In the market for a new camera

Note I am hugely ignorant of the current state of the art (the future shock involved in the demise of film is itself daunting), but am willing to have my ignorance fought. Thus you can feel free to first educate me on the differences between digital photography and film. I also plan to stick a big lens (500 mm or so) on the front for nature photography. Looking at roughly $100-$500 or so.

So you’re looking at a DSLR. Do you already have a 500mm lens? If so, sticking with the same manufacturer would allow you to use it on the new camera, saving a good chunk of change.

DSLRs come in two flavors; full frame and crop sensor. On a FF camera, the sensor is the same size as a 35mm negative so your lens will act exactly the same. On a crop sensor camera, such as the Canon T3i, the effective focal length of your lens is multiplied by 1.6x because the sensor is smaller. So your 500mm acts like an 800mm lens. This can be great for telephoto, but tough for wide angle if you already have lenses.

At the under $500 price range you are looking at mainly crop sensor cameras from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony. The crops range from 1.5x (Nikon) to 2x (Sony) so your end need may dictate what size lens you’ll end up with. Some lenses (like the Canon EF-S) lenses only work on their crop sensor cameras. Full frame lenses will work on both, so if you ever intend to upgrade camera bodies this becomes important.

Also note that an old (film era) long lens won’t *necessarily *work on a digital SLR from the same manufacturer. There’s a good chance it will, but it’s not guaranteed. Be sure to test it out before taking the plunge.

Also - $500 is about the bottom of the range for a decent dSLR body. If you plan to get a long lens AND a body for that money, you might have to look into another type of camera, like the integrated-zoom (if they still make those).

What brand lens?

True, it’s not completely sure that any lens will transfer cleanly. You may lose autofocus on some lenses as well.

Also true, unless you buy used and get a camera from 2 years or so ago. They will still be nice cameras, but missing some new features and some high ISO performance.

You can buy some pretty impressive ultrazoom all-in-one cameras, like the Panasonic FZ150 or Canon SX40, which will give you anywhere from 600mm to 800+mm equivalent lenses. Keep in mind that to get that range the sensors are pretty small, so you don’t get the same image quality you would get in a DSLR, or the low light performance, but it’s a pretty powerful tool in a small, inexpensive package.

Also, if the OP doesn’t previously own these lenses, it should be noted (based on his camera budget) that a zoom lens that pushes out to the 500mm range is going to be bumping up against the $1000 mark and even those are f/6.3. If by “nature photography” the OP is planning on shooting birds and other wildlife I’d be worried about shooting at f/6.3 in anything but bright sunlight though I suppose you can up the ISO to make up for it.

There are many here who will suggest great cameras and lenses. We all have our opinions. I’m a low budget type of guy myself. I’m looking at a Kodak Z990 that has 30X optical zoom for a discounted price of $229, which seems like a bargain to me. It’s in your price range and would do what you want I believe.

Price depends on quality, of course, and some other factors. My Sigma 170-500 f5-6.3 runs about $800 nowadays, and my Nikon 80-200 f2.8 runs over $1,000 now, but there are lenses with a larger spread that are cheaper. Quality of image usually suffers with a larger gap in zoom capability, though. I don’t know what the OP’s skill level is for after-shoot manipulation, or with using the full features of a DSLR (shooting raw and manual, that is), but a non-DSLR such as the Canon S95 is an excellent alternative.

The S95 (and now S100) is a great camera, but not appropriate for nature photography due to lack of telephoto.

Ultrazooms can be great values as I mentioned above, but they tend to be quite soft at full zoom, have poor low light performance, and get noisy due to the small sensors. For many tasks they are great; but for nature photography they only work well in bright sunshine.

Given that you have those two lenses, I’m sure you know what you’re talking about, but but a Nikon f2.8 is generally going to be more expensive then a Sigma f/6.5. You really can’t compare a fast Nikon to a slow generic (yeah, I’m calling the Sigma generic for now) even if the Nikon is shorter then the Sigma.

I only mentioned it because when I went off to BHPhoto I noticed a big jump when you went over 200mm or so and I didn’t want the OP to spend $300 on a camera only to find out that he was going to have to drop a grand on the lens.

Yeah, I just mentioned those as a reference. Sigma, Vivitar, Tamron and other after-market lenses vary in quality and bear some research before buying, but are generally cheaper than a comparable name-brand lens (there are exceptions, such as the Nikon “nifty fifty”). There are review sites that are very helpful.

Even for name brand lenses check the site reviews before buying. Sometimes there are some amazing deals to be had in lower end lenses that get consistently good reviews. There are also some really expensive duds so it’s worth a few minutes of googling your options before making a lens purchase.

As for a camera - it sounds from your budget like the 500mm lens already exists and that’s going to drive your camera choice. If you provide details on the lens we can not only talk cameras we can find out if it will even work on more recent bodies.

Gotcha, I just wanted to make sure the OP understood that if he doesn’t have a lens he was going to have to at least double his budget to come up with a 500mm lens. Whether he gets name brand or after market glass.

I get worried when someone is in the market for a $100 dollar DSLR. He might want to poke around Craigslist and hope to find someone that has an old D70 or something from that age. Hopefully he can find someone who thinks it’s the camera as opposed to the photog…that is, someone who bought a D70/D50 etc and then upgraded a few years later after using it lightly and deciding the upgraded model would take better pictures.

I hear ya. The best investments someone can make after buying a digital is a short course in Photoshop Elements and another in “how to get the most out of your DSLR”.

Keep in mind that if you are going to use a film lens on your DSLR your zoom is not the same as listed on the lens. If you have 500mm lens for 35mm camera would be similar to 750mm on a DSLR.

Yeah, the $$ estimate was for the camera only-I do have an old Celestron 1000mm lens, but it is old and damaged (a screw fell into the mirror area and scratched the lens up before I noticed it). So figure another $500 for the lens.

I love my Nikon D70. It’s several years old and I see you can get it on Amazon (used I’m sure) for about $160 for the body only. My suggestion would be finding a camera store and seeing what they have in used DSLRs from the past 5 years or so. If you can come up with D70 or D50 (or whatever the comparable Canon EOS versions are) for under $200 you’ll have some extra money in your budget for the lens. Those are good cameras and you’ll be happy spending the extra money on the glass. Also, you’ll want to consider getting a shorter lens as well so your camera is useful for taking pictures of things that aren’t hundreds of feet away. The D70 originally came with a really good kit lens, 18-70mm IIRC so you might get be able to find one still in tact for a decent price.

It sounds to me like what you’re looking at is spending $1000 for a DSLR and a ??-500mm lens. I think if you get used gear you should be able to pull it off and if you get it from a camera shop it’ll hopefully be in good shape.

If $500 is your budget, there are tons of good secondhand or even new options. Eg Canon 550D, Nikon 5000, Olympus 510.

Lenswise is trickier unless you’re willing to get 500mm equivalent rather than an actual 500mm lens. Any 300mm lens on a crop camera will be close to 500mm equivalent, or in the case of the Olympus 4/3 will be 600mm equivalent.

Tamron and Sigma both make 500mm range lenses but 500 might be pushing things a tad.


Sony APS-C doesn’t use a 2x crop, they use 1.5, same as Nikon and Pentax. You might be thinking of 4/3rds, which is a 2x crop, but that’s considered to be in a different class of sensors and that’s mostly an Olympus/Panasonic thing.

As to the OP, wanting a (at the low end) $100 DSLR to stick a 500mm lens on is sort of a weird set of requirements. You could probably find a used low end DSLR from a few years back in that price range, but if you’re serious enough about the hobby to buy an expensive lens, you might as well buy at least a half decent camera.

Since your price range will be for a crop sensor (full frame cameras are somewhat specialized and most people don’t really need them), a 300mm telephoto should serve your needs, since its field of view will function at the equivelant of 450mm (Nikon) or 480mm (Canon).

You can get a used Canon XSI or used Nikon 3000 or D60-80 or something and then stick a sub-$300 zoom telephoto that tops out with 300mm. It’s a very low end solution but it might fit your budget. And you’d probably be happy with your results if you’re not trying to be into serious photography.

In your position, I’d at least get a Canon T2I at a little over your price range with the kit lens. You might as well get the kit lens - it’s only an extra $80, and it’d be weird to buy a camera and only have a 500mm lens, when you could make it a general purpose camera for $80 more.

You are correct, that’s exactly where I confused things.