I've been working on an updated What's In My Camera Bag post since it's been awhile and I realize that it may be intimidating for those on the newer end of their photography journey. I know a lot of people simply use the camera on their phones now, but I can't do that. It's just not the same. Don't get me wrong, I've come across some amazing iPhone camera artists. I am not one of them.
To start, the majority of photographers go with Nikon or Canon simply because those are the two biggest companies out there and this will give you the most options with respect to lenses and accessories. Is one better than the other? NO. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise. You should always do your own research but it should be obvious that you can't go wrong with a Nikon or a Canon camera. If you are unsure of which to go with, check out the cameras in person. Hold them. Scroll through the menu options. Some people prefer one over the other because they like where the controls and buttons are located, or they like how it feels in their hands. Personal preferences are important and if you're picky, make sure you get what you want.
I've been shooting Nikon since the beginning so all my suggestions are for Nikon but don't take that to mean that I think it's better than Canon. Once you start to accumulate equipment for one brand, you develop a loyalty. Well, your wallet may because costs can add up quickly if you decide to switch brands.
These are both solid entry level cameras which are extremely similar. The D5500 has some additional features, such as more autofocus points, and a larger LCD screen. If you are brand new to photography, you won't know the difference and I recommend going with the one at your price point. Now, if you really don't know if a DSLR is for you, you could always go with an early version (such as the D3300 or the D5300) which will be less expensive.
The 7200 is an upgrade from the D3xxx and D5xxx series. In my opinion, the one major difference, which is huge, is the built-in auto focus motor. The D7xxx series comes with an AF motor built into the camera which means that you can use lenses that don't have a built-in focus motor. If you were to use a lens without a built-in focus motor on a D3400, you would be forced to manually focus (which is not the same as using the Manual function - selecting your ISO, aperture and shutter speed.) Having a camera with a built-in AF motor gives you more options when it comes to lenses.
My first upgrade was from a D50 to a D7000 and it was like night and day. This was partially due to the fact that my D50 was old and technology had changed so much. When should you upgrade? Only you will know the answer to this. You should be able to articulate what your camera can't do that another camera can.
Remember that the lens is just as important as the camera when it comes to photo quality. You wouldn't put a lawnmower engine in a Volvo. In the past I've recommended purchasing the camera body only and skipping the kit lens entirely. In my opinion, starting out with a D3400 and a 50mm lens will give you a head start over using a kit lens.
Nikon 35mm f/1.8 - This was my first prime lens which was an upgrade from the kit lens that came with my camera. It was my go-to, walk around lens and spent the most time on my camera. You get a lot of bang for you buck with this one. Note that this lens does have a built-in focus motor so it will auto focus on the D3xxx and D5xxx series.
Nikon 50mm f/1.8 - This is another fast, inexpensive prime lens that is great for those newer to photography. While it will be tighter when shooting indoors, it's better for portraits than the 35mm. This is also an AF-S lens (same as the 35mm) so it will auto focus on the D3xxx and D5xxx series.
Nikon 85mm f/1.8 - I have the older version of this lens, which is quite versatile. The focal length makes it perfect for portraits but you can zoom out with your feet. I would recommend the 35mm or the 50mm before this lens. This one would be ideal for a photographer who is shooting in manual and looking to expand beyond 50mm, but doesn't want the cost of a f/1.4 lens.
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 - This was my first "fun" lens, which I highly recommend for anyone looking for a wide angle lens. It wasn't practical for everyday use, which is why I refer to it as fun, but it's a sharp, fast lens. Note that the f stop is fixed which means that you can keep it wide open at 2.8 up to 16mm.
Go straight to Manual. Don't even turn the dial to Auto. Just don't do it. It will be harder to switch to manual if you've been using auto.
Don't rely on post-processing. Try to get it right in the camera. You will save time editing and learn faster.
Practice, practice, practice. Take photos of anything and everything. You can always just delete them right there on your camera.
Don't compare yourself to others. Develop your own style. It's okay to look up to and/or admire others but everyone is different. Don't try to be someone else. Be yourself.
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