intro dslr cameras {which one to buy?}

Well last night we were under a tornado watch, severe thunderstorm warning, flood warning…and had an earthquake. What? Oklahoma has always had crazy weather, but earthquakes…we’ve had three this week…Oklahoma doesn’t have noticeable earthquakes, well I guess we do now. Now when the house shakes I won’t be so sure it is just thunder!

Thanks for your comments yesterday…today’s post is lacking fun pics, but hopefully helpful to many of you!


Christmas is approaching, so my inbox begins getting lots of questions regarding cameras. I’ve been writing it out so often these days, I thought I’d just write a blog post with my recommendations. Hopefully, from here on out I can just email a link to this post! Now…you must know I have always used Canon, so my recommendations are going to be with Canon because it is what I know. I do not keep up with all the latest technology and newest camera models. This is not a comprehensive list of what is out there. There is a lot to consider when purchasing a camera.

This is just my recommendation…the kind I would email a friend’s husband when he asks, “My wife wants a camera, what should I get.” Take it for that.

I do recommend dslr cameras over point & shoots. These days, camera phones are getting such great images it kind of seems like double duty to carry a point & shoot and a phone with a decent camera. In my experience, you never know where photography will lead…so you want to get a camera you can grow with a bit. At the same time, a dslr is an investment. If you don’t see yourself using it very often, you are probably better spending the money elsewhere. If you are used to taking your tiny point & shoot everywhere, a dslr will seem big and bulky…and maybe even cumbersome. Nonetheless, a day does not go by that I don’t pick up my dslr. I’d be lost without it.


I recommend any version of the Canon Rebel. Set your budget and pick the camera model that is within your budget when you consider my lens recommendations below. If the Rebel T3i is out of your budget when you add the 50mm lens (see below), then go with the Rebel T2i and the 50mm lens. Your camera body limits you to an extent, but your lens limits you to a greater extent. I would invest more in having a great lens or two than an expensive camera body and crummy lens.

Here are some current great starter camera bodies:

Canon EOS Rebel T3

Canon EOS Rebel T2i

Canon EOS Rebel T3i


If this is your first dslr camera, I recommend getting the standard kit zoom lens that is often included. Typically it is an 18-135mm lens. I do not recommend purchasing a camera and several kit lenses, just the one. However, I do recommend that in addition to your kit lens you purchase the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. This is called a prime lens, meaning you cannot ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’, you have to physically move your body. The benefit of this lens comes in the aperture setting/speed. In a very basic sense, if you like really blurry backgrounds – this lens will allow you to achieve that. It will also allow you to take pictures in lower light settings without your flash. Most kit lenses do not get near the amount of blur (aka “bokeh”) or let as much light in your camera as this lens. It is about $100.00 and worth every penny.

Once you learn more about your camera and your style of shooting, you can add more lenses. Take the time to learn your camera, don’t just use it like a point & shoot. Eventually you will outgrow your intro dslr, but at that point you will know specifically what you are looking for in a camera upgrade.

Here is what I use:

Canon EOS 5D(these are a thing of the past, the new model is a Canon EOS 5D Mark II )

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM– this is the lens I use 90% of the time. It gives me great aperture settings, but also works for wide angle and portraits.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM– my favorite portrait lens

Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS USM– great for low light when you need to zoom. Also great for making use of a f/2.8 setting and a zoom…that is why it is so pricey

If you are interested in purchasing an external flash, click here for a post I wrote last year on that topic.

I do typically recommend that you stick with Canon or Nikon. Both brands have been in the dslr market for a number of years. Though other companies are emerging with great dslr cameras, Canon & Nikon are the most established. If you think you will want to continue to add lenses and change camera bodies, both Canon and Nikon have numerous options that work within their brand seamlessly. Again, if you have another brand…don’t fret. Many other brands are developing top of line cameras,Β  I am just most familiar and comfortable with recommending Canon and Nikon.

Here are the Nikon cameras I have heard great things about:

Nikon D3000

Nikon D3100

Nikon D90

Nikon D7000 16.2MP

And, just to mention it, the Nov/Dec SnapShop registration will close on Saturday. I do believe if you own a dslr, you should know how to use it!

Melissa, of ISLY, is celebrating the 4th birthday of her blog. In celebration she is hosting a giveaway for a spot in the Nov/Dec course right now.Β  The course runs Nov. 13th – Dec. 11th (and extra week long for Thanksgiving). You have until Nov. 12th to enter.

I am selling gift certificates for 2012 SnapShop workshops in case you or someone you know would like to receive that as a gift this Christmas. Click here to find out more about my intro to photography online workshops, SnapShops.


If you have a camera model not mentioned that you are really pleased with, feel free to share it in the comments.


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  • Sarah @ w30 - This is PERFECT! Thank you!!! I read your blog every day, and stopped by about half an hour ago – before your post was up. After that I decided to scour the internet for DSLR information because I am FINALLY ready/able to buy one (Black Friday, I’m looking at you)! So, I stopped back by thinking I could search your archives for info and … voilΓ ! Thanks for this post! Couldn’t have been better timing. πŸ™‚ P.S. Seriously, can you believe these earthquakes? How have your kiddos been handling them?

  • Leslie - Thanks for posting that. It is really helpful.

  • Emily - Thank you so much for the information! Is the Rebel T1i ok? I’m just curious why you mentioned the T2i and T3i but not T1i?

  • mandi@herbanhomestead - Thank you for this! I know it was time consuming to write out, but it is much appreciated!
    ps- loved your post from yesterday. you were speaking my heart, sista!

  • e l l a - I have the same camera as you and my husband already wants the upgrade – but I’m so attached and it really does everything I want it to do. I also use a 50 mm lens – but have been curious if the 85mm is better…. I think I need to go out and test some lenses. The zoom would have been ideal but I doubt Santa would bring me that! πŸ˜‰ xo

  • Kelly - Nice post! Although I do have to add some Pentax love. I grew up learning to take photos on a Pentax so I’m a Pentax junkie just like your a Cannon junkie. I love love love my K-r. I think I am about to outgrow it and switch to a K-5 when the money allows it!

    Great descriptions of uses for the lenses too by the way!

  • Seriously Sassy Mama - Yeah, my camera is on here. I went with the T3, mostly because it was less expensive, and I knew I was not really into photography. I just really wanted a nice camera to take pictures of my beautiful girls. I asked for the 50mm lens for Christmas. Amazon recently had it for under $100. Thanks for the info.

  • emmybrown - Thanks!

  • Debbie C - Thanks again for your tips! My hubs has been talking about getting a flash, now I can pass the info along to him. πŸ™‚

  • Sarah Pratt - Awesome!! Now I really need to take your SnapShot class.

  • Monique W - I grew up on Pentax as well and love them. I just upgraded to the K-5 and it is phenomenal! Pentax seem a little harder to find in North America but they are great cameras!

  • Melissa - Just a few months ago I upgraded from the Nikon D200 to the D7000 & it was the BEST switch ever. The D7000 is an amazing camera & a great value. It has a lot of the functionality of the D3x ($3K), but it’s only $1200.

    My favorite features about the camera:

    High ISO with low noise (up to 25,700)
    1080P video with audio & autofocus features
    Live view mode
    infrared sensor for remote photos (remote is $15)
    Lightweight (it’s a half pound lighter than the D200)

  • Lisa Box - I bought my first dslr 3 months ago, and took Ashley’s photography course soon after…I HIGHLY recommend it! I now pick up my camara pretty much every day to take pictures of my boys. My sister just had a baby, and I’ve taken a million photos already of her sweet baby girl. I have a long way to go until I feel super confident about my photography skillzzz, but I’m having so much fun!

  • cynthia - Solid recommendations. I’m hoping to get the 24-70 lens. If it weren’t for shooting sports pictures, the “5D Mark II” would be my choice, but I need fast shutter so I’m wishing for the “Canon 7D” (Upgrade from my 40D). ~Thanks!

  • Mallory @ R. Simple Life - I have the Nikon D3100, and love it. Just in case anyone is considering it. It was relatively inexpensive, but it is a great camera.

    And Ashley – thank you for teaching me how to use it!

    Now to start prepping for our next earthquake….

  • Kim B - Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!!!

  • the whyte house - i have an old xti and i’m beyond ready for my t3i! πŸ™‚

    we’ve been feeling your earthquakes out here in wichita, too. i’ve never felt one before, but saturday’s hit and i knew exactly at that moment what it was! crazy. glad my kids have been asleep for the two that we’ve felt here! πŸ™‚

  • Cassandra - Thanks so much Ashley! Question, are most of the Canon lenses compatable with both the Rebel to a higher end Canon when it is time to upgrade? I have the Canon G12 and it’s really good but I’m definitly ready for an upgrade I think. πŸ™‚

  • Allie - I use a Canon T2i at work and like it but, for my personal use I shoot with Pentax and adore the system. The thing that tipped the scales from Canon/Nikon to Pentax was that all of their old film lenses can mount on the new DSLRs, so you can find lots of inexpensive lenses that are amazing.

  • Jane in Canada - Thank you for another great post and camera recommendations. Since you’re the one who taught me photography, I’ve built my gear bag around your recommendations. The only difference is that I started out with Nikon and have stuck with Nikon. My brother is also a huge photo enthusiast and we share lenses which comes in handy.
    I started out with an entry level Nikon body which they don’t make anymore and then upgraded to the D90. Great camera. I now have the D700 which is basically Nikon’s version of your camera, the 5D Mark II. I love it! As far as lenses go, I have Nikon’s 50 mm f/1.4 prime and the 70-200 mm f/2.8 which are both fantastic. I also have the 24-120 f/4 which is a great “walkaround” lens, but my next investment is going to be the 24-70mm f/2.8. A question for you – how do you decide when to use your 50mm vs. your 85 mm prime? I’ve heard so many great things about Nikon’s 85 mm f/1.4 but I’m not sure it would be worth getting (it’s $$$) when I already have the 50 mm f/1.4. I do find that the 50mm is a bit “short” on the D700 body since there is no crop factor, but other than that, would there be a lot of difference in terms of image quality?

  • Debbie R - I bought my first DSLR last weekend. After doing tons of online and hands on research, I decided on the Canon T2i with the kit lens. Ha! Now I know which lens to look for next. Thanks!

  • giozi - My camera is very simple I have Canon 450D, but I heard about full frame cameras and I looooooove your camera, but I heard that that I can use some lenses with that.
    At this moment I can not afford to buy your camera, but I’m in mind it πŸ™‚
    Tanks for your tips

  • Amanda - I bought the Sony Nex-5 this past summer. My husband gave me the choice between the Canon Rebel or the Sony…… was really the size that won me over. It’s my first non-point and shoot camera and I love it. It fits easily in my purse and isn’s as bulky as any of the Canons were. Lenses from other brands fit on it with an adaptor so I don’t have to buy only Sony if it’s not in my price range. It takes high quality photos and hd video…..I really can’t complain. It goes with me everywhere!

  • Danielle - Thank you! Thank you! THANK YOU! I am in the market this holiday season for a DSLR and you have helped me so much with knowing what to buy. I am also a huge fan of Canon but have never strayed from point & shoot cameras. Thank you for your guidance! πŸ™‚

  • Marit - Thank you, Ashley!

  • amanda torres - I still feel like I’m reading a foreign language even though you explain things so well. I’m bookmarking this post for the day a dslr falls into our budget.

  • Angela - Earthquake in Oklahoma? Crazy stuff! I live in San Francisco, so we’re used to this kind of craziness. πŸ˜›
    Thanks for the post Ashley. But what about speedlite? What’s your recommendation? How often do you use a speedlite? How about the photos you took at your kitchen, even with plenty of natural light, did you use flash? Thanks in advance!

  • Melissa@Julia's Bookbag - THANK YOU ASHLEY!!!! THANK YOU!!! I am SO in the market for a DSLR. My dad does semi-pro photog underwater stuff in Hawaii and he loves Nikons — I’m really wanting the Nikon D3100 and so hoping to swing one this season — I can hear my Stylus Tough SCREAMING under the pressure of trying to take decent pix.

  • Kelly - You are awesome!
    This is very helpful.
    Lots of people thinking about Christmas gifts.

  • Christina - Thanks for letting us know what you use. I just went into a local photography shop and tried out a couple of lenses. I loved the 50mm f/1.4!! It shoots like butta even in low light:)

  • Andrea Beshuk - This is EXACTLY the information I’ve been looking for Although I can’t afford to take the class right now, I will try to get in your January class….thank you VERY much!!!!

  • emily anderson - okay, i was just thinking “why hasn’t ashley posted all week”…cause i read you in google reader.
    bummer that it’s messed up!
    i’ll try the unsubscribe/subscribe thing.

  • Jelena - Great post! Just wanted to ask what is the equivalent of Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II for Nikon? And whats the difference between 1.8/f and 1.4/f?

  • allie - Thank you for this post!!!!! I LOVE your blog & I was actually going to see if you had any archived camera-buying advice and then you had posted this! My only question is you say the typical kit lens is 18-135mm but I’m seeing 18-55mm to be another option/more common even(?)… would you recommend going with the 18-135mm over the 18-55mm?

  • Marykay - I just want to say THANK YOU for linking to the give away. Not only is I Still Love You an amazing and inspiring blog, but I won!!! There are no words for how excited and grateful I am to get to take your class. I feel so blessed, thanks!!!!!!!!!

  • elizabeth - thank you for this VERY informative post…
    will you email my husband & tell him i want a camera for Christmas?!? smile!

  • Amy - i can NOT thank you enough for this post. i have referenced it so many, MANY times since you posted it! i promise, this will show up as one of your most popular posts…. i’m online now getting ready to make my purchase. i’m so excited!!! and hopefully my Christmas present is a SnapShop gift certificate! πŸ˜‰ thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • system pa - Hi, this is a great post! Thanks..

  • Shandra Binger - Great ideas going to implement all these soon.

  • Tiffani Raisin - Great feature, I genuinely enjoyed studying it, keep doing all the good writing.

  • Audrie Dieteman - I have been trying to find this all over the place. Thanks.

  • Alica Chaplen - I’ve been searching for this kind of almost everywhere. Thanks.

  • Bunny Reusing - I am searching for this kind of all over the place. Thanks.

  • Sebrina Dinicola - You were kidding around shouldn’t you be!

  • Natividad Mcgrant - Great feature, I genuinely had a good time glossing over it, keep doing the hard work.

  • Meadowlark - Late to the party (as always, plus I’m over-dressed) but I just picked up a Nikon d5100. Seems to have much of the quality of the d7000 with a bit less price. I do not aspire to be a photographer, but I *do* know that my new grandbaby deserves a grandma who can take pictures! πŸ™‚

    (PS… our son’s inlaws are in Watonga… Earthquakes. Yuck!!!!)

  • Vena Taube - You are fooling aren’t you.

  • Anika Nania - You’re joshing can’t you be!

  • Test123 - With all the doggone snow we have had as recently I am bound inside , fortunately there is the net, cheers for leaving me something to do

  • Christy - Thanks so much for sharing. I have asked Santa for a camera for Christmas and I am going to share this info with him!!!! I am a newbe to photography and this is exactly the great recommendation I was looking for. AWESOME!!!!!!

  • Delpha Arturo - Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say excellent blog!

  • Camera lucida obscura | pilgrimography - […] or Canon? Invest in a full frame or start with a mid-level dslr? and which lenses? zoom or prime? I’m thinking.) For now I have a little point and shoot. To be honest, I am getting frustrated with it. In low […]

  • Tracy - I recently bought my first DSLR and have learned so much from your posts, thankyou!! I was wondering which Totally Rad product you would recommend as a good start? I have Lightroom and Photoshop, but am very new at this. Thanks again, you’re awesome!!!

  • AshleyAnn - Tracy – I would go with the Totally Rad Presets for Lightoom. I have them for Photoshop and really want the Lightroom version instead simply to speed up my processing.

  • tessa - I’m looking to purchase a lens to complement my kit 18-55mm lens and my 50mm f/1.8 lens. Your 24-70mm f/2.8 seems super nice, but what if I don’t have 1,800 to spend on a new lens? Do you have a lens that you would recommend that is comparable for less? Or say you had to replace that lens with a less expensive lens, what would you use? Thanks πŸ™‚

  • Nora Holmon - Hey, you used to write wonderful, but the last few posts have been kinda boring… I miss your super writings. Past few posts are just a little bit out of track! come on!