Let’s say that you, awesome reader, have been photographing with your smartphone, point-and-shoot camera or something similar and you want to step up the game and get your first DSLR camera.
I will have to disappoint you there unfortunately because you can get a DSLR camera with the kit lens, but really soon you’ll realize that it is not enough, and you’ll need more pieces of gear in order to do what you want to do.
I must warn you that photography isn’t a cheap hobby, in fact, it can be more expensive than drag racing (albeit a little bit safer, but just a little bit).
But, of course, you’ll want to start small, and if it starts paying off, then continue upgrading. This sounds like a reasonable strategy. However, in any case, you’ll need to be aware of what I'd consider some of the essential “photography gear for beginners”.
If you were to start off with a professional grade DSLR, consider that just the body will set you back around $2,000-3,000. Add a couple of lenses, a flash or two, tripod, backpack, batteries and such, and it will quickly add up to $10,000.
However, in the entry level area (it is called that for a reason) prices aren’t that steep. I can’t say that it is cheap, but it's cheaper than going to professional grade – for obvious reasons.
Since I am a Canon user, I know the Canon cameras better than the other brands, but I will try to provide equivalent Nikons as well. Have in mind that the two companies have slightly different strategies, so there can’t be exact equivalents with just a different name, but they will be close enough.
This article, however, is not sponsored by any company mentioned, it is just the equipment I use, have used, or I think should be used.
1. Your First Camera
When I started out doing photography, all I could afford was the lowest and the cheapest DSLR that Canon had to offer. It was the 1000D at that time. Didn’t like how the Nikon equivalent (I think it was the D60) felt in the hand, and the menu and controls were messy.
I’m mentioning this because ergonomics and access are important, so when you are picking your first DSLR, be aware of that. Here are some thoughts on the best camera for beginners.
Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns
Nowadays, the Canon 1200D or the Nikon D3200 are the first in the lineup of DSLRs. They are cropped sensor DSLRs which means the lenses for them will be cheaper, at the cost of having the focal length multiplied by 1.6 for Canon and 1.5 for Nikon.
This means that 50mm lens on a cropped sensor will actually be 75-80mm (35mm equivalent).
The Canon will set you back around $400 new, while the Nikon is around $440 new (check out Amazon for the latest prices).
Of course, you can go for a used model, and get an even better body for the same amount of money, but you have the risk of getting a faulty one, and of course the wear and tear will be present.
Both DSLRs come with the standard kit lens 18-55mm f/3.5 – 5.6. Therefore, you’ll have a general average quality lens to play around.
Make sure that you pick up a remote shutter release for your camera, and if possible one that has an intervalometer on it.
2. Camera Lenses
This is where the specialization you want to pursue comes into play.
If you want to seek portraiture you should seek portrait oriented lenses, and this is where the cheap nifty fifty comes into play. The 50mm f/1.8 STM from Canon costs around $125 while the Nikkor (the Nikon brand lenses) equivalent costs around $210.
This is a prime lens, meaning there is no zoom, but you gain wider aperture which will allow for that bokeh (specular lights) to come up in the background when shooting portraiture.
Photo by Markus Grossalber
If you want to seek landscapes, you can invest in wide angle lenses, something like the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 is great, but it is around $440 (which is somewhat the cost of your DSLR), or you can stick with the kit lens which does a decent job when it comes to landscape since it is decently wide at the wide angle end.
If you want to shoot architecture however, you’ll find that the kit lens is often just not wide enough for it.
If you want to get started in wildlife photography, investing in the 55-250mm kit lens isn’t a bad choice. Yes, it can’t compete with the pro lenses, but it will do a decent job for your learning curve.
The Canon image stabilized version will set you back around $200, while Nikkor has a 55-200mm (a little shorter reach) image-stabilized version that costs $240 on average.
If you feel as though that is a bit too short for your taste there is a 70-300mm lens made by almost any lens manufacturer, without hypersonic motor and without image stabilization that goes for around $150-170 for both Canon and Nikon.
3. External Flash
Yes, your camera will have a pop-up flash. But that one can be messy, the images can look bad, and I really don’t know why that thing is even there anymore.
Anyhow, investing in a flash will help you when shooting in the dark. However, Canon and Nikon flashes are tad expensive, even the entry level ones which go from $200 upwards.
I’ve purchased a Yongnuo flash. I know it sounds sketchy, but Yongnuo has received lots of love lately, especially on their flashes (which visually look like a total rip off of Canon's).
I own a Yongnuo 565EX II flash, and I must say it works great. It is more powerful than the Canon 430EX and I get more flashes per set of batteries than the Canon.
Additionally, the recycle time is faster. Yes, the user manual is in Chinese, but the Canon 430 EX II comes with a price tag of $260, while the Yongnuo 565EX II is under $90!
And yes, the Yongnuo has ETTL metering. Just make sure that you pick up the version which is compatible with your camera. The flash comes in both Canon and Nikon versions.
4. Additional Accessories
This is where the brand dependant things end. From now on everything is compatible with any camera. Meaning it is a no brainer, whether you are Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony or any other brand user, it will work with it.
I’m going to be honest with you, I can’t recommend a good tripod for little to no money. The reason for that being it varies greatly from where you live and where you do your shopping.
I am using one Hoya tripod which costs around $20-30 here, and it was solid enough to hold my entry level DSLR with any of the kit lenses. Once I’ve upgraded to a heavier lens (The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8) the tripod needed to be replaced.
With the 7D Mark 2, it doesn’t even keep the head leveled when I fasten it there.
Photo by Beverley Goodwin
Anyhow, the advice I can give you is the following:
- Head out to your nearest camera shop and you’ll probably see bunch of tripods displayed (since camera shops somehow have the tendency to display all the tripods they have).
- Find the tripods you know you can afford, take out your camera and put it on each one of them.
- See which one feels as it is the most stable (legs and head wise) by pressing on your camera while it is mounted and fastened with your finger. For example, as the camera is mounted and fastened on the tripod, press slightly on the lens downward, and see if it wiggles or goes down easily without much force.
The point is, the tripod will do its job if it is stable enough with your current setup, even if you upgrade slightly. When you start purchasing lenses that cost 2 or 3 times more than your camera body, you’ll be able to afford a good and sturdy tripod as well.
If you are a little clumsy and feel that you could damage the front element of the lens by improper maintenance, then you can invest in lens protector filters, otherwise, don’t bother. Take care of your gear.
However, circular polarizer filters, neutral density filters, and gradual neutral density filters can come handy for the creative bunch. Whether it is a landscape or any other type of photography, at certain point in time you’ll need filters.
I can’t advise you to get the most expensive filters since it is probably a waste of money, but if you can test them at your camera shop, do that with the cheapest ones and see which one doesn’t degrade image sharpness and get those.
After all, you are a beginner, so you’ll upgrade later if necessary. Just make sure that the filters match your lenses thread size.
Photo by Ken
Usually, entry level DSLR’s have a bag in the package you get from your camera stores, but if you order it online it won’t come with a bag. When it comes to bags, Lowepro has good deals to offer, Manfrotto as well.
In fact, most of the camera bag manufacturers which don’t smell bad when you get near will do a pretty decent job. Just find the bag that can fit everything you need, see if it looks and feels sturdy enough and go for it if you can afford it.
I’ve seen photographers who use noname chinese bags for years and years without any issues.
If your camera doesn’t come with an SD card, you’ll need to buy one yourself. Anything that is a Class 10 card (or faster) which you can afford and it is made by the most known manufacturers will do.
Technology has advanced so much that for the regular user there is really no difference between brands. You can safely get a Class 10 card made by Kingston, Sandisk, Verbatim, Transcend, Lexar and have no worries about it.
Make sure that the card is at least 8 GB or more, because you’ll need the space if you start shooting RAW, which I hope you will because there is no compromise there.
It is also wise to have a backup card, just in case you lose, break or misplace your current one.
Your flash will need batteries, and if you purchase a battery grip for your camera it will also need batteries. Your battery grip can work on 2 battery packs that your camera uses, or on 6 AA batteries. It is wise to get 8 batteries which are rechargeable and last long.
My personal preference are Sanyo Eneloop batteries, and most of the pros use them as well. The advantage they have over other batteries is the amount of recharges they can take before they start losing power and the time they can hold a charge when not used.
Photo by Matthias Rhomberg
That would be all for this article on photography gear for beginners. I hope this helped you in your choices and now you have a better idea what you’ll need in order to get started in photography. Stay tuned for similar articles, I've also covered what you’ll need in order to get started in macro photography.
Before you leave, we have an IDEAL skills course into DSLR Photography for Beginners by Brent Mail. Check it out and see if you could benefit from the essential things taught to take control of your DSLR!
- How to Get Started in DSLR Photography for Under $300 by Dzvonko Petrovski
- 5 Things You MUST look For When Buying A Used Camera Body by Federico Alegria
- Understanding Lens Focal Length: A Beginners Guide by Jason Row