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How to Buy a DSLR Camera as Gift

It should be easier, and now it is!

Story by Neil Zeller December 18th, 2016

Casual Conversation

Your person (the person in your life that you will buy the new camera gear for) will be telling you all along. You'll get some not so subtle hints when on trip and the apparent frustration will be notable, of seeing a beautiful vista, but not being able to translate that to the camera, or more pointedly they are hanging out in the electronics dept, holding all the cameras at the local big box store. You'll already know what they love to photograph based on their Facebook and Instagram feeds, that are full of sweeping horizons or city skylines or closeup flowers or cats.

So now what? How do you make the right decision on what to get them as a gift? It's a pretty big deal really, one that will likely shape their future of their photography hobby and could even lead to lifestyle changes as your person learns the ins and out of the camera. I mean, you'll be taking new trips, be out in the middle of the night with them, and almost every Sunday will be a day trip to somewhere interesting because it's somewhere interesting to photograph. Your trips to anywhere will now be at least twice as long and I'll tell you what, at least twice as fun too! It's true what they say, the destination is only part of the fun!

So, back to 'now what?'

Two things are going to happen when you buy a new camera for someone else. One: It's the right camera and you are a superhero. Two: It's the wrong camera and the photo frustration for your person is magnified.

Now you are scared, right? I'd probably be too. I remember buying my first camera and how agonizing it was, and that was for ME. Here's what I am going to cover for you today:

What I'm not going to cover is the Brand debate. I don't care what kind of DSLR camera you buy, as long as it's the right one for you. My sample package kits will be focused on Canon though as it's what I shoot and they have a very broadest range of accessories and lenses available. Also, I am focusing on the still photography, but all of the cameras I am recommending are able to shoot great video.

And lastly before we carry on, this is not a sponsored post. I am recommending you buy your gear from your local camera shop, as the benefits in face to face interactions with real people are invaluable when it comes to camera. My local shop is The Camera Store here in Calgary. They are the best for me, in my business. They have been helpful since day one. Also, most shops will price match online and printed competitive pricing. All the links you see in this post are to The Camera Store. You can shop around, but you'd be well off to check out this amazing store in person and online.



This is the toughest one. In DSLR photography, you get what you pay for. In almost all cases a photo item that is expensive is of greater quality and improved function. A more expensive camera body can shoot better in the dark. A pricey lens can be of sharper picture quality or can be zoomed extremely wide or very long, a top dollar tripod is secure and stable in all situations.

The key is, don't spend the least amount presented to you. Your person will be looking a the 'next model up' within weeks of receiving the new camera.

So... on to the 'Kits'!

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Camera Kits

For this, I'm not going to tell you to buy a pre packaged kit, although most consumer level DSLR cameras come with a lens. This lens will likely be replaced shortly after you buy the camera, especially once you see the difference a lens can make. The following suggestions are based on a step up from the true 'starter consumer' cameras. If your person is to be passionate about photography, these following kits will allow growth and expansion. Where you can save a few dollars is buy buying an 'off brand' lens for your camera. Sigma, Tokina and Tamron all have incredible offerings for Nikon and Canon, along with other brands. These lenses tend to save a few hundred dollars on average from the Canon and Nikon offerings.

Links to the items are underlined

For the true DSLR beginner:


Beginner: Canon T6i with 18-55 F3.5-5.6 lens - The EOS Rebel T6i is the camera I can recommend everyday to someone just starting out. It is a great all around camera that will enable you to learn and grow your photography without having to upgrade as soon as you get started.


Sports and Wildlife: Canon makes a very fast shooting and focusing camera called the 7D Mark II. It's loved for shooting sports and wildlife. This camera will shoot 10 frames per second while tracking the focus of a moving subject! Pair this camera with the Canon 70-200 F2.8 ii and you have an incredible sports/nature package.

The Canon 6D (with the 24-105 f4 lens) is the entry level full frame camera. Full Frame cameras give you more pixels to work with, allowing you to print larger and crop further without losing quality. The lenses are more money, but are typically better quality. The 6D brings with it incredible night photography capabilities.

For the pure photography enthusiast, who will be shooting in all situations, the new Canon 5D Mark IV is unbeatable. It's focus system is incredible, and the capability to shoot great photos at 10000 ISO and stronger makes this the camera for everything! I use this camera exclusively and its been a life changer for me. Pair this camera with the new Canon 16-35 f2.8 iii and you have yourself a true everyday workhorse!

For information sake, my kit is here:


My Wishlist

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Some are necessary and some are nice.

Tripods. The bigger and more stable, the better. I'll qualify that by saying I'm not hiking into the back country with my gear. I have 2 Tripods right now:

The Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100 Kit is my go to. It's been frozen solid in a lake, hung over precipitous cliffs and never was I worried for my gear attached to it. It has one of the easiest, smartest and most secure plate attachments of any tripod I've seen. It's versatility is unmatched too! This is the best deal in tripods at $250.00. I will be purchasing another one in early 2017.

My current second tripod was meant for traveling as it folds up to a small size and fits in carry on luggage. It's a bit of gimmick but it is pretty stable. When I take this tripod only, I always wish I had made room for the vanguard tripod. There are many other brands of tripods for much more money, but I am sticking to the vanguard as it hasn't failed me once!

Cable release: You may think a wireless remote is better. While the wireless has it's place, the cable (wired) remote will always work as required in all situations. It attaches directly to the camera and simply replaces the shutter button. It's most valuable at night when your long exposures require you to be 'hands off' your camera to avoid shake in your photos. the Canon pro bodies use a more expensive one here: and the consumer bodies use a less expensive one here:

An intervalometer is a tool that allows you to set your camera to shoot at specific intervals. This is great for daytime timelapses. The new Canon 5D Mark IV has it built in, so you won't need this, but most other Canon cameras will require this tool: There are off brands such as Aperture that have less expensive options. This tool is also a simple cable release when required.

A good strap. First things first, don't even bother putting the supplied strap on the camera. It is uncomfortable, chafes your neck and makes your camera bang into everything you are standing in front of whenever you bend over to pick anything up, or tie your shoe. Buy a sling strap like the Blackrapid RS7 Strap. I use a single version and a double version, depending if I need the second camera. It's great for hiking too!

Bags: Camera bags seem very expensive when you are starting out. Once you get past a simple shoulder bag, the options are unlimited! A good bag is going to be your best insurance policy for protecting your gear.

Here are the bags I use:



My motto is: "You are smarter than your Camera!"

I can help you prove that. My workshops are varied and run regularly. I have a wonderfully fun beginner DSLR class that everyone enjoys! It teaches you the basics and dives into some advanced techniques. We spend 8 hours in class and then 14 hours actually out shooting.

The entire weekend was fabulous! Thanks Neil
I was another of Neil's students this past weekend. It was a great time, I learned a lot especially about the passion for the chase to get the shot
I totally enjoyed this crazy weekend! My love for photography has been rekindled. I will be signing up for another course in the future. Thank you again for a great adventure.
Thanks Neil! I'm so amped to be one of your students and had such an incredible experience! You did everything you could to ensure that we captured the supermoon and it was breathtaking - I got some great shots too! Thanks for the incredible tour of rural Alberta - you've inspired me to explore more of our beautiful province! Beautiful shot and fantastic memories!

I also have an intermediate class where you learn all my effective techniques for shooting and editing, along with numerous destinations trips to as far away as Whitehorse to shoot the Aurora!

All of my workshops are on Eventbrite. You can access them here:

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