/ photography

Bulding a digital SLR System for under USD 2000 (Rp 20.000.000,00)

I'm talking here about a complete DSLR system, not a particular camera or lens.  Some compact point and shot camera may have more impressive zoom range, better lens or whatsoever.  However, why does most of professional stick on an SLR system instead convert to compact, range finder or others?  That’s because the SLR system has all they needs at a modest investment.  More at why do we need SLR system.

In order to save, you'll need to change your mind into something frugal:

Old DSLR is still useful! 

To gave you some proofs, you can ask the professional friends of yours, what camera did they use.  My professional friends shows that some professionals still use the old camera such as Canon EOS 20 D in real photo assignment.  And he is paid good money from it.  Professionals are different to amateurs or hobbyist.  Professional requires a money making tool which should never fail them, that’s why they need auto focus, accurate metering, and a fast tough lens so they can work across diverse conditions. 

For professionals, as long as the camera still can bring beautiful images they need at speed and ease, that’s enough for them, as spending on a newer camera means more working to get it paid back.

Have you ever saw a professional photographer works covering a wedding ceremony?  I bet you have.  Have a look at their camera, and you'll discover that professionals uses the old EOS 20D, EOS 30D, Nikon D70, D80 D100 or D200 and rarely use high end bodies such as EOS 5D or EOS 1D series or Nikon D3.

Why?  That’s because all they taught is economic benefits and costs.  Newer body cranks higher megapixel images, however for most thing they photograph will be enlarged only by 75 x 100 cm or 66 x 100 cm.  People do prints family photos big, however they rarely bigger than 1m x 1.5 m due to limited space of a house.  And they never get complaint from customer using those old cameras.

While I’ve seen a huge print of 2 metre x 3 metre in a close distance, which was made more than 3 years ago using a camera with 2005 technology and the picture is just sharp and nice.  As long as the camera is well maintained, camera's image output will not degrade or just degrade a little over time.  The image from any DSLR camera even the one from 2003 is good enough and out resolve our eyes at normal viewing distances.

Newer cameras has more features and better convenience.  However older camera still output the same image which will look the same on normal prints up to 1 m x 1.5.

Nobody but forensics are interested to see your printed image with a loupe for finding any technical defects.  Me, myself is very happy with my graduation photos printed 1.5 x 1m wide made using an old Nikon D70 back in 2005.

Enough talking now let's continue to the system

Start your own business

The system I describe here is adequate for 99 percent of my need.  I'll give more suggestion to upgrade which part whenever it's necessary, which will put the system more than the target price.

I’ll explain from what we really need in a camera system:

  1. Autofocus – all modern SLR had this
  2. Accurate metering – all modern SLR camera had this
  3. Accurate cropping – all properly tuned SLR camera is very accurate
  4. Instant shutter release – all SLR camera had this
  5. Ability to choose aperture priority and shutter priority (Av and Tv) – very important
  6. Fast operation with dedicated button to change White Balance, Exposure Compensation, Picture Style and ISO.
  7. Ability to use wide angle lens, telephoto lens and a fast lens

What is White Balance?

It used to define which white is called white.  It is the substitute of colour filter in the old film days.

What is Picture Style?

It is used to define the media's response to light, about the same as film choices.  Kind of film's image are bluish, some are reddish, that is what called by picture style.

That’s all the basic needs of a camera that you need, every other things are just gimmicks to sell more and newer camera at more expensive price. 

A good start is by choosing a good body.  We need a cheap body, 2nd hand bodies are fine, however new body are better, because they are under warranty.  If you wanted to get an 2nd hand body, make sure you find one almost unused and in a good condition.  Why? SLR shutter were rated for 100.000 cycles, and if you get a high mileage camera, you might kill it in a no time.  When it's out of warranty, you're out of luck.

For the 2000 dollar price point, we have no other choices but to use DX or APS-C system.  FX or FF system body only will costs at least 2000 dollars.  Moreover DX and APS-C already delivers a lot better image quality compared to point and shot camera.  It is a fact that a lot of award winning pictures came from an APS-C camera, and many professionals uses one!

I wanted to make my system as lightweight as possible.  Although some people consider me as heavyweight, I prefer to make my camera system as lightweight as possible, just as I prefer to date a lightweight girl.

A new camera usually offers a better technology, more accurate LCD, better control and ergonomics.  Since I prefer something lightweight, I will give you three body options EOS 1000D, EOS 500D, Nikon D5000 which are good starting bodies. 

They are lightweight, not expensive and offers heavyweight image quality.  Moreover, any of them will have better technical image quality compared to advanced compacts which costs even more expensive.

Option 1 

The standard 18-55 lens is good, however my experience shows that lens is my least used lens.  If you wanted to make it cheap, buy body only and get 18-200 lens instead plus a wide angle zoom.

Canon example

BodyEOS 500 D800 
Super zoom18-200 mm700 
Wide angle10-22 mm680 
Total 2180 

This system is still above the budget by USD 180, however you have a complete system that covers from 10 mm - 200 mm or 20x zoom with the convenient of two lenses.

However this system is limited due to only capable of shooting in daylight.  you'll still need a fast lens for low light photography anyway.

A fast 50mm normal lens is a good starting lens, which I wouldn't suggest since the price is over budget already.

You can replace the EOS 500D with EOS 1000D which costs only USD 600 and make the system just right on the budget.

Nikon system with similar configuration will costs and weigh about the same.

I have no super zoom to put as an example here

Option 2

Normal, Wide and Tele
A fast medium telephoto, a wide and a telephoto lens

My experience shows that the zoom range of 18-55 is the least used range, so you can omit the 18-55 range from the system by buy body only, 55-250 telephoto zoom, 10-22 wide and 50 mm normal.

BodyEOS 500 D800 
Telephoto55-250 mm250 
Wide angle10-22 mm680 
Fast lens50 mm 80 
Total 1810 

USD 1910 well under the budget, you can always bargain anyway to make the system cost USD 1900.  You can change the body to something lesser and save USD 300 to make it under the budget.

Three lenses and one body starts to be hassle if carried together, however it is enough.

Option 3

a normal and a wide
A fast medium telephoto and a wide angle

Buy body, 10-22 wide, 50 mm medium telephoto and you are good for shooting.

BodyEOS 500 D800 
Wide angle10-22 mm680 
Fast lens50 mm 80 
Total 1560 

These are my favourite combination today.  Lightweight but versatile.

You can always use a cheaper body to make the system cheaper :)

Option 4

a wide and telephoto
a wide and a normal telephoto

Buy body, 10-22 wide, 55-250 super telephoto

BodyEOS 500 D800 
Wide angle10-22 mm680 
Telephoto55-250 mm250 
Total 1730 

An ultra wide zoom and a telephoto zoom configuration is often used by a real professional on a photo assignment.  I believe this configuration is enough for shooting in a controlled condition (such as an outdoor wedding party).  However if you shot moving subject in the dark, you'll need to get a faster telephoto lens.

Two lens one body, a great setup!  You can buy two cheaper body to make a system of two camera, one with telephoto and one with a zoom which will save your nerves from swapping lens.

Option 5

Buy body + 18 - 200 and done!

BodyEOS 500 D800 
Super zoom10-200 mm700 
Total 1400 

One super zoom lens one body, however limited shooting condition of daylight only, add a fast lens on the setup and it is perfect

Option 6

A camera with kit 18 - 55 lens + 10 - 22 + 55 - 250 + 50 prime

Body + KitEOS 500 D + 18-55900 
Wide angle10-22 mm680 
Telephoto55-250 mm250 
Fast lens50 mm 80 
Total 1910 

This is the system that I currently own and use.  The fact is I rarely use the 18 - 55 kit lens anymore is the reason why on all of my suggestion - but number 6 - I advice to get body only and not kit lens.

What do I like

I love the option number 3.  Most of my shots now coming from the wide 10-22 and medium telephoto 50mm.  Weird, but true.  Your preference might be different.  One of my best friend prefer the number 5 system plus 50mm fast prime lens.  It suits him so much!

For me one lens is enough, two lenses are great, and 3 lenses or more are hassle.  Basically just one 50 mm lens is enough.  You can take good pictures with it.


With DX or APSC having a complete camera system is never been cheaper.  Don't bother with larger DX/APSC system, larger bodies will usually have faster FPS and more accurate focusing.  However in terms of image quality, they are almost the same. 

To make a technically better image, the real step up is to FX or FF system which is for the whole system will easily pass the 5000 dollar marks.

This system when cared properly will last for years and years.  Just don’t drop it on the floor or smash it to the wall.

Start your own business

Owning any of the camera and lens combination described on this page is enough to start your own photography business.

Photography business is a lot of money.  There are wedding and birthday party on almost every weekend, thousand of people graduates from university and high school once a year, teenage girls loves to be photographed on her birthday, conference and meetings which held almost everyday and the list is going on and on.  The market is huge.

The good thing is other photographer's time is limited, therefore they could only take one or two or at most three job a day, and this job can't be assigned since people pay photographer because he is the one who photograph.

People are willing to to pay if you can photograph them nicely whether indoor or outdoor.  Once they love to see your pictures and they love it, you'll get orders and you ask them to pay as you like.  That's it, because photography is an art, and an art is priceless.

A professional and a rich hobbyist

Once I attend a function and I saw my professional photographer friend was paid to cover the function.  He uses two camera, a Canon and a Nikon at once, probably shot at different setting.  A non L telephoto zoom was attached on the Canon, and a wide angle was attached on the Nikon.  A pro is not a brand fanatics, he chooses his tool on what he consider the tool which lets him to do his job best.

At one point my rich friend, who held the function, saw the photographer - also his friend - and he offers him to use his high end Canon and 70-200 L lens.  The photographer calmly refuses it.  A pro is confident with his skill and using other tool will force him to learn using and setting the camera to his own preferences and that means a missing shot.

At the end of the function, my rich friend only fire few shots from his High end Canon, and the pro fire hundreds of shots and most of them are excellent.

Shooting condition where the system can't be used

Shooting Formula 1 night race in Singapore.  It is a night race, so you'll need high ISO camera, fast lens and high powered telephoto lens with ultrasonic motor.

Fast lens and high ISO is a must since the camera needs to shutter very quickly, otherwise the 300+ Km/h F1 car will be blurry.

Fast AF motors is a must since the F1 cars are very swift and they could confuse your AF system. 

If you are going into this, you'll need to spend more money into high end lenses such as Canon 70-200 L f/2.8 IS USM.


This article is not an advertisement.  If this article made you people to think you must get a Canon, please don't do it.  Get whatever camera and lens you want.  The only reason I use Canon lens as a model is because I own only Canon lenses.  Then I use them just as a model and reference.  Therefore I deliberately not aligning the Canon logo on my lens, so people will not interpret that they must buy a Canon.