Manual, Quick-start guide for camera kits

For those of you who will be checking out camera kits from Sanford Tuesday, here are links to the manual and quick-start guide:

Canon Rebel T3 Quick-start guide

Canon Rebel T3 instruction manual

All of you – start familiarizing yourselves with the controls and menus of your cameras. We’re going to start shooting – in class. Be prepared!

See you Wednesday and let me know if you have any questions before then.


Putting together a used Nikon kit


If you don’t own any camera gear already, strongly consider a Nikon kit, as well. Nikon once reigned supreme in the world of professional photography. When I started shooting in the 1980s, over 90% of professionals used Nikon gear.

Canon has gained the edge in both amateur and professional market shares, but Nikon products and technology are still recognized as serious gear for pros, and Nikons are always reliable and of top quality. Again, perusing the KEH website, I would recommend considering the following bodies:

Nikon D200 ($144-182) – I highly recommend this excellent prosumer camera, even if it’s a bit dated. It makes great image files that are easy to work with in image editing software. It has all the controls you need right at your fingertips instead of having to scroll through menus. It has weather sealing and is more solid and durable than the Canon and Nikon consumer-level DSLRs. This is a really easy camera to use and learn on. In fact, I know a couple of pros who still use it.

Nikon D40 or D40x ($133-159) – These entry-level DSLRs are now discontinued, but a used one can make a fine, economical starter camera to learn on. Small, light, and easy to use. The D40x has a larger megapixel count (10.2), but unless you want to make poster-sized prints, the D40’s 6.1 megapixels are plenty enough resolution for most uses.

Nikon D70 or D70s ($62-126) – At these prices, the D70 is a much better deal than the D40 or any of the Canon Rebel models, as it offers a more robust build with more features and external controls. The D70 had an excellent reputation and even has some unique features that once made professionals include one of these in their bags along with their highly expensive bodies.

Nikon D80 ($133-168) – See above. The D80 is a little more advanced.

If you insist on something a little newer, consider the D3100 or D5100 ($182-268). Both are entry-level DSLRs that have slightly more advanced sensors than the above cameras. Like all entry-level cameras, they lack external controls to change all the settings. You’ll have to to call up the menus more often.

The advice for Nikon lenses is generally the same as it is for Canon, except Nikon has kept the same lens mount from their film days. In other words, if you are willing to focus and shoot on manual, you can use any Nikon lens built all the way back to the 1960s. The following recommended lenses are all autofocus, but if you want some advice on other lenses that might work, let me know.

*TAMRON 17-50MM F/2.8 ($257-278) – again, for comparison: this is the same lens supplied with the university’s DSLR camera kits, except with a Nikon mount.

NIKON 18-55MM F/3.5-5.6 G AF-S DX VR II  ($94 – $115) – Nikon’s latest, basic “kit” lens. Maximum apertures are slow and it’s got a plastic barrel, but it’s sharp, has vibration reduction (image stabilization) and it’s fine to learn on.

NIKON 18-55MM F/3.5-5.6 G ASPHERICAL ED AF-S DX ($65-76) – same as above, but without vibration reduction, which isn’t crucial in this focal range.

NIKON 18-70MM F/3.5-4.5 G ASPHERICAL ED IF DX AF-S ($115-126) – For a little more money, you can get a lens with much better build quality, slightly faster maximum aperture, and a wider zoom range. This one’s recommended.

NIKON 35-80MM F/4-5.6 D MACRO ($72) – This is an older lens, but will work fine with pretty much any Nikon body. It’s a bargain, too.

NIKON 28-80MM F/3.5-5.6 D ($45-62) – Similar to the above lens, but with a wider zoom range. Another bargain.

NIKON 28-70MM F/3.5-4.5 D MACRO ($94) – Similar to the above two lenses, but a little newer and a little better build quality.

These are all basic, lo-cost lenses to get you started. If you can spend a little more money on a lens, I recommend that you do it, and I can make some suggestions for you.

Putting together a used Canon camera kit


First, here are some links to Canon gear. Canon makes the top selling cameras in both the amateur and professional markets. It’s hard to go wrong with a Canon product, even used.

First up, for comparison’s sake, here is the same camera currently available for checkout in Sanford Hall:

CANON REBEL T3. ($159). The University has several of these, and its perfectly fine for learning on. Frankly, you can get a more advanced model camera, albeit older, for less money.

And here is the exact lens you can check out:

TAMRON 17-50MM F/2.8 ($248.00 – $268.00) – This is a pricier and much better lens than what usually comes in a beginner’s kit. Note the constant f2.8 maximum aperture. You should all understand the significance of that soon.

I said I could put you in a good camera/lens combination for less than $300, so here you go:

Body: CANON 30D ($139-168) – The 30-D is a “prosumer” semi-professional model. It was introduced in 2006 and replaced by the 40D in 2008. The one thing some folks might not like about it is that it has only a 2.5″ LCD display on its back instead of the 3″ LCD most of us are used to. Really, you should only be using the LCD to check for proper exposure anyway, and its fine for that. The 30D just hits the value sweet spot, IMO. Here’s a detailed review of the camera if you’re interested (with links to other models, as well): Ken Rockwell on the 30D. There are currently four of these bodies in stock, ranging from “bargain” condition to “like new.” One of our editors at the Statesboro Herald owns one of these, and he loves it. I highly recommend this camera.

Lens: CANON 18-55MM F/3.5-5.6 IS II ($72.00 – $94.00) – This is the latest basic Canon kit lens, with image stabilization, that typically come with a brand new beginner’s camera kit. There are currently 4 in stock, all in excellent or better condition – all for under $100. It’s not as good as the lens you can check out from the university, but it will do if you’re just starting out.

So there it is. A decent learning kit for under $300 if you buy the 30D and the lens in “like new” condition. If you buy the 30D in “bargain” condition and the lowest price lens listed above, that’s only $174! That’s cheaper than a lot of textbooks you guys have to buy, and we’re not using a textbook for this class!!!

There are other options in a similar price range, and some better and newer equipment if you can spend a little more. Here are some examples …

More cameras:

CANON 20D ($105 – $139) – If you’re really on a tight budget, the predecessor of the 30D might be a great camera for you. Slightly smaller LCD screen (2″), but most of the same features as the 30D. Makes great images. Personally, I’d rather have one of these than a Rebel model, and at this price, it’s a no-brainer. One student last spring bought one of these and was very pleased with it.

CANON 40D ($168 – $218) – With a 3″ LCD on the back, this camera will feel more familiar to you. For a little more money, you get higher resolution and faster operation speeds than the 30D. If you can swing it, you can still get this more advanced camera and the kit lens cited above for less than $300. Do it, if you can!

Personally, I would take any one of the Canon x0D line (10D-70D) over the most advanced Rebel model made today as a camera to learn digital photography with. The main advantages are build quality (with some weather sealing), faster and more accurate autofocus, faster shooting rates, and external controls for all of your most important settings so you don’t have to scroll through menus all the time. This line of cameras also has the brilliant Quick Control Dial on the back of the camera to help you speed through settings and review images with your thumb. No Rebel model has this great feature.

Canon Quick Control Dial

The brilliant Canon Quick Control Dial!


That said, some Rebel models offer a less expensive starting point. Consider the REBEL XSREBEL XSI, REBEL XT, and REBEL XTI models. If the price is the same or even close, I would still recommend one of the x0D models first mentioned.

More lenses:

The  18-55mm f4.5-5.6 lens mentioned above is the latest version. KEH has the same lens in earlier incarnations, all for under $100 dollars. Just plug these numbers into your search and you will find many available in various conditions.

CANON 28-105MM F/3.5-4.5 MACRO ($99-149) – Currently, there is one in stock, in bargain condition. This lens has a wider zoom range, is slightly faster than the basic kit lens above, and it adds macro (closeup) capabilities. Also economical. Consider this lens.

CANON 28-135MM F/3.5-5.6 IS MACRO ($94 – $192) – If you have a little more money to spend, you can get a wider zoom range with micro ability. They have lots of these in stock.

CANON 70-210MM F/4 MACRO ($84-109) – Folks, I’m pretty sure this lens is older than anyone in this class, but you still might consider it! I wouldn’t suggest this lens as your main zoom if you’re just starting out. But this zoom range is classic and pretty much every pro has some type of lens similar to this. If you have a little extra money, consider adding this to your kit. It’s got some quirks because of its older design (you have to flip a switch to manually focus and it’s got a push/pull zoom instead of the zoom ring most common in today’s lenses). But it’s still really sharp and gives you an extremely economical way to start exploring the short-to-medium telephoto range of focal lengths. Seriously, consider this lens!


Anyway, these are some suggestions to get you started. As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.



Buying camera gear for this class on a budget

Some of you don’t have cameras and, although the university has a limited number of DSLR kits available for checkout, I think investing in your own DSLR and lens would be wise.

I’m also fully aware of the often tight budget restraints of college students. If you are simply flat broke, we’ll make do. You can make good pictures with any camera.

That said, if you have the means, you should get your own camera kit so you are not beholden to the availability of the university’s gear. Take a few minutes and read this post about buying gear: Where to buy gear?

I highly recommend that you consider buying a used camera and lens. The post linked above demonstrates the advantages. The main advantage is that you can get gear which will help you get the most out of this class without completely breaking the bank.

Again, I suggest looking at KEH in Atlanta first because of their worldwide reputation as a reliable used equipment dealer. Make sure you read their rating system, and pay special attention to their Bargain (BGN) designation. This is equipment that may have some visible wear and tear on it, but is in perfect working condition.

You can get a camera/lens combination for under $300 if you’re quick to act before the bargains get snatched up. I’ve had students who were able to get their camera/lens combination for under $200 and were perfectly happy with their purchases. You can get something better than an entry-level camera and lens if you’re willing to spend a little more, you know what to look for, and you’re willing to work with slightly older models. I firmly believe that an older, more advanced model camera is a better learning tool than a brand new entry-level camera. It’s your choice, though.

I recommend sticking to Canon and Nikon brands. These two companies dominate the professional market and make up the majority of sales in the amateur market, too. Feel free to explore other brands, and I’ll offer you advice in that regard. But it’s really hard to go wrong with the “big two.”

I will be posting soon about some specific deals for kits you might be able to put together by shopping online at KEH. And feel free to contact me any time for recommendations and advice