Can you get started in Photography for under $500?

by | Business, Equipment

What do you need to get started in photography?

To get started you need the basic setup.

  • DSLR Camera Body
  • 50mm Lens
  • 2x Memory Cards
  • Lens Cleaning Kit

You could buy a camera bag, but you can easily get by without one with such a small amount of equipment. You might think getting a lens cleaning kit when you’re starting out is a bit over the top. It really isn’t, you should spray and clean your lenses before every shoot. The basic kit is a spray and a microfiber cloth.

I think you should buy at least two memory cards to start with.  Once you are shooting multiple times a week you’ll have many more than two.  Always buy the fastest memory cards you can afford for your camera.  When you are shooting 5+ images a second you need cards that can record them comfortably.

The 50mm 1.8 lens is the biggest bang for your buck if you shoot Nikon or Canon.  Starting out with a 50mm lens is a great way to learn your trade.  I promise that you will see an improvement in your image quality straight away.  This is the reason for my website being called 50mm Framework.

A good quality DSLR or a Mirrorless body is your most expensive buy.  Although Mirrorless bodies are out of your price range as we’re trying to stay under $500 for everything.  There are plenty of Nikon and Canon models available in the used marketplace, so finding one to fit your budget won’t be difficult.  When deciding on a model I think you are better to buy an older mid-range body than a newer entry-level one.

Canon entry-level bodies are the Rebel models T7, T3i, T5i, etc. Mid-range models are 60D, 70D, 80D, 90D, and the 6D/7D. Professional models are 5D and 1D. I think a 60D (2010) is a better choice than a Rebel T5i (2013).  The 60D is a bigger body and is a step closer to professional quality.

If you want to go with a Nikon setup do some research and decide on a couple of possible models.

Don’t get too stressed though, this is your first camera.  The longer you work in photography the quicker you’ll understand what you need next.

Why shouldn’t you buy an entry-level kit?

If you already have a camera and 18-55mm kit lens that’s OK. All you need is the 50mm 1.8, memory cards, and a lens cleaning kit.

Buying a kit with the 18-55mm lens isn’t the way to go if you don’t have a camera yet.  The 18-55mm isn’t suitable for professional photography.  It doesn’t have any low light capability and the variable aperture makes shooting in manual mode difficult.

Should you buy new or used?

Buying new won’t be possible as we are working with a $500 budget.  The cheapest new camera this week is the Canon T7 kit with the 18-55mm for $450 at B&H.  As the lens isn’t suitable, you would still need to buy a 50mm 1.8, memory cards, and a cleaning kit.

Your best bet is to buy used. There are a few dealers that sell used equipment in the States. They are Adorama, B&H, and KEH** who I am now an affiliate.  In Canada, there is Henry’s who I have bought 4 camera bodies from over the years.

How much will it cost?

I’ll start with the smaller stuff first.  The cleaning kits vary in price from $5.99 to $25.  All you need is a spray and a microfiber cloth. So let’s put the price at $10.

Next are memory cards.  Prices have fallen, so you can pick up a couple of 32 GB SD cards for $15 each. $30 total.

Used Canon and Nikon 50mm 1.8 lenses can be picked up for $100 – $120.  The new ones cost $125 for the Canon and the Nikon costs $132 at B&H.

If you spent $110 on the lens, $40 on the memory cards and cleaning kit you have up to $350 to spend on your camera body. For $350 you can get an excellent camera body.  In fact, you can pick up a great body for $250 and cut your outlay to $400 total.

How do you know that the used equipment is in good condition?

To make buying used equipment a safer proposition all of the dealers have a grading system.


Adorama uses a letter scale. The lowest rating you should buy is E-.  E- and all the ratings above will be great.

Adorama Used Equipment Ratings –
  • N ~ “New” never used.
  • D ~ Little to no signs of wear.
  • OB ~ “Open Box” may have been used for display in our store.
  • E+ ~ Slight wear, only visible under close inspection.
  • E ~ Shows signs of light usage, LCD may have slight blemishes.
  • E- ~ Shows signs of moderate wear, LCD may be scratched.
  • V ~ Appears well used and has scrapes, dings, and scratches.
  • G ~ Heavily used, has scrapes, dings, and scratches. Functions correctly.
  • F ~ Item works with certain malfunctions. Read comments for details.
  • X ~ Parts only sold as-is.




KEH** – Don’t go below a rating of EX

KEH Used Equipment Ratings –
  • N ~ “NEW” As packaged by the manufacturer, not previously owned or used by a consumer
  • LN ~ LIKE NEW” means the equipment is 99 to 100 percent NEW.
  • LN- ~ “LIKE NEW MINUS,” equipment is at 97 to 99 percent of the original condition.
  • EX+ ~ “EXCELLENT PLUS” rates 90 to 96 percent of the original condition.
  • EX ~ “EXCELLENT CONDITION.” 80 to 89 percent of the original. Shows moderate wear
  • BGN ~ Priced to sell, “BARGAIN” items are 70 to 79 percent of original condition.
  • UGLY ~ The look only a photographer would love. Equipment is of rough quality.
  • AS-IS  ~ Useable for parts only. Equipment may or may not work. No warranty or return privileges.



B&H – A rating of 8+ and above is where you want to be looking.

B&H Used Equipment Ratings –
  • N ~ Brand new/never used, in original manufacturer’s packaging.
  • OB ~ Like new with open box and full manufacturer’s warranty or 1-year B&H warranty.
  • D ~ Never owned; used for demonstration purposes only.
  • R ~ Restored by the manufacturer to original factory specifications.
  • 10 ~ Pre-owned equipment that looks good as new; no signs of wear.
  • 9+ ~ Pre-owned equipment that shows little to no signs of wear.
  • 9 ~ Shows some signs of use; may exhibit minor scuffs or surface marks, looks very clean.
  • 8+ ~ Shows moderate wear, scuffing, or marks to finish.
  • 8 ~ Well used – may exhibit “dings” or noticeable marks to finish.
  • 7 ~ Shows considerable wear and above-average signs of use.
  • 6 ~ Serviceable, but exhibits significant cosmetic or mechanical imperfections.



Henry’s (Canada) – An 8 rating and above is your purchase zone.

Henrys Used Equipment Ratings – (Canada)
  • 10  ~ Has never been sold to a customer nor used.
  • 9  ~ 100% original finish, may not include original packing material or instruction books.
  • 8+  ~ 99 – 90% of the original finish.
  • 8  ~ 89 – 80% of the original finish.
  • 8-  ~ 79-70% of the original finish. flaws in the finish that do not affect functionality.
  • 7  ~ 69-60% of the original finish. Maybe scratched or scuffed, may show wear.



They all offer great warranties which makes your purchase of used equipment very safe. Buying from someone on CraigsList and hoping that the seller is telling the truth is a big gamble. The only times I have bought privately is when I could drive to the seller and check out the equipment myself. Even that doesn’t give you a guarantee and in 2 weeks the item could fail and you are out of pocket.

When you are looking to buy used equipment, give yourself a week to check out all the dealers’ sites.  Once you get to know the models available, do google searches and find out when they were first released and how much they sold for when new.  If you like two models and they were both released in the same year, go with the model that costs more when new.  The aim is to get the best camera you can for $350.  These dealers know camera equipment inside out and are not out to screw you over.  They want you as a long-term customer and guarantee you a safe purchase.  So don’t worry about buying used, it’s super safe.

Can I make money with this setup?

Yes, you can.  This setup puts you in a position to start shooting babies, families, some sports, cars/bikes, pets, headshots, and because of the 50mm 1.8 being able to shoot in low light the possibilities are endless.

If you market and price correctly this setup can catapult you into a very successful career.

When you are starting out you can use free editing software, although Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop is only $10 a month.  If you initially use Facebook or Instagram to market and after you get some money coming in set up a website and mailing list.

It doesn’t need to be expensive.