There are certainties when you are a photographer and one of those is helping family and friends figure out what kind of camera to buy for their loved one as a holiday gift. Admittedly, we love shopping for gear (especially when we are spending someone else’s money so, here are some suggestions that we hope will help you navigate what may be unchartered waters.
Let’s agree that cameras do not take good pictures, people with camera do. Understanding that gear is only as good as the person using it. Do not run out and buy that Canon R5 ($3899 as of this writing) for a newbie - buy something less expensive and let them grow into it. If you have a basic understanding of composition and light, you can take great photos with an inexpensive camera. With that in mind set your budget, stick to it, and know that you are helping someone develop a talent.
Once you set your budget do not fall into the brand trap. We shoot Canon thanks to the AE-1 that I learned on over 40 years ago, we stick with Canon because of the very significant investment we have in Canon glass. In spite of the good natured rubbing that we throw the direction of those that use something else; entry level cameras are all pretty balanced in what they can do. Unless you have access to a kindly photographer that will let you connect share glass, do not get sucked into the brand wars.
Once you do pick a DSLR, if you have budget leftover, we like to encourage you to help your photographer invest in some glass. Sure, the body will likely have a lens on it and there is nothing wrong with what a kit lens can do. If you have the opportunity, then we suggest purchasing a “prime” lens. Unlike a zoom that covers a range of focal lengths (which lets you go from a wide through zoomed without the photographer having to move), these lenses are a fixed focal length. As my Dad used to say, “your feet are your zoom”. These also have a wide range of prices however, if there was one lens to rule them all, it would be our “nifty-fifty” (Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 - currently $125). This is capable of delivering super sharp images and is small enough to stay on the camera all the time (useful if you didn’t get a kit lens). If we had to pick between good glass and a lower end body, we will always pick quality glass.
Bottom line; don’t break your bank, don’t buy into brand hype, and invest in glass over a body. There are a myriad of choices but, we know you can get through it.