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I guess a lot depends on his interests...but as a one time head of a London college photography department and a 5D owner...I would suggest a 40D based on my knowledge of younger aspiring photographers.
As a camera it is a better package...and the IQ is comparable to a 5D...I know...I have one of them as well. The AF is a lot better, it has a pop up flash (which will be useful for a teenager) and sensor cleaning. Obviously the build quality is excellent.....and the prices are quite low, even for mint ones.....and there are probably far more barely used 40Ds on the market than 5Ds.
As for lenses.....a fairly short zoom...but I am thinking of what would suit a student. His interests might be specific...but if not....on a crop camera...something like the highly regarded (but cheap) 28 - 105mk2 USM. If not...a 35 or 50mm prime.
Interesting thoughts, however... the txi series cameras have AF systems that are now essentially the equal of that in the old 40D. The IQ of virtually all Canon cropped sensor bodies is equivalent to that of other cropped sensor bodies with the same photo site density. For example, 10MP cropped sensor cameras, as a breed, will produce essentially the same image quality.
Although image quality is not really the major issue for the intended camera user here, I'm perplexed by the notion that the 40D IQ is "comparable" to that of the 5D. I do realize that the literal meaning of "comparable" might be that "they can be compared," but when you make that comparison the 5D wins on virtually all counts. Yes, I have one, too.
I'm with you on the suggestion of a "normal" zoom, and the inexpensive and quite decent EFS 18-55mm kit zoom can be a fine way to begin. I'm certainly not in agreement with the suggestion of a prime in this day and age and even less in agreement with the idea of making that prime a 50mm lens. (You don't usually recommend that new 35mm photographers start out with just an 80mm lens, do you? ;-)
When these "camera for my kid" subjects come up, I think back to my own experience - and it turns out to be one that quite a few long-time photographers share. Many of us began in our teens when a parent loaned us one of their camera or got us something inexpensive. While grown up photographers might not be so impressed by such gear, we were thrilled to have it and we put it to good use. One of the Rebel style cameras would be far more capable than what most of us had, and can be acquired at a very good price these days.
One final note about "aspiring young photographers." I know a few such folks, too. Some would be interested in various DSLR cameras of the sorts we have discussed here. But a surprising number of them are interested in the whole street photography tradition and it turns out that they are often interested in gear that is more "retro" or at least retro-inspired. I have a son who has become a huge fan of old film rangefinder style cameras!
Four years ago I was contemplating a new camera and my local camera shop gave me a 5D and a 40D to play with..which I did along with my 50mm f1.4.....when I looked at the images later that day, apart from the crop factor the IQ difference was...well..close to be kind. Prints at A3 size...I couldn't see it. So I bought the 40D being the more modern camera and a lot cheaper.
I did a pro shoot in a studio a year or so ago and the model wanted me to do some shots for her with her 550D....so I did for 10 minutes.....I was so happy to go back to the 40D. And I obviously had a copy of the files I made using her camera as well....they didn't match the 40D files in IQ...but were useable..got some useable images...maybe her camera inspired her!! My 40D sort of inspires me I guess although I tend to prefer and use film.
As for primes.....depends on the requirements. I have been a student / lectured in two of the best London colleges..(both with world class status)...and students at them were required to use 50mm lenses until they could justify an alternative rationale. The college rationale was simple...use simple stuff and see what you can creative with it....obviously the students there created in bucket loads.....but had to think carefully about how to maximize what the lens could do. A good grounding for learning how to get the best from any gear.
So my rationale is simple ....give a learner a high quality piece of kit that doesn't cost too much and a quality prime lens...see what the learner can learn. Based on 15 years of teaching photography from basics to graduate level...it is a sound approach....
Edited on Jan 08, 2013 at 04:02 AM · View previous versions