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Dec 20, 2015
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Not too long ago I made a post introducing myself and I stated that I will be buying my first DSLR camera. I did a lot of comparisons in person and online as far as brands go and decided to go with Nikon. I like the feel in my hands and the photos that are generally produced with it.

At first I was torn between the D3300 or splurging over my budget for a D5500, but the more research I have done over the past week or so, the more I am beginning to wonder if I really NEED all the newest bells and whistles.

I am a college student studying graphic design so this will be my first photography class. Ideally I would love to produce some of my own stock photos, but as far as a hobby goes I am really interested in landscape, wildlife, and night photography of starscapes specifically. That's the dream at least, reality is, that I have a lot of learning to do and at my skill level I am not really sure what I NEED. Video is not a huge desire or need. Nice but not a need. My professor suggested that I buy something I can grow into... that was about it.

For my budget I am looking at around $400-$500 now. Preferably more towards the $400 end (college budget, you know.) Here is some of the ideas that I came up with.

The Nikon D90 which I found for about $250 for the body and I would buy a lens off of amazon or B&H. At first I wasn't too keen on getting a camera so old but I have seen some amazing shots done with older cameras and really I don't think I am going to need anything larger than 16X20 any time soon so the 12.5 mega pixels doesn't seem too terrible. I am just wondering if decent starscape photography would be out of the question with this camera from what I have read about the ISO. It wouldn't be the end of the world if I couldn't. I have just heard many things about the camera lenses being more important than the body so the idea here was to buy a cheaper body and potentially a nicer (50mm?) prime lens to go with it.

My next option was getting the Nikon D5200 for about $430 that comes with an 18-55 kit lens. I would pretty much be stuck with the lens that comes with it which I don't think is terrible either. I just couldn't justify it in the budget to buy any other lenses any time soon. And from what I have read the d5200 does better in lower light and it sports a higher 24mp.

I have heard great things about the D7000 which I found for $399 body only, used. I would have to go the same route as the D90 and buy my own lens but that would be pushing me a bit closer out of my max budget, but not entirely out of the question.

Or I could roll with the D3300 and deal with it for about $400 at the best price I have found it with a 18-55mm kit lens that comes with it.

I wrote a book here but I guess I am just looking for more insight, personal opinions, etc. I have always been interested in photography and I would like to grow in it but I don't want to buy more than I need right now and I am on a college students budget. I plan on buying my new camera in about a week when it will be needed so I have a little more time to think on it. Thank you for reading, I will take any and all opinions into consideration.
When I was upgrading from my D60 I did a lot of research and ended up with the 5100. Less than 3 years later, I was upgrading again to the 7100. The moral of the story is that your professor was right, buy something that you can grow into - in the end that will save you money.
Everybody has their way of thinking, you will hear opinions that might be 180 degrees different from each other so at the end of the day you will need to make your own decision of what to buy.

I believe I always want the newest and best technology available!
You talked about few cameras
D3300, D5200, D7000 and D90.
First thing I would scartch of the D90. old camera, not worth it!!!
Image quality is ok but really not close to a new modern camera.
D7000, had it, nice but it too is starting to show its age.

I am left with the D5200 and D3300, if you dont plan on doing video I would go with the D3300
Wait I DID go with the D3300, I bought one about a month ago as my second body and I am really impressed with this camera, it has very little bells and whistles but its sensor is really good considering its value, its AF system is good enough if you are not planing to do any serious sports shooting with it.
Can you grow into it ?
I think it gives you all you need now and in the future, if when you finish your studying have the extra cash to buy better camera and you still like photography then go ahead and buy a newer better camera.

Thats my take on it, dont let the fact its a basic camera fool you, Nikon went cheap on this camera with features but not on image quality or low light performance, it leaves the D90 in the dust on these 2 most important categories!
I did not think about the view finder when I bought my first one. I also did not belong to this forum. I bought a D3300 (Pentamirror view finder, no focus motor) and its a fine beginners camera. The other thing is having a built in focus motor. These two things were not on my radar. All the research I did, some way or another, these features alluded me. I did not realize how important these could be to me and I regret my purchase a little, mostly wish I had a large Pentaprism viewfinder and a focus motor inside body. I have actually considered selling everything off and starting over but I hate to throw hard earned money away for features that probably will not make my photos better.

I should add that I stumbled across the viewfinder thing looking through a D7000, and my stomach did a flip flop. I learned about the focus motor thing on TPF and that could of saved me a few hundred or more right there in glass alone, AF-D glass. VR is nice but with improved holding technique and a tripod solves that in most situations.

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A combination worth (IMO) considering is the D300 & 18-70 kit lens. This is from the "semi-pro" line and is several orders of magnitude above the DXX & DXXXX bodies in terms of build quality & feature set. It will likely be toward the top end of your budget, but worth it, I think.
I have a D7000 that I bought used. Its a great camera and can do anything you'll need for a long time. Compared to your other options: It's built in flash will work as a commander for Nikon's CLS flash system--get a couple of used SB-800's to go with it for some tremendous flexibility in off-camera-flash capability. It has a decent viewfinder. It has a focus screw on its mount so it is compatible with older Nikon AF and AF-D lenses that tend to be bargains on eBay. It has two control dials for easier manual mode operation. And more. What you give up compared to the D5500 or D3300 is just a little bit of image quality. This page should give you an idea of how much the image quality varies among these choices.
All of these replies have been super helpful! Thank you so much. I have looked into the D300 and found one within my price range and I am really liking some of the features and photos that people have presented out of that camera. I also found a used D7000 that is a just smidgen higher than I wanted to pay but I have been looking into it as well since it seems to do better in low lighting. The best deal I have found so far is a D5200 with an 18-55mm kit lens for $380 from a used camera store that comes with a year guarantee on it, but I am still not 100% that it's the camera I should go with. So far this is still a hard choice but I will keep comparing my options. Ultimately whatever camera I pick up will still be a better camera than I am a photographer. I will grow one way or another. Super helpful being able to compare all the Nikons side by side. Thank you idcanyon for the link!
I'd get the cheapest NEW body (D3300 is a killer when it comes to image quality) without the lens (body only) and
fork out for a Sigma 17-50 F/2.8

That is a serious piece of kit for as little money as possible.

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