Is This the Best Budget Kit for Starting Photography?

Photography can be an exceptionally expensive hobby, but it needn't be in most situations. If you're thinking about getting your first camera and a lens, this budget setup might give you the most back for your buck.

In the past 15 years, there is one thing I have noticed with cameras and the photography industry as a whole: the equipment ceiling hasn't risen as much as the floor. What I mean by that is that 15 years ago, the gap between a cheap used body and lens, and a top-of-the-range model was more pronounced. My first camera was cheap and cheerful, but it couldn't do all that much and it required (rather ironically given it was a "starter" camera) a lot of user experience to get the most out of it; it wasn't pumped full of quality of life additions and assistance.

Now, however, the floor is so much closer to the ceiling. Yes, a top-of-the-range camera is going to have bells and whistles that a handful of people will need, but the basics are honed and impressive. In this video, Arthur R gives his suggestion for a first camera and lens, coming in at under $800. You can, of course, go cheaper than this, but his reasoning for the model he chose is sound and well-supported.

What do you think is the best budget kit for starting photography?

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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You are totally right that a sanity check is the first thing to do when choosing a camera. Especially for novices or aspiring enthusiasts, most people spend money on the wrong gear. APS-C sensors are a sweet spot for value. Unfortunately, as nearly all recent market movements have been towards full frame, there are simply more options there versus APS-C in the Sony world. If someone is committed to APS-C, Fujifilm may offer a better long term investment for future lens selection.

Probably the first upgrade someone using Sony a6* series equipment will look at is going to a7* series full frame gear which will require replacing both cameras and lenses. So while up front costs for APS-C might be lower, long term you'll likely come out ahead by starting with full frame rather than switching later on. This also depends on whether someone is concentrating on stills or video work. APS-C or m43 offers lots of advantages for video. Stills shooters will likely be lured to full frame at some point.

The A6100 has decent image quality, though with an MSRP of $749, it is expensive though the used pricing certainly makes it s better value assuming low shutter count, especially considering that Sony is very reluctant to lower prices no matter how old a camera is. This also makes it harder to get into their cameras. for example, One camera that I would have liked to move to, is the Sony A6500, since it offers better video capabilities (as well as S-LOG, and HLG) and a significantly better EVF, along with IBIS which is becoming increasingly important considering that the super majority of new lenses being produced lack OIS.
Sadly the A6100 had many review complaints about the overly high MSRP, along with the A6400, A6500 and A6600, where the pricing put them in the same boat as Nvidia and their RTX4000 series GPUs, where everything under the RTX4090 is a bad value, but the RTX 4090 is extremely expensive and is a major regression in generational performance improvements for the money.

The A6xxx line right up to the highest end units within the line, keep many firmware restrictions common in many entry level cameras such as the max 1/4000s shutter speed (Where in the past it was common to get 1/8000s when leaving the entry level) and various other restrictions common in $400-500 cameras.

My overall hope was for the A6500 to drop to a more reasonable price, which would allow for video and stills use with a wider range of lenses without relying on flawed EIS that some models will offer, which doesn't work well since if using a low shutter speed such as 1/60s or 1/120s for video, EIS cannot fix motion blur from camera shake that OIS and IBIS would avoid.

"Sony is very reluctant to lower prices no matter how old a camera is"

Not just their cameras, but all of their products.

My Sony a6000 served me well back in the day. Heck, I still have it. I jumped to FF because I thought I was going to do more low-light moody photos; and I was a bokeholic. Fast forward to current, I don't shoot low-light moody photos as often and I'm over my bokeholism.

Knowing what I know now, I think the a6100 and couple of inexpensive primes is more than enough for those just starting, even experienced enthusiasts.

Photography can be a very expensive undertaking, take your time, a fool and their money are easily parted, don't rush it. If you make the right choice for you there will be years of enjoyment. The wrong choice and life's too short for regrets.
So, my advice is to use camera comparison websites and to pay particular attention to the number of native lenses available for the systems. Ignore youtube review sites as they're too persuasive.
So for a secondhand Sony A6100 you throw in some similar priced secondhand cameras from other manufacturers into a comparison website.
A good website will even give rankings against photography genres.
Then look at the prices of the secondhand lenses.
Then ask yourself if the system mount is still supported or has been discontinued. When was the last native lens launch by the manufacturer.
It will take time but when you're down to your final choices visit a large camera store that has some you can get your hands on. The feel may be the deal breaker, also the view finder if you wear glasses.
Then go home with no purchase made.
Replacement lens cameras can be an expensive hobby, so consider what you've seen, what you'd like to have and the total cost. Look at the completed sold items on Ebay, not the for sale items.
Then buy your final choice second hand from the store you visited.
Chances are if you find photography isn’t for you, you will know you can get most of your money back.
My street photography kit cost less than £400. One camera, 2 lenses, 24 - 400mm Full frame equivalent. Panasonic GX85, plus 2 lenses did it for my wants, with 6 month's guarantees.

The camera recommendation is solid - although a used Canon EOS-M 100/200 or Fuji X-E2/3 can be better value if one doesn't need video. What I don't understand is the lens recommendation. 16mm (=full frame-equivalent: 24mm) is IMHO too wide for a universal photography lens. Maybe it's easier for people who come from smartphone photography, but I'd clearly opt for the Sigma 30mm/1.4, a beautiful (45mm FF equivalent) allround focal length on APS-C. It also gives an APS-C camera the same low light and background blur capabilities as a FF camera with an f2 standard lens.

Another point: Today, it makes a lot of sense to buy an older/cheaper camera body and put more money into a good raw processor. The AI-based denoising of DxO's PureRaw and PhotoLab does absolute wonders for older small sensor cameras and low-light photography, and can make their pictures look as good as those of newer, bigger-sensor cameras.