DSLR camera: which lens to choose & compact option?

Hello everyone,

I have a question about cameras & I hope someone can help me. I need a camera for photographing finished paintings to start web site, portfolios & prints, for taking reference photos of portraits, still life and nature… After reading a lot, I am a bit confused what to buy.

1st option: Nikon D5200 with 18-105VR lens (with decent zoom) for the cost of apr. 600$, OR Nikon D5200 body with PRIME lens AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G (as they are praised a lot for giving sharper picture, less grainy and distorted, great portraits, nice results in low lighting & with the ring you can even reverse the lens to get the makro) for the cost of apr. 700$. Any comment? Will I realy miss the zoom with prime lens? I know that having only ONE lens will not be optimal for portraits, landscapes, still life & macro, but the budget is tight & both choices are very pricey for me now. Which lens is better for painters?

2nd option: good compact camera with: raw & manual options, a 3'' viewfinder, optical zoom & threaded ring around the zoom lens for adapter, to add special filter lens to camera. I am sure there are some great artists who use good compacts instead of DSLR. Which camera & which lens would you recomend for max. 400$? I think the size and weight of these cameras would be better for my hands, but I gues these 2 things are the only advantages over DSLRs?

Thank you truly.


  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] admin
    edited December 2014
    @Celestial‌ You posted at the perfect time. I was looking up some prices for you and there is a new bundle on Amazon that must have just been made available, and it's the best camera deal I've ever seen. It costs exactly $699 and is perfect for anyone here who wants to jump into the photography-for-painting thing.

    Go to the link below and under the "Style" option, choose "w/ 14–42mm + 40–150mm". The total should come out to $699.00 with free shipping.


    It comes with the camera I recommend in the Advanced Photography Guide, a camera bag, and two zoom lenses. The lenses are a 14-42mm (which on this camera is equivalent to 28–84mm) and a 40–150mm (which on this camera is equivalent to 80–300mm). Those are the only two lenses you will ever need for anything related to painting realism.

    Seriously, this is an amazingly good deal.

    In regards to some of your questions and comments:

    The size and weight in the hands is actually an ADVANTAGE of cameras that aren't ultra-compact. They are much easier to use, believe it or not. The only advantage to the ultra-compacts is ease of carrying around. If you're doing anything professional, I would advise against those tiny cameras if you have any say in the matter. They are also going to be more expensive for equivalent quality, just like laptops are to desktop PCs (making tech smaller is expensive). Note that I'm only talking about the very small cameras here — the one I recommend above is labeled "compact", and it is compact, but it's not TINY. I think it will be perfect for you, and there are some technical advantages to the sensor size as well.

    Regarding the primes versus zooms, in short, ignore people who insist you need to use primes for sharpness. And grain has absolutely nothing to do with the lens… and distortion depends on focal lengths and won't be an issue if you know what you're doing… and do you really need macro… and no, a 35mm prime is not necessarily good for portraits, it depends on other factors, and in fact is usually not going to be ideal. Photography talk on the Internet is seldom accurate, unfortunately.

    And unfortunately, I don't have time to explain all the details right this second, but most if it is in my guide: drawmixpaint.com/classes/online/advanced-photography-guide.html

    If you have any specific questions you can post them here and I'll come back and answer them later when I have some time. But I really would pounce on the camera bundle I mentioned before the deal disappears. I can't recommend it enough for a beginner… and as a non-beginner myself, if I was buying a camera for me to use, for the purposes you mentioned and with a similar budget, this is what I would get too.
  • And for what it's worth, the cameras we use for all the photography in our workshops, and all the prints we sell for the Online Course, and most of the videos we've shot for YouTube, are similar to the camera I recommended above. I actually think that for still photos, the camera I recommended is better than the cameras we use here in the studio.
  • edited December 2014
    Dear David,

    Thank you SO much! You did such a great job, but sadly this is not possible for me, since Amazon.com doesn't post to Slovenia, Europe, where I am from. But even if they would send me, the price with shipping & additional custom fees would be more than 950 $. The best price in Europe for the package you suggested is around 1000 US$.

    As we have great Christmas offer for Nikon5200, I will probably go this way, as I can get a kit with 2 lenses, extra battery, bag, 16Gcard & tripod for around 800 $ which is already a lot.

    I did a comparison of Nikon & Olympus & found good result for 5200 so it should be OK.

    So the only question is: WHICH (body + lens combo) I should choose?

    A: Body & 18-105VR lens (as it's prefered by most people more than 18-55 for everything)

    B: Or the two lens combination which I think would be better:
    Body & 18-105VR lens + PRIME lens 35mm f/1.8G (which is actualy 52mm on this body)

    They also offer 18-55 VR II lens + 55-200 VR lens, but reviews for 18-55 aren't so good.

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom & experiences, Best Regards.
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] admin
    edited December 2014
    For painting-related stuff and your work, just the 18-105mm will do it all. The Nikon D5200 has a crop factor of ~1.5, so the 18-105mm will be equivalent to about 27-157mm, which covers all your bases.

    The 35mm prime (as you said, equivalent to 52mm) is not something you will NEED (because you can just zoom to 35mm on the 18-105mm), but for PERSONAL use, I like using a "normal" prime lens, which is what that the prime you're considering is. I like to take photos that document what I see the way I see it, as closely as possible, and I think normal primes are the best for that. They're also small, light, and by using it exclusively, I don't have to carry or change lenses.

    For taking landscape reference photos, or big scenes to paint, I would personally use a normal prime lens. For photographing finished paintings and portrait reference photos, you need the zoom, as well as for most still lifes. Once you get your gear, see the guide for more info on how to avoid unwanted distortions and the best distances from the subject for portrait photos and a lot more. Let me know if you have any questions.
  • THANK YOU David, thank you so much, you realy helped me a lot.
    When I will learn to use it, I will photograph my latest painting and post it & hopefully it will be a nice representation of your precious guide. Happy Christmas, Tanja :-h
  • Hopefully anyone here that was interested in the camera kit deal got it, because as I figured it's no longer being offered.
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