What's the best DSLR for photographing children?

Today, we're going to look at the best DSLR for photographing children. 

NOTE; This post was last updated on the 15th November, 2013

So, you've read the post "Do I need a DSLR?" , decided that you are feeling limited by your point and shoot and that the time has come to part with your hard earned cash and get a DSLR. You've had a look around, found an amazing array of cameras on the market, boasting higher and higher megapixels, and an even vaster range of lenses with different focal lengths and aperture numbers.....but which one should you get?? Is here one that is best suited to photographing children? And which lens with which camera? I know how confused you may feel because I've been there! In truth, it's a difficult question to answer because it all depends on what your budget is and what you intend using your camera for.  However, as this site is focused on how amateur photographers can take better photos of their kids, I'll be able to give you some ideas based on what I went through!

The first thing to look at is which manufacturer to go for. The two top names in DSLR's are undoubtedly Canon and Nikon. I'm not saying that other manufacturers don't make great cameras, they do, it's just that Canon and Nikon are the most highly respected and widely used, and therefore have the largest amount of lenses available (including ones made by third party manufacturers). Go with one of these and you won't go wrong.

There are a few features and capabilities that you are going to want to look at when deciding on the best for you - these are megapixels, ISO capabilities and frames per second.  Megapixels relates to how large you can print your images, but you don't really need anything over 12 megapixels - this will easily allow you to print up to A2 or 16" x 20" with no problems (or even larger) so don't be fooled into thinking a larger number is better. As for ISO, higher ISO capabilities is useful if you intend to take photos in low light, which includes indoors. Generally, the more expensive the camera is, the less noise you will get when taking pictures with higher ISO numbers - full frames handle noise much better than crop frames. Frames per second (shutterlag) is how fast your camera can take pictures (most point and shoots can be quite slow and is often a reason for people wanting to upgrade to a DSLR) and is a key one for photographing children. Obviously, the higher the number the quicker your camera can take the images.  Even the entry level DSLR's will be much quicker in this regard than your standard point and shoots.  Lastly, the auto focus system. As you go up the models, each of these attributes get slightly better, and the price goes up too.

Here is a brief rundown on the Canon DSLR's currently available (I'm just going to look at Canon cameras, but you will find an equivalent with Nikon if that is your DSLR of choice) and their approximate prices to give you a guide to how much you are likely to pay.

Canon EOS Rebel T3  Body Only $289
Canon EOS Rebel T3i Body Only $499
Canon EOS Rebel SL1 Body Only $549
Canon EOS Rebel T5i Body Only $649
Canon EOS 60D  Body Only $699
Canon EOS 70D  Body Only $1099
Canon EOS 6D Body Only $1899
Canon EOS 7D Body Only $1499
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Body Only $2850

You have the option to buy the camera with a kit lens or body only. I would strongly recommend that you pass on the kit lens as these can actually take poorer quality photos than a high end point and shoot. These also do not have a very good aperture range, which you'll want and need to get lots of light to take better images. So take the cash that you would have paid for it and put it towards a better lens - there any many affordable options out there that will serve you much better. If you are trying to stick within a budget, I would suggest getting a better lens and cheaper body, for the following reasons. You will notice a much bigger difference between your point and shoot and your entry level DSLR with a better lens, rather than a better body with the kit lens.  Plus these will stay with you if you choose to upgrade the body so is a more worthwhile long-term investment.  Overall, go for the best body you can afford, without sacrificing lens quality.

My personal recommendation? Well, of course it all depends on budget. For a beginner, you might be well served by the Rebel T3i. This is a great entry level DSLR and will be miles better than your point and shoot.  This was my starter camera and it served me well, and was wonderful to work with as you get the basics down.  The downside is you might want to upgrade reasonably quickly, depending on how fast you learn.

If you have extra cash to spend (bearing in mind your lens cost) then you might want to consider the 70D   You will probably appreciate the extra capabilities as you progress - but one of the main plus points of this camera (in my opinion) is the frames per second - it can take 7 fps which means it is great for fast moving kids.  It will still be suitable for beginners.

If you want a camera that you can grow into and will be more than you need to start out with, I recommend going for a full frame camera. This handles noise much better and will serve you well when shooting indoors. The 6D is great camera to start you in the world of full frame, and you can grow into it and use it for many years.

Lastly, the 5D Mark III is aimed at professionals, and has a superior auto focus system, and a full frame sensor. I would suggest that this is too advanced for beginners as you the range of options will probably just confuse you. However, I have this camera and can heartily recommend it - but I did all my learning on a Rebel T3i.

The next post will be about lenses, where I'll try to explain what the numbers mean, and which lenses are good for photographing children. Until then I hope this helped with trying to narrow down the options out there for the best DSLR for YOU!

If you would like to see what I personally use, you can take a peek inside my camera bag here.

NOTE; This post was last updated on the 15th November, 2013


Jen said...

Great blog! I was wondering if you could help me decide which camera to upgrade too. Currently I have a XT Rebel, a EFS 17-85mm 4-5.6 and a 50mm 1.8 . I am an amateur photographer who wants to learn more and get better. I photographing my children and this current set up is frustrating because I tend to shoot indoor in natural light. I was looking at the 60d but than thinking that maybe another Rebel will be great. I am also interested in a better lens. What are your thoughts? Thanks in advance!! :)

Audrey said...

Tough call between the Rebel T3i and the 60d for low light as they are pretty much the same - cropped sensors don't really handle noise terribly well - you need to go full frame for that. (However, The 60d has more cross type focus points which may be helpful to you) with a cropped frame I would make sure that the lens can stop down to a low aperture to let in more light. You have a choice of zooms or primes like your 50 f1.8. Zooms are much more flexible but generally only stop down to f2.8 - the Tamron 28-75 f2.8 is a great lens for a good price. Alternatively you could go for another prime, the Sigma 30mm F1.4 might be a good option for you as it lets in more light with the 1.4 aperture, plus the 30mm is a great length on a cropped body for indoor shots. (you get canon versions of these two lenses which are fantastic - all depends on your price range!) hope that helps!

Jen said...

Thanks for the advice! I also came across a used 5D coupled with the 24-105L and that is also very tempting! Just not too sure about going used.

Audrey said...

Was it a 5d mki or mkii? Mkii and I'd be very tempted! Try to find out how many acutations it has (number of times the shutter has been depressed) as they have a certain number before they can start to degrade (although many go for longer!) I can find out number for you if you're interested. In some ways I wish I'd gone for a used mkii but I know what you mean, you have to be a bit more careful!

Audrey said...

Forgot to mention that the 5d being full frame will handle noise much better than a rebel or 60d so might be better for indoor shots...

jen said...

It was a mki so after really thinking about it I think I will pass on it. I will stick with the 60d and put some money into a good lens and some lighting. Do you think I am better off with a 24-70 or 17-55 considering I will be using a crop for portraits? Thanks again for your advice!!

Audrey said...

On a full frame, the ideal portrait length is 85-135, so on a crop this would be around 50-85 so I would say the 24-70 would be ideal. That covers the portrait focal lengths and will also allow you to pull back a bit and do full length too. Let me know what you get!

Jen said...

I got the 60d and looks like I might actually get a Canon 24-70 I found a great deal on a used one. Thanks again for all your advice!! :)

Katie Cahill said...

TOP PRO TIP : If you're not interested in video then go for a used Canon 5D Mark 1 with a later serial number, that way it will have a better screen than the original and the mirror should be better too and the IQ will be much better than most other Canons with the weak 5D Mk 1 anti-alias filter:-)
Michael McGrath, veteran Irish Pro.

dslr canon said...

So when looking at the speculations of a lens, really consider the details of it! Keep in mind the zoom range (how far can you zoom in and how far out can you zoom out), the depth of field (a deep depth of field means most or all of your image will be in focus, even when zoomed in) and any special needs you have or special additions the lens can offer (a lens designed to work in low-light like the Sony Alpha SAL50F14, for example).

Paula said...

Audrey - I am thrilled at the info on your blog! This is such a great starting place. I am a newbie to DSLR, but as you said above, the T3i might mean we'd want to upgrade quickly, and I'd rather find an intro camera that I can stick with for a long time. I'm mainly interested in shooting my own quick kids at low-level light inside at home and school parties/functions/plays, or outside action shots/sports. I will do some personal portraits too, but I can probably make do with whatever else I get.
Looking at specs on the T3i, it looks like it does 3.7fps - I assume this is a reasonable rate for kiddos as well? One of my biggest issues with my P&Ss was the lag in between pictures... but borrowing my uncle's new DSLR, there was a long time in between pics too (lagtime as it's waiting to display the just-taken pic so I can check it and take another). I saw this reported on some Amazon reviews of the T3i and other DSLRs as well. Oh so frustrating to have the same issue with the DSLR as with the P&S! Is this still a common issue on a lot of the dslrs, or is it more likely because we're looking at the lower end, or because of using it as a glorified p&s with auto-settings?
Other than being interested in the T3i after reading your comments, I've been interested in the Nikon D5200. Do you have any experience or specific comments about that one?
I've also looked at your post on lenses, but as a beginner I'm even more overwhelmed about those (and the specs on those seem even more important). I'd love a lens that works well indoors - again either in the home or school party/play type settings. It seems the zoom lenses are much more expensive, but swapping out seems like a pain too - and with moving kids, how important is the zoom vs focus? Can you make a suggestion of a starting lens or two for me here?

The Stuckey's said...

Question. Would you buy a Canon t3i or a Canon t4i...the T4i is available from the canon loyalty program and didn't know if you may have an opinion. I had a canon XSI and it has died....I shoot a lot of sports for my kids

Audrey said...

Hi there, if you shoot a lot of sports then I would suggest getting the T4i rather than the T3i. The reason is that the T4i has nine cross type focus sensors, whereas the T3i only has the central focus point as cross type - this should help you get more shots in focus. It also has a higher burst rate, meaning you can take more shots per second without experiencing shutter lag, again a big plus when shooting action sequences. I hope this helps!

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