Getting Started with Photography: Camera and Lens Selection

There comes a time in every picture takers journey when they realize whatever camera they are using is no longer enough for them. Whether it be their phone, a standard point and shoot, or a DSLR. As you get more interested in photography you outgrow the cameras you start with.

One of the questions I get most often on Instagram is, "What camera do you shoot with?" When I was first starting with photography I often asked people the same thing. I didn't realize how many components go into a good photo. I just figured the more spendy the camera, the better the photo. I. WAS. SO. WRONG. But to answer that question, I shoot with a Canon 5D MK II (update, I know shoot with a Sony A7II) It's an older version of their workhorse camera. I bought it when I grew out of my entry-level DSLR and wanted something that could handle full days shooting weddings, as that was my goal at that point in time. This is not the camera I would buy for myself now that I have stopped doing weddings, and it's definitely not a camera I would recommend for beginners. 

So what should a beginner purchase? That's a question that I hope to help you answer! If you are just starting out and wondering what you need this will point you in the right direction!

DSLR VS Mirrorless

Deciding between a DSLR and Mirrorless camera is one of the first huge steps you will need to make. When I was getting started mirrorless cameras were quite honestly....complete crap. They weren't even on my radar. The technology has made HUGE strides since then, so much that many pro photographers are switching to mirrorless systems. Why? They are much smaller and lighter and they offer some other neat perks. A major con, however, is their battery life. With my Canon, I have shot an ENTIRE wedding on a single battery, that's upwards of 2500 photos. You will not get the same battery performance from a mirrorless system due to the electronic viewfinder or screen usage.

I won't pretend to be an expert on all the differences and there are tons of better guides weighing the pros and cons between mirrorless and DSLR (such as this one) For me, I plan on switching to a mirrorless system when my MK II finally craps out. Since most of my photography now requires hiking long distances, saving weight is something that is super important to me. Especially since image quality isn't being sacrificed. This is a decision every photographer will need to make for themself.

Good Cameras for a Beginner

When you are just starting out, you don't need the fanciest thing on the market, in fact you will probably just make yourself hate photography if you go that route. Cameras are COMPLICATED, and the fancier the camera the more complicated it gets....not the best recipe for someone learning. Luckily most camera companies have basic models.

Personally I started out with a Canon starter pack from Amazon. These DSLR starter packs can be a great cost effective way to experiment with a DSLR as they generally come with a variety of lenses, and everything else you need to get started. The con is the lenses aren't great and you will probably outgrow their capabilities quickly if you plan on taking photography seriously. You can purchase these starter packs for basically any camera brand including Nikon and Sony. If you think you will want to take this seriously (i.e. attempt to make money off of it) I recommend buying a camera body and looking at more expensive lenses to go with.

Canon Rebel body vs a Canon Rebel starter kit with lenses, flash, memory cards etc.

If you aren't sure if you want to go with a brand new camera you can also scour Craigslist for deals. You need to be willing to do some research on what you need beforehand if you decide to go this route though. Also, if going used, make sure you know the shutter count on the camera you are buying! Cameras are like cars in this way, once they hit a certain number of exposures they are more likely to experience a failure that will cost more to repair than buying a new camera. 

If you don't want to go the DSLR route, Sony has a great mirrorless option to get you started with; the a6000.  It's going to be a lot lighter than the Canon, but Sony's line up of E-Mount lenses is less than impressive compared to what you can get through Canon for their DSLRs.

Sony a6000 with just the body or as a starter pack.

Best Lenses to Start Out

If you really think you want to do anything or go anywhere with photography, you will want to spend the majority of your budget on good lenses. Also since you are on my blog I am going to assume you are mainly looking for adventure/landscape photography and will tailor my lens advice to that.  

This Canon 24-105mm f4 is what lives on my camera 98% of the time, but it's not the lens I am going to recommend. I have never gone up to 105mm. I originally bought the 24-70mm f2.8 but sold it because it didn't have image stabilization and I thought I was going to mess around with video more. SO MUCH REGRET. Don't make my mistake, if you have the funds purchase the 24-70mm f2.8. Never let it go....but I also understand not everyone has $1700 just laying around Canon also has a great 24-105mm option closer to $600.

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 and $1700 and Canon 24-105mm 3.5-5.6 at $600

Any photographer worth their salt recommends the nifty fifty to beginners. At $125 for a max f1.8 aperture it's basically the lowest price point for a lens that will take pretty stellar photos. I started out with this and eventually upgraded to a 50mm f1.2. Honestly I think I could have been fine sticking with the f1.8 since I don't use it as much as my other lenses.

The Nifty Fifty, highly recommend this guy!

If you happen to be swimming in cash (I am not) there is no lens I would recommend more for landscape work than the Canon 16-35mm f2.8. I have played around with it a couple of times...and it's amazing. I have considered selling my soul for this wonderful piece of glass on multiple occasions.

You might notice these are all Canon lenses because that is what I have used personally, but other lens manufacturers have similar lenses. If you decide to go with Nikon or Sony over Canon you should easily be able to find equivalents to the lenses I have recommended here!

This is all expensive...what about those with a smaller budget?

I get it. Even if you want to start a new hobby sometimes shelling out hundreds to thousands of dollars ISN'T an option. But that doesn't mean you can't take good photos! There are options for you too I promise!

I am really impressed with what Moment Lens has done with mobile lenses for phones. If you can't afford to spend hundred of dollars right now but want to do a little better than what your phone's camera can do on it's own this is a good place to start!

Moment wide and telephoto lenses for iPhone!

If you don't want to make a huge plunge yet, there is also the option of renting cameras and lenses. If you are in Seattle Glazers is a great local resource for this. If not there is also  I have rented lenses from Glazers a few times for weddings and couldn't recommend them more!

Other Resources

These are my personal recommendations and what has worked for me, but there are experts out there that know far more on this stuff than I do. A great place to do research is! They even have these handy lens and camera buying guides! 


Kaelee ButnerComment