Best DSLR Cameras For Beginners (A BUYING GUIDE)

What is the BEST dslr camera to invest in as a new photographer? This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get from beginner photographers and it’s a valid question!

Whether you like shooting with a DSLR camera or SLR, figuring out which one is best to start practicing with is a common concern.

Many people say that it’s not the camera, it’s the person behind it. While others say, as long as you have a great camera, you’re bound to get great pictures.

Hmm, I think it’s a little bit of both.

Depending on the type of photography you want to specialize in, you may be able to get a great shot with ANY camera.

best dslr cameras for beginners

Choosing the BEST DSLR Camera For Beginners, Starts With A Goal…

As a photographer, it’s your job to find solutions to problems.

The problem may be getting the right exposure and composition of a new commercial building, for your client who is an architect.

Maybe your goal is to achieve professional looking images that can compare to tear sheets in magazines and billboards.

Or you may be in need of an amazing auto focusing lens to capture that athlete in action!

Choosing the best DSLR camera starts with a need.

Think about the subject matter you will shoot most often or the problems you want to provide solutions for (the most), in order to make the most educated and useful purchase.

…in time, you’ll have the knowledge and experience to pick up ANY camera, even your phone, to achieve a great shot. Like a PRO!

Like most photography students, we start out learning film and transition into digital. These days, I’m not sure if photography schools even teach the process of using a dark room anymore.

I really hope they do, because the steps of manually processing your negatives, seeing them appear like magic in the solution and making edits the old school way (no Photoshop), is what made me love photography so much.

Learning how to do something manually is the best teacher, before ever using computers (digital cameras) or editing software to do the work for you.

I mean… even if you use a digital camera, if your goal is to be a professional photographer, you’ll STILL need to learn how to use your digital cameras’ manual settings.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to success a part from hard work and mastering your craft.

…but once you learn all the rules, you can break them and create your own!

That’s the motto a photographer lives by right?

  1. Know how to use your tools by learning the rules
  2. Get creative with the rules (by breaking them)

Photography was not my original major. It sort of walked right into my life.

My original major was Chemistry Pre-med and I was on a mission to attend medical school and know everything there is to know about the body and how biology and chemistry work together.

I’ve been an artist since a child though. So, while studying science (and loving every minute of it) I still constantly thought about and craved creating artwork.

Making the choice to change my major from Pre-med to art has never been a regret. I quickly enrolled in every class (art related) my University offered.

…but one day my drawing teacher told me it was important I take a photography class to become a well-rounded artist.

I brushed off the idea, but he kept insisting as if I was missing out on an important aspect of art.

…and INDEED I was!

I gave in and took a photography class, LOVED every single aspect of it, declared myself as an Art major emphasizing in Photography and the rest is history.

About a month into my first black and white photography class, that same drawing teacher (Professor Wendell), took me on a field trip.

“Miss Cheri Amour… Today I have a surprise for you. Don’t ask questions… Just come along for the ride!”

Where was this mystery place he was taking me to?

What surprise was in store?

We soon arrived at a vintage camera store about 3 blocks from my house. They had a few well taken care of SLR (single lens reflex) cameras.

He took the Minolta off the shelves, walked over to the clerk and handed her $110.81.

best dslr camera

Then he turned to me, handed me the camera and said:

“Ok, here is the camera you’ll use for your photography class.

Learn it, practice with it and master it! From there, your entire art career will NEVER be the same.

You’ve explored every other medium, so this class will balance you off and mold you into a well rounded artist.”

I was not expecting my teacher to buy me my FIRST camera, but it was a day I will always remember and value because he believed in me so much that he was willing to spend his hard earned money on an aspiring art student.

I took his advice seriously and credit him for even getting me interested in photography. If it wasn’t for him I never would have even considered taking a photo class.

This story is important for me to share with you because I want you to understand that being a successful photographer is not 100% dependent on what camera you have.

In fact, I STILL have this camera sitting on my desk, as a reminder of where I started.

If I could start with an old school camera, the kind where I had to load my film in and understand the manual settings, you can surely do the same and not break the bank to get started.

I love the now considered, “vintage” way of learning photography. However, digital cameras can either be a great learning tool or a terrible crutch.

You can either use it as a way to learn very quickly. For example, there will be no need to spend more money on film, processing, prints etc.

You can learn the science of taking a properly exposed picture very fast OR you could get lazy, put it on default mode and just let the camera think for you.

Don’t do that.

Learn your craft. Practice it. Master it!

Options of the Best DSLR camera:

When it comes to the best camera for photography, options range for anyone with a small budget (under $300) to a few thousand dollars (under $3,000) and more.

I want to stress though, if you’re focused on becoming a professional photographer, the lenses you invest in will be the BEST use of your money over the camera body you choose.

In 2010 I made a quick tutorial about choosing the best DSLR camera for beginners:

Everything still applies if you’re just getting started, but there are SO many MORE options now, that it’s worth writing this post about the best DSLR cameras currently available.

My VERY first DSLR was a part of the top canon dslr cameras at the time, a 20D to be specific, which you can find on Craigslist now for dirt cheap!

The quality I got from this camera would be a STEAL to buy now, for only hundreds of dollars, compared to THOUSANDS of dollars when it was originally released.

When I first purchased the camera, I paid about $2,000 for it. I made my money back from booking paid shoots, but if you’re just getting started, that can be a huge and even scary investment.

Sometimes it’s better to practice with older models and even rent cameras from places like Borrow Lenses, until you know FOR SURE what camera you want to invest in.

Here is a slideshow of several images I uploaded to my Flickr profile, from projects I shot, using my Canon 20D:

Cheri Amour Photography

WHAT IS THE BEST DSLR CAMERA FOR BEGINNERS?

#1 (Canon 20D: $100-$300)

best dslr

If you’re on a budget and looking for a cheap dslr, I would STILL recommend the Canon 20D. To this day it’s a great starter camera!

Plus I have history with it, so parting with it for only a few hundred dollars, doesn’t seem logical 🙂

You can find the 20D on craigslist for dirt cheap or anywhere else it may be sold.

Since so many other Canon models have been released since this one, the price has significantly gone down!

#2 (Samsung WB1100F: Under $300)

If you like the idea of a quality SLR camera in the $300 range, check out the Samsung WB1100F.

You can find it new for under $300, so you may be able to find an even better deal on Craigslist!

It does a GREAT job and offers all the things you would want from an SLR.

It has a fantastic zoom on it, you can adjust exposure compensation and you can also do some light night photography.

…and the image quality?

Pretty good!

It’s pretty amazing for under $300 and a huge step up from someone getting good in smart phone photography.

The problem with smart phones, is not all of them can get a decent portrait.

There’s a big difference between run of the mill smart phone cameras and cameras with a real lens.

Being able to zoom in with this camera, gets the features on the face looking much better than trying to get it with a wide angle smart phone lens.

It also blurs the background very nicely. Removing distractions is so important!

You also get manual control over a lot of important settings. The ONLY major downside to this camera, is NOT having the ability to change the lens.

So let’s look at an affordable option around the same price point as both the DSLR Canon 20D (where you CAN change the lens) and SLR Samsung WB 1100F .

If you’re at that $200 point, want something newer than the 20D and you don’t mind buying a used camera, but you’re getting a little more serious about your photography and want to be able to put on multiple lenses, check out the:

#3 (Canon EOS Rebel T3: Under $300)

It was released in 2011, compared to the 2004 release of the 20D, and it’s very capable. You can pick up a kit with a good lens for $200. That will get you started!

From there you can upgrade your lenses or upgrade the body and keep your lenses. You can add on external flashes and many accessories for studio and location shoots.

The possibilities definitely expand.

You can do just about anything you want with the Canon T3. It’s a very capable camera and to be able to pick one up for under $300 used, is an awesome steal!

If you can spend up to $500 you can take a BIG step up from that camera, with the:

#4 (Nikon D5300: $500 range)

It’s a fantastic value for $500 used, WITH a lens.

The Nikon D5300 has an articulating screen on it, it has wifi and GPS… just about every feature you’d want.

It’s a previous generation model which is why it’s such a good value but still takes absolutely fantastic pictures. It’s even capable of some light sports photography.

It also does well with autofocusing.

If you want something smaller and more compact, maybe even a little bit more user-friendly, check out the:

#5 (Olympus M10: Under $600)

This fantastic little camera is not only gorgeous, but it’s very lightweight.

It has a tilting touch screen and for travel it’s a favorite of all time, among many photographers.

Here’s a quick and useful review by photographer Angela Nicholson on Digital Camera World:

It’s one I would recommend to my friends and family who just want to get good pictures while they’re out. Used, you can buy an ENTIRE kit for $500.

It’s just an incredible value.

PLUS, if you want to put on bigger lenses and try out portrait, telephoto or even macro photography, you can do ALL of that with this camera!

It’s got great video capabilities and full manual controls, as does the D5300.

So check that out.

It’s important that when you’re camera shopping, don’t focus ONLY on the camera bodies.

A lot of people make the mistake of looking at just the number of megapixels or the zoom factor on the lenses, but I would consider ALSO evaluating several other things like:

  1. Usability
  2. The ability to grow into it
  3. How the camera feels in your hand
  4. How it actually works

…all these sorts of intangibles that aren’t listed on the box or the spec sheet are so useful to your experience with the camera.

Now… once you get a camera and you’re ready to start learning how to actually use it, visit this link.

Now that I’ve touched on several all around options I consider in the family of the best professional dslr camera, let’s look at cameras made to specifically produce amazing landscape photography!

Best DSLR Camera (For Landscapes)

The good news about landscape photography, much like basic night photography, is that the art form isn’t particularly demanding.

Any of the cameras I’ve already mentioned would work very well for landscape photography.

…but if you want to get a little more serious, I have some more specialized recommendations.

Starting with the:

#6 (Sony Alpha 6000: Under $600)

Also known as the Sony a6000. This lovely little camera is very capable of sparking creative ideas, with its deep dynamic range, fast autofocus and imcredible image quality.

The lens that comes in the kit is decent, but the fact that you can pick up a brand new camera for $550, makes it just a fantastic use of your money.

B&H did a great webinar going into great detail. Well worth the watch if you want to geek out on more information!

It’s good for landscapes, not just because of the fantastic sensor, but because the viewfinder tilts.

So you can easily put it on a tripod that may be low to the ground and look down at your composition, without having to get on the ground to get the shot.

The viewfinder is also helpful, when the screen on the back might be hard to see at times. It’s a great camera!

Another nice thing about it, is the small and light size. So if you want to travel with it on family vacations or during weekend fun, it makes it a pleasure to carry.

A step up from that and quite a bit higher in budget, if you can spend $1500 on a new body, is upgrading to the combination of the:

#7 (Nikon D5500 & Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens: $1500 range)

You will take a HUGE leap forward in the quality of your images.

The D5500 has a SUPER lightweight body.

It’s just about as light as these little mirrorless cameras, but its a full DSLR with a fantastic autofocusing system, so it COULD double for sports photography and fast action shoots.

…but maybe most importantly, you can attach the Sigma 18-35 f1.8 lens. This lens attached to that body will produce absolutely stellar results that are unbelievably sharp!

When just getting started in landscape photography, I wouldn’t recommend getting a SUPER wide angle lens. That could be your NEXT lens.

Something in the full frame range of 16-35 is really useful for landscape photographers, but if you’re investing in ONE lens to start, the Sigma is the one I recommend starting with because I find that range to be MOST useful.

When you’re ready to step your budget up a little more, the:

#8 (Nikon D610: Under $1500 new)

It has a full frame sensor and costs around $1500 for a new body or under $1000 for a used one.

Here’s a beautiful image I ran across on Flickr, by photographer Torodd F. Ottestad, using the Nikon D610.

Best DSLR Camera For Beginners

Having a full sensor to work with means that you’ll get cleaner images when you’re working in ideal light and my favorite lens to pair with that, is the Sigma 24-105 f/4.0.

That lens is big AND heavy. It’s a REAL lens, but so far the quality is just unmatched. That range going from 24-105 is just fantastic and terribly useful.

…and although you can get the Nikon 24-120 (it’s a good lens), but it’s not NEARLY as sharp as the Sigma 24-105. So don’t necessarily get the body with the kit lens.

The kit is less expensive, yes.

…but upgrade to the Sigma and you’ll get better results than if you were to use the kit lens.

If you can spend more that $2400 and you’re getting really serious about your landscape photography AND you wanna make those big huge SHARP prints, pickup a used:

#9 (Nikon D800E w/a Sigma 24-105: Under $3000)

Together it’s a fantastic value. I know its a lot. $2400!!!

…but you will get breathtaking professional images that you can print VERY VERY large. This combination will result in spectacular images.

  1. If you want your camera to do some double duty
  2. If you want to be able to take sports photos and such

#10 (Check out the Nikon D810 instead)

The D800e is a fantastic camera, but it doesn’t have a great autofocus system.

The D810 is the NEXT generation of that and the BIGGEST thing Nikon did, was they improved the autofocus system.

Autofocusing is not that important for landscapes, but sometimes you may want to use your camera for other things too.

So for an all around camera the D810 is actually much better.

I would again, pair this with the Sigma 24-105 as my first lens and from there you might decide you need to go wide or maybe not, but you can always add later and swap those lenses out.

The ULTIMATE landscape kit though is the

#11 (Canon 5dsr)

with the Sigma 24-105 f/4.0 lens!

The 5dsr has 50 megapixels. That’s the highest megapixel sensor on the market (at the time of writing this of course).

Coming out of the 5dsr, the images are noticeably better. They’re noticeably sharper and it’s just a fantastic, durable combination to work with.

It’s BIG and heavy though.

So you’ll need to be committed to dragging it out wherever your landscape endeavors take you.

I personally like heavy cameras. It gives me an upper body workout, while working on my portfolio 🙂

…but if you get this far into your investment, this combination WILL NOT let you down!

Here’s a great video I found on the Canon Europe YouTube channel. It shows off some really inspiring images taken by landscape and macro photographer, Henrik Spranz.

By now, you should have a good idea of some of options to choose from, in addition to ones specifically made to work well for landscape photography.

If these cameras have given you enough food for thought and you’ve been following my posts about the Top 10 Things Every Photography Student Should Have, we can continue on with #3 on the list, a stunning photography website!

I’ll go further into detail about having your own website as well as the pros and cons it comes with.

Otherwise, let’s get into some other interesting camera and lens combinations that can ALSO be considered as the best DSLR camera for beginners!

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