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Q&A: What camera should I buy for my first dSLR?

Bella & Bokeh
Canon XSi, 50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/80, f/2.0, ISO 100.

First time dSLR buyers always ask me what camera & gear they should get. I’m always hesitant to answer this question, because camera choice is so personal (Canon vs Nikon) and dependent on what you want to shoot and how much money you have.

With that being said, I know how confusing it can be choosing your first dSL with all the options out there, so I’m going to recommend what I consider the best overall and most reasonably priced dSLR for first time buyers, the Canon XSi (450D).

Why the Canon XSi (450D)?

The 12.2MP XSi is not the latest version of Canon’s wildly popular Rebel series, but it is such a solid camera that I feel it’s age is no factor in its performance. I had the opportunity to fully test this camera and I fell in love with it. At that time I had been shooting with an even older model, the Xti (400D), and I was shocked at how much better the XSi performed. If you are looking for all the technical specs, head over to dpreview. They do a pretty sweet job of breaking things down.

One of the great benefits of buying an older body, is that it is considerably cheaper. The new T1 kit is selling for $1099, while the XSi kit is selling for $699 CAN. And trust me, you’ll need that extra $400 to buy all those extra little camera bits like good lenses (which is almost more important than the body), spare batteries, camera bags, filters, etc, that inevitably end up costing $89 each. Also, I think that for a lot of beginners the XSi will be a great first camera.

Canon XSi/450D (back)

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars buying the latest, greatest camera with all the bells and whistles, when you don’t know how to use those bells and whistles yet. I shot with a Canon Xti for 2 1/2 years before moving up to the 5DMkII. I felt like I knew my Xti backwards and forward and that I had mastered enough skills as a photographer to move up to something more professional.

The XSi does not have video, which may be a draw back for those of you who are really interested in video stuff. But unless you actually plan on creating and editing your own high quality videos, then just use your old point and shoot to capture fun video.

What other camera gear will I need to buy?

1. Camera bag. You just spent a small fortune on a camera, so protect it! i know it’s an extra $100 or so, but trust me, cameras are fragile and nothing sucks more than a broken camera. As a first time buyer, you are probably only going to have one or two lenses, so you don’t need something really big and heavy. My favourite small bags are:


Crumpler’s 5 Millon Dollar Home ($89.99 CAN)
Super trendy, lots of colours, sturdy. I lugged all my gear in this on my Australia trip. It even kept my camera dry during flash thunder storms.

Picture 78

Lowpro Stealth Reporter D300 AW ($89.99 CAN)

This was my second bag that I used to carry both my dSLR & my video camera, the Canon HV20. It is one of the most slick and streamlined bags.

Picture 80

Kata Sensitivity V ($89.99 CAN)
This is my favourite bag of all time. You will not find a better camera + laptop bag. It is so small & comfortable. It actually fits under plane seats and you can fit a lot more than you think in this bag. I can carry two camera bodies + lenses + flash + misc gear in this bag no problem. It also saves your neck from being yanked on all day by a side shoulder bag.

You will also need a spare battery. Get the Canon one. There are cheaper alternatives, but the Canon ones are better. I also recommend getting a remote control trigger if you are planning on doing any landscape or self-portraits. I use the Canon Wireless Remote Control RC1 ($50). It works well and the batteries have lasted 2 1/2 years and counting.

2. Also get a cheap camera cleaner kit with a rocket blaster, optical cleaner and those shammy things that come with everything electronic. Keep your gear clean from the get-go, it will save you a lot of grief later.

3. Get a Card reader. I have the Optex Multi-Card Reader ($50). It’s one of the cheaper ones, and therefore is quite slow. But it’s what I’ve been using for 2+ years, so it can’t be that bad. If you have lots o’ money you can get a pricier one, but this one works fine.

One of the most important thing is the lens you put in front of a camera body. I’ll do another post on my recommendations for lenses and off-camera flash gear, as I get loads of questions about that too.

Any more questions or tips, people who are mad that I didn’t choose a Nikon, leave ’em in the comments! Good luck and happy shooting!

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  • Reply
    February 7, 2010 at 11:30 PM

    Memory sure is becoming cheaper these days. I wonder when we will eventually reach the ratio of $0.01 to 1 Gigabyte.I’m eagerly anticipating the day when I will finally be able to afford a 20 terabyte drive, hahaha. But for now I will be happy with having a 32 gig Micro SD Card in my R4i.(Posted using FPost for R4i Nintendo DS.)

  • Reply
    December 22, 2010 at 4:09 AM

    Hi lisa,
    I like your post, and I’m a big fan of Canon. I think it fulfills the needs of the majority of people and it’s sells like candy’s on my site.

  • Reply
    January 17, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    This is one excellent camera, even with the relatively low megapixels resolution the overall quality of features for this price makes one of the bests (if not the best) machines of the category.

  • Reply
    Ian Jones
    January 22, 2011 at 4:35 AM

    Hi Lisa, I agree. Getting a cheap DSLR means you can buy other equipment. Buying 2nd hand kit means you can get even more for your money. But xsi/450D images are limited.

    A friend’s 1st DSLR was a 450D with an 18-55 kit lens. Not surprisingly, the pictures weren’t that great. To fix this she bought a Canon 17-40 F4L & the landscape shots were OK. Later she borrowed a Sigma 120-400 for an air display, but the shots were disappointing. At the next airshow she used a Canon 100-400 F4L & the pics were only OK. We proved the 450D was the problem as I was there with the same lenses taking the same pictures using a Canon 5D.

    The 450D images had more noise than you’d expect above ISO100 at shutter speeds above 1/60s, or in low light. In short sports/action, indoor, & sunrise or sunset shots were grainy & only good lighting would allow the 450D to capture good images. This wouldn’t be encouraging for 1st time DSLR owners who’ll be wanting to improve their images.

    Interestingly, a few years back a girlfriend had similar problems with a 300D. I borrowed it a few times & wasn’t that impressed so my 1st DSLR was full frame rather than one with a cropped sensor. Now, the 2nd hand Canon 5D MK1 are the same price as a new 500D. So I’d say buy that or the Canon 1DS MKII. Then image quality will be down to the photographer rather than the camera!

    PS. My friend on the expensive airshow learning curve last year, bought a cheap 5D on ebay just before Christmas & is a much happier bunny now…

  • Reply
    June 19, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    Q&A: What camera should I buy for my first dSLR? | MostlyLisa.com | Photography tips & inspiration That is really interesting. Good Article.

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