What DSLR camera should I buy for $400-$600?

Leslie Mary Las TorresI get the above question A LOT, so I created this post to answer it for you. Decisively. And I guarantee this simple setup will get you started down a path of wonder and artistic discovery that will change your life forever. Have fun!

Buy Canon or Nikon. I don’t care. I’m not sponsored by either, or I might lie and tell you that this company was superior to that one. What I can tell you is these two are still superior to the other guys, so don’t let the young dude on commission at Best Buy convince you otherwise. You’d later regret your DSLR not being one of these two companies.

As a general rule, you should choose the company that your friend already owns lots of nice lenses for. Haha! But, seriously.

I could go on and on about the way to select the right company, but if you don’t know the difference, and you don’t really care, then you probably just want answers and some directions. Perfect. Here you go. I’m recommending a Canon this time around. If you can’t make it through the next 406 words, skip to my SUMMARY at the end where I give you a step-by-step of exactly what to buy. ANSWERS, finally!


Buy a used Canon T2i (don’t play the megapixel game for the newest cameras… it’s a sales gimick… 18MG is PLENTY!.. unless you’re into printing billboards on photographic paper). I still print fine art from some of my older digital captures from 2006, and those were on a 12MG camera.

My wife has the T3i, but that’s only because the NEW factor mattered to her when I bought it a couple years ago. In general you can save lots of dinero buying used. I have bought almost EVERYTHING I now own used.

Ebay is pretty good most of the time. Just read over the sellers feedback for awhile to ensure they are 100% trustworthy. 117 transactions, and I’ve never been burned. Even better (especially if ebay makes you nervous) is a reputable company like Hunts Photo. Ask for Gary, and tell them Paul Hassell sent you. He may or may not give you free shipping. Score!

Or you can always just search the web on the mighty engine known as google. If it is MUCH cheaper than all other places, there’s a reason. Don’t buy from that company, if it is even a company.


As far as lenses for your camera body, most people, most of the time never need a telephoto lens (telephoto is something more than 50mm… like a 70-300mm for example. What I use to shoot the bears is a 500mm) So, instead I’d say buy a 50mm f/1.8 lens as your second lens to the kit lens (only about $100). It may be the one you use MOST of the time actually. This is the lens that gives you that beautiful “shallow depth of field” look. Think, every single image you see in a fashion or food magazine. You’ve seen it. The front of the juicy t-bone is in sharp focus, but the front of the plate and the back of the plate are totally blurred out of focus. I used this lens to make a gnarly tree stand out clearly from its environment along the trail in Chilean Patagonia.

Hiking,Lago,Lago Nordenskjold,Los Torres,Patagonia,Paul Hassell,Photo Tour,Stream,Torres del Paine,Trekking,W Trail,Wind,Cuernos,Cuernos Paine,Lago Grey,Lago Pehoe,Pehoe,Glacier,Glacier Grey

I said “kit lens.” What is that? That’s what generally comes standard along with the camera body. So, for the T2i, the included kit lens is an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. That means, plenty wide (18mm) up to slightly closer than your eye’s “normal” perspective on the world (55mm). And if you’re shooting in the approximate range of 50mm, you’ll want to pop on your fixed 50mm f/1.8 lens made just for that purpose, rather than just using the kit lens zoomed to 50mm. Because juicy steaks (only partially in focus) are particularly delicious!

"September in the Smokies" Workshop Group - 2013 “September in the Smokies” Workshop Group | Sept 2013

IN SUMMARY,  Go do this!

STEP 1: go buy a used T2i (with the kit lens 18-55mm).

This kit lens allows for gorgeously close macro images. That means you can place it right up to the nose of your kitty cat with his whiskers up over the glass of the lens. If you’re not a cat person like me, don’t try this. They will scratch like you’re the devil himself.

STEP 2: go buy a 50mm 1.8 (not worth the extra $ for the f/1.4… unless you really know the difference). Yes, I do own a 50mm f/1.4, but that’s because I know the difference. And for me it is worth the extra $200. But you can always buy that later when you prove you’re better than the 50mm f/1.8 that MOST beginning wedding photographers use almost exclusively, by the way.

STEP 3: learn to shoot in Av mode and wear out the Exp Compensation (+/-) button till you’re a pro at it.

STEP 4: months from now when you are killing it and wish you could get in much tighter on your subject, or you want to shoot the songbirds at the feeder from your kitchen window then maybe buy something like a basic 70-300mm zoom lens.

I hope you found this helpful. Please leave comments below. Have a great day and happy shooting!

Smokies Workshop Basic Tele Lens


Some disclaimers:

  • Paul, you didn’t even mention the cropped sensor issue!

Precisely. Simplicity was the point of this post.

  • Paul, you didn’t explain bokeh on the 50mm f/1.8 vs. the 50mm f/1.4.

Trying to spare those who are not remotely interested.

  • Paul, you advised I buy a Nikon last year. Did I buy the wrong camera?

Not exactly. I said it was up to you. And this year I simply decided that some people might be better served when given just ONE really good answer rather than TWO options to choose from when they are already nervous that they may choose the “wrong one” as it is.

  • Aren’t you worried that buying used technology will end poorly?

You should probably read the whole article. Hah!

Day 4 - At Glacier Grey

One more note: I am asked very often pretty much this same question, except most people aren’t realistic and they hope to accomplish this at the $300 range, which is not quite realistic for a good DSLR. But you should have no trouble doing this (1 camera, and 2 lenses) for right in the middle of your $400-$600 budgeted. Booyah!

Filming for the Light Finds University video in downtown Knoxville, Jan 2014. Filming for the Light Finds University photo course in Knoxville | Jan 2014.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What DSLR camera should I buy for $400-$600?

  1. Paul Mann says:

    Great article! I currently have the original Canon Digital Rebel, and it’s been a great camera for us, but I am ready for an upgrade. Looks like I’ll be looking for a used T2i.

  2. Lloyd Chapman says:

    Paul: Thank you for your recommendations; they seem well supported and logical. I appreciate your guidance regarding used equipment; I argued with myself for days as whether to buy a used lens. I did make the purchase and have not regretted it, but without your guidance, I would probably have the same discussion with myself again the next time. Also, I’m looking forward to focusing more on shooting from a normal (i.e.; 50mm) perspective; in retrospect, perhaps I’ve concentrated on telephoto too much. Something to explore as soon as the weather allows more outdoor time. Keep up the good work down there in Knox Patch and I look forward to visiting with you again sometime soon.


    • Paul Hassell says:

      Lloyd, thanks for the comment. Glad my thoughts were helpful. The 50mm perspective is both challenging and rewarding. The wider you go, the more picky you must get in crafting your compositions. For this reason, THE HARDEST lens to use (well) is your ultra-wide angle lens. Thanks again for your email. I will get to it. Peace to you and yours

  3. Gary Carr says:

    Paul: think you for your to the point instructions. It made my chose very easy , the cannon rebel 2Ti it is. I had not considered a used camera,but I am very confident dealing with ebay . thinks again


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Me