Buying Advice: Best way to spend $500-$800

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by stevejobbers, Jan 12, 2010.

  1. macrumors member

    After being a point-n-shoot guy for ages I'm finally ready to take the dive into DSLR. I've been trying to research online but I'm getting bogged down in terminology, particularly when it comes to lenses.

    I have however learned that you are better off spending money on the lens rather than the body. So it's with this mind in that I'm posing the question to you experts -- if you had $500-$800 dollars to spend on a body and lens, what would you go for? I've been eying up the Canon T1i w/ lens kit, but I'm wondering if my money might be better spent on a XSi with a better lens.

    I would like the ability to shoot video with the camera, but it's not a requirement. The main thing I'm looking for is crisp, vibrant images and the ability to shoot quick action shots in succession. For instance, if someone was playing basketball I'd like to be able to hold down the shutter button and take 3-4 images per second but have them come out looking as nice as possible.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
  2. macrumors 68000

    If you're looking to shoot sports of any kind, you're going to need to use shutter speeds of at most 1/250s, in order to stop motion. If you're shooting sports in bad light, the kit lens is going to disappoint. Not just because the reach is poor and the IQ isn't the best, but because it's very slow at the long end (f/5.6 maximum). You can boost the ISO speed to compensate, but you'll quickly run into some very noisy images.

    My advice would be to get a used 20D or 30D and a fast prime lens. As a starter, I would suggest the 50/1.8 and, if possible, the 85/1.8. Those two lenses together will run you maybe $400-$450 ($100 new for the 50, and $300-330 used for the 85). f/1.8 is over 3 stops faster than f/5.6, which is the difference between 1/30 (which wont stop motion) and 1/250 (which will). Alternatively, it's the difference between ISO6400 (noise!) and ISO800 (much less noise).

    Skip the kit lens, buy the two good primes, and be happy. Zooms are great, but there's simply no substitute for fast glass.
  3. macrumors 601


    That's a tight budget for both a camera and a good lens. A good starter lens might be something like the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, which costs about $450 (for the non-stabilized version). It's a much better lens than the kit lens that comes with the T1i and is versatile enough to hold you over for a while until you can afford more specialty lenses. That leaves you enough money to get a good used XSi (lots of those to choose from on eBay).
  4. macrumors member

    Would those lenses work on the T1i and the XSi? If so, why do you recommend the 20D/30D over the other models? I thought most the image quality comes from the lens but I'm assuming the 20D/30D have other advancements that take higher quality pictures as well. I guess my question is do they offer enough of a boost to justify getting a used one over buying a new, cheaper body?
  5. macrumors 601

    Westside guy

    There's a tradition among photographers that, when first starting out, a new photographer donates $600 to the first photographer to inform him (or her) of the tradition. So, consider yourself informed.

    A cashier's check is acceptable.
  6. macrumors 65816


    Really, if you're on a budget, I'd suggest buying used, regardless of plastic body (Rebel) or magnesium alloy (xxD). Look around at FredMiranda and Photography on the Net for used equipment. Most of the sellers there are reputable, but check their feedback first.

    I started out with both a LNIB body and a 5 yr old lens that was flawless and functions great to this day. A lens won't age near as much as a body, they can last decades.

    Not trying to say "don't buy new," but with your budget, used is a good path.

  7. macrumors 68000

    Yes, those lenses are EF lenses; they work on all Canon EOS cameras, film or digital.

    I recommend the 20D because it's a great camera and you can get one used very cheap. Yes, you get a lot of frills with the T1i, but I would rather spend money on fast glass than on live view or dust removal systems.

    I know the temptation to buy a new camera is huge; lenses aren't as sexy as a shiny new DSLR. But if you're looking to get the most bang for your gear buck, fast glass is the way to go. I simply don't see the rationale of buying a new T1i over a used 20D, given your budget. A used 20D is $300ish used. Take the remainder of your $800 budget and buy the lenses I suggested, and you'll be laughing. I 100% guarantee that if you go with the T1i kit, and try to do what you say you want to do, that you will curse the fact that you're limited to f/5.6. There is no substitute for fast glass.
  8. macrumors 68000

    100% agree. The other thing about investing in glass is that there is virtually no cost. If you buy used, you can resell lenses for virtually the same price as you paid for them. In fact, I just sold my 70-200 f/4L for $100 MORE than I paid for it 2 years ago.

    Let's put this another way. What does the T1i give you that a used 20D or 30D does not, and why do you need these things for the type of photography you'd like to do?
  9. macrumors member

    Just personal preference really - I'd rather have a new body than risk buying a used one that could potentially have issues. Plus the T1i does video whereas I don't think the 20D/30D models do. However if there was a huge advantage in image quality in the 20D/30D I'd probably go that route, but honestly I don't know enough about the processors or sensors to make that call (which is why I was appealing for help).

    I was reading up on prime/fixed lenses, and it sounds like the quality is much better but I'm wondering if the lack of zoom will turn out to be an issue. Are you able to take a macro shot with a lens like that (50mm/f1.8)? I guess it all depends on the situation you are in which lens you should be using.

    I just saw there is a Canon 30D new on amazon for ~$800, which seems like a steal if I am reading it correctly. Doesn't this model usually retail for much, *much* higher?
  10. macrumors 601


    The 30D is a really old camera now, but I'm not sure what its going price ought to be. It was discontinued long ago.

    A true 1:1 macro lens will cost you at least $400. The 60mm f/2.8 from Canon is optically superb. I highly recommend that one. No, the 50mm f/1.8 does not do macro, but it's a great value and also something I would recommend.

    If you want video, then you're much more limited. You'll have to put most of your money into the camera. Do you really want the video? Perhaps you have a phone or a point-and-shoot camera that can do some simple video for you?

    If you're determined to buy new, then just accept that you won't get a great lens. The one that comes with the T1i has good center sharpness and effective stabilization, but it's slow and renders rather dull contrast. Still not a bad lens to start out with, but don't expect to do much low-light stuff with it. You'll be resorting to high ISO instead, which might not be so bad if you're just taking snapshots and trying to learn more about photography.
  11. macrumors 6502

    I have been doing photography for a few years now and still consider myself quite a beginner. Thankfully, I am able to do it as part of my business (web design/development), so it is all business expenses and not just on the side.

    When I first started, I had no idea how much of an investment good equipment is. I have over 13k on bodies, lenses, software, lights, bags, tripod, etc, etc... and still have 3 or 4 lenses that I really really want that are all easily over $1,000 each.

    I think the advice to purchase an inexpensive used body body and then invest in a "fast" lens is very good advice. The first lens I bought was the Canon 28-135 3.5-5.6 and I rarely find it adequate for what I need/want because of the aperture.

    Have fun!
  12. macrumors 68000

    Buying used from a reputable source (such as B&H or from the Fred Miranda B&S forums) is fine. There is a 20D on Fred Miranda right now for $335, shipped. A 30D can be had for $400. The IQ you get from those cameras will be as good as what you get from the T1i anywhere at or below ISO800. At ISO1600 and above, the T1i might be a smidge better, but then again, if you buy the 20D or 30D and fast glass, you wont need higher ISO speeds as much.

    I totally get wanting a new body. If I were you, I'd go with a quality used body and fast glass, unless there's something really specific you need from a new body. Zooms are convenient and great to have around, especially if you can get a constant f/2.8. But for what you're describing, I'd much rather have a fast prime.
  13. macrumors 65816

    SLC Flyfishing

    I'd take the used 30D for $400 right now if I had $400! The 30D is right up your alley if you're serious about shooting sports. It's got a good, fast and responsive AF system, a great burst rate (I think 5 or 6 frames per second), good high ISO ability, and a magnesium alloy body (The T1i has a plastic body). The 30D was built with sports in mind, the T1i was built with beginners in mind. And with the money left over you can get the primes Edge100 listed (which would be great for basketball). Both those lenses are miles above anything you'll afford if purchasing a T1i new! And both are better suited to shooting basketball. The traditional included lens with the T1i only zooms to 50 mm, and there it's only able to obtain a max aperture opening of f/5.6 which will mean you'll be shooting at high ISO's and even then, not really getting what you want from your images.

    For me the 30D option seems like a no brainer!

    Edit: I looked at the 30D listing you were linked to at Fred Miranda and it's a whole lot better deal than I even realized. You're getting 2 batteries and a charger (no used cameras don't always come with batteries and a charger), 6 GB of Sandisk Ultra II CF cards (you almost never get memory with a used camera), the manuals, and a soft case. I'd check into it if I were you!

  14. macrumors 6502a

    If you look at cost of ownership, used is much much cheaper than new. As has already been said, if you buy good glass used and decide to sell in a few years, you will likely only have lost whatever you would have made investing the money. Financially, a new body is one of the worst investments you can make. They drop like a rock and if you decide to sell and upgrade you will lose your shirt. As an example, the 5DII has already dropped over $700 on the used market since its introduction (plus the taxes you paid), in the same period of time, the 20D has basically stayed at $300. If cost of ownership is important to you avoid new bodies like the plague.

    I personally like the xxD line of Canon's, as far as usability goes, they are a large step up from the plastic bodies. The second control wheel keeps you from having to go into the menus all the time and the LCD display gives you settings at a glance (without destroying the battery by leaving the main display on like the plastic bodies). I would take any camera 20D or up (avoid the 10D for a number of reasons) over any of the plastic bodies (Rebels, xxxD, T1, etc.). If video is worth sacrificing some ease of use of the still camera, than you are roped into the T1i or significantly more money. Personally I buy a DSLR to take pictures, if I want video, I will get something for video.

    Nikon right now is winning the high ISO war (D700), and the low priced new body war (D40). High ISO is important in most of the locations I shoot so I am contemplating the switch.

    Canon makes lens selection slightly easier than Nikon, any EF or EF-S lens will work on any crop body (newer than the 10D). Nikon lenses fit all crop bodies, but not all lenses have autofocus on the cheaper bodies.

    Currently in your situation I'd be looking at a D40 or Canon xxD (again, avoid the 10D) and glass. I would stick to the 20D or 30D to have more to spend on the glass and would take 1 good lens over two crappy ones anyday. Sure you can get an 18-55 and 70-300 for cheap, but the pictures (in less than perfect conditions) will suffer. That being said 18-55 IS is dirt cheap and is not a bad place to start until you know what focals lengths you use and weaknesses in your system. I would also avoid the Canon 17-85 and 15-85 lenses as they are not a giant step up, but are significantly more money.

    For glass in your situation, either get an 18-55 and a prime or two or a sigma 24-70 2.8.

    Good luck.
  15. macrumors 6502a

    i will relay something i read on these forums about this:

    "whats in front of the camera body and behind make the real difference"
  16. macrumors 68040

    Because it's all that fits into your budget that still gives you a shot at starting with a couple of decent primes.

    The better answer is to increase your budget, but we don't pretend to know enough about your financial situation to guess whether that's even possible.
  17. macrumors 6502a

    I think this is the best answer given your budget

    The xxD line seems like overkill for a beginner, even if found used.

    The hard part about your budget is that high quality zooms start at around $1000... anything less and you'll have to compromise on zoom, optical quality, f/#, etc...
  18. macrumors 603

    I think the T1i with the two lens kit (it was available at Costco for $749 recently) is the best value for a starter kit and it covers a very broad range of photographic needs. If you become unhappy with the limitations of that kit, you can always invest in better glass down the road when your budget allows and know you are connecting it to what really is an excellent body. You might be very surprised with the performance of the T1i and the kit lenses. BTW, The lenses in that T1i kit are virtually free, so it's almost a no-brainer.
  19. macrumors member

    Thanks for all the advice everyone.

    At this point I'm leaning towards the T1i or the XSi (each with lens kit) and also picking up the Canon EF 50mm F1.8 to go along with it. I'm still relatively new to all of this, so once I get a hang of things I will be back for advice on better lenses.

    But thanks again, I spent the bulk of the day researching all the various things people suggested and learned many of the acronyms thrown around. I know way more than I did a few days ago and once I get my camera and I'm sure I'll learn even more.

    One final question -- on all the lenses I've been reviewing I never see an F stop setting anywhere. Is that always handled by the camera body? It's a part of the lens so I'm confused how the camera is able to change that size if it (since it's inside the lens). Or is that why you have to use "compatible" lenses?
  20. macrumors 68000

    All lenses have a maximum aperture size. The camera is electrically linked to the lens, and instructs the lens to "stop down" to the chosen aperture size when the shutter is pressed (note that when you autofocus, the lens is opened to its maximum aperture to allow maximal light into the only stops down when you press the shutter. Many cameras have a DOF preview button, which will stop the lens down to give you a preview of the light and DOF).

    Lens compatibility has to do with the lens mount itself. EF lenses are compatible with all EOS cameras; EF-S lenses can only be used on 1.6x crop sensor cameras (except the D30, D60, and 10D).
  21. macrumors G4

    Read the above again. What he is saying is that with only $800 to spend if you buy the new shiny SLR body you will have an nice SLR body, ability to do video but you will NOT be able to use the camera for it's intended purpose of indoor sports, not until yo invest another $500 or so on a lens.

    But if you buy a $300 used body. you will be able to do what you want. But now video.

    Don't worry about the used body failing. The worst case it you are out $300 not a huge risk.

    Another way to say it is that for your intended usage buying all new equipment for $800 is unrealistic. Either buy used, raisethe budget or change the intended usage.

    The funny thing is that when I got into (SLRs 30+ years ago) I was able to shoot sports and get good results with about $150 worth of used equipment. The difference was film. Digital is so much more expensive and the quality still does not match film. But we get instant result and we are willing to pay for it. It's the same with phones. before cell phones I used to spend about $2 on payphones per month. I simply waited to place calls 'till I was indoors. But now we pay $100 a month so we don't have to wait. The SLR kit I had back then (body and two fast primes) would sell used for the same $150 today.
  22. macrumors 68000

    Precisely. The last thing you want is to spend $800 and have a setup that is virtually useless for what you want to do. And f/5.6 in a poorly lit gym is, well, nearly useless (won't give you the shutter speeds you need, unless you crank the ISO, which comes with its own downsides...). Unless you're shooting in a pro arena with good light, I would consider f/2.8 the bare minimum for action sports (and even this will likely require ISO3200, depending on the light).

    I would much rather get a setup that does what I need without any headaches.

    FWIW, I have never bought a new DSLR; moreover, all of my lenses and speedlights were bought used. The only significant piece of gear I've ever bought new are my PocketWizards. Probably the biggest concern with used DSLRs is a shutter failure, and even that doesn't cost very much to fix.
  23. macrumors 6502

    What he said!

    I wish somebody would have advised me this way a few years ago...
  24. macrumors member

    Thanks everyone for the advice so far. I've learned so much from you guys and researching your suggestions. I finally understand all these acronyms being thrown around :D

    A few final questions...

    1) Forgetting the money aspect, if it came down to you selecting a used 20D, used 30D, new XSi, or new T1i, which would you pick?

    2) Should I spend money on the Canon 50m f1.8 or skip it and put that money towards the 50m f1.4? It sounds like the 1.4 is way better and might be worth putting that extra $100 towards it. But again, I'm not a professional photographer or anything, so I'm wondering if the extra $200 is justified here.
  25. macrumors 68000

    Honestly, a used 30D for $400 is a pretty good deal on a very nice camera. I honestly think you'll get far more out of your budget by opting for that over a new XSi or T1i.

    As far as the 50/1.8 goes, I've been pretty vocal about the fact that I think that it's a pretty bad lens. The 1.4 is most definitely a better lens; much better build quality, much better AF system, much better bokeh, 2/3 of a stop faster, etc.

    But, I think that at this point, you might want to start with the 50/1.8. While I don't like the lens overall, it certainly is capable of producing some excellent images. My main problem with it is AF performance and bokeh. I think getting the 50/1.8 and the 85/1.8 is your best bet (the 85/1.8 is Canon's hidden's only overshadowed by the fact that the 85/1.2L is such a phenomenal a phenomenally high price). Those two primes would give you an excellent start; and once you start to feel the limitations of the 50/1.8, sell it and get a 1.4 (or you may not feel the same way about it as I do and choose to keep it).

    30D + 50/1.8 + 85/1.8 is a GREAT introductory kit for low light action photography.

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