Good camera just to get started?

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    Lydia Bennett

    Hey all,

    A friend of mine contacted me and asked,

    I was wondering if you have any camera recommendations?
    I’d like one for my paintings and was wondering if you had any ideas on where to start?

    She’s an artist and would like to purchase a camera for photographing her paintings and also just to use to take photos. She’d prefer not to pay more than $300, and preferably lower than that.

    So I thought I’d throw this out to you photographers more experienced than I! I know some of you really know this sort of stuff and like to research it, so I’m looking forward to hearing your advice which I can share with her.

    (For all you geeks out there, try to keep things in simple “layman’s terms” if you can. 😉 )

    Thanks in advance!

    Ernest Lloyd

    Hi, @bennett-family
    A good question to ask your friend would be: For what purpose is she going to use the photos that she takes of her artwork?
    In other words, is this for a big printing, for digital viewing only, or is it for personal record only,etc..
    That would help answer a lot of the other questions that I have as far as DSLR vs. Point&Shoot or Mirrorless, megapixels, sensor size, resolution, and all of those geeky questions.
    Also, what other things would she be looking to photograph? Are they are a lot of special effect scenes, such as long exposures, or low-light situations, or would it be mostly capturing everyday life?
    If some of these questions would be answered, then I could do a little more research!

    Logan Lamar

    @bennett-family, ooh! Budget photography! One of my favorite subjects…

    has the idea there. What she wants to photograph will make a HUGE influence on what she’ll be wanting to purchase.

    If it’s her paintings, I know my mom uses her smartphone instead of my (technically her?) Canon 60D, which used to be about a $1000 DSLR. So she might be able to use that if her smartphone has a decent camera, and you can get apps that will give you control over the manual settings. If all she is shooting is paintings and she doesn’t need the bokeh really only a real camera can truly provide (though the smartphones are getting better…), stick with the one she has. If she’s looking to print her paintings like for cards and stationary, send it to a professional scanning company. It will likely be better than taking a photo.

    That said, if she wants a DSLR, she’s just starting out, and she’s on a budget, you can’t really go wrong with going used. All the beautiful landscape photos you have on your calendar were shot on last year’s cameras. Contrary to what advertisers will have us believe, you don’t need the latest gear to take the greatest photos (just ask Ansel Adams). Also, you don’t need new gear to take good photos either, and you can save a lot by going used from a reputable source.

    For example, you can get a Canon Rebel T3i (I’d say it’s a good starter camera though I’ve never use it myself… it was released in 2012, so right alongside my 60D which actually uses the exact same sensor) off of in excellent condition for just under $200. The Rebel T6 is even less expensive (though I think it has less features), coming in at about $125-150 and I think has the advantage of being released more recently (so you might get better noise control?). That leaves about an additional $100-175 for lenses. Again, what she wants depends on what she’s shooting. If she doesn’t know, you can get the most recent Canon 18-55 used in excellent condition for about $60 (or older versions for cheaper). Throw in a the Canon 55-250 for a telephoto, and that might put us a little over budget, but there! You just built a kit for less than $300.
    I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going this route though, because a lot of DSLR starter packs brand new are really attractively priced. For example, a brand-new Canon Rebel T6 with a 18-55 is at Walmart right now for $330. There also appears to be a new Rebel version I’ve never even heard of called the T100 with an 18-55 going for $299.

    So. My recommendation is to buy a brand-new DSLR kit as they are often a very good value, but check used. You might be able to get a better bang for your buck.

    Used recommendations:

    hope this helps!



    James Staddon

    Assuming she wants to make copies for print…..

    Size makes a difference. If it’s smaller pieces of artwork, I think scanning is easier and yields better results from my experience, than photographing.

    If the artwork is too large to fit on a scanner, then you could scan sections and stitch them together in Photoshop. This suddenly becomes time-consuming, and perhaps photographing would take less time. But then there’s the time of setup, so then it depends on how often she’ll be wanting to be making copies of her artwork.

    I would suggest she be more concerned about the lighting than the camera. Even point and shoot camera’s these days can create pretty good quality photos. However, I would recommend a mirrorless or DSLR camera. Really, for art copying, the cheapest one she can find will probably do the job well (as long as it’s not more than, say, 10 years old).

    She’ll want a tripod though, and a way to make sure the camera is perfectly perpendicular to the artwork. Otherwise, the top/bottom, left/right of the artwork will be more/less out of focus.

    She’ll need a way to get even lighting, and at an angle where the light doesn’t reflect in the artwork. It’s amazing how each tiny reflection on each textured stroke of an oil painting will completely ruin the contrast/color of the copy. I would recommend a cheap lighting kit found on Amazon. Outdoor shade could also work, but that then is less ideal for setting up a process for running copies quickly or regularly.

    The color of the light needs to be controlled and even too, making a lighting kit in a window-less room a better environment than outdoors where who knows where reflections are coming from. She’d need to set up custom white balance to, to replicate accurate colors.

    The lens that is used is also important, to keep the artwork from appearing distorted. I would go with something around 50mm.

    Lydia Bennett

    @ernestf-lloyd @loganlamar @jamesstaddon thanks for the comments!

    I had thought of the lighting aspect too, James.

    OK, so my friend says,

    I want them to look more professional, from other painters I know they have said a better camera can help get the blue or darker white out that I seem to pick up on my phone camera.
    I want to make prints with a higher resolution camera / when I upload my photos to get prints they aren’t true to what they really look like … I don’t know anything about exposure and all that 😆
    I’d like to take pictures of my paintings / my girls/ nature

    Esther Marie

    Hi, @bennett-family! I have a Nikon D5300 plus two kit lenses, 18-55mm and 55-200mm and got it all like-new for $300 on craigslist. It has 39 AF points (9 cross-type), released in 2013 and I love how light it is. One of the setbacks is the camera itself does not have a built-in auto-focus sensor, so the only lenses that work are AF-S lenses, and the choices are limited. But the kit lenses work just fine to start with. It has been a great starter camera for me, not too many buttons or settings. I’m not a camera expert, so I’m not really sure how the D5300 compares to others, but it has worked well for me, and you can get it for reasonable price.
    I hope she finds what she needs! 😀

    David Frazer

    they have said a better camera can help get the blue or darker white out that I seem to pick up on my phone camera.

    If she makes small pieces of art her money would go farther by creating (or buying) a portable photo studio box and keep taking the pictures with her cell phone. A couple of examples: or

    Sometimes it is more worthwhile spending money on training than equipment. You could try to convince her to take this course:

    James Staddon

    Sometimes it is more worthwhile spending money on training than equipment. You could try to convince her to take this course:

    Yeah, good idea. 🙂 Like if she doesn’t “know anything about exposure and all that”, then maybe she would want to start at the beginning!

    Lydia Bennett

    Thank you all so much for your comments! I shared the link to this forum string with my friend and she said to thank everyone for their help. She is planning to look into getting a used camera, and appreciated the tips on lighting and learning more about photography in general.

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