Recently a friend asked if the Nikon D3100 DSLR camera kit with 18-55 VR and 55-200 VR lenses plus some accessories was a good set up to buy for a vacation to Africa. The kit costs around $800. I figured since I was writing it out anyway I may as well share it with the world. The names have been withheld to protect the innocent.
This is always a tough one for me, when people who are not professional photographers ask what kind or is this a good camera. I tell them it depends on what you want to do with your photography. Do you want to control every aspect of an image and really get into it as a hobby or do you want a camera that will be easy to use and take good photos without much work?
Any of the newer Single Lens Reflex (
cameras in that price range will most likely be easy to use on automatic and
take decent images under the right circumstances, good to moderate light being
the most important factor. The VR - or Vibration Reduction - lenses will also
help with shooting in lower light situations. You should also be able to get a
little deeper into learning photography and control most settings with the
If you were looking to get even deeper into photography as a hobby, then you are going to want something a little bit better. This is where costs jump.
One of the things that makes those costs jump is better lenses. Better lenses have wider f-stops, meaning they can shoot at f2.8 or faster. This allows you to shoot in lower light situations and control the depth of field better. The lenses in most consumer kits are made from lightweight plastic and have an f-stop of f4 or higher, depending on focal length. This means they let in less light and need more exposure time to make an image. This can introduce camera shake or subject movement and blurry pictures. The VR helps with the camera shake, but can't stop subject movement.
The lenses could also be less sturdy in the durability department and break easier. That does not mean they will break easier, but the better lenses are built with higher quality materials to a higher degree of sturdiness. Better lenses may also be sharper due to the use of better optics and design.
Why so much talk about lenses? Well camera bodies will come and go as time and technology marches on, but your lenses will work with the newer camera bodies, if you stay with the same camera maker. I always tell people that want to get serious about photography to buy the best lenses that they can afford. If it means saving a little longer as opposed to buying a cheaper plastic lens, do it. Odds are it will last longer, be of better quality and they will not have to buy it again when the cheap one breaks, is not the quality or speed you need as your skills grow.
A great way to get good lenses is to look into the used market at places like KEH.com or B&H Photo in NYC. They are reputable dealers who grade the gear so you know what you are getting. You might not get as long a warranty, but you will get a better lens for less money than new.
Again if you are just looking to get something that will work decent for a decent price for snapshots and vacation images, the kit camera will do the trick. You just have to realize that you may outgrow it as your skills improve and need to upgrade if you get really into it.
On the opposite side, spending $5000 for a camera kit just to take on vacation and use once in a while is not too smart either, unless you make a boatload of money.
I would suggest trying it out in the store and talking to the salesperson, just don't believe everything they say. The stuff I use was top of the line when bought for me by my paper. The lenses were bought nine years ago and I have used them with three different upgrades of camera bodies. My gear takes a beating and still works. Sure it has gone in for major repairs when accidents happen or it just stops working, but if the same wear and tear was put on a lesser outfit, it would be ruined and not able to be fixed.
Hope this helps.