cameras and gear

My gear.

My camera is a Nikon D300s.  For 90% of the pictures I take I use a 50mm 1.4 fixed focal length lens (Nikon AF Nikkor – 1:1.4 D).  For the other ten percent I use a Sigma 18-200mm zoom lens.  I carry my goodies in a ShootSac.

My ShootSac with Bamboo cover.

I’m no expert, but I am a fan of Nikon cameras.  Let me start by saying that anything you read on this page is what I’ve learned by reading or talking to photographers.  Some of it may be hearsay so, I’ll use a line I hear on the podcast I most often listen to…. this advice is worth just what you paid for it!  Take it or leave it!  (Name that speaker…)

My camera and awesome ShootSac.


With that said, I hear the two main brands, Nikon and Canon, are of similar value/quality* so you want to ask yourself a few questions before you jump into researching which one you want.

1.  “Do I have any other lenses that I may want to use with my new camera?”  If you already have some Canon lenses, you might want to go with Canon.  My previous camera was a Nikon (you know, the kind that you had to buy FILM for and then take it to Wal-Mart and wait for it to be developed).  I was able to use the lenses I had from that camera with the digital one. This is why I bought my first Nikon DSLR.

2.  “Do I have a lot of friends who are avid Nikon/Canon users who could help me learn more about my camera.”  A few of my friends are new DSLR users and I may have influenced them toward Nikon because of my brand-loyalty and because if they were to get a Canon camera, I’d be of no help to them.

*I could get really technical here.  Supposedly, Nikon makes better cameras but Canon makes better lenses.  There’s also a slight difference in coloring.  Supposedly Nikons show more reds and oranges and Canons more blues and greens (or vise versa) but the difference is so minute that it takes a highly skilled eye to see it.  Obviously, I don’t have that eye as I don’t even know which one is which.  If you want to get SUPER technical, read this blog.  Ken Rockwell is highly knowledgable and I actually really like his take on photography.  He even has an iPhone App all about my camera so, for instance, while I was in Paris and noticed my camera doing something funny, I opened the app, searched for what was going on, and changed the setting, all at the base of the Arc de Triomphe.


So, once you’ve decided which brand to go with, you then need to ask yourself what you want to do with the camera.

1.  “Do I want to use it like a higher-quality point-and-shoot or do I want to learn what all those gadgets are?”  If the former, then one of the lower-end models will be sufficient, especially if you don’t plan on changing lenses often.  It’ll come with a kit lens that will work sufficiently.  If the latter, you’ll want to go with a D90 or higher.  (A few paragraphs down I talk a little about the different levels of cameras Nikon has.)

2.  “How much am I willing to spend?”  Remember, once you buy your camera and lens, you’re going to want to buy a UV filter (if you are like me and have kids who like to touch the lens), a bag, and a special lens, if you want to take awesome pics.  (Note… the lens makes the camera.  This is a fact that many people don’t understand until they start learning about their camera.  This will actually be important in selecting your camera.  In fact, it should be understood before you purchase your camera.)

Once you’ve decided on the brand, the purpose behind the camera, and your price, then just start googling.  If you are leaning toward Nikon, THIS WEBSITE IS AWESOME for letting you see the cameras in a chart form.

From this point on, I will assume you are going with Nikon.  If not, I’m sorry to say you are on your own as far as research.  

Camera Body

Open up that chart and have it in a separate window.  You can go back and forth to it as I talk about it.  If you plan to learn a lot about the camera, I suggest you stay away from the cameras in pink shaded boxes (the Entry or Mid-range levels).  The reason is that those cameras do not have AutoFocus in the body of the camera.  They require you to purchase the more expensive VR lenses that have motors inside them.  (Photography is an expensive hobby.  Sorry, but I’ll tell you that upfront.)  If you plan to use this as a simple point-and-shoot camera, using the kit lens (the lens that comes on it in the box, usually an 18-55mm), one of those will be okay, and you could get by with a camera from one of those two lower categories.  BUT, should you decide to take a class and learn the basics of photography, you will feel limited in what you can do with that camera because, to buy the lenses you’ll want, you’ll pay out the wazoo for VR lenses.  I urge you to bypass this level of camera altogether.  This is something I didn’t know when my two close friends here were buying cameras.  One got a 3000, another got a 60.  Both are great cameras and they can do all the manipulating and creative adaptations they want, but they are fighting the VR lens issue.  Both are already thinking down the road toward upgrading.  The reason I was oblivious to this issue is that I just happened to buy the 50 as my first DSLR.  It has the autofocus in the body and I never experienced the lack of it.  When I needed a lens, the camera body had the motor so the lenses I wanted didn’t require VR… I didn’t really know the difference.  (Not that I want to spoil the Nikon-love fest here, but I hear from a trusted source {see comments below} that entry-level Canons have an AF motor in the body.)

Interesting note here.  If you ever figure out the numbering system of Nikon camera bodies, please tell me.  From lower end (3000) to advanced (90) to pro-sumer (300)… that makes no sense!!!

Video capabilities

A quick word about the video option on these cameras.  Gimmick.

One word.  I told you.  Maybe I’ll sit down and read the blogs about how to use the video capabilities, but so far, they’re a waste.  If you are waffling between two cameras of similar value (say the 300 and the 300s) and the video capability is causing the price to be higher… opt for the lower one.  Use a different video camera for video.  You will not be satisfied using one of these cameras AS your family video camera.  (I posted a 5 minute video of my baby being absolutely adorable.  “What,” might you ask, “does that have to do with cameras?”  Good question.  In this video at about 2 minutes and 24 seconds into it you can see why I don’t recommend this camera for a dedicated VIDEO camera.  I happened to be trying to take a picture of Parker when he started doing something cute, so I switched to video mode.  Guess I got the cute stuff I was after, but because he moved toward me, much of it is out of focus.  Here’s the link to the blog post with the video imbedded:  All Choked Up

Imported Cameras

When purchasing your camera online, if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is. You are GOING to pay for a nice camera.  If not, you’re not getting a good deal, you’re getting a headache.  For instance, do not buy imported cameras. (Do some research on this, but if you’re looking at one that says, “Imported,” avoid it.  It won’t be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty.)  As for ordering online, I use B&H, though I’m sure there are plenty of quality sites.

Used Cameras

Cameras are like cars… they’re built to go a certain number of miles (or take a certain number of images).  A camera shop can tell you how many pictures a camera has taken, so if you decide to buy a used one, have them tell you how many it’s taken.  Then, decide if it has too many “miles” on it.

Lenses (specifically, a 50mm 1.4)

If you are going to learn about your camera and want to take great pics, you’re going to want a 50mm 1.4 lens.  I promise.  No.  For real.  (You might be tempted to get the 1.8… I won’t fuss at you, but I can assure you the 1.4 is sweet!)  Remember that whole, “Autofocus in the lens versus in the body” discussion?  Here’s where it comes into play.  The 50mm 1.4 for my camera was $369 because my camera already has the motor, but the one that will work on the cameras in the pink highlighted cells on the chart are $460.  Those lenses have to have the motor in the LENS.  Sorry if I’m beating this to death, but it’s really important in making a decision about which camera to buy.)  Check out the picture below to see what makes the 1.4 so cool.  The lower picture shows what a normal lens can do. The background is slightly blurry but that’s as blurry as it could go.  When I switched to my 50mm 1.4 lens, I was able to get the background SUPER blurry!  See how professional the top picture looks compared to the other?

Such a difference an open aperture makes!

Going Beyond Point-and-Shoot

I had my D50 for 5 years and never took it off Auto.  When I got my “out of debt” prize (the d300s) I figured I owed it to the camera to learn about it.  A friend suggested an online class she had taken and I was AMAZED at how quickly I learned.  I highly recommend any DSLR user, even one who has had their camera for years but has stuck to the Green Auto button, or even the “P” setting, to take this class.  I wrote in depth about it at this link.  Of all that I have written, this may be about the most important information because regardless of what KIND of DSLR you have, it’s basically just a bulky point-and-shoot if you don’t learn how to use it.

UV Filter

As I mentioned earlier, I have a UV filter on my lens.  I remove it when I notice a ghosting (not the technical term, I don’t think) on my images, but it’s fine for 95% of what I do.  It protects my lens from dirt and dust and from the fingers of the four boys I’m most often taking pictures of.  Once I had a camera bag fall and when I went to open it, the UV filter had absorbed the brunt of the fall and cracked but the lens itself was safe.  A well-spent $20.

Camera Bag

I have a SPUH-lurge as far as a camera bag goes.  (Officially, it’s a lens bag and its designed as a bag you take on photo shoots: you carry your camera in hand and use the bag for extra lenses… however, if you take the lens off most cameras the body will fit in one of the sleeves.)  It’s called a ShootSac.  Check it out.  (The ShootSac dubs as a great travel bag as you can comfortably walk around Paris with camera in hand, an extra couple of lenses, and a few odds and ends in the inner pockets.  In one I carried the Metro maps and in another I carried my iPhone and lipstick.  Priorities, people.  It was impossible for pick-pockets to reach in!)

Regarding a traditional camera bag, I have a backpack camera bag that holds all the accessories (chargers, video camera, lenses, etc) and is quite protective. I only use it when we travel and I use my ShootSac every day.  My backpack camera bag is perfect for going long distances and for protection when you go places like camping, on airplanes, or when we fill the car to the BRIM on long distance trips and I have to really protect the camera.  But when we’re just going around town, the ShootSac is more convenient when you just want to go to the park and take the bare necessities along.

More info…

I am sure I’ve left out some information but I hope I’ve given you at least some idea of where to start.  Feel free to ask questions.  Also, feel free to correct information that I may have gotten wrong.  I am not a professional and I have no intentions of becoming one.  I just want to get good great pictures.  I’m over the “Auto” button.  I’m on “M” almost exclusively.  Sometimes I switch to “S” or “A” if I’m doing something specific, but guess what?!?!  After “Oh Shoot” I know what those mean!!!  Happy shooting!

11 Responses to cameras and gear

  1. Loved reading! You are so right! Im almost to all “M”! Im loving what all Ive learned!!

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  4. So great to know! I have a Canon 50mm 1.8 and I love it! I’ve been shooting in manual mode finally and am finally getting the hang of things! 🙂

  5. Susan says:

    Jennifer, I have no idea how I ended up on your blog (I clicked a link somewhere from FB to your “stealing from the PX” post), but here I am. :o) I had no idea you were a fellow photog! It is always fun to find another lover of photography.

    Anyway, considering that I shoot Canon, I just have to make one teeny tiny little remark. Canon entry level cameras have the AF motor built into the camera body. 😛

    In all seriousness, though, I am not a die hard Canon loyalist. One of my best friends has the Nikon D700 and I nearly considered selling an organ so I could buy one. :o) That camera is amazing. Instead, I saved up my pennies and bought myself Canon’s 7D. I love it and am glad I didn’t have to go through all the hassle of selling all my gear to switch brands.

    Susan (from the CP group on FB)

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Susan!

      I’m glad you stopped by! Yes, I love my Nikon and I’m pretty much a diehard Nikon user for a few reasons.
      1. My first 35mm was a Nikon.
      2. Because of #1 I had lenses to use when I bought my first DSLR… so I went Nikon.
      3. Because of #1 and the additional gear I accumulated with #2 I upgraded to my 2nd Nikon DSLR in 2011.
      4. Now I think my brain would implode if I tried to do everything on a Canon that it already knows how to do on a Nikon.

      I need to update my post to let people know that about entry-level Canons. I wish Nikon would do that! I don’t see why any camera shouldn’t have a AF motor in the body!

      As you said, it’s always fun to find fellow photography enthusiasts! Basically, I just want to take better pics of my kids tomorrow than I could yesterday. 🙂

      Hope to “see” you around!

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  7. Kellie says:

    Hey, Jennifer! Do you use a particular editing program or OOC (out of camera) shots with no editing? Thanks

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