An enduring theme on 35hunter has been photography on a budget.
The ongoing costs of film processing and scanning make it unsustainable for some (myself included), so I’ve also written about digital options, such as how to enjoy a year of photography for less than £1 a month.
In the first three months of these year as part of my One Month, One Camera project, I used three different digital compacts, which each cost £15 or less. Since then, I’ve also enjoyed a FujiFilm FinePix S7000 and unexpectedly rather marvellous Samsung NV10, in which I invested £12 and £5 respectively.
But these are all compacts. What if you want a DSLR?
Surely given their generally much greater capabilities and flexibility, and the fact that you need at least one lens, they can’t be seriously considered as an affordable option for the frugal photographer?
Well, I think they can.
Whilst you might struggle to pick up a DSLR for the few pounds that’d secure you a highly usable digital compact (or 35mm SLR), you really don’t need to pay all that much more.
I recently returned to using DSLRs after perhaps 18 months of using compacts almost exclusively, and the one that ticked most boxes on my checklist was the Pentax K30.
These were not cheap in their day (2012), at around £600, and mine was £150 in great condition and fully working.
A good deal I thought, but not in the same budget as we’ve been discussing in this post so far.
But, for reasons other than finding a dead cheap DSLR, I’ve also just picked up a Pentax K100D, slightly grubby but fully working, for just £26.
A quick clean and run through the basic functions, and it’s like I’ve been reunited with a trusted old friend.
Previously I’d found a Pentax-A 50mm f/1.7 lens, which are manual focus, but are compatible with open aperture metering and in camera aperture control, so can be used on all the usual PASM modes with Pentax DSLRs.
None of the stopping up and down and flicking of switches I’ve found too much of a compromise lately with M42 lenses.
The Pentax-A 50/1.7 was widely made, and offers, in my view, lovely images in a very classy and well built body.
Prices vary but you can grab one any day for around £20-30. Mine was £25 Buy It Now on eBay in near perfect condition.
With patience, you can expect to pay perhaps less than £20, perhaps less than £10.
Even cheaper are the 50mm f/2 versions, which still give very impressive results, and still have the A mode on the aperture ring to allow shooting modes in camera. These are certainly around for less than £10.
If you’re really strapped and the extra half stop of the 50/1.7 is irrelevant (and to be honest most of the time I’m between f/4 and f/5.6 with mine anyway), it’s a great option.
So for around £50 or less, a very capable and enjoyable to use DSLR, with a “fast 50” prime lens can set you up for hundreds and thousands of photographs.
If you need or want AF, a prime lens is likely to be a little more.
The also plentiful Pentax-DA 35/2.4 lenses are usually around £75 and its 50/1.8 sibling closer to £55. Both are excellent choices, in my experience.
They don’t have as solid build as the older A series, but they are lighter, and optically very good.
If you need a range of focal lengths, the standard 18-55mm kit zooms can deliver that convenience, and surprisingly great images.
These are super cheap these days, in the same region as the Pentax-A 50/1.7. Personally I’d rather have the manual focus 50/1.7 prime, but the kit zoom might be a better fit for your needs.
I’ve also bought a Pentax-F 35-70mm for around £20 too, which be all accounts are a step above the DSLR 18-55mm kit zooms, and have a very handy close focus (“macro”) at the long end. A very versatile lens for very little outlay.
Being something of a Pentax devotee, my focus here is on Pentax DSLRs and lenses.
But I know that, for example, Canon and Nikon also made bodies in this era with similar spec, which are now the right side of £50.
Indeed on eBay some of the Canons have gone for less than £10 recently – almost unbelievable given what they can do in the right hands – and Nikons in the low 20s.
I know very little about Nikon, but I do know that the Canon EOS DSLRs are easily adaptable to a huge range of other lenses.
Or, as with my Pentax, you can pick up a native EOS mount AF prime or a kit zoom for very little.
I hope this post has demonstrated that it’s not hard to set yourself up with an excellent and highly proficient DSLR and lens for £50 or less.
Though it might be more than the mere £12 I managed to invest in my old film photography set up of Canon EOS 500N plus Helios 44-2 lens, with the DSLR there are next to no ongoing costs.
With film plus processing at scanning costing at least £5 a roll these days, even if you spend a full £50 on your DSLR, you’ll still be shooting for nothing after that film set up has burned through a mere eight rolls of film before topping the same £50 investment.
Another ten rolls or 360 shots later and the film camera will have cost you double already.
There are other benefits in my view in using an older DSLR too, but I’ll leave that for another post.
Have you tried an older, cheaper DSLR set up with your photography?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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