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| p.1 #20 · Which DSLR to give as a gift? |
To no one in particular and everyone in general, a word or two about the notion that beginners need professional equipment.
In fact, most young shooters (and I was one of them, and I watched a bunch of others including my own kids) are thrilled to have a "real DSLR" that is not a supposed pro-level camera. For a person who has not owned a current high-end DSLR but who has perhaps dreamed of "doing photography," something in the "rebel" category (current the t1i, t2i, etc cameras) seems like a wonderful and amazing thing. And having such a camera, which feels so cool to them, often inspires them to develop a stronger interest in making photographs as they put this gear to work.
And you know what? It wasn't that different for most of us. In an era when high end meant something quite different, very few of us started with such gear. In my case, I started with hand-me-down cameras from my Dad. (In retrospect, he may have at least partially been passing off the old gear so that he would have an excuse to buy the cool, new stuff, but I digress... ;-) And I was thrilled to have a "real camera" - and it inspired a passionate love for photography early on.
As a teacher, I've watched a similar process at work among thousands of students over the years. A few decades ago I had the realization that the best students I had, the ones doing the most creative and effective work, were not those who were supplied with pro level gear right off the bat, but rather those who were thrilled to acquire adequate gear and passionate about figuring out how to use it to do creative work. On the other hand, too many of those who started out with the really expensive latest-and-greatest gear... focused on the gear and all too often lost interest in the work itself.
f/1.8 is a lot different than f/5 or whatever the 18-55 is at 50mm though....
That's a funny argument, since a) yes, f/1.8 is different than a smaller aperture and b) the range and flexibility of a zoom is different than that of a single prime. I guess I could write that the f/1.8 lens doesn't work nearly as well at 18mm... ;-)
The real question is what provides the most useful functionality for this new photographer at this point in her development. (It almost might not be a bad idea at all to ask her, if she is at a point where she has developed some experience-based and knowledgeable options.)
I've counseled a number of people who were starting out with DSLRs to forego the old-school advice to "start with a single prime and suffer for a while," instead strongly recommending that these new photographers start with the inexpensive zoom, shoot a lot, learn a lot, and discover the nature of their particular interest and then use their experience to begin to acquire better and more specialized gear... if their interest ends up going beyond the entry-level sort of shooting for which the zoom is so fine.
Let me offer two examples:
During the last year, somewhat to my surprise, my wife began to express an interest in doing photography more seriously. Now I could have "set her up" with my old 5D (big!) and perhaps loaned her my 50mm prime or any number of other L and non-L lenses... but instead I helped her decide to get a t2i plus the kit lens. Now, at that point, if you had asked either of us where her budding photography interest might have led, we couldn't have answered correctly and our guesses (and yours) would have been very, very wrong. While my guesses might have ranged from "the EFS kit zoom will be sufficient" through "maybe she'll want to get the EFS 55-250 at some point" to "she'll probably want what works so well for me"... What actually happened? She ended up developing a strong interest in close-up photography. So she added a "diopter" close-up "filter" to the kit lens and went about enthusiastically and happily photographing the small world of flowers and foliage and insects and more. This became her primary interest, and when it came time to get a "good lens," that lens turned out to be something neither of us could have anticipated, a 100mm f/2.8 IS macro, which now essentially lives on her camera.
One of my sons is another example. Some years back I gave him an old 8MP "rebel" DSLR with - you guessed it! - the kit lens. Like my wife, he went off and started shooting, learning a lot about the many things that one needs to learn about when a novice DSLR photographer. His interest gravitated toward what I might loosely describe as "street photography" (though that's not quite the whole story), and his interests led him away from shooting DSLRs at all! He moved to film, began collecting a fleet of wonderful old, inexpensive rangefinder cameras, finally including an old beaten up used Leica.
My point is that the most important objects at this very early stage include having the opportunity to experiment and basically doing a lot of shooting with a goal of finding out the extent and nature of one's photographic interest - not in following someone else's notions of "the right way" to shoot and so forth. The inexpensive rebel-style bodies and the kit lens are virtually ideal at this stage. (And if one does decide that, say, a 50mm f/1.8 prime is important after shooting the kit zoom for a few months... then they can get one quite cheaply.)
If I may put out a note of caution, I would want to be sure she's handled any camera she might be interested before buying one for her.
I say that because I've found that how a camera feels in your hands is often an important factor into how much it will get used and enjoyed.
The Rebel and the xxD line have similar designs, but different ergonomics. I can say that my hands cramp up trying to use any of the Rebel line for any extended period of time, and as a result, I've owned only xxDs or 1Ds.
As long as...Show more →
I've actually found more or less the opposite to be true in the real world. Most buyers select a first DSLR on a more or less random basis (a friend recommends the brand, a family member already owns it, there was a sale) and whichever brand they select becomes their idea of normal. In other words, they adapt to what they have.
The "just by how it feels in your hands" thing is especially irrelevant when a new photographer is involved, since a taste for one sort of feel or another develops as one's skills develop, and it is too immature at first to use as a basis for making a decision.
And, finally, again to no one in particular... any time the subject of gear, kids, and parents comes up... we need to acknowledge the danger (and we've all been susceptible to it) of trying to live our lives through our kids - our own offspring, nieces and nephews, etc. Yes, the danger can also exist with spouses - one reason that I was very careful to not push my gear choices on my wife when she was getting her DSLR. I know, from my own experience, that we can get this warm, proud feeling when someone who might be dependent on us seems to acquire our own interests, and, yes, we can occasionally use this as an excuse to exercise our Gear Lust and buy new stuff. Watch out!