Do you want to buy a Canon DSLR and/or lenses on a budget? This article is for you.
Originally posted May 2, 2017. Revised and re-posted Nov. 8, 2019.
A friend recently asked me to recommend a Canon DSLR with lenses to be used for still photography and video blogging with a budget of $500. That is a tall order.
The first thing I said to my friend was to be prepared for some sticker shock. You can’t always find the camera that meets your needs at the price you want. And you can’t meet the $500 budget and buy new gear.
My first recommendation was to go to DP Review and read the reviews for Canon DSLRs and pay special attention to the video capabilities. While it is pretty easy to find an inexpensive DSLR made in the last 5-10 years that will create excellent quality still images, video is another matter. Video quality has increased dramatically over just the last few years and excellent video quality is going to cost some bucks.
My second recommendation was to take a look at Canon refurbished cameras and lenses. Why buy a refurb? Refurbs are items that have been returned to Canon for any number of reasons which may or may not be due to some kind of problem. Some people just return a camera or lens and want their money back even though nothing is wrong with the item. It can no longer be sold as new so it is sold as a refurb. Canon’s official repair shop goes over every item to make sure everything is ok, fixes any problems if there are any, and the item is then sold as a refurb. The really good news is you get a one year, same as new, warranty. Most places that sell used camera equipment provide a 2 to 4 week used warranty and a very few provide a 3 month used warranty. So a one year warranty is a great deal.
Keep in mind refurb items come and go all the time, so check back on a regular basis. The great camera/lens combo you find today might be gone tomorrow and reappear a week or a month later.
My third recommendation was to buy Canon EF or EF-S lenses with an “STM” designation. STM lenses are best for video work since they are quieter. Some Canon lenses are noisy enough that the video picks up the motor noises of the lens. That doesn’t matter for still shooters but it matters a lot for video.
I did a quick check of the current refurbished Canon DSLRs that come with STM lenses. Some come with one lens (an 18-55mm or an 18-135mm) and some come with two. The 18-135mm lens is the best of the one lens options since it has more focal length range, stretching out to 135mm instead of 55mm. That is a big difference when you want to shoot something farther away. But I much prefer having two lenses to one. In a two lens kit the second lens is usually a 55-250mm or 75-300mm lens. Both are telephoto lenses and either will get the job done. The advantages of having two lenses are the longer focal length range of the telephoto lens, and you still have something to shoot with if one of your lenses quits. (It happens.) With one lens you are totally out of business if it quits.
I only found one combo that matched my friends price range, the Canon SL1 with two lenses, 18-55 and 75-300, for $369 which is a great deal. But for a little more money my friend can get more video quality.
There is a Canon T6i with two lenses for $640. That is $140 over my friend’s preferred budget, but with a big gain in video quality.
If my friend could push the budget even more I would recommend a refurbished Canon 70D, 77D, or 80D. Each one is a step up in price but also a step up in video quality.
The good news is all of these camera would provide excellent quality still images. It is the video quality that is the kicker.
The point is this, if you are willing to forego buying new gear (and sacrifice some video quality), there is some kind of camera and lens combination out there that meets just about any budget.
How do you avoid buyer’s remorse, the sinking feeling you get when you buy something and it isn’t up to your expectations? One way is to rent first. Rent the specific camera model you want to buy along with a lens and try it out. Some well stocked camera stores will rent gear for a few days. If you can’t find what you want to rent locally, go to LensRentals.com. They rent most popular camera models and lenses. How much? As of the date of this article you can rent a Canon SL1 body for $37 for 7 days and a Canon EF-S 18-135 STM lens for $21 for 7 days. More expensive cameras models and lenses will cost more to rent.
As a side note, renting a lens for a special occasion (like a long lens for your wildlife photo trip of a lifetime) makes more sense than buying a lens you will only use rarely.
Almost all of us have to make price versus quality decisions, even the pros. Contrary to popular opinion, the vast majority of professional photographers have to make tough choices when it comes to equipment. Most of the pros I have met are using average gear and new pros are often using very inexpensiveness equipment (and hoping to buy better when they make enough money to afford it).
No matter what gear you are using or going to get, just get out there and have fun!
This is one in a series of articles that will guide you to the best of all things photographic. The rest are here: Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs and More.