Buying your first SLR Camera

It all began when I was boating in Montana one summer. A friend of mine had brought his meaty SLR camera with a killer zoom lens. He suggested I be the photographer while he tried "barefooting" behind the boat. Let's just face it, this situation is a win- win. I get to watch him destroy himself AND I get to try out his sweet camera. I will never forget the sound of that shutter, snapping open and shut at seemingly the speed of sound. Crisp photos of water drops spraying from the guys as they did backflips wakeboarding and huge wake created from failed attempts at barefooting. That's when I knew I wanted one.
So this photo was taken that same day, but obviously NOT with the nice camera. This was with my point and shoot. I'm guessing he didn't land this one :)

My journey to buying my first SLR had begun. I had no idea where to start so I did what anybody would do...make a Facebook post about wanting a nice camera and not knowing where to start! I was kindly directed to a friend of a friend who does photography. She was kind enough to email me 3 links. The first was for a camera, the second was for a lens, the third was for a flash. Needless to say I went to B&H and bought all three! A leap of faith right there folks.

So here's what I've learned and can recommend about buying your first SLR camera...or "nice" camera as I referred to it!

1. Don't break the Bank

Buying a more expensive camera does not equal better photos when you are a beginner. My first SLR camera was the Canon EOS Rebel XTI which has been discontinued. The closet comparable camera would be their T3. Sure it is still $454 on sale, but trust me that is inexpensive. Personally I buy used cameras now, such as from Craigslist or Ebay, so you can find a good used SLR for around $350-$400. The key here though is to buy a basic SLR camera and learn how to use it. This will help you evaluate if you really need a more expensive camera and what features you would be buying it for. You can take fabulous photos with this camera.  *Buy a memory card for your camera also. I buy the high speed ones like this so you can hold HD video (that you can take with this camera) on it. You can't hold a lot of video with 8GB, but as far as taking pictures you can hold quite a few photos with 8GB.

**[This being said, if you have a couple thousand to spend and know without a shadow of a doubt that you will love photography and pursue it for awhile then go right ahead and buy a Canon 5d or 7d and buy nice "glass" as it's called in the industry. The 24-70 2.8 canon lens and the 70-200 2.8 with IS are two highly esteemed lenses for photographers. Please note though that the "nicer" the camera & lenses you buy the heavier they are going to be as well.]
Here is what the Canon EOS T3 looks like:

2. Buy a 50 mm "nifty fifty" lens
This is a must. For around $125 you can invest in this amazing lens. Now understand that this is a prime lens which means you can't zoom in and out. But for portraits and pretty much anything not super wide-angle or zoomed in, you can get crisp, beautiful photos with the "bokah" that everyone loves. [bokah is the blurry background you can achieve by using a low aperture and depth of field. Here's a photo taken with this lens.

3. Buy an External Flash
Personally I love outdoor natural light photography. But there are always going to be times that we want nice photos indoors as well. Having an external flash allows you to "bounce" the light off of ceilings and achieve photos that look more natural instead of the washed out, deer in the headlights look that can often happen. Here's the link to the flash that I own. By no means is it the best on the market, but for the price and how you can swivel the head to point where you want, it's a great buy.  Here's a photo of my husband that I took while we were still dating. It's just taken in my living room and I bounced the flash off the ceiling and you get this(taken with the 50mm 1.8)! Love it.

4. Learn how to use Manual Mode, AP Priority and TV priority
There are so many websites and materials online (and your manual!!!) that explain what all the bells and whistles on your camera mean. LEARN THESE. It's amazing how much better of a photo you can take using Manual mode versus Automatic. Learning how aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO work together is crucial.

Have fun with your first camera! Take lots of photos in a variety of lightings & situations and enjoy the journey!


  1. Hey Audrey. Do you know of any resources online that would explain the relation of aperture, shutter speed and ISO? Also, what do I do about grainy pictures?

  2. Hey! Thanks for the comment Kristy. I love the digital photography school site, here's the link to where they talk about aperture.
    The root cause of grainy pictures is not enough lighting. Raising your ISO's or letting your camera automatically choose to raise them will make it grainy. So if you switch your camera to manual I would slow down my shutter speed or open up my aperture (lower numbers) to let in more light. Or open windows, use flash etc to get more light! :) Hope that helps.

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