DSLR Buying Guide for Beginners


One of the most common questions I get is what kind of photography equipment I use. What I see happen time and time again is that someone starts a new blog as a fun hobby and quickly realizes that no matter how little they know about photography, pictures are VERY important on a blog. In fact, this is pretty much exactly what happened to me. So, you realize you need pictures, good pictures, and the first logical thought seems to be “I guess I should get one of those DSLRs huh?”

I’ve always been really into the idea of photography. When we mom had her house built (back when I was ~15 years old) there was a spare closet that I BEGGED to be able to use as a black room that I could develop photos in. The builder set it all up for me and installed the proper lights. I never ended up using it and that closet now houses my moms board games and office supplies. O well.
Needless to say, I’ve gotten really into photography over the past couple years. I won’t for a second pretend to be anything more than an amateur photographer. But, I have spent a lot of time researching photography and photography equipment specifically and I’d love to pass along some of that knowledge.


Additionally, I asked my brother-in-law David, who just started his own photography business, and Mary-Katherine, who is a fashion blogger at The Gold-Hatted Lover, what their equipment setups look like and what they recommend for newbies looking to buy a DSLR.


My photography setup:


I currently use a Canon EOS 60 D which just so happens to be discontinued. The newest model, Canon EOS 70D, is very similar though and I highly recommend it!!

I LOVE this camera. It was the perfect intro DSLR camera for me and I would highly recommend it to others (or, the new version of it at least).

When I bought my camera, I knew that I really wanted to get into photography more than just taking pictures of my family and friends. I knew (hoped really) that I would use it a lot and so I decided to go a step above the intro level camera.

What I recommend:

**First I would like to say that I HIGHLY recommend ONLY buying the body of the camera and then buying a lens separately. The kit lenses that come with cameras are not great. I used mine a couple times before quickly realizing that I hated it. I was lucky enough to have a friend who lent me her 50mm 1.8 and I LOVED it. I’ll talk more about lenses and what I recommend later.

If you’re looking for a DSLR at a very basic level, don’t have a ton of money to spend, or maybe don’t plan to use it all that often, I recommend getting a camera similar to this one:

Canon EOS Rebel T5i Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)
I have a good friend with the equivalent to this camera and she takes some truly beautiful photos with her camera. In fact, I know quite a few people with this exact camera and I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about it as an intro DSLR camera.

If you want to get something a bit nicer, especially if you plan to use it a lot, but are a beginner, I recommend the Canon EOS 70D which is equivalent to the camera that I use now (pictured above).


I have a long list of lenses that I really want. After borrowing a friends’ 50mm (known comonly as the nifty fifty), I knew I needed my own. I got the 50mm 1.4 (this one to be exact). I use the heck out of this lens. In fact, it’s pretty much the only lens I use right now. I highly recommend this lens as a first lens.

I know that buying a new camera and lens can be pricey so for a beginner wanting to save money, I think it’s okay to get the 50mm 1.8 instead of the 50mm 1.4. The 1.8 is about $125 while the 1.4 is closer to $400.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just know this for now: the 1.4 lens, compared to the 1.8, lets more light into the camera and results in a brighter, more vibrant picture. It’s not a huge difference but enough that I noticed and prefer the 1.4 over the 1.8. That being said, I used the 1.8 for about 6 months and took some truly great pictures.


Pretty much everyone is going to tell you that natural light is TOTALLY the way to go. And I agree! Natural light creates the most beautiful and evenly lit photos. But here’s the thing: I often wake up for work while it’s dark outside and don’t get home again until after the suns gone down. What am I supposed to do? Never photograph food which I love doing SO much? I try and do most of my photographing on the weekend. However, that’s not always possible.

So, in order to be able to do this thing that I love, I needed to find a way to light my photos for the times that it is necessary to take pictures at night. I agonized over this for about a month looking at all the different options. I bugged the HECK out of a photographer that I know and ended up buying exactly what she recommended. It’s worked out great for me and I would highly recommend my setup to others.

I have this speedlight which I got as a birthday gift (~$250). I would eventually like to get another one but for now, I’ve learned to make one work well for me.

Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash for Canon Digital SLR Cameras
In order to hold the light (because for something like food photography, you DEFINITELY don’t want the flash attached to your camera) and to soften the light so it looks more natural, I use this softbox (~$20):

Umbrella Softbox Reflector for Speedlights
This stand to hold it all (~$18):

Photography Light Stand with Cases
And then this little doohickey to attach the speedlight to the stand ($7):

Swivel Bracket Umbrella Holder
Finally, to make the speedlight work, you need a wireless trigger on your camera and a wireless trigger attached to the speedlight so that they communicate. I bought these and they’ve worked perfect! (~$30 for the set):

Yongnuo Wireless Remote Flash Trigger for Canon
I use this equipment fairly often and expect I’ll start using it even more since the days are getting shorter. It took a bit of practice to learn how to set everything up so that the lighting looked as natural as possible. If it’s something you’d be interested in, I could do a whole post later on how I set up all of my lighting equipment.

The only other equipment I use (and I personally don’t use them all that often) is a tripod (similar to this) and a remote (this one). I mostly just use my tripod and remote for gifs like these (I really like gifs :)) :


 from my BBQ Skillet Nachos


from my Sangria Popsicles


 from my Banana Protein Pancakes

 David’s Suggestions:

David britnell engagement photos

David is a photographer in the Knoxville, TN area and focuses most primarily on Wedding and Engagement photos.

What camera do you use? I just upgraded to a Nikon D700 with a MB-D10 Battery Grip. I have a Nikkor AF 20mm f/2.8D Lens and a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom Lens that I use with it

Would you recommend it? I would definitely recommend it to somebody wanting to get started as a professional photographer. The low-light capability it provides is crucial when wanting to make high-quality images at all times.

What camera did you start out/ learn on? I started out with a number of different point and shoot film cameras as a kid but my first serious camera I got when I was maybe 15 or 16 was a Nikon N65 35mm SLR.

What would you recommend to someone wanting to get into photography? Unless you are wanting to get into serious professional photography and need everything a full frame sensor DSLR provides I would recommend getting a mirrorless camera. A mirrorless camera allows you to capture high-quality images in a much smaller form factor. I don’t have the funds available for one yet, they aren’t very expensive though, but a photographer friend of mine has a Samsung NX300 that he loves so that is what I would recommend.

What lenses do you use most? Currently with my two lenses I use the 20mm the most but the both get lots of use. Once I am able to purchase one my main lens will be the Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED.

What lens would you recommend to someone starting out? I would recommend the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G and the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom Lens. If you have boatloads of money go for the Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED and the new Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.

What other equipment do you have that you find very useful? One of my favorite pieces of equipment is my JOBY Gorillapod Focus. It is a small tripod with flexible legs that allows it to be setup or mounted practically anywhere. Very nice for when you might want a tripod handy but don’t want to bother carrying a full-size tripod.

David’s website: http://www.britnellphotography.com/

David’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/britnellphotography

 Mary-Katherine’s Suggestions:


Mary-Katherine is a fashion blogger at the Gold-Hatted Lover and takes most of the pictures for her blog herself. Much like myself, she learned as she went along because she knew that quality pictures were important for a successful blog.

What kind of camera do you use?
Up until last week, I was using a Canon Rebel XS, but recently upgraded to the Canon Rebel T4i.  I would definitely recommend either to a new blogger, there are so many things they can do, and although I am still learning how to use a DSLR, the Canons are pretty simple to use and at the very least, the quality of the pictures is so much better than a typical digital camera.
Since I just upgraded I don’t think there is another camera I have on my radar, I just want to learn how to use the one I have!


What editing software do you use?
I use Photoshop Elements to edit my pictures.  I like it, but really haven’t learned how to do anything too crazy with it.  I do like that it allows me to make collages as well as edit outfit pictures.  It gives you all the basic things you need from Photoshop for a fraction of the price.  I have also heard really great things about Adobe Lightroom.


Do you use any other photography gear?
I do not have any other gear other than a lens.  When I first started my blog, before I even told my husband about it, I was taking my pictures on self-timer.  I do NOT recommend this tactic!  My pictures were always blurry because when I would run into the frame, it would be focused on the wall or scenery behind me and I was always out of focus.  I also did not have a tripod so I would have to find something to rest my camera on.  I am sure if anyone saw me they would have laughed so hard!  If you are going to take your pictures yourself, I would definitely recommend investing in a tripod (http://bit.ly/1qOmZrA) and a remote (http://bit.ly/1sL0bAg).  This will allow you to get quality pictures rather than the blurry mess I was coming out with.


What lens do you use?
I use the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, which is not the kit lens that came with my camera.  I had heard this one was recommended for bloggers and got it for Christmas.  It is a pretty inexpensive lens (around $100) and allows for really great outfit photos.  The lens is a prime lens, meaning that it does not zoom, so the photographer has to actually move backwards or forwards to change the picture.  The benefit of this lens is that the aperature is much larger than the kit lens, which only goes to about 3.5 or so, and the larger aperature allows for more of that background blur that us fashion bloggers love while keeping the subject in focus.


Any other advice?
Practice, practice, practice – you cannot expect to become a master in a day.  What I have tried to do is focus on learning one thing at a time.  It is tempting to want to go full Manual and just do everything at once, but it is really important to take it slow and learn what each feature does and how they interact.
In addition, practice also applies to posing for outfit pictures.  It is really awkward at first and though it is still kind of awkward a year into it, it does get easier.  Try different poses and angles and find what looks best for you.


Mary-Katherine’s Blog: http://www.goldhattedlover.com/
Mary-Katherine’s Instagram: http://instagram.com/mkminnis_ghl


There you have it! A little insight into our DSLR cameras and what we recommend to beginners. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to help! Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Do you have a DSLR? What advice do you have for newbie photographers?

Disclaimer: Many of the above links are affiliate links. This means that if you found the above information useful and decide to purchase anything through my links, I will receive a small percentage of money from the sale at no extra cost to you. If you do decide to buy anything from above, thank you!

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43 comments on “DSLR Buying Guide for Beginners”

  1. Ohhhh. I want to learn how to make gifs! Great post. I just bought a Canon t5i and I’m still learning the ropes

    • Nice! you’ll have to let me know how you like it. I’ve messed around with the T4i and the T3i a lot but I’ve never actually got my hands on a t5i. I suspect they’re probably pretty similar though :)

  2. I wish I was good at photography. I’ve owned a couple of DSLRs and I’m never good with them.

  3. WOW! What a fantastic guide! Now i feel like updating my DSLR! Fantastic post!

  4. Great info! We literally have the exact same camera and set up.

  5. Such a great guide, thank you. I currently use a Canon bridge camera but am saving up for my DSLR.

  6. Where was this guide when I brought my first DSLR last week! I got a Canon Rebel T3i because I really new to DSLR and heard that’s a great camera to learn on! I’m looking into getting more lens this week before my trip to NYC so I’ll definitely check out the ones you suggested! Love those gifs by the way <3

  7. I have a Nikon D3200. I wish I had gone with Canon because I feel like it has better coloring.

  8. I really need to START CARING about my photos! LOL!!!! I just take screen shots of my videos and call it a day… But I know that photos are so important, especially for PINTEREST! One day… One day I will graduate from screen shots and iPhone photos! LOL!

  9. I don’t have a DSLR but I do have a Samsung NX10 that I love taking my blog pictures with. Kinda like a fancier point and shoot.

  10. Haha I begged my parents for a dark room too! Luckily my dad did get me a SLR.. but I had to go get it developed elsewhere. The 50 mm is such a great lens. :) Definitely one of my go-tos.

  11. Awesome tips, Brita! I’m also obsessed with my nifty fifty lens!! Love your lighting tips and all of those things are on my wish list! Pinning this to go back to for later :)

  12. Thank you THANK YOU!! for this post. I know which camera I am going to get (finally) and the 50mm lens.

  13. I wish I had this for when I was looking to buy my camera! I ended up getting the Canon 5 and I love it! I just need to learn some photography skills now :)

  14. I have a Nikon D3200 but I honestly don’t think it’s the camera body that matters, it’s the lens. 50mm lenses make everything look beautiful :)

  15. I was just thinking about buying a better camera for product shots! Thanks for the recommendations!

  16. awesome tips and photos brita! i love my canon, i got the body only, and of course hubby bought the lense following his own motto ‘buy it once, buy the best’ lol!

  17. I use the Canon Rebel and really love it – I definitely want to upgrade to a better lens!

  18. Wow! This is very helpful! I love your animated gifs! Those are amazing :-)

  19. Great information. I love my Nikon D3100. I need to get a flash though.

  20. Thank you for putting this together. It can be a very overwhelming thing to learn about all of this!

  21. This is such a useful post. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Ooo I wish I would’ve gone for the 70D instead I went for the t4i. It’s a good camera and I’ve had a lot of fun with it! Hoping to upgrade soon though. Great post with great information!

  23. Thanks so much for sharing these tips with us! I have a Nikon D3100 that I absolutely love and just recently bought two new lenses that I am loving.

  24. Thanks for sharing! I loved researching for my first and second DSLR Camera. Posts like this were a huge help!

  25. I felt a little lost when buying my first camera, this is such a great go-to guide!

  26. This is amazing. WELL DONE!! I will be referring back to this in January when I go to buy my camera. SO EXCITED!

  27. Great post, so much information! I bought a camera last year and I love it, I’m just looking for a lense that gets the background a bit more blurry though.

  28. This is a great guide! I use a Canon 5DMKIII and a few prime lenses. :)

  29. Wonderful post! I’m just considering bying my first real DSLR camera. I already have chosen the camera, it’s a Nikon. But I still need to find everything else and choose them. I’m a bit scared to tell the truth.

  30. Love these tips! I bought my Canon T3i a couple months ago and have plans on signing up for a class. I’m still learning my blog and what i want to do with it so I’m not sure what kind of extra components I’m going to buy yet. I just don’t want to get too much and never use it you know? But I do think a tripod is something i will need if I plan to do styled shoots. Thank you for the info!

  31. Thanks for this! I am in the process of shopping for a DSLR. I am in love with the Canon T3i, mainly because of the flip screen and its within my price range. I am definitely going to looking to the 50mm lens though!

  32. I greatly admire photographers and all that goes into taking good pictures. I wish I had that talent.

  33. My first DSLR was a canon rebel (circa 2004), I then switched to Nikon…LOVE it!

  34. I am definitely looking to buy a DSLR for myself one day to use for the blog so I am definitely going to be bookmarking this for future reference!

  35. I have a DSLR but I don’t do nearly enough with it. I am such a slacker with that thing.

  36. I am definitely a Nikon gal! As a trained photographer I just couldn’t switch back and forth to others. This is a great guide for those in the market. It definitely can be a little intimidating.

    Thrifting Diva

  37. I’ve had a nice camera for a couple years now but have used it maybe a handful of times because I haven’t made the time to learn how to use it. It’s pretty intimidating. Thanks for sharing!

  38. This was great post i thoroughly enjoyed it! I will say that i was reading the other day about full frame cameras verses not full frame. Rebels are compact slrs. Is yours full frame?

    • That is a great question and something that I should have touched on. Mine is NOT a full frame camera. When I have the money and can justify it, I plan to upgrade to a full frame camera though. My 60D is the top of the line in what is referred to as the “light weight” cameras and therefore, again, not full frame

  39. This is super useful. I have a one, but someone bought it for me. It’s nice to know what to look for!

  40. Cool! Your blog is very cute! Enjoy the day, sweetie!!

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