I want to buy a dslr…now what?

Last year I wrote a post with camera recommendations and it has been the one post I’ve have copied and pasted into emails more than any other.  I get a lot of questions from those wanting to purchase a dslr, so instead of writing it out each time, I link to the post. Since it has been a year and this is the season the questions flood in, I thought I’d update it.

Now here is my disclaimer…you must know I have always used Canon, so my recommendations are going to be with Canon because it is what I know. I’m not paid by Canon for this post – though if someone from Canon reads it and wants to send me a camera upgrade, I will glad accept  🙂 I do not keep up with all the latest technology and newest camera models. I keep up with kids. This is not a comprehensive list of what is out there. There is a lot to consider when purchasing a camera. 

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

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, like in a point & shoot. 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.

So, as you begin the process to invest in a dslr, these are the steps I would recommend:

1. Set your budget

When looking at investing in a dslr, I would first set your budget. Once your budget is set, stick to it. There are lots of options and having a budget is smart financially, but it will also give you some boundaries among all the choices. If you are new to photography, I would not buy a lot of equipment early on. Get your camera. Then learn to use your camera. Once you know more about photography it will help you decide exactly what you want to add to your camera bag. Don’t invest a lot of money into equipment until you understand what that equipment does.

2. Pick your camera

As you look at the camera options, keep in mind other things you want to purchase like lenses. I pretty much always recommend new dslr owners to purchase the camera body with the standard kit lens and then add the 50mm f/1.8 lens. It runs around $125.00. So based on your budget, I’d pick a camera body with a kit lens and the 50mm lens. What camera you select depends on your budget. 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.

3. Pick your lens(es)

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 $125.00 and worth every penny.

4. Enjoy some extras…if the budget allows

This is where looking into some post processing products, an external flash or cute camera bags come into play.

Now, here are my recommendations.

Here are some current great starter camera bodies:

 Canon EOS Rebel T4i

Canon EOS Rebel T3

Canon EOS Rebel T2i

A good middle of the line camera body:

Canon 7D

A high end camera body:

Canon EOS 5D(these are a thing of the past, but it is the camera I use and am very happy with it)

Canon 6D

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

My lens recommendations

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 USM – this is the lens I recommend getting in addition to the one kit lens that comes with your camera

A kit lens – most Canons come with the 18-55mm or the 18-135mm

There are SO MANY more lens options, but I really recommend learning to use your camera before you invest in more lenses. Each lens will allow you to do different things, but you need to know what you are looking for in a lens before you make that purchase. You can buy a bunch of lenses, but not understand their benefits and you really lose out. Someone that takes landscape photos will need different lenses than a mom who takes mainly indoor kid shots. Different lenses for different folks.

Additional lenses that I use:


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. It is expensive.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM– my favorite portrait lens (I only recommend this for full frame cameras 5D, 6D)

Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 – I don’t use this lens, but it is a good alternative to the Canon 28-70mm for a less expensive price

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



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 the line cameras,  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

Nikon D600


And…obviously….if you are ready to learn to use your dslr, I know a girl that teaches intro classes online. Wink. Wink. I am selling gift certificates for 2013 SnapShop workshops in case you or someone you know would like to receive that as a gift. Click here to find out more about my intro to photography online workshops, SnapShops.


If you have a camera model or lens not mentioned that you are really pleased with, feel free to share it in the comments -especially those of you that don’t use Canon. Images are from canon.com

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  • Joy - what a great post, ashley… thank you for sharing your “two cents”! i bought my first dslr, canon t1i in 2009 and just upgraded it to the canon t4i a couple months ago. i am amazed at the huge difference. worth each penny. for sure. with the t4i i also purchased the 50mm 1.8 and i LOVE it. i haven’t changed the lens yet. i totally agree with you, it is definitely worth the splurge.

  • Andrea - Thanks for this post Ashley – I’d read and re-read your previous similar post and finally (after much of my own research) settled on purchasing the T3i with the kit lense and the 50mm f1.8. Am very excited to start using it and hopefully will be part of a 2013 snapshop workshop! 🙂

  • Rebekah - Love this post! I will be sending my friends here as well as to Ken Rockwell’s site from now on. http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/recommended-cameras.htm

    Such great advice! I agree with everything 100%. I use a Nikon D7000 and sometimes get a little itchy for a full-frame D700 or D800 but recently I shot a wedding alongside someone with a huge camera and tons of gear & during the wedding I felt a bit inferior until I saw my pics next to hers and now I’m glad I haven’t thrown that much money into it since I actually like mine a little better. ; ) I saved up all my pennies a few years ago and paid cash for a Nikon D60 with a kit lens and kit zoom then I asked for the 50mm 1.8 as a present and an Epiphanie bag as a present. After a year of learning the ins and outs I started saving up my pennies and only asked for $ for a new camera body for birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, etc and I bought the D7000. Paying cash! Such a wonderful thing. 😀

  • Taylor - Hey Ashley, I have been shooting with my dslr for about 6 years now, learned on my bottom of the line rebel and I just got a t3i last year, I have
    Always dreamed of owning that 24-70mm lens… Never going to happen so me t that price haha! So is there something similar that you know of that would be a step below that and a little cheaper?

  • Marissa - Hi Ashley:

    Thank you so much for this! If the 24-70 is way out of budget for me, could the Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 be a good substitue? Thanks so much!!!

  • Kathleen - Interesting post, thanks. I was just at the camera store (high end) and the consensus was that Canon is falling behind in the market. They felt that if Canon doesn’t start competing in the market that another company like Minolta or Sony is going to overtake their place along side Nikon as the new industry leader.

    Also, have you looked into the little dslr from sony (NEX 5) and Nikon (J1 or V1)? I think they would be awesome to travel with. Plus you can use a full size lens from your big dslr (at least you can with the Nikon, not sure with Sony). I would be interested to hear from any of your readers that has bought one.

  • Cindy - . I am pretty accomplished with a point and shoot but ready to move up. After a bit of research, I’m pretty convinced that a four thirds or compact with interchangeable lenses is a good solution for me. Does anyone have any thoughts or experience?

  • Joani - I use the Tamron AF 28-75 f/2.8 at the recommendation of a professional photographer friend (it was one of her first lenses before going to school) as a cheaper but good version of the Canon 24-70. First on a Rebel now on a 40D and it works really well for me.

  • Marissa - Thanks, Joani!

  • AshleyAnn - Marissa – I totally forgot about that lens. I have heard very good things about it….adding it to the list on this post now. Thanks for asking!

  • Ruth - Thank you Ashley! I love your camera tips! I recently purchased a Canon T3i with the swivel screen. But I’m not sure when the swivel screen will come in handy – do you know what it is designed for?

  • Jenna - I’m a Nikon person and have been for years. I have a Nikon D300s and absolutely love it. If you’re switching from point and shoot to a DSLR I wouldn’t recommend this camera as it’s got a huge learning curve but is a great camera if you’re switching to a higher end DSLR.

  • Ryan - Any beginners interested in photography should attend a SnapShop! Ashley does an incredible job of making the technical details of taking a good photo easy to understand and fun to learn. Such a great idea for a Christmas gift!

  • Ari - Thanks for this post Ashley. I wanted to get a new lens for my Canon but didn’t know where to start or what to tell the hubs. Now it’s on my amazon wish list! (Maybe I should tell him to check it). 🙂
    thanks and happy thanksgiving!

  • Jody - Great post. Much needed!! I am a beginner & bought a D3000 – I play with it constantly but am soo in need of a class – I took a beginner class at the store I purchased it from and was LOST!! Will I ever get the ins & outs of taking pics?? of my kids?? that’s all I want! Can you recommend any good photography learning books? I have to check out your snap shop classes!! (I know, I know!!)

  • jennie - i started with the T3i with the kit lens and added the 50mm f1.8 per your suggestion! i am very happy with it but best purchase of all was the snapshop workshop!! amazing 😉

  • Carole B - I just purchased my first DSLR- canon 7D. I love it. It came with the 18-135mm lens in the kit but I asked for the 50mm lens for Christmas, I as well heard great things about it.

  • Lydia - I was not aware of the Canon 6D. It might be the one for me. Thank you!

  • Jenn - Great tips! Couldn’t agree more. I have shot with my D300 for years now and LOVE it. It will fit into the mid/pro range for Nikon bodies.

  • Lisa - My husband bought me my holiday gift early – he purchased the Canon EOS Rebel T3i. I see that you mentioned the T4i and the T3, but not the T3i. He bought it at costco and it is the “Deluxe Kit” which includes the EF-S 18-55mm IS II & EF-S 55-250MM IS III lenses.

    Did he make a good purchase? Or should I revisit? They sell the T4i without the extra lens for the same price as this kit (it was on sale for around $750). Any help you can provide would be appreciated.

    Thank you!


  • AshleyAnn - Lisa – that is a great camera and package deal! Enjoy it, he made a great choice 🙂

  • Tanya Sloma - I am also curious about the Nikon (J1 or V1). I’ve maxed the capacity of my point&shoot, but am afraid of the size of a dslr. comments please… thanks!

  • the.mrs - Great post! I have a Sony Nex 3 and have been REALLY happy with it. It would be nice to have more choices in lenses like you said, but as for picture quality and size, I can’t say enough about it.

  • Colleen S - I am a Nikon gal.
    Nikon D700 with their Nikon 50mm / f1.4 lens = amazing. Absolutely the great for low light. D700 is full frame.

  • Marte Fjeld - I think that the 7D is way to complicated for a middle class photographer. I’ve got the 60D, and even that model is way more complicated than a photographer in the middle will normally use. 7D should go in the high end category and cameras like 650D or 600D 🙂

    I’ve had 60D for about a year(it’s my second camera) and I would love to ungarske to 5D mark ll, but really, it’s not neccessary, because they produce much like photos, depending on the lens that is used.

  • maria amélia - I always read your blog and I love your photos and tips about it. I have followed the adaptation of the new member of this lovely family and she seems to be so happy as the other members. Congratulations, much love, health and brazilian kisses for all of you.

  • Tanya - Ashley, I have a Nikon D3100 after having various Canon cameras for years, and I love the picture quality versus Canon. Not sure why, because Canon is supposed to be good as well. It may be mostly that I can shoot in manual now, and back then it was all automatic settings. I bought a 50mm lens for it and looove it, but I hate that I have to be so far away from the subject to use it. Nothing fits in the frame! Is there a lens that gives me the same bokeh and allows me to shoot in low light but lets me stand closer to the subject? Would getting a full-frame camera be my only fix?

  • elizabeth H - This is such a timely post Ashley. I’ve been gifted a Nikon D50 by a family member {don’t see this one on your list…but it’s certainly an upgrade from my Kodak Easy Share}
    I’m hoping to enroll in your SnapShop class 2013, so i can begin to figure out how to use it :0)

    You’re such an inspiration!

  • Courtney - Thanks for the great post and much needed recommendations! Quick question: Have you ever purchased refurbished cameras? And would you purchase an extended warranty over the first year? Thanks!

  • nancy - I hope you see the irony in this—- Concrete proof that we should be sisters, or maybe friends, or at a minimum neighbors. Posted on the same day, look at the title. Coinkidink! Hope it’s not proof that I’m a stalker.


  • aiena (from Kazakhstan, Semey) - WOOOOOOOOOW !!!!!!!!! Ashley,you are not just a mother, but a creative and hard worker! GOOD OF YOU!!!

  • Jane - Great post Ashley!

    As you already know, my love of photography really took off after taking your Snap Shop course. Totally worth the trip from Canada to Oklahoma! I learned so much that weekend and it gave me the basics to continue learning. I’m a Nikon girl (because my brother is also an enthusiast and already had a decent amount of Nikon gear – so now we share). I started with the D90 (now discontinued) and now shoot with the D700 (full-frame). My favourite lens is the 24-70 f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4 and probably my current favourite, the 85 mm f/1.8G. Nikon just released the D600 which is an “entry-level” full frame body. I love my D700 but that’s probably the camera I would replace it with if mine dies. The D800 is also great, but over 35 MP and so it’s a bit more camera than I need.

    A great resource on-line, other than your site of course, is Nasim’s Mansurov’s site: http://photographylife.com/ He has some great tips for beginners as well as pros. Huge amounts of information on his site.

  • Katie - I really like this post. Just wondering did you major in art in school? and how did you learn how to create a blog layout?

  • AshleyAnn - Katie – I have an art minor from college and I use a ProPhoto template so the tools for my blog layout are there I just have to organize them how I want!

  • AshleyAnn - Nancy – I agree..we should be sisters! That is so fun that we posted similarly on the same day. Your post is GREAT. You took much more time to write out a lot of great tips, hopefully lots reading this post will read yours too!

  • Torey - I have a Nikon D3100 (an entry level DSLR). Just wanted to tell the lady (Tanya?) that it is a very manageable camera. I had a small point and shoot before and was concerned about getting a BIG camera. The 3100 is not huge. It is totally easy to hold and shoot with using the kit lens or a 50mm. I have a friend that has the big Nikon with big lens and those things weigh a ton. I promise you the 3100 is perfect and the price is perfect now too (under $500 on Amazon or Walmart).

  • Rebekah - Just wanted to reply to Tanya if she’s checking back in. Try the Nikon 35mm http://www.adorama.com/NK3518U.html I love mine and it will give you a little more room than the 50 for not a whole lot more money.

  • Victoria Christophe - Wow! Thanks for sharing! Ashley