There is a common misconception that learning DSLR photography, and taking great shots, always requires gear that costs thousands and thousands of dollars. Yes, photography can get expensive. No smartphone will give you the control and quality that a DSLR can put out, nor the options. But it also doesn't have to be particularly expensive. The big secret in the photography gear world is that for most situations even the lowest grade (entry level) DSLRs that are a couple of years old are still excellent. They allow for great photos and versatility. And the good news is that a very good collection of gear can be had for under $300. Let's look at what we can get for that type of price.
Basically, for a camera body in 2016, you’ll want something that doesn't have less than 10 megapixels, has at least an APS-C (crop) sensor, and works with regular and vintage lenses. Some cameras do not allow for the shutter to be released if there isn’t a lens attached, a lens with electronic contacts that is. I’m saying this because we will dive into vintage lenses, third party lenses, and older lenses as well. One camera that has served me well for years (and still does, with more than 200k shutter actuations), and which has taken more beating than I have, would be the Canon EOS 1000D. Make no mistake, this is an entry level camera. It is old, but it features a 10 megapixel sensor, which (for a camera of that grade) offers a picture that is quite clean – the noise looks much more like grain than actual noise. This is due to the fact that there is a really low amount of chromatic noise and most of it is actually luminance, which is quite an interesting phenomenon. You can pick one up on eBay for around 100$, with a stabilized kit lens. Following this example, you can adjust the grade of the camera according to your budget. You can even go for a full frame camera, something like the Canon 5D which will set you back around 200-250$ (body only). Of course, the 5D was the pro grade camera of its time.
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Personally, I went for the vintage lens approach when I was starting out. Not that it is a must, but I already had lenses available, and some of them can be easily bought at the flea markets in my country. However, there is one lens that is unbeatable when it comes to bang for buck – the nifty fifty. We are talking about the 50mm f/1.8 (both Canon and Nikon make a nifty fifty). You can pick up the old nifty fifty used for 30-40$, and a new one for around $80 to $120. It is a cheap lens so don’t expect excellent build quality. However, it is great optically, and that is what matters the most.