I am a Beginner. Which camera and lens should I buy? / by Karthik Rajagopal

I get this question from several people at least twice in a week and I have been giving different answers depending on their needs. The truth is that you can start with any camera and lens. Your passion will eventually make you find the right stuff you need. Depending how strong your intention to learn is and how much time you can devote towards photography, you will learn. In early 2000's there was little resources online and internet bandwidth was a luxury. Today with the abundance of knowledge available on the web, esp the youtube videos, there is no dearth for knowledge. So you just need to set your mind and start with any equipment available to you.

For those people who do not have any camera to start with, you need to buy one. Most beginners ask this question. "I need a camera which I can use for all purposes and it should also be one with all manual controls to learn photography. And it should be within INR 30k to 50k budget." I am a kind of person who buys something if I really need it irrespective of how expensive it it. If I have the money, I just go ahead and buy it. But this is not something I am going to advice to people who ask me for a suggestion.

 Nikon FE2 with 24 mm f/2.8 AIS Manual Lens along with Mint Hot Chocolate ;) Shot on my mobile phone.

Nikon FE2 with 24 mm f/2.8 AIS Manual Lens along with Mint Hot Chocolate ;) Shot on my mobile phone.

Yes, I would love to recommend the above camera for learning. Film and resources for developing is rare. While starting to learn, if availability is itself a problem, where will you even learn. So, I am going to suggest digital photography. But, film cameras and lenses cost a fraction of the price of what a professional modern cameras and lenses cost. And I recommend learning photography with a good choice of lenses from a focal length of 28 mm to 135 mm to start with and preferably with open apertures in the range of f/1.4 to f/2.8. This will help you understand the nuances of DOF (Depth of Field) and help you understand how to choose lenses.

 Sony A6000 mirrorless camera with 16 - 50 mm Kitlens (Approx Rs 35,000 ). (Internet Image)

Sony A6000 mirrorless camera with 16 - 50 mm Kitlens (Approx Rs 35,000 ). (Internet Image)

I would recommend a digital mirror-less camera against a DSLR and specifically Sony A6000 for people who are on tight budget. This camera with Kitlens is available for Rs 35,000 and the image quality is at par with even cameras costing a lakh and over. You may also buy good mirror-less offering from Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic depending on how much budget you have. I am not against learning photography with a DSLR which are available at a similar price point. But there are certain advantages with a mirror-less camera esp when you are on budget and want to explore a variety of lenses.

 Nikon 24 mm f/2.8 AIS Manual focus lens mounted on Nikon FE2 . 

Nikon 24 mm f/2.8 AIS Manual focus lens mounted on Nikon FE2 . 

For the last wedding shoot I did with FE2 with film, I had borrowed a Nikon-F to Sony-E adapter for using Zeiss Milvus lens on my Sony A7R ii from www.kitkarma.com. As the adaptor was still lying with me, I just thought I 'd try shooting pictures with that lens on my Sony A7R II. Here are a few pictures I shot in my room with tube-light as the only light source.

 Shot on Sony A7R II with Nikon 24 mm f/2.8 AIS lens and Fotodiox Adaptor. (f/2.8). Shot as JPG on camera

Shot on Sony A7R II with Nikon 24 mm f/2.8 AIS lens and Fotodiox Adaptor. (f/2.8). Shot as JPG on camera

 Shot on Sony A7R II with Nikon 24 mm f/2.8 AIS lens and Fotodiox Adaptor.  (f/4). Shot as JPG on camera.

Shot on Sony A7R II with Nikon 24 mm f/2.8 AIS lens and Fotodiox Adaptor.  (f/4). Shot as JPG on camera.

Once I downloaded the pictures from the camera to my mobile, I was pleased to see the results this Rs 5000 lens could give. While the pictures were not as sharp and perfect as the modern Sony and Zeiss lenses that I have bought, it was definitely good. I am sure it is near impossible to find that I shot with a Rs 5000 lens on manual focus. This is one best thing about mirror-less cameras. As long as you have a focus ring and a way to control the aperture, you can mount any lens on a mirror-less camera. Focusing is extremely easy with the peaking feature. A manual 50 mm f/1.8 lens is avilable for as cheap as Rs 2000. Pick one to experience excitement.

 Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AIS lens mounted on Sony A7R II with Fotodiox Nik(G) to NEX adaptor

Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AIS lens mounted on Sony A7R II with Fotodiox Nik(G) to NEX adaptor

The cost of these old manual lenses from brands like Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, Zeiss, Contax, Helios, Meyer Optix, Zenith, Vivitar, Canon a hots of M42 lenses are in the range of Rs 2000 to 5000. You can get it from ebay, keh.com & usedphotopro.com. You can try with local dealers who sell these lenses too. If you do not know how to check these lenses take the help of an experience photographer who could help you. I am sure you could build a good set of four prime lenses with open apertures from 28mm to 135 mm for about INR 16,000 or USD 250.

As I was writing this blog it was 05.45 pm and its sunset time. They time every photographer gets excited about. Moreover, I still had an hour before my wife would give me a call to pick her up from her office. Now, I decided to think like a photography beginner. I quickly mounted that old Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AIS lens (Introduced in 1977, even before I was born) on my Sony A7R II with the help of a fotodiox adaptor I borrowed from my friend Vivek through www.kitkarma.com (peer to peer photographic equipment sharing platform). Like a child I walked out of my home towards the riverside and started shooting random shots without any thoughts. Here are some of the pictures striaght out of the camera without any processing. (Now I am a learner, so I assumed I dint have access to Capture One/ LR / PS :D )

These are images from one 24 mm wide angle lens, with another 35 mm, 50 mm, 85 mm it will give you million possibilities. I will soon share images shot with some vintage lenses. 

I trust I have given you an affordable solution under 50k for learning photography. Creative images are made by the photographer and I have always felt lack of budget should not prevent one from shooting beautiful images. Throw that MTF and other pixel peeping measures into the dustbin and concentrate on the art. You will enjoy and share that joy with others around.

I recommend the same for budding filmmakers as well. Get A6300 as A6300 cannot be used with external mic.

Why I do not recommend a DSLR:

 Flange Focal Distance. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flange_focal_distance

Flange Focal Distance. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flange_focal_distance

I do not recommend DSLR for old lenses as you cannot use any lens with a flange to film distance less the one in your current DSLR. With mirror-less the flange to sensor distance is really short and this does not become a limitation. Moreover all mirror-less cameras give focus peaking which is easier to confirm focus during manual focusing. Today's DSLR lack split prisms on focusing screens.

PS: By no means I am preventing people from buying advanced equipment which is many times a need for professional photography. This blog is written for beginner and hobbyist on budget who sill like to complete explore photography beyond the confines of a Kit Lens. I have seen people buying a camera worth a lakh and one kit lens which handicaps their creativity. Variety of good open prime lenses are more important than an expensive camera to come up with creative images. Comments and critics are welcome.