Finding a $500 camera setup that can deliver stunning portraits as well as a wide range of other types of photography was a challenge, to say the least! First and foremost I had to put together some bare minimum requirements/standards:
- The camera needs to be BRAND NEWIt’s hard to recommend used camera gear. You don’t know how well it’s been taken care of, and the prices aren’t always consistent. Also, brand new gear generally comes with a warranty, which can be a BIG bonus.
- Interchangeable lenses Being able to use different lenses for different types of photography is essential in photography. You automatically lose-out on a huge range of possibilities if you spend money on a camera with a fixed lens.
- From a reputable brand. There are MANY camera companies that want to sell you pure junk, but only a handful that can be consistently trusted to deliver a solid product that will last you for years. In this post, we are going to be completely ignoring cameras from companies like “Vivitar” (a popular garbage Walmart brand) and focus on systems from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus, Sigma etc… Brands that are respected and trusted.
- It needs a good starter lens You might find some people who love their kit lenses, but let’s be real, they are generally pure garbage. Kit lenses are almost always zoom lenses with an aperture between f/3.5–5.6 The images are not sharp, they don’t take in enough light to expose without a mountain of noise and paired with a crop-sensor camera it’s nearly impossible to get good bokeh with them in anything but perfect conditions.
- It needs a Memory Card Turns out you need an SD card to capture photos! For some reason, camera companies STILL, are not putting any kind of built-in memory into their camera bodies. So in order to actually take photos, we are going to need a Memory card.
With all of that being said, I spent a few hours searching and comparing and, believe it or not, I found only TWO camera/lens/SD Card combinations that met all of the requirements above! (to be honest, I’m surprised I even found that many!)
Without any further ado: Here are the two under-$500 camera kits that meet the requirements I posted above:
Nikon D3400 DSLR $299.95 at Adorama (affiliate link)
Canon Rebel T7 Body-Only $299 at Amazon (affiliate link)
These are both solid deals! 24MP with 1080p HD video on both. The Nikon will let you record at frame-rates of up to 60p you have a lot of options. While the Nikon DOES come with a kit lens, we are going to ignore that and get you into some glass that will give you amazing results right out of the box. The Canon comes with a memory card, but I would strongly recommend picking up the one mentioned below.
The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX NIKKOR lens $166.95 at Adorama
The Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM lens $125.00 at Adorama
For the Nikon, we are going with the tried and true 35mm f/1.8 and for Canon, the 50mm f/1.8 which are both often referred to as one of the “Plastic Fantastics” and have long been among the absolute best bang-for-your-buck lenses ever made.
With these lenses it will be easier to get your images looking professional, it’s sharp, let’s in a TON of light and won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You will be able to take a wide range of photos and even get that creamy bokeh if you want it.
The Sandisk Extreme PRO SD CardThe Sandisk Extreme PRO SD Card
SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB SD Card $13.99 at Adorama
A fast card that has a great reputation and performs far better than what your camera will be able to handle!
Your total cost.
You may have noticed the total cost of the recommendations above are UNDER $500. That was on purpose! Remember the MOST important thing: The camera means absolutely nothing if you don’t know how to use it!
The last thing you want to do as a beginner photographer is to spend hours pouring through half-baked advice and absurdly stupid YouTube tutorials. Don’t get me wrong, there is AMAZING stuff on YouTube, but it’s often hard to find it amongst the garbage.
To solve this problem you will need to make 1 last purchase (for now at least… welcome to the addiction)
I recommend the book “How to Create Stunning Digital Photography” by Tony and Chelsea Northrup. It comes with hundreds of hours of video tutorials and it costs a whopping $10
That’s it! You’re under $500 and you officially know what you need to get a good head-start in your photography hobby or career! I make things easy for you I posted the links above to each of these items. Note: They are affiliate links and while you don’t pay any extra I do earn a small percentage from each purchase made!
About the Author
Jonathan Edwards is a filmmaker and photographer based in Pennsylvania. He’s the founder of Contention Media, where you can see more of his video and photos. You can also follow Jonathan on Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.