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Digital SLR Camera: How to Get a Good DSLR Camera Cheap

Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Finding a Cheap Digital SLR Camera

My wife has wanted a digital SLR camera for years. SLR stands for "single lens reflex". SLR cameras allow you to see through the lens using the viewfinder or LCD screen- this way you can see exactly what image will be captured with your camera. SLR cameras also allow you to use interchangeable lenses such as telephoto lenses.

Digital SLR cameras use a digital sensor rather than film to capture the image. The resolution of digital SLR cameras keeps increasing, with sensors over 20 megapixels now available in the consumer digital camera market.

Get a Nikon D90 for under $300 on eBay

Get a Nikon D90 for under $300 on eBay

As the capability of digital SLR (DSLR) cameras has increased, the price has also come down significantly. You can buy a new DSLR camera for under $500 that includes a high quality lens and is packed with features.

One thing to watch out for: many digital SLR cameras are sold with no lens included. This is usually listed as a "camera body". If you buy a camera without a lens, you will need to spend $100 or more to get a high quality lens for your camera.

Is a cheap used digital SLR camera a good deal?

Is a cheap used digital SLR camera a good deal?

Find Cheap Used Digital SLR Cameras

My first thought on finding a cheap digital SLR camera was to check out used cameras. Lots of people buy expensive cameras or get one for a gift and don't end up using them much. Other people get a new camera and no longer need their previous camera. This creates a supply of used DSLR cameras, many in great condition.

A good thing about buying a used digital SLR camera is that many include lenses, camera bags, extra batteries, and other items along with the camera. Some people want to sell all of their camera stuff all at once. Buying a camera with accessories included can be a good deal.

I read some product reviews for cameras that are 5 to 8 years old- these are the ones likely to be easy to find for sale now. I picked a couple models that seemed promising: the Canon XTi and the Nikon D90. These were state-of-the-art, expensive cameras a few years ago. Used ones are cheap now.

Used Digital SLR Cameras on eBay and Craigslist

I found a supply of used Canon XTi and Nikon D90 digital SLR cameras on eBay. Some were selling for $125 (buy it now price) for the camera body! I found a Canon XTi Digital Rebel camera body with lens, extra battery, and other accessories in an auction. I bid $180 and set a maximum bid at $220. Unfortunately, I was outbid at the last second. The Canon XTi kit sold for $235. There are lots of used cameras for sale on eBay- I could have easily found a good deal had I persisted. The Nikon D90's on eBay were selling for quite a bit more than the Canon XTi's.

I decided to check for any used cameras on Craigslist. I found a Nikon D80 set with lots of accessories selling for $235. This seemed like a great deal, although the D80 lacks some features of a D90, but if it costs $100 less it may be worth some compromise. I also found some newer models like a Nikon D3100 kit with tons of accessories for $430.

Disadvantages of Buying a Used Digital SLR Camera

Before pursuing used digital SLR cameras further, I considered the disadvantages of buying a used camera:

  • Some older models do not provide real-time LCD display- you have to look through the optical viewfinder
  • Older digital cameras use slower memory and slower media- may cause lag
  • Older digital cameras do not support large memory cards
  • A used camera may have dust inside, reducing photo quality
  • SLR cameras have a fixed life in terms of the number of shutter snaps- they can wear out

My biggest fear was that I would spend a couple hundred dollars on a used camera for my wife and she would not like it because it was not responsive enough or because the LCD display does not show a live preview.

It is very frustrating to push the button and wait for your camera to respond. I once tried to photograph my son in marching band during a parade. They were not moving that fast, but by the time my camera took the picture, he had already gone by! I want a camera that can take several pictures per second and takes pictures right away when I push the shutter button.

I decided that buying a used SLR camera could be a huge waste of money unless you have a chance to try them out before buying one. I would be better off saving for a newer camera than buying an older camera that may not be as useful as we would like.

Get a Canon Rebel XTi camera body for $125 on eBay

Get a Canon Rebel XTi camera body for $125 on eBay

Cheap New Digital SLR Cameras

Next I focused on newer digital SLR cameras, designed within the past two years. These models support fast type 10 flash memory cards and have high resolution live preview LCD displays. Also, the response time is very fast.

However, money is important. I needed to find a cheap new digital SLR. I found a Nikon D3100 on clearance at Best Buy. Better yet, they were sold out. Why is that better? They still had the display model, and I asked if I could buy that. I figured I could save at least $50 off the clearance price of $450. The store manager said she would need to determine if the camera was provided by Nikon, or if Best Buy owned it and could sell it to me. In the mean time, I continued my research.

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The product reviews showed that the Canon EOS Rebel T3i was superior in almost every way to the Nikon D3100. Unfortunately the price of the Canon T3i at Best Buy was $550, and it was not a display model. I checked the price of the Canon T3i with lens on I had to click a button to reveal the price, which was under $450 and included free shipping.

The manager from Best Buy called to let me know that I could buy the Nikon D3100 display model, but I didn't even bargain. I had already ordered the Canon T3i.

Tips for Buying a Digital SLR Camera Cheap

  • There are great deals on used digital SLR cameras 5 to 8 years old on eBay and Craigslist. You can get a high quality digital SLR camera with lens for under $250
  • When buying an SLR camera make sure you understand whether a lens is included or not, and which lens you are getting
  • Try an older camera model in person to make sure it is fast enough and that the LCD display is adequate
  • You can find new digital SLR cameras designed within the past 2 years for just over $400
  • At stores, watch for open box returns and display models at a big discount
  • The extra price of buying a new camera may be worth it- you get a warranty and more features

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on January 14, 2014:

Tillsontitan, you can get a lot of camera for your money today. I also decided not to wait any more to get a digital SLR. Good luck with your Ti5!

Mary Craig from New York on January 14, 2014:

I went for the gold and bought the newer Ti5. I love it. I've been wanting one for years and kept putting it off so I justified the money by dividing it by the years I didn't have it and the years I will.

This was a very informative hub.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on January 10, 2014:

mylindaelliot, I enjoy sharing ways to save money! I didn't think I could afford a digital SLR camera and was pleasantly surprised that found a great deal.

mylindaelliott from Louisiana on January 09, 2014:

Thank you for the information and the tips.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on December 31, 2013:

susi10, my wife really likes the digital SLR camera! I have played with it too- I can't believe how much better the pictures look than ones I take with my cell phone or cheap digital camera. Happy New Year!

Susan W from The British Isles, Europe on December 31, 2013:

Great hub, Dr Penny Pincher! I have always wanted a DSLR camera but avoided buying one because of the high price. After this hub, I have learned that I can get cheaper ones too but with the same quality. I can now get a perfect camera for all my photography endeavours. Thanks for sharing this, I hope your wife liked the camera! Happy new year!

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on December 29, 2013:

cam8510, that's cool that you can use your old lenses with a new camera. I have an old film camera that probably cost a couple hundred dollars 20 years ago, but unfortunately the lenses are not compatible with new digital SLR cameras. Thanks for your comment.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on December 29, 2013:

This is a really helpful article DPP. I ended up buying a Sony so that I could use the old Minolta film lenses with it. I've been very happy, at least until I had to send it off to the factory for repair. I get it back tomorrow so all is well with the world.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on December 17, 2013:

Writer Fox, I gave the camera to my wife tonight as an early present so she could have it to take pictures over the holidays. She really likes it! Thanks for the comment and vote up.

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on December 17, 2013:

You certainly did your homework on this article! I appreciated your detailed review and suggestions and am sure others will, too. A DSLR camera is a perfect holiday gift because holidays are big picture-taking times. Hope your wife enjoys her camera. Voted up.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on December 13, 2013:

Kids crafts, yes this is a Christmas present for my wife- and it will be a surprise unless she sees this on the internet before Christmas morning! As you might expect, we currently have s cheap digital camera that is not very good. I am looking forward to playing with the new camera and getting some great pictures.

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on December 12, 2013:

I hope your wife will be happy with the new camera! Is it a gift for Christmas. I got a new camera two years ago and I love it! I must say it's so good that when I take a picture of some of my projects I can see the strings of hot glue on the picture.... that I can't see so easily with my eyes. So I often have to remove the little strings of glue and take the picture again! With my previous camera... the strings of glue would not have been visible! So for me it's definitely a sign of quality of the camera!

Thank you for sharing your adventure of choosing the right camera for your wife!

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