There are numerous ways you can go about this, but I do have a few suggestions that you may want to consider. I figure I'll state them all, though some will no doubt be rehashes of what others have said, for the sake of consistancy.

  • If you're wanting to learn all there is about photography you want a fully manual camera or a camera that allows you to have full control over everything easily. Your cheapest bet is going to be to find the older fully manual SLRs or aperture priority models. New SLRs with digital readouts can be a pain in the ass. Cheap "entry level" SLRs (at least the one that I started with) can be fully auto only.
  • Start your lens collection with the fastest normal prime you can afford. Normal (IMO) is anywhere from 35-50mm. Getting yourself used to one lens first will help the learning process out a bit...and, unless you're doing nature or sports photography, you really don't have that big of a need for a zoom starting out. The faster the lens, the less situations where you won't be able to use it. I would suggest nothing slower than F/2 and recommend f/1.4 if you can swing it.
  • Consider carefully what you want to shoot. Your next lens purchases will have a lot to do with what you want to photograph. If you want to do portraits, consider an 85mm, 105mm, or 135mm lens. If you want to shoot landscapes, consider something wide such as a 20mm or a 24mm. Nature photography (animals) often takes very long lenses as does sports photography.
  • Note that the camera body is only the carriage for your film. It's the lenses that you really want to worry about. They are what make or break the photo when it comes to the equipment. Always, always, always buy the best glass you can afford and, if you can possibly wait and save up to buy something, get the better glass over the cheap stuff starting out.
  • Start with color film or C41 black and white and work up to regular black and white. Why? Regular black and white can be expensive to get processed correctly by labs and you should know what you're doing with an SLR before you attempt to develop your own film. Developing yourself is a very rewarding process but it has a learning curve greater than that of better film cameras. The local Wal-Mart can do relatively good color film developing; the local one hour can do it at a higher price. The only way I'd suggest using black and white film is if you have access to a good lab.


SLRs are a lot of fun and a great learning experience. I went to using rangefinders, but I have to say that I miss my Nikon FE and I plan to get another one soon.