Entry level SLR camera Recommendations

What I REALLY would like to do is jump straight to a digital SLR but unfortunately the checkbook tells me no. Anyway, back in high school I took a photography class and thoroughly enjoyed myself even if the assignments were lacking and the chemicals in the dark room messed up our film on several occassions. I love just going out with my Sony taking pictures but I yearn to have the adjustments and features I had back in high school. I have no idea what camera we used but they were rather old and I would definetely want something newer. The problem is I don’t really know what to look for in an entry level SLR. I’m not looking to spend a lot at all but I do want to get as many features as I can so that I can pull off all sorts of neat shots. Any recommendations?

What do you mean by ‘features’? Autoexposure? As you know from your photography classes, it’s all about controlling light. A basic manual SLR will allow you to adjust the aperture and the shutter speed. Others have autoexposure modes, and most (nearly all?) have exposure compensation. I’ve never used exposure compensation because I try to get shots that don’t need it. Autoexposure is very handy when you don’t have the time or inclination to set the shot manually.

The classic manual camera is the Pentax K-1000. You can get them with a lens for under $200. Mine cost a little more, but it was NIB.

For a manual camera, I prefer my Olympus OM-1. The body is a little smaller than the Pentax’s, which appeals to me. I loves me my OM-1! My first Olympus was the OM-4. This camera has manual mode as well as aperture priority, and a very informative viewfinder. There’s no ‘Off’ switch, so my battery was always dead when I wanted to use it. (Maybe I just wasn’t using it right.) I found that I was using the auto mode exclusively, so I sold it and bought the OM-1 so that I’d be forced to set the exposure manually.

I’ve gotten some great shots with my Canon AE-1 Program. It’s been a while since I’ve used it, but IIRC it has shutter priority. Good camera, and you can get one on eBay for $200 or so.

I have a Nikon FM3a that’s very nice. I went for the non-U.S. model because it was cheaper and I’ve never had a camera break and need warranty repair. Still, it’s not really ‘entry level’. The FM3a offers aperture priority at all speeds, and will also function (in manual mode) at all speeds when the battery is dead.

I have other 35mm cameras. One is a Nikon EM. These are inexpensive. I don’t recommend them because they’re too automatic and they’re not as well-made as the other cameras I’ve mentioned. My three rangefinders are a Nikonos IV, a Nikonos V and an Argus C4. The Nikonoses are underwater cameras. I think the Nikonos IV shares the basic innards with the EM. Both my EM and IV seem to have metering problems. The Nikonos V is great. The Argus is a very simple, fully-manual camera that works, but can be delicate. Remember that Arguses are decades old. But those last three are rangefindres and not SLRs, so they’re not what you’re looking for.

One thing to look out for when buying used camera is the felt light seal. These can become deteriorated through long use or simply by time.

Perhaps Padeye will come to this thread. He’s really much, much more knowledgable than I on the subject of still photography.

Go digital.

You are going to be spending the extra money and more on film and developing. And if you don’t have a lot of money, spending money on photos is going to become a low priority after the novelty wears off and you are going to have spent all that money on a camera that sits in your closet.

Provide your price range (as in no more than $200 or no more than $300) and I will recommend a digital in that range if possible. You might be surprised.


That’s kind of been my surmise as well. Plus, you have a lot of flexibility with digital; with film, you have to switch out for different ISO settings and exposure speeds. Film has some advantages to be sure, but by and large it seems that the latest digital SLRs are outpacing 35mm film in capability. (Medium format cameras and other non-standard types of film are a different story–those are niche enthusiasms that will probably not be replaced in the foreseeable future.)

I’m considering getting a Nikon D70 (entry level “prosumer” digital SLR), though I’ve been lusting over the professional grade D2X. Is there anyone who prefers the Canon EOS models or another maker over Nikon? If so, why? Are there any camera geeks that prefer non-SLR digital to traditional SLR bodies?


Assuming you have easy access to a computer on which you can store pictures you really would do well going digital. Unless you have access to a darkroom and want to learn to develop films yourself then the cost per picture would soon make the digital be the actual cheapest option.
That said, there are good offers to be had on second han film cameras, looking on ebay you might get a canon eos rebel with lense for about $100, or Pentax K 1000 body only for about $50. Or an entire Olympus OM1 setup for about $150.

Well they are both very good makes, Canon’s USM lenses are sweet if you buy the older all glass, or professional versions of them, USM is very quiet, quick, and in my experience reliable. (USM = ultrasonic motor, there is no direct action mechanical motor used in focusing). Canon have some inovations not available to Nikon, the permanent half reflective mirror on some specialist models is great for action photography as it allows you to keep watching the action as the photo is taken, there is no mirror to flip up. It loses about half an f stop as far as I have read.

Well right now all I have is the almost 4 year old Cybershot. The problem with going DSLR is not that I don’t want to, or that I would actually enjoy having to pay to develop all my prints just to see them, but more a problem of not having the bucks for the body and then a decent lense. Although now that I think about it trying to pull that one off as cheap as possible would probably be my best course of action.

As far as features go, yes controlling aperature and shutter speed are the biggest ones. I just can’t do that on my Cybershot. Auto exposure would be nice to have for quick shots but would much rather take the time to set up my shot and tweak as much as possible.

jrfranchi - I would think 200-300 for a decent SLR wouldn’t be bad. I’ve looked more at the Rebel’s than any of the Nikon lines but I’m open to any suggestions. Thanks for the help in advance.

I bought an Archos Gmini 220 a year or so ago. It has a built in compact flash slot, a screen to veiw a picture to confirm it actually got downloaded, and holds 20GB. It is about the size if a deck of cards.

I’m not an expert here, so ymmv.
I’ve never understood why someone would need an SLR in digital. With my Canon Pro1 I can control shutter speed, etc. Plus, the viewfinder and display both look through the lens which is really the difference between an SLR and a non-SLR, isn’t it?
The only benefit to the digital SLR’s that I can see is they use cmos technology, and normally have a greater range to lenses to use.

Uzi, **rayray5884 ** mentioned Lens use as a priority.

rayray5884 http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/compare.asp is one of the best sites for feature comparisions. Play with it and read the detailed reviews of the interesting cameras it produces.
I recommend you get a refurbish Digital Camera to increase the bang for the buck.
*1 out of 3 of my digitals are refurbs and the refurbs work perfect, the Nikon Coolpix 775 has a slight fuzz. The brand new Panasonic FZ-20 is perfect. *

I usally compare several Side by Side like this search.

Then I go to Price Grabber to find a good price on the camera. Usually a little to a lot cheaper than what DPREVIEW has shown.

The Minolta DiMAGE Z2 from here http://www.refurbdepot.com/productdetails2.cfm?Product_ID=3338&refererid=cnet_shopper is probably your fit for under $300.
Even if this is not the camera you want, hopefully the DPREVIEW and Pricegrabber links will help you find the camera you do want.

BTW: This is the Camera I just bought after 10 months of checking reviews and waiting for a price drop. My Priority was High Optical Zoom & Image Stabilization and max Flexibility. It even takes good Movie clips with Audio. The built in flash was good enough to snap a good shot of a black labby sleeping under my sister’s table. My BIL could not believe how crisp the picture was.
Listed as SLR-Like but it comes Lens Thread ready and Add-on Flash Ready. I would consider it SLR. The Perfect camera for me and living up to all my expectations so far. (3 weeks old now, 200 pictures taken)


There’s no simple short answer to this. It really all depends on how deep you want to get into photography and what your other requirements are.

Uzi, the difference between a digicam with an LCD display and a DSLR are vast. The real time display requires a different kind of sensor, interline transfer, which causes a delay between shutter press and the actual shot. DSLRs don’t have this limitation which makes them vastly better for action work. DSLRs also have much better autofocus systems and the ability to accurately focus manually which is nearly impossible with most LCD viewfinders.

CMOS sensors? Only Canon DSLRs use them exclusively AFAIK. Most of the others use a full frame transfer CCD which works just as well.

Another big issue is that apart from the new Sony R1 a digicam will have a much smaller sensor than a DSLR which means more noise and less dynamic range. This goes to the myth that quality can be determined by pixel count. A 6 or even 4 megapixel DSLR can capture a vastly better image than a small sensor camera with an 8mp sensor.

A creative issue with small sensors is that they have much, much greater depth of focus for a given field of view and aperture. Often this can be an advantage but if you want to limit DOF for creative purposes it will be impossible to do so.

If you decide to go with a film SLR I like all the choices that Johnny L.A. gave I think some may be poor choices if plan to transition to a DSLR. Canon, Minolta and Olympus no or limited compatibility between manual focus lenses and current digital bodies. Compatibility is pretty good with Nikon and Pentax but there are a few caveats.

If you’re looking at buying an old SLR, watch out for the meter battery - a lot of older bodies used a mercury cell that’s no longer available. By older, I’m talking things like Minolta’s SRT series, Olympus OM-1, etc.

For all the photos I’ve taken with my pocket digicam, I could have bought a full-on professional DSLR and still saved money vs film and processing.

My film SLR (a Canon EOS Elan II) has been sitting in a drawer for about three years now. One of these days, I really ought to sell it to someone that will actually use it.

I’m just gonna jump in real quick here and say that I love the Asashi Pentax Spotmatic (Asashi was the name of the Pentax company before they changed their name due to the popularity of their Pentax line of cameras). From what I’ve heard, the Spotmatic is basically the precursor of the K-1000, using M42 Universal Screw Mount lenses instead of Pentax K-Mount, and lacks a few of the newer features (such as open-aperture metering, and in the older models, a flash shoe). M42 lenses can still be got on eBay for relatively cheap, although the Super Takumars and Takumar SMC lenses are getting rarer and pricier by the day.

Other than that, I’ve got a Canon Rebel SII with two lenses that I bought from a friend before he joined the Navy which I’m fairly fond of. More automation than the Spotmatic, lighter but much bulkier and noisier.

I guess it depends on what you are doing with your camera. If Ray requires the ability to change lenses then an SLR is the better camera for him. If he wants the ability to take lots of good pictures with almost the same range of features without the nuisance of carrying bags of special lenses than a Prosumer digital camera is the way to go.

The difference between and SLR and a non-SLR is the ability to look through your viewfinder and see what your lens sees. In a traditional SLR and a digital SLR this is done with mirrors that direct the light to your veiwfinder. But any other digital camera that lets you display your image on a viewfinder or display does essentially the same thing. This displayed image in not the actual image but is digitally created. It takes a bit of time for this to occur. Any action shots I take I keep one eye on the display and one on the action occuring to keep things oriented properly. I don’t think I’ve missed any action because of it. I still take shots of birds in flight, etc. The biggest delay I notice is the autofocus. I’d expect an autofocus on a more expensive camera to be better and more responsive. Otherwise, I just use manual focus or a set focus and can click away as fast as I want given the limitations of internal memory cache and the CF card transfer rate. I have yet to overload either one, btw.

But if you are not taking action shots, which most of mine are not, then the difference between and SLR and non-SLR come down to lenses you can use and whatever features and settings each one has which can vary between all the range of cameras and isn’t really dependant on whether that camera is an SLR or not…

Digital SLR

For film SLR’s, I am still using a Canon AE-1 and a Canon FTb. The original PX13 battery for the FTb was a mercury battery. I think you can still get them outside the USA. Inside the USA, Wein makes a fully compatible air cell bettery. The AE-1 batteries are still available. But, with the FTb I don’t care, as it is a mechanical camera and I use a handheld meter anyway. I also do my own developing and printing… I got a cheap Prinz enlarger on EBay ($10). So, the only ongoing costs are film, paper and chemicals.

People tend to think eBay is the best source for used camera equipment, SLR, DigiSLR, P&S, or whatever. But, you still can’t beat the used counter of a full service photographic equipment retailer. In other words, go to your local camera store and shop around. If you go during a non busy time, a decent sales professional might let you pick his brain and fondle some of what’s there. All the specific points made already are spot on. Listen to them, young padiwan.

I started out with a Mamiya Sekor 500TL, then went on a Canon AE1 and AE1 Program, since then I’ve had a Nikon 6006, 8008, N65, and an N75. I’ll bet you could get an N65 or N75 with a moderate zoom lens for $150 or so–either would be a good choice. They’re lightweight, sturdy and reliable, and have a decent set of exposure mode settings.

If your goal is to become a better photographer, then do what ever you have to to go digital. I’ve been a semi-pro photographer for 10 years, to the point that taking photos had become a chore. I finally sprung for a Canon 20D, and have fallen in love with the creative process again.

You get instant feedback. You feel comfortable experimenting a lot more, because you’re not paying for each shot. And when working with manual exposure, you know instantly whether what you’re experimenting with worked, rather than waiting a week to get the prints back.

Take this advice, and you will never regret it.

Film or Digital is up to you. I prefer film.

I will offer this. There are some fantastic sellers of used gear in the US where you can get some outstanding bargains.

Often you can get a lot more camera by buying used from a reputable dealer. The lowest prices are from ebay --but come with some risks. Still, I have about 20 HIGHLY reputable sellers saved in “My ebay” where I know I can trust the seller. If you buy from ebay, be careful and ask lots of questions.

In addition, KEH is one of the most reputable dealers in the US for used gear, plus B&H , Adorama , Pictureline newegg cameta camera , and others. (many have both new and used departments—don’t be put off by used gear! Often used gear is as good as new for much, much less)

Be careful! There are several NYC stores that are bait and switch crooks. (although 2 of the very best , B&H and Adorama are in NYC) A super low price is almost always a rip off of some kind.

You can check out the reputation of camera gear stores at resellerratings.com

Lastly, you may consider Minolta also. They make some fine products, including in your price range.

I came here a few months ago soliciting advice on a SLR and did alot of hunting on research, even got some advice from Johnny LA and ended up doing as you suggested - going to the camera shop next to my old college (that had an award-winning photojournalism dept) and got me a nice Cannon AE for what was slightly more expensive than eBay but I really felt I could trust them.

I desperately want DSLR, and don’t want a new point-and-shoot digital thingy, so I got the SLR for $100 or so.

I joined the Cord Camera “VIP club” and get free film and upgraded processing. I don’t feel like having a SLR is a ding in my budget. I shoot crap all the time. It’s fun, the pics look cool, and i am learning how to shoot again.

I don’t think you need to pressure yourself into going DSLR if you don’t have the money. Manual SLR is just as fun, just not as instant gratification.