It’s that time of year when many people start thinking about what they want to buy their friends and loved ones for the holidays. A camera can make a great gift and can offer the receiver years of fun, artistic expression, and (with the right education), a career! When it comes to choosing a camera, a lot of it depends on budget. Instead of focusing on the features of cameras, it’s better to instead set a budget and buy the best camera you can afford. It’s true that with cameras, “you get what you pay for.” If you are paying more for a better camera, you really are getting something better. With that said, a $499 camera-and-lens kit can help the budding photographer in your life create amazing images! Plus, every camera on this list also shoots HD video! It should also be noted that this article is intended to inform you about the best options for someone’s first camera. If you are looking for a more advanced camera to give to someone who has already owned one of these for a while, feel free to give us a call! I’ve listed the three best gift options from both Canon and Nikon. Canon and Nikon cameras are very closely matched and both companies make excellent cameras. The reason you might want to go with one brand over another would be to stick with the brand your friend or family member is already comfortable with. Here are our three DSLR entry-level camera recommendations for 2016. Most importantly, the prices listed below are the normal prices, but ALL of these prices are $100-$400 cheaper until Nov. 23rdor 26th!


Canon EOS Rebel SL1 with 18-55mm Lens - $699 ($499 on sale!)
(Get this camera with both the 18-55mm and 75-300mm lenses for $499 until Nov. 26th)

Nikon D3300 with 18-55mm Lens - $646.95 ($446.95 on sale!)

Both of these cameras are fantastically small. Either one would be a great choice for someone looking to get started in photography. They both have great image quality and will create beautiful images. Although they lack some of the features of a more expensive camera, they will still prove themselves for a budding photographer. This kit only comes with one lens (unless you buy the kit with two lenses!), so if you are hoping to shoot sports or wildlife, you might want to add a couple of hundred dollars to the price in order to buy an additional lens that zooms farther. Or, you can purchase the camera body on its own and then purchase a lens separately.

High-End Entry-Level:

Canon EOS Rebel T6i with 18-55mm Lens - $899 ($699 on sale!)
holiday gift guide Nikon D5500 with 18-55mm Lens - $796.95 ($696.96 on sale!)

These cameras are the flagships of each company’s entry-level lines. They offer better image quality and build quality than their cheaper siblings, as well as many more features. This kit only comes with one lens, so if you are hoping to shoot sports or wildlife, you might want to add a couple of hundred dollars to the price in order to buy an additional lens that zooms farther. Or, you can purchase the camera body on its own and then purchase a lens separately.


Canon EOS 80D with 18-135mm Lens - $1,799 ($1,399 on sale!)
Nikon D7200 with 18-140mm Lens - $1,695.95 ($1,296.95 on sale!)

These cameras are the cheapest of Canon’s of Nikon’s “Semi-Professional” cameras. There are many features included in these camera that aren’t found in the two above, such as faster autofocus and faster burst-mode shooting. On top of that, the image quality and low-light performance of these cameras is easily above the others. If you are looking to purchase a camera for someone who wants to become a professional, start with one of these cameras, add in Professional Intensive and they’ll be all set!

To help you compare these six camera models, I’ve made a chart that compares some useful specification points for each model.

Camera Price Megapixels Auto Focus Max ISO Frame Per Second
Canon Rebel SL1 $699 18 9-Points 12,800 4 FPS
Nikon D3300 $646.95 24.2 11-Points 12,800 5 FPS
Canon Rebel T6i $899 24.2 19-Points 12,800 5 FPS
Nikon D5500 $796.95 24.2 39-Points 25,600 5 FPS
Canon 80D $1,799 24.2 45-Points 16,000 7 FPS
Nikon D7200 $1,695.95 24.2 51-Points 25,600 6 FPS
What about lenses?

All the cameras linked above are packaged with a lens. Unfortunately, the lenses that come in these kits are fairly low quality and many people will want to upgrade them in short order. When students ask me what camera/lens to purchase I always tell them to spend more on the lenses than the camera body. As technology improves, camera bodies get upgraded but lenses remain mostly the same. Spending a bit more on lenses makes sense because they will be used longer before becoming obsolete. Also, some lenses are manufactured to only work on crop-sensor cameras (like the ones listed above). If you plan on eventually planning on upgrading to a full-frame camera, any of your crop-sensor-only lenses will not work. Alternatively, some lenses are designed to work on both crop sensor and full-frame sensors. I would recommend sticking to these if you think you may upgrade.

If buying your lens and camera separately interests you, here are a few much nicer lenses that will be useful and current for years to come.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4- $399 ($299 on sale!)
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G - $446.95
Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS - $299
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM - $649 ($399 on sale!)
Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED - $496.95
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM - $1,099
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR - $1,096.95

Buying Used

Lastly, I’d like to talk about used equipment. If you are considering buying a camera for yourself or someone else and everything seems a bit out of your budget, consider buying used. There is a big market out there of used camera bodies, lenses and accessories. Checking places like eBay and Craigslist can be good. However, I would recommend looking at a company that knows a lot about the used equipment they sell. Two such places would be B&H’s Used Department and KEH Camera. Both are excellent and offer extremely good prices on slightly (or heavily) used gear. Both KEH and B&H clearly mark the condition of all used equipment so you know how well-used it is before you buy. Overall, I would say that about half the gear I buy is used and it’s a great way to get more for a lot less.

There are a lot of great camera and lens options out there, but we recommend these as great starter options that someone would happily use for many years. We hope this helped you narrow down your search for the perfect gift!

If you are having trouble deciding which camera is right for you (or them), feel free to give us a call at 800-394-7677. We would be happy to help you out!

Happy Holidays!


Forest Chaput de Saintonge

Forest Chaput de Saintonge directs Rocky Mountain School of Photography with his wife, Sarah. He has been immersed in photography since he was born. He grew up in Missoula and began taking photos with an SLR when he was seven years old. He started working for Rocky Mountain School of Photography at age 13. During his free time, he likes to become a master at new things, build stuff, run, hike, bike, photograph, and be an amateur astronomer. Forest has a BA in Astrophysics, just because. He really enjoys teaching and loves to help students understand concepts thoroughly. Forest has vast experience working with and teaching Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, and has worked many hours in the black and white darkroom.