What Camera Should I Buy on a Budget?

My wife insisted I post this. I wrote all this in e-mails the past couple days trying to help a technologically-challenged sister buy a camera for her starting-out-photo-student brother, and they are in different countries, so cannot shop together.

Here is the little background: because these suggestions are for a specific situation. The student-photographer-in-question will have access to loaner lenses through the photography department. So, one, he does not need anything more than a workable lens for himself. And two, all that glass is Canon. So, regardless of my opinions, he needs a Canon camera and should put most of the investment in the camera.

The sister almost bought a Canon 5D mark II and a lens for $2000…and that is about $1000 too cheap. Thankfully, the lens they ordered was an EF-S and would not work on the 5Dmk2, so they were able to cancel the order, which was most certainly some sort of scam anyway. Then, they started thinking about the new 7D or a 50D. And that is where we pick up the story.

Dear Concerned-Sister-Who-Loves-Her-Brother-Enough-to-Give-Him-a-Good-Photographic-Start,

Here are some links for you to look at before we call tomorrow morning. First, PLEASE do not buy from any non-trusted source. There are lots of scams out there, and it is tempting. I will try to lead you in the right direction here. Basically, if you see a huge variation from the prices on these sites (the ones I am about to give you), you need to suspect their honesty.

Ok…here we go:

I love MPEX.com. I have bought from there and they do good business. Here is a link to their used Canon gear. The best price on that list is the 40D for $700. Think about that. If you want a cheaper option, the 40D is VERY close to the 50D, and you could grab it for cheap. The 7D? You really do not get much for the money over a 50D anyway. Oh, and note their used 5Dmk2 price, $2400.

If you bought a camera from there, get the body used, then buy this lens new: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 for about $120. It is a simple lens; it’s cheap and versatile, and he can borrow just about any lens he wants from the department, anyway. Regardless of what camera you buy, I very much suggest you just get this simple lens.

Ok, let’s move on to KEH.com. You can go check out their website directly, but if you go to their eBay store, you can view photos of each item. Once you get an idea of their ratings with the photos, you can just use their direct website. They are a very trusted used gear seller and their ratings are trustworthy too. Anything “excellent” or better is perfectly fine.

What I would suggest, if you do not want to go for the used 40D, is a 5D from KEH. The 5D is a fully professional camera. The quality is excellent! It is old, but still is WAY better quality than the 7D or 50D, no question. You would buy a 7D if you wanted fast shooting and fast focusing (or video). You would buy a 50D if you just wanted a new camera and not something used. If those things do not matter, buy a 5D. There are several used Canon 5D cameras there.

Oh, and you can see a 5D with the 50mm lens I am suggesting for sale there (at time of writing), but I would not suggest buying that unless you just want to throw away $200. I personally suggest their “excellent plus” 5D for $1420. Then buy the 50mm lens just about anywhere for $120, which equals $1540ish, far short of the $1700 for that combination on there, but you can take a look, anyway.

Oh, and as for that 50mm lens, there are actually two of them, an old one and a new one. Either is fine (actually, the older is better and cheaper, but the newer is easier to find): 50mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.8 II. Again, either one is fine.

I see two good options: cheap and less-cheap. For cheap, get the 40D from MPEX.com for $700 and buy a 50mm f/1.8 II lens new from them for a total of $800. For the nicer option, get a 5D (excellent plus condition) from KEH for $1420 and then buy a 50mm f/1.8 anywhere you like…maybe even MPEX, just because they are nice folks.

I already mentioned KEH and MPEX, but here are some reputable stores against which you can compare prices, and hopefully with whom you would do business precisely because they are trustworthy:


Cooper Strange Written by:


  1. lane

    really good stuff sir. got to play a little with the 7D the other day. you’re right, don’t gain much other than HD video and an increase in ISO (up to 6400 although it doesn’t compare in noise to the 5DMII). the video is impressive if you want that. 24-30FPS and in 720p you can get up to 60FPS.

    surprised i didn’t hear a nikon suggestion 🙂 are you a canon guy now? haha.

  2. 2009-11-20

    Right. I could not agree more. It sure is confusing to the unwashed masses, though, that they chose the name 7D, when it sure seems like the 30,40,50D, but with video. Anyway…

    No Nikon suggestion? Well, for the enlightened…nah, just joking. This guy has access to a wealth of Canon lenses, everybody else in the program is buying Canon, and the professors said, “you can buy another brand if you want, but you will be on your own”. So, Canon it is.

    For Canon, I do not really think they have had any huge innovations lately, I mean big, important improvements to the cameras, with the exception of video and the improved low noise, high ISO 1D mark IV. That is not a negative statement, actually. It actually means Canon is years ahead (and Nikon just caught up with the D3 and D700). Canon is the only place to go buy a used, full-frame camera at such a low price, either the 5D or a 1Ds.

    I will here publicly admit my long love affair with the 5D, though. I am a Nikon guy, and the ultimate would be the D700, technically, though this is not a technical or spec sheet decision, but a deep, gut reaction I have to the 5D.

  3. 2009-11-25

    Alas! I just found out yesterday that the sister bought a 7D. Blast it. I tried. I do not know why, but I suspect the reason is that a 7D is new, whereas a 5D is used, though a professional 5D in excellent condition is much more likely to outlast a new 7D anyway…at least, I would hope as much from a professional grade camera. So, at least at the moment, that excellent plus 5D is still available from KEH for those of you out there thinking about it.

    Oh, and I realized that KEH has MUCH more available on their website than they do in their eBay store. Go to KEH.com folks. Love it.

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