Beginner's Guide to Photography Gear
Our eldest child is beginning her sophomore year of high school, and we were thrilled to hear that she has decided to take photography. This is the same school which I began my photography journey. 12 years ago, we used film and processed our own images in a darkroom, but times change and digital has taken over. I dusted off my very first DSLR (a Nikon D40) and passed it down to her so she can begin to familiarize herself with the camera. We did a short crash course in shooting in manual, explaining ISO, aperture and shutter speed. I think most of it maybe went over her head at first, but after she began to shoot she understood how it all needed to work together. Granted, the D40 is pretty ancient it still takes some pretty impressive images compared to her old point-and-shoot digital camera (a Nikon Coolpix). It's obviously very different from a point-and-shoot and makes a great tool for introductory lessons.
After a few moments of playing with the camera, she asked me about "bokeh" and how to make the background blurry. I knew that question was coming, as she has obviously seen the images Tony and I take and was familiar with depth of field. The kit lens on the D40 is a 18-55mm - if I'm being honest, it's a cheap lens in comparison to professional gear and not to mention, my kit lens is very old. The newer models are made at a much higher quality. While it works well for wide shots and point-and-shoot styles, you can't get the same affect that a prime lens can give you. I swapped her kit lens for an older Sigma 50mm 1.4 we held on to for Tony's film camera. The results have definitely grabbed her attention and she has not put the camera down in days - snapping pictures of her siblings, the dog and her friends.
I am asked on a regular basis for my recommendation on camera gear; what to buy for a beginner, where can I find the best deal and so on. I'm a Nikon junkie because I hate change and I have been shooting with Nikon since I began so I'm partial to their brand. I know, other brands exist: FujiFilm is great but they can be pricey for a beginner. Canon is a good option as well, but I am not very familiar with their gear. I've handled a few Canons in the past and I just wasn't comfortable with it - nothing against the brand, I just hate change :)
Anyways, I usually suggest an entry level kit (the D3400 or 5600). In fact, we are looking to upgrade our daughter's camera after she starts her sophomore year and we will more than likely purchase a D3400 kit. It's a great camera for beginners, offering 24 megapixels in a compact, lightweight body. If you are shopping for a child or teen, this is the perfect starter kit. The kits come with a lens, the 18-55mm, so it can be very versatile for your budding photographer. Although, if your child is anything like our kid, I'd recommend looking into purchasing a prime lens. Nikon has some great deals for the 35mm 1.8 - it's widest aperature will give you the creamy, blurred background that most people gravitate towards. You purchase that lens in addition to the Nikon body and I guarantee you and/or your child will be impressed with the images.
As for where to purchase, you have many options. NikonUSA is a direct source, and they do run special sales and promotions through out the year. We purchase a lot of our own equipment through Amazon. The nice thing about Amazon is their competitive pricing, the options to buy new or refurbished (Amazon certified) and the quick delievery. They sometimes offer incentives such as free accessories, and while they may not be the highest of quality (such as the camera bags) it's great for a beginner in that you'll be ready to go out and start shooting once your package arrives. Right now, you can purchase the D3400 kit for $496.95 on Amazon [Body only is $389.95]. Nikon's 35mm 1.8 is $196.95, which is a fantastic deal on a prime lens. If the 35mm is too wide of a lens for you, the 50mm 1.8 is just a few dollars more and is great for portrait photography. Be sure to check out their other deals, as sometimes they will offer free accessories like a camera bag and extra batteries. Also, it's important to pay attention to the options when buying lenses. Unless you are looking at brand-specific times, other brands such as Sigma will offer lenses for Nikon and Canon. A Canon lens will not fit a Nikon body and Nikon won't fit Canon, so pay very close attention to what you are adding to your shopping cart. Amazon also has an option to check the compatibility of the lens with your camera body to ensure that it will fit the camera mount, so if you are unsure you can also check that out as well!
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