mindset about the cost of the equipment required by a professional photographer.  The camera is a tool required to do the job right, and a professional needs professional equipment.  Not just because it is expected or is the price of admission, but because professional tools are needed to do professional work.  While one can get away with using a mid-level or pro-sumer camera for weddings or when starting out as a portrait or pet photographer, you will find that you really need the quality and capabilities of a pro camera to properly do the job. You need equipment that can perform in all situations (in conjunction with your skills).

I’ve written some much more detailed posts about comparing a choosing a dSLR camera, including:

Choosing Between the Canon 7D vs 60D vs T3i (600D)

Choosing Between the Nikon D7000 vs D5100 vs D3100

These posts go into detail about their features and differences, and why you may or may not need to additional features of the advanced cameras for your photography.