'What's the best buy to shoot my son's sports?'

My buddy called me from Best Buy last week looking for advice. He was interested in buying a camera for the holidays and needed someone to help him make sense of the retail store information overload.

I get these kinds of calls about cameras all the time, just as I’m sure plumbers get calls about leaky faucets and accountants about taxes. My cousin, who is a lawyer, regularly hears from me when I have vexing legal issues.

I actually enjoy the opportunity to talk camera, so I don’t mind the inquiries. Besides, photography won’t flood your basement or invite an IRS audit. This is fun work.

Here’s what my friend wanted:

  • A camera that was going to be simple and easy to use;
  • One that would allow him to shoot his son’s sporting events using rapid bursts;
  • He didn’t want to have to keep changing lenses; and
  • He expected to spend around $1,000.

Here’s what I suggested:

  • Get an entry-level DSLR. If shooting rapid-fire sporting events is a priority, you’re going to need the performance of a DSLR. You don’t have the shutter lag you find in compact cameras, and the performance will be much better if you hope to get great sports pics of the kids.
  • If you are going to buy a DSLR, start with Nikons and Canons. They are the best in the camera business and have the widest array of models for just about every situation. You’ll also find they have the widest choice of lenses and accessories.
  • If you are looking for a camera that will get outstanding photos without a lot of fuss...and under $1,000...both have entry-level options that will more than fit the bill. Nikon just released its D3100, and Canon’s T2i has been a consumer favorite for a while now.
  • If you don’t want to fuss with lenses, skip the kit lens that comes with the camera and get an 18-200 mm lens. That range covers 95 percent of everything you will ever shoot, so you will never need to swap it out to get closer or farther away from a subject. Both Nikon and Canon make 18-200 mm options (Nikon 18-200 mm/Canon 18-200mm) that are much better constructed than their kit lenses. You can also find third-party manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma who make that lens for Nikon and Canon mounts. If you can, go with the camera manufacturer’s lens, however. Consider this an investment. You’ll want to change cameras in about three years, but you will keep your lens forever.

Can you get this for $1,000?

It depends. B&H Photo Video, a favorite camera store of mine, lists the Canon T2i with kit lens at $749. That gets you up and running if you need to stay within your budget. If you have flexibility, add the 18-200 mm lens. Canon’s version runs $595, Tamron sells for $289, and Sigma offers theirs for $249 and $329. Given those options, your ideal Canon outfit can run between $1,038 to $1,344.

Nikon’s D3100 retails for $639 at B&H, and the Nikon 18-200 mm lens sells for $759. Nikon is running a special promo, however. If you buy the 18-200 mm lens with a camera, you get a $250 instant rebate. That brings your total to $1,148. It’s hard to beat a deal like that.

My bottom line to him -- take a hard look at the Nikon D3100 with the 18-200mm lens deal. It gets you all the features you wanted in a camera and lens, and you will take amazing photos once you’ve taken my class.  (Couldn't resist the gratuitous plug.) :-)