I think the one email/message/question I get the most that I don’t already have a post dedicated to is “WHAT KIND OF CAMERA SHOULD I GET!?” I’ve never written it because I’m still not entirely sure I know what I’m talking about and I’m certainly not the best photographer in the world, I just really like doing it and learning more about it every chance I get.

So after six years, here it is. What kind of camera you should get (according to me.) I add the according to me part because I am only fluent in Canon (I don’t speak a lick of Nikon) and because my mama raised me that you invest in equipment if you’re serious, which I am. Of course I can hand out advice for those who are not as serious, but know that I am a bit of a camera snob. I’m also a flip flop snob. I would rather get a pair of $40 Born flip flops that will be comfortable and last me for several years than a $1 pair from Old Navy that will give me shin splints and only last for one summer. (No offense Old Navy flip flops, I still like you for the gym and the pool!)

Super Bowl XLVI
by Shireen

Photography is not a cheap hobby if you really want to take it seriously. Expensive equipment won’t make you better, but learning how to use what you have properly and upgrading from there will help. Just like a super fancy stove won’t instantly make you a good cook, it can make cooking easier once you know how to cook. Make sense? I’m all about the analogies lately.


So you just need a camera that’s slightly better than your phone but not a huge investment? Deal, however my advice on this is kind of lame. I’m going to ask you to go to a store and mess with the three dozen different options. If you know what’s most important to you and you are able to go to a legit camera store, they’ll be able to help you with your decision. (Most important for me with a point and shoot is fast start up and having it actually take the picture right when I click the shutter. I also like a good macro (close up) setting.) Currently I use a $160 Kodak Easy Share that does well enough, in the past I’ve really liked Casios. I’ve found that with Canon point and shoots they attempt to make a little camera do too much. In my mind a point and shoot should do just that, point and shoot – leaving you with the best photo possible in whatever situation you happen to be in.

he's so patient with me

If you’re looking for something a little fancier but not quite ready for a DSLR I would suggest a Canon PowerShot SX20IS camera. Bigger than a point and shoot but smaller (and much cheaper) than a DLSR, these cameras have almost all the capabilities of a DSLR without the need to change lenses. My mother in law has one and I would own one if I could justify such a thing. It can take amazing macros, take good wide angles and has a really good zoom. The f/stop is a 2.8, which to get a DSLR lens an f/stop of 2.8 you’ll have to pay at least $1K (except for the 50mm.) At under $500 the Canon SX20IS will let you take really good photos (it has good ‘dummy buttons’ as my step mom calls them) and have the ability to control the settings when you’re ready to learn more, all without making a huge investment.

MICRO DSLR (Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Cameras)

These are kind of new. Maybe. They’re they size of point and shoots with interchangeable lenses. Some people like them, I am not one of them. The lenses can cost as much as DSLR lenses and don’t really have that great of range. The most popular is the Olympus PEN camera, I borrowed one for a month and was never satisfied with it. Very clunky and not nearly as convenient as it was marketed to be. That being said, some people really do love the things, if you’re interested see if you can borrow one first or make sure wherever you buy it from has a good return policy, just in case.

DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)

So you think you’re ready to make the jump into a DSLR? Good for you! Please remember I only speak Canon, so before you go taking my advice go to a reputable camera store and hold both a Canon and Nikon in your hands. Which one feels better to you? There are other brands of DSLRs available but for convenience, let’s just keep it to Canon and Nikon for now. Thankfully almost everything Canon has, Nikon has a comparable equivalent, I just don’t know the Nikon lingo.

Self Portrait Chicago '08

I need to work on fitting back into those jeans.

The most current and basic DSLR (at the time that I write this) is the Canon t3i, the body alone is around $600 depending on where you buy it. You can get kits that come with a kit lens and this is where my camera/flip flop snobbery comes in. Yes. The kit lens is only about $150 more, but it’s not going to take you very far and you’re going to get very frustrated with it if you intend on taking this photo thing seriously. If you do get better and someday want to upgrade that kit lens is going to be $15o of dead weight that you’ll never be able to unload. IF IT WERE ME, I would get just the t3i body and the 50mm f/1.4 ($370.) I would practice and practice and learn what I like THEN add another lens depending on what I wanted. Wider angle? More macro ability? Better zoom? I’d also rent or borrow the lens I was considering for a week before really making the leap (especially if it was a super expensive one.) I have a $500 zoom lens and a $1,700 wide angle zoom and I swear to you I use my 50mm 90% of the time. (I also wish I would have gotten the 15-35 f/2.8L instead of the 24-70 f/2.8L, FYI.) It’s worth it to save up for a few extra months to get something that will last that you really want.

The next level of Canon camera bodies are-

  • 60D – $899 (body only) Faster shutter speed and faster continuous shooting than t3i (the new 60Da has an infrared sensor…which is cool, but not really worth the extra $600 unless you dig infrared photography.)
  • 7D – $1,549 (body only) Faster shutter speed and faster continuous shooting than 60D
  • 5D – $3,499 (body only) Higher megapixels and full format (meaning it actually takes 4 x 6 photos rather than having to do an awkward crop.)

I had a 40D before which served me well for five years until I outgrew the ISO and bought a 7D in January. I could really care less about the video capabilities, but that seems to be the norm on most cameras these days.


Kit lenses (the ones that come in the box or with a “kit” or “set” on Amazon or in the store) don’t bother with them if you can avoid it (see above.) I know this is the not possible for everyone starting out (what do you mean money doesn’t grow on trees?) but it is my advice to everyone. Just something to keep in mind.

Merry Shootsac Christmas, yo.
My 40D and 17-85 f/4-5.6 IS, the good ol’ days.

The smaller the number the more stuff you’ll be able to get in one frame. The bigger the number the farther it can/does/will zoom. The widest lens I have is 24mm. The longest one I have is 300mm. This post shows the focal lengths of Canon lenses. (See the red bands on all of her lenses? That means they’re L-series, which means they’re made of really good glass and that they’re really expensive. Here’s a post about L-Series lenses.) If you like shooting people, here’s a visual on using different focal lengths when shooting people.

Check out the difference between these two photos:

This one was taken with my 24-70, I was using an off camera flash (another thing for another day) but see how the bushes behind her aren’t very out of focus?

This one was taken with my 70-300, I was standing so far from her I had to practically yell at her to move the way I wanted her to, but see how much better the background blurred even though the f/stop is so much higher? Standing back and zooming in let me get a lovely blurred background without having to use a thousand dollar low f/stop lens. It’s a great way to “game” the lens you have to get the effect you want.

Before I had my 50mm f/1.4 I had a 50mm f/1.8 ($100) and before my 28-70mm f/2.8 I had a 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS ($599) and I’ve always had a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS ($450.) I miss the wide angle of my 17-85mm sometimes. The next lens I’d like to get is either a 60mm f/2.8 Macro ($429) or the 85mm f/1.2L  ($2,049) I feel as though I have all my basic bases covered with the lenses I do have, anything else would really just be a luxury. One lens is never going to do everything you could dream, want or desire, so you have to figure out what’s most important to you and how much you want to spend.


You don’t need a really fancy flash. You just need something that shoots out light and can be set to a manual setting. I have the 430EXII ($279) which is probably a little more flash than I need but I bought it before I knew that more money doesn’t make a better flash. If you want to go off camera there’s several different ways to do it (I use a Pocket Wizard.) A lot of people poo poo flash which is what I used to do, but natural light isn’t always available or pretty so sometimes you’re going to have to use flash. Even though you may hate it, you may as well learn how to use a flash so you can use it right when the situation arises unless you have the power to control natural light which is something I certainly don’t have.

A flash used properly.


I got a battery grip for my 7D ($58.95) and LOVE IT. It allows me to have 2 batteries to power my camera (had to purchase an extra battery separately, I just got a generic) and it gives me a second vertical shutter release. I’ve had to charge my camera three times since buying it (Including the very first charge.)

Macro adapter ($50) let’s me take macro photos with my 50mm. It’s not AS NICE as a real macro lens but it’s much easier to use than an extension tube and far cheaper.

50mm Without Macro Adapter
50mm w/ Macro Adapter

Lens filters. In case you missed it…THIS IS WHY WE USE LENS FILTERS.

tragedy. kind of.


Holy crap that was a lot, and it took a really long time. I hope it helped you. If you still have more specific questions, please ask so I know what else you’d like for me to cover. If someone would like to translate this into Nikon, be my guest. xo (Also, all links to Amazon are affiliate so you can further fund my habit by enabling yours.)


  1. Good stuff. I just got my first DSLR (the Canon T3) and I am LOVING it. Now for more lenses…

  2. Thank you! This was very helpful! I have the old xsi, but I hope to upgrade after I get a little better! This is the best article for which camera and lense to buy. Fantastic!

  3. Rochelle says:

    Perfect timing on this! I lost my point and shoot at the zoo on Saturday 🙁 Now I have to decide if I take the plunge and invest in some good equipment or not. Thank you for the great info!

  4. I’d love to know about camera care and maintenace – do I clean/care for it myself? Ship it back to canon? Seriously, there’s probably stuff I should be doing (that I’m not).

  5. What about insurance? That’s a lot of money to be carrying around, how do you insure it in case of repairs or if it gets stolen?

  6. So funny – I was surprised with a new t3i just yesterday; went and bought my 50mm prime in the afternoon and now came to you – my Canon goddess – to see what “necessities” I should have because, well, my Sony… you know, it just wasn’t so awesome.

    Such a timely post, you just KNEW I needed you today. 🙂

  7. I so need to find a battery grip for my Rebel (XS). I also need to check out that macro-add-on. I have a set of Vivitar macro lens filters (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahcb21/5324686000/ … they force me to *use* my focus, because manual won’t work).

    I’ve been through a few P&S, and honestly, I had to get the DSLR, because I was SO frustrated with the P&S. I still have one (okay, 2, a Sony Cybershot that I’m giving to my daughter, and my Kodak EasyShare refurb that I got for $40 :D), but I prefer to use my Canon. But, as I’ve whined before, so heavy. Gotta get in shape (arms and neck) 😉

  8. Im not very into camera stuff yet but found this really helpful. Thanks for posting!

  9. Brittany says:

    Oh, thank you. This was so helpful. I have the XTi and the boy is ready to move up to the t3i but I don’t think I am. I still feel like I have a lot to learn on the current camera/lenses, and I’d rather spend the money on a NEW lens 🙂
    I’m with Sarah on wanting to know more about how you handle camera maintenance!

  10. Helpful Post! I got my T2i a few months ago (with the kit lens) and got my 50mm prime shortly after. Switching to the 50mm took some getting used to because I couldn’t zoom and had to move around but I definitely reach for that much more than my kit lens now. A post on getting the most out of your 50mm would be awesome!

  11. i totally pinned this so when I make my christmas list this year, I can refer. I already have a 50mm f 1.4 (I think) and have pretty much completely ditched using my kit lens. I want to ask for another lens once i figure out what I like (from all this camera learning i am doing lately).

    I think I for sure want a battery grip (I don’t even have a back up battery…gulp!) and the macro adapter is probably good for an beginner like me 🙂

  12. Casey, are you reading my mind? Because I came here today to ask you about lenses; I shoot with a 7D also, (kinda wish now that I had bought a full frame, but that is another story for a different day), and scooted over here to ask what lenses you have and like. I did a trial at CM after you posted about that, and bought a year membership with their Mother’s Day promo, and I am loving it! Great resources, and I have barely scratched the surface.

    Anyway. My favorite lens of all is a toss up between my 60mm macro and my 50mm 1.4. So I wholeheartedly recommend the 60! It is awesome, and my sharpest lens, by far.

    I have a not-so-good copy of the Tamron 28-75, and I am looking to buy a zoo, that goes wider, so I am going to check out the ones you mention. I am trying to choose between a zoom (I was looking pretty darn hard at the 24-70L recently) or buying two primes (looking at the 35mm sigma and the 85mm1.8 OR 100mm 2.8 macro). Would love to hear your thoughts on this…I do some lifestyle, but mostly portraiture.

    I will say that though I use it infrequently, I did get the 28-135 variable ap with my 7D, and I have gotten great images with it…I just prefer a fixed ap. I have heard good reviews on the 24-105l, as well, but not sure I want to go with an aperture of 4 wide open.

    Ugh! Too many choices makes my brain really noisy!

    Congrats on the 7D; I upgraded last year when my xti stopped suddenly, and while the learning curve was HUGE, and I still covet full frame a little, I do love my 7D.

    LisaJ Reply:


    Ugh! I need to proofread! I am not looking to buy a zoo. I teach middle school and have children at home ranging from 2-15. So I already have a zoo in my life. LOL.

    That should have said “I am looking to buy a ‘zoom.'”

  13. Thank you for this wonderful post. I, too, only speak canon and I am just getting into loving photography more! Funny thing is, the first lens we bought was the 60mm f/2.8 macro and it has spoiled me from other lenses! But I really need an everyday lens so you have given me so many great options with this post!!