This is the time of year I start getting questions from spouses or parents, "My wife/husband/offspring is really interested in photography. What equipment should I get them for Christmas?" AWESOME question! Let's answer it here.
Please remember these are all just my opinions, NOT scientific fact. And hey, you get what you pay for with free advice. :)
So first let's address Nikon vs. Canon. This is like Samsung vs. iPhone. Is one really better? Probably not. Does one have an easier learning curve? Yup. The Canons are just more user-friendly, more intuitive. So , yes I recommend that those starting out choose Canon.
Moving on. Camera bodies. Nowadays, the technology in cameras is wicked awesome. Your entry level cameras (Canon Rebels) are going to serve you a long, long time, even if your skills go up exponentially in the next three years. (come to my classes, they will). DSLR cameras are one of the few technologies that you can invest in and actually keep using for at least five years. Try saying that about your cell phone.
Having said that, the last few Canon Rebels have wifi and I suggest that it is worth the upgrade. That way you can be on that family camping trip, take an killer photo, and your teenager can immediately upload it to their phone via the wifi and post it on their social media platform of choice. Pretty. Dang. Awesome.
There are other bells and whistles that separate the different Rebel 5, 5i, 6s. But honestly, wifi is the only upgrade that's truly noticeable and usable in my opinion. Go for the 5i if that's your budget, still a great camera. If you can afford the wifi, make the jump.
So that would put you up to the Rebel t6i and t6s. There's a $300+ jump between the 6i and 6s and it's not in the hardware. It's in the usability. There's an extra dial control and an extra setting screen on top like my fancy-shmancy camera. Is that worth the extra $$? I'll let you be the judge. Personally I'd spend the extra dough on a fabulous lens.
Which brings us to the next choice. Buy a kit, which means a camera body + a kit lens? Like here? Or buy a camera body + a better lens? Well, you're asking a photographer here people, so I'm going to tell you get the better lens! Their enjoyment will be exponentially increased, especially when they really learn how to use that camera and lens to their fullest potential.
Buying the kit lens is fine. But when someone takes the time to really learn how to use their camera, their very first thought, is "I need a cool lens". Because that's what the camera does, it magnifies the creative ability of the lens.
So my first favorite lens is the 50mm 1.8. It's called the "Nifty Fifty" for a reason. Using this very affordable lens was my entry into a love affair with photography. The light bulb went on and I finally realized how everyone else was getting those awesome shots with the "blurry background". (It's called bokeh, use it, they'll be so impressed.) I used the Nifty Fifty for a solid year before I upgraded and I never went back to my kit lens.
Now if the primary source of your photography is actions shots on the sports field, then you need a telephoto lens with some oomph. Then maybe, a kit lens MIGHT be worth it. Message me and we'll talk details.
If your recipient already has their camera and lens of choice, make sure they have a great bag. This is my current fave. But really that's only for carrying around multiple lenses. If they just have the one body and one lens, any cushiony bag that fits will do. My good friend bought a cute purse and made cushy padding for the inside. So cute!
And don't forget to make sure they have at least two memory cards. 8 gb is more than enough space to start, but the more important thing than size is the write speed. Best Buy sells 15x write speed. Slower than molasses. My last card purchase was a 95x write speed. Never miss a shot, baby! Now you don't need that fast but seriously, don't go below 45x. Sandisk is my brand of choice.
Lastly, you'll notice my links take you to an online retailer B&H Photo. They're my favorite photography retailer. They're huge and yet at heart, a Mom and Pop photography store in NYC. They are run by an orthodox Jewish family and close their website on their Sabbath. I just kind of like that. Similar prices to Amazon so that's always on option as well. I just really like stellar customer service and a face behind the name. And no, no kickbacks for any of these links. Just stuff I totally recommend from a retailer I love.
Questions? Let me know! And don't forget, a great tag along Christmas gift to any of this is a gift certificate for one of my Photo 101 and 202 classes. The camera won't sit collecting dust in January if they actually know how to use it. Good luck!