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YellowJersey

THE "I want a real camera for less than $300" thread

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Posted · Original PosterOP

I often see posts here, there, and everywhere about wanting a "real" camera to upgrade from a smartphone on a limited budget.

For the vast majority of you, I say this: Don't bother. Your smartphone is good enough for most people and most applications.

 

For the rest of you, here's the deal. It's... complicated. In no particular order:

 

1) First off, don't buy a point-and-shoot. That'll give you results that are, at best, marginally better than your smartphone. There's the Sony RX-100 line, but that's well over the $300.

 

2) Forget about buying new. Nothing new in that price range isn't worth it over your smartphone.

 

3) What's your application? Why do you want a "real" camera? Ask yourself, "What is it about my smartphone that is inadequate?" Examples where having a "real" camera makes sense include: making large prints, shooting in very low light, sports, and wildlife. If you're just posting photos online, then a smartphone will do the job well most of the time.

 

4) Check the used market. What are you looking for? Any of the following would be alright:

 

-Canon Rebel T3, T3i, T4, T4i, T5, T5i, SL1, SL2 (these are the names used in North America. Many of these will go by different names in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere). They should come with an 18-55mm lens. Anything lower than a T3 is certainly available, but you're getting pretty old by that point.

 

-Nikon D3100, D3200, D3300, D3400 D5100, D5200.

 

-Olympus OM-D E M5

 

-Sony A5000, 5100, A6000, A6300

 

(this list is very much non-exhaustive)

 

5) Read reviews. What did the reviewer like? What did the reviewer not like? If the review has comments, check the comments to see what others like or don't like about the camera.

 

6) Newer is not necessarily always better. Sometimes, newer models don't offer much improvement over older models.

 

7) What features are important to you? Things you should consider are:

-autofocus speed/accuracy/consistency

 

-autofocus points (more is generally better)

 

-size and weight of the body and lenses

 

-sensor size (most cameras in your price range will be APS-C, but Olympus and Panasonic offer Micro FourThirds (MFT). This means that APS-C cameras (like the Nikon, Canon, or Sony) will have sensors that are bigger than MFT. The benefits of MFT are smaller and lighter cameras, but they usually don't perform as well in low-light.

 

-optical viewfinder vs EVF/backscreen (DSLRs like Canon and Nikon use optical viewfinders, which means there's a mirror that bounces light up to the viewfinder so you are looking through the lens. They generally have fewer autofocus points but, in this price range, may offer faster, more accurate, and more consistent autofocus. Mirrorless cameras let you see what's coming off the sensor and, in this price range, autofocus may be slower, less accurate, or less consistent. DSLRs will also offer "live view" where it will let you see what's coming off the sensor using the back screen. Either way, the live view of what the sensor sees allows you to see your exposure before you take the picture. If you use the optical viewfinder of a DSLR, you'll have to "chimp," (ie, look at the back screen to see how it turned out).

 

-lens selection (lenses are described using focal length in mm and aperture in 1:x. Focal length describes how "zoomed in" or "zoomed out" you are. For example, 24mm is considered wide, 50mm is considered "standard," and 100mm and on is telephoto. Wide means you are "zoomed out" and can see lots of the scene, but things further away will appear smaller. Telephoto means you are "zoomed in" and can are focused on a much smaller part of the scene. Landscapes typically use wide lengths, portraiture typically use standard focal lengths, and wildlife/sports typically use telephoto (or "longer") focal lengths. Aperture describes the opening at the back of the lens. All lenses can "stop down" their apertures (means less light is let in, but your depth of field (amount of the picture that's in focus) is increased, and can help increase sharpness to an extent) or "open up" their apertures (means more light gets in, but your depth of field decreases, background and foreground will be out of focus (ie, blurry), and may result in a slight loss of image quality. Good lenses for sports and wildlife are super expensive since indoor sporting arenas are usually poorly lit requiring long lenses with big apertures. A big aperture is 1:1.2 (or just f/1.2) whereas a small aperture is 1:16 (or just f/16). The smaller the number (like 1.2) means the bigger the aperture can open up. The larger the number (like 5.6) means it can't open up as much and let in as much light. Portraits are usually shot at wide apertures and landscapes are often shot at smaller apertures. Different lenses for different applications and different levels of image quality.

 

-video features (if you want to shoot video. Good things to consider are: video autofocus, mic jack, headphone jack, articulating screen, and so on (I don't shoot video)

 

 

It is important to know that while some cameras/lenses are better suited to some applications than others, there is no "perfect" camera or lens. A lot of it will come down to what you shoot, how you shoot, your budget, what you value in a camera (ie, what you want vs what you don't want vs what you don't care about), and what you like shooting. I recommend going to a camera shop and spending a few minutes playing around with one. 

 

 If you're torn between buying a camera and just using your phone, then you should probably just use your phone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ayy, I love my OMD EM5. Great camera and I like my lenses too! much better than a phone camera.


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2 years ago I bought a Sony Superzoom for birdwatching / bird photos. I had $450 to spend and a serious birdwatching DSLR requires a lens with at least 500mm focal length, which I was not willing to pay for on top of the body. It would at least have doubled the price ewwww

 

How much better would picture my quality be if I had made the investment?


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Great write-up @YellowJersey!

 

One thing I'd like to add. If you're considering purchasing a point-and-shoot, think about how often you'd actually carry it and use it. Will you actually carry it everywhere like you do a smartphone? If you're going to make the effort to carry an additional device would you be willing to carry a small DSLR instead and get the massive benefits vs the minor benefits of a point-and-shoot?

 

Too many times I see people purchase point-and-shoots, including some serious photographer friends, only to see them go unused simply because its another thing to be carried. 

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2 hours ago, harryk said:

Great write-up @YellowJersey!

 

One thing I'd like to add. If you're considering purchasing a point-and-shoot, think about how often you'd actually carry it and use it. Will you actually carry it everywhere like you do a smartphone? If you're going to make the effort to carry an additional device would you be willing to carry a small DSLR instead and get the massive benefits vs the minor benefits of a point-and-shoot?

 

Too many times I see people purchase point-and-shoots, including some serious photographer friends, only to see them go unused simply because its another thing to be carried. 

I went with a point and shoot (Canon G7X mkII) because I needed something I can easily carry with all my regular work stuff, but deliver good image quality and provide flexibility. A M4/3 mirrorless system would probably have been a fantastic choice, but much too expensive for body and lenses at this time. One of those Canon Rebel DSLRs (you know, something within my budget) can be quite bulky, especially factoring in lenses, and the old sensor is probably on par or outperformed by my G7X's 1-inch (really Super 16mm, but who's counting) sensor anyway. 

 

I take the thing pretty much everywhere I go.


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For a $300 budget don't even bother... Stick with a cell phone...

 

Up it to $450 you can normally get into an entry level DSLR with a lens on sale if you watch.

 

That combo will beat ANY cell phone made for photos without even trying....

 

 


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17 hours ago, Energycore said:

2 years ago I bought a Sony Superzoom for birdwatching / bird photos. I had $450 to spend and a serious birdwatching DSLR requires a lens with at least 500mm focal length, which I was not willing to pay for on top of the body. It would at least have doubled the price ewwww

 

How much better would picture my quality be if I had made the investment?

 

 

It would cost you more than you think.

 

About $3K to $5K depending, maybe more....... For the DSLR and lens, good ones that is.

 

Good lenses are NOT cheap..... A 500mm Prime lens will cost you about $3,500 or more by itself....

 

Some zooms are cheaper, around $1,500 or so.. 200mm to 500mm etc...

 

 


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6 hours ago, Ankerson said:

 

 

It would cost you more than you think.

 

About $3K to $5K depending, maybe more....... For the DSLR and lens, good ones that is.

 

Good lenses are NOT cheap..... A 500mm Prime lens will cost you about $3,500 or more by itself....

 

Some zooms are cheaper, around $1,500 or so.. 200mm to 500mm etc...

 

 

That's what I figured. Couple years from now, totally doable. As of today, I'm happy with my zoom.


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23 hours ago, Energycore said:

2 years ago I bought a Sony Superzoom for birdwatching / bird photos. I had $450 to spend and a serious birdwatching DSLR requires a lens with at least 500mm focal length, which I was not willing to pay for on top of the body. It would at least have doubled the price ewwww

 

How much better would picture my quality be if I had made the investment?

As someone else noted, cameras for birding and their lenses can get expensive quick.

 

You might have better luck looking at the used/refurbished market. For example, a used Canon 7D mark II with the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens will set you back about $900 USD for the body (in good shape), and about $1000 USD for the lens (in excellent shape) off of B&H's used section. You might be able to find cheaper cameras in excellent shape off eBay.

 

If you really want to get serious, that's where the big bucks start being spent.

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2 hours ago, ThePointblank said:

As someone else noted, cameras for birding and their lenses can get expensive quick.

 

You might have better luck looking at the used/refurbished market. For example, a used Canon 7D mark II with the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens will set you back about $900 USD for the body (in good shape), and about $1000 USD for the lens (in excellent shape) off of B&H's used section. You might be able to find cheaper cameras in excellent shape off eBay.

 

If you really want to get serious, that's where the big bucks start being spent.

Yeah, they can.

 

I am currently using a Nikon D810 and Nikon 300mm F4 PF VR. Working fine for now, but glass is never really long enough for birds/wildlife.. Also have a Nikon D750 and D7500(DX).

 

Waiting on my Nikon 500mm PF F5.6 VR, it's on back order now. I can't stand long zooms personally.... They are HEAVY and HUGE, I refuse to carry those massive lenses on my long walks.... Reason for the Prime I am waiting on.


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On 10/9/2019 at 7:17 PM, Ankerson said:

For a $300 budget don't even bother... Stick with a cell phone...

 

Up it to $450 you can normally get into an entry level DSLR with a lens on sale if you watch.

 

That combo will beat ANY cell phone made for photos without even trying....

 

 

If you are fine with going used, you can get some real nifty deals tho... 

 

My current DSLR, a low shutter-count Sony A7 costed me £300 with the kit lens. Granted, eBay (UK) was doing a site-wide 15% off event (up to £50 off) at the time so the full price was actually £350 but still, would have still been an amazing deal. 

 

Only problem is now the lens I was finally able to upgrade to costed more than double (£750) than the camera itself. To be fair, the SEL24105G is such a beautiful lens that I'm not going to complain. 


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I bought a second-hand Canon Rebel XS (1000D) from a photography shop for $200 a few years back. It came with the portrait grip/extended battery holder, AA battery adapter, charger, a "kit" lens, and it only had around 1000 shutter-count. EF and EF-S lenses are all over the place. The maximum resolution isn't fantastic, but for web content it's fine.

 

Some day I want to purchase a better camera body, but it'll be easy with lens compatibility. 

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On 10/11/2019 at 8:48 PM, Mr.Meerkat said:

If you are fine with going used, you can get some real nifty deals tho... 

 

My current DSLR, a low shutter-count Sony A7 costed me £300 with the kit lens. Granted, eBay (UK) was doing a site-wide 15% off event (up to £50 off) at the time so the full price was actually £350 but still, would have still been an amazing deal. 

 

Only problem is now the lens I was finally able to upgrade to costed more than double (£750) than the camera itself. To be fair, the SEL24105G is such a beautiful lens that I'm not going to complain. 

 

 

Good lenses cost MONEY, but then to really get quality you have to pay for it. :)

 

 


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Posted · Original PosterOP

I feel sorry for wildlife shooters; they've got it rough. That equipment gets big, heavy, and expensive really fast. I do landscapes mostly, so the Tamron 17-28mm 2.8 and Sony 24-105mm f4 on my A7rIII has me covered about 95% of the time. When I shot Canon, I rocked a Canon 17-40mm f4 and Canon 24-105mm f4. It's a pretty light kit compared to even a 24-70mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8.

 

 Though, landscape shooters are... well... we're a special kind of crazy. Getting up in the middle of the night, hiking 12km to a spot before breakfast, trudging through snow storms, standing waist deep in the ocean and holding the camera above your head every time a wave came in... I've done some crazy stuff for the sake of getting a good shot. Good times!

 I worked in a camera shop for a year and a bit back in 2008 and we had a customer order the Canon 400mm 2.8. While it's an impressive lens, I would not want to have to carry that thing around or pay the five digit price tag.

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2 hours ago, YellowJersey said:

I feel sorry for wildlife shooters; they've got it rough. That equipment gets big, heavy, and expensive really fast. I do landscapes mostly, so the Tamron 17-28mm 2.8 and Sony 24-105mm f4 on my A7rIII has me covered about 95% of the time. When I shot Canon, I rocked a Canon 17-40mm f4 and Canon 24-105mm f4. It's a pretty light kit compared to even a 24-70mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8.

 

 Though, landscape shooters are... well... we're a special kind of crazy. Getting up in the middle of the night, hiking 12km to a spot before breakfast, trudging through snow storms, standing waist deep in the ocean and holding the camera above your head every time a wave came in... I've done some crazy stuff for the sake of getting a good shot. Good times!

 I worked in a camera shop for a year and a bit back in 2008 and we had a customer order the Canon 400mm 2.8. While it's an impressive lens, I would not want to have to carry that thing around or pay the five digit price tag.

Tell me about it :)

 

My wildlife setup for birding is the Nikon D500+200-500 f/5.6 combination. Weighs something like 3kg, although it isn't too bad with a shoulder strap attached to the tripod mount. The APSC sensor gets me 750mm FF equivalent reach without a TC and to get a similar resolution when cropping (you kind of have to when shooting a 5cm bird at 50+ metres range :D) I'd need to buy a D850 (which costs 2.5 times as much).

 

For animals that let you get closer and for when I don't need that much range I have Tamron's 70-210 f/4 (the second gen one with VC). It weighs half the 70-200 f/2.8 and costs half the price.

 

But at least I have less hiking at 2am to do than landscape photographers :)

 

For the OP: There is a translation table for the EU/US/Asia Canon model names here: https://photo.stackexchange.com/a/789

 

Might be useful for international readers.


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6 hours ago, Fetzie said:

Tell me about it :)

 

My wildlife setup for birding is the Nikon D500+200-500 f/5.6 combination. Weighs something like 3kg, although it isn't too bad with a shoulder strap attached to the tripod mount. The APSC sensor gets me 750mm FF equivalent reach without a TC and to get a similar resolution when cropping (you kind of have to when shooting a 5cm bird at 50+ metres range :D) I'd need to buy a D850 (which costs 2.5 times as much).

 

For animals that let you get closer and for when I don't need that much range I have Tamron's 70-210 f/4 (the second gen one with VC). It weighs half the 70-200 f/2.8 and costs half the price.

 

But at least I have less hiking at 2am to do than landscape photographers :)

 

For the OP: There is a translation table for the EU/US/Asia Canon model names here: https://photo.stackexchange.com/a/789

 

Might be useful for international readers.

 

 

Wildlife shooter here too, I like to travel light... No tripod.... I have a light monopod if I really need it.

 

I use a Nikon D810, Nikon 300mm F4 PF, have a Nikon 500mm F5.6 PF on backorder currently. The 300mm is good enough until the new lens comes in. I can set the D810 into DX mode if I need to so I can get 450mm, normally I just crop in as needed in post.... For now... With the images out of the D810 I can really crop in a lot, massive crops if I really have to. Well over 100% and the images still look great.

 

For shorter stuff I have the Nikon 70-200mm F2.8E FL.

 

 


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11 hours ago, Fetzie said:

Tell me about it :)

 

My wildlife setup for birding is the Nikon D500+200-500 f/5.6 combination. Weighs something like 3kg, although it isn't too bad with a shoulder strap attached to the tripod mount. The APSC sensor gets me 750mm FF equivalent reach without a TC and to get a similar resolution when cropping (you kind of have to when shooting a 5cm bird at 50+ metres range :D) I'd need to buy a D850 (which costs 2.5 times as much).

 

For animals that let you get closer and for when I don't need that much range I have Tamron's 70-210 f/4 (the second gen one with VC). It weighs half the 70-200 f/2.8 and costs half the price.

 

But at least I have less hiking at 2am to do than landscape photographers :)

 

For the OP: There is a translation table for the EU/US/Asia Canon model names here: https://photo.stackexchange.com/a/789

 

Might be useful for international readers.

In California, things have taken that oh-so-delightful shade of brownish gold, and there are few to no clouds in the skies, so I've had a bit of a drought in landscape ideas. I prefer imposing, heavy clouds, and high contrast kind of dreary days, though none of that here for a bit longer. So I've taken to street photography lately.

 

I'd also like to shoot a couple of bars around here too as I like the ambiance (I don't drink however), though if I'm timid enough to avoid eye contact a lot of the time, I'll stick out horribly if I simply waltzed into a bar with camera and tripod in hand.


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11 minutes ago, Zodiark1593 said:

I'd also like to shoot a couple of bars around here too as I like the ambiance (I don't drink however), though if I'm timid enough to avoid eye contact a lot of the time, I'll stick out horribly if I simply waltzed into a bar with camera and tripod in hand.

I think for a bar, free-handing it might be more appropriate and a better way to catch the spontaneity of the situations (if you aren't doing "model shots" of the place for the website at least).


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Posted · Original PosterOP
On 10/13/2019 at 3:38 AM, Fetzie said:

Tell me about it :)

 

My wildlife setup for birding is the Nikon D500+200-500 f/5.6 combination. Weighs something like 3kg, although it isn't too bad with a shoulder strap attached to the tripod mount. The APSC sensor gets me 750mm FF equivalent reach without a TC and to get a similar resolution when cropping (you kind of have to when shooting a 5cm bird at 50+ metres range :D) I'd need to buy a D850 (which costs 2.5 times as much).

 

For animals that let you get closer and for when I don't need that much range I have Tamron's 70-210 f/4 (the second gen one with VC). It weighs half the 70-200 f/2.8 and costs half the price.

 

But at least I have less hiking at 2am to do than landscape photographers :)

 

For the OP: There is a translation table for the EU/US/Asia Canon model names here: https://photo.stackexchange.com/a/789

 

Might be useful for international readers.

 

I think the D500 is a really underrated camera. It's perfect for wildlife and birding. Corner to corner autofocus points, 3D tracking, high burst rate, cropped sensor. It really doesn't get enough credit.

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20 hours ago, YellowJersey said:

 

I think the D500 is a really underrated camera. It's perfect for wildlife and birding. Corner to corner autofocus points, 3D tracking, high burst rate, cropped sensor. It really doesn't get enough credit.

It's not too shabby for the other types of photography either.

 

I picked it up for 1200 euro new in the amazon prime week this year (600 euro discount versus the RRP). Obviously way over budget for this thread but when you look at what you get for the money it's quite hard to beat it.


Intel i7 5820K (4.5 GHz) | MSI X99A MPower | 32 GB Kingston HyperX Fury 2666MHz | Asus RoG STRIX GTX 1080ti OC | Samsung 951 m.2 nVME 512GB | Crucial MX200 1000GB | Western Digital Caviar Black 2000GB | Noctua NH-D15 | Fractal Define R5 | Seasonic 860 Platinum | Logitech G910 | Samson SR 850 | Logitech G502

 

Nikon D500 | Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 | Nikon 50mm f/1.8 | Tamron 70-210 f/4 VCII | Sigma 10-20 f/3.5 | Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 | Neewer 750II

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