DSLR Camera Shopping for Novices: Oaxaca Summer 2011 Photo Expedition

Image of a Nikon D40x Digital SLR camera with ...

Nikon D40X -- May be able to pick-up used; no longer manufactured.

Yesterday, I had a question from a novice photographer interested in attending the Summer 2011 Oaxaca Photography Expedition: Market Towns and Artisan Villages. This would be his first trip outside the United States and he does not own a DSLR camera.  What should he buy based on what criteria?  Some people love their Canons.  Others love their Nikons.  On the last photo expedition to Oaxaca over the Day of the Dead, an avid photographer participant packed a Pentax.

Here is photographer and expedition leader Ms. Sam Robbins’ basic advice.  Feel free to add your own in the comment section.

Shopping Advice for a DSLR Camera from Sam Robbins:

If this is to be your first trip outside the States, I can’t think of a better place to go.  Oaxaca and the surrounding artisan villages are beautiful, peaceful, photogenic and filled with wonderful people.

I gather that you would like some information about a camera.  Certainly eBbay is a possibility depending on how much you know about cameras.  I would recommend checking B&H Photo at  Go their their Used department.  On the website there is a link for digital equipment.

I’ve just looked and there are a number of cameras that have lenses with them that look like good possibilities.  My suggestion would be to look there — always checking to be sure that the condition is a “9” or better.  Many of the cameras are refurbished and come with a warranty. B&H will stand behind its cameras.  Additionally, they will give you a full set of specifications and a list of capabilities for each camera.

On the other hand, as Norma mentioned, I’m not sure that you absolutely have to have an SLR — just as long as the camera does have some aperture and shutter controls.  And, as Norma mentioned, you don’t need previous photographic experience, or experience with a certain camera.  Part of the purpose of the workshop is to help people become more comfortable with their cameras and to become aware of what makes a good photograph.

I hope I have answered your questions.  Please feel free to email me if you have questions about what camera to bring.   I’m always happy to help.  I hope we’ll see you in Oaxaca.”

Note from Norma about choosing and buying a DSLR camera and lenses: Two years ago I purchased a Nikon D40x camera on eBay for $325 that came with the basic 18mm-70mm lens.  It was New In Box with no warranty because it came from Canada.  It’s been a great camera for me.  Was I lucky?  I don’t know.  I’ve shopped on eBay with success.

Last year, I bought a used mid-range telephoto lens from B&H when my camera dropped and the lens broke.  It was the wrong one for this camera (no built in auto-focus) and I returned it without a problem.  I bought the right one, an 18-105mm, also used, rated 8+ and it has performed beautifully.

There are several online sites that evaluate, assess and rank digital single-lens reflex cameras.  I recommend reading them to do your homework.  It really depends on how much you want to invest, too.


Thom Hogan is a writer and photographer who reviews Nikon cameras and lenses.  His Web site is comprehensive and easy to understand.

CNET DSLR Buying Guide offers an explanation of the DSLR camera and hybrids, along with a comparison of available brands and models.

Take a look at Digital Photography Review for another site to help you evaluate and make your selection.

2 responses to “DSLR Camera Shopping for Novices: Oaxaca Summer 2011 Photo Expedition

  1. Hi guys,
    I am in Oaxaca for a few months and I would have loved to have attended the photo expedition led by Sam Robbins. Having traveled the world extensively, I can say that Oaxaca is one of THE most photogenic places I have been in the world. The people are amazing and Im sure everyone on the expedition will find it both informative and very inspiring!

    I am a photographer by trade, which is part of the reason I am here, and I have bought camera’s from various sources, including Ebay, and have been lucky enough to have had no problems. I would like to share a couple of points though if Sam and Norma don’t mind?

    1. If you can afford a higher end DSLR, try and buy it from a camera specialist. They will provide you with expert advice, a warranty and you can usually go back to them on a regular basis for free cleaning and servicing. Building a relationship with them will also mean you will get future discounts.

    2. Don’t forget to itemise your purchase on your travel insurance incase of breakages, lose etc. Some policies will only cover electronic equipment up to a certain amount, so check and make sure this amount covers your equipment.

    3. A lot of people think optical zoom is important, but, in my opinion you should not pay too much attention to the optical zoom specs when making a purchasing decision because when you use optical zoom you take away from the quality of the image (the resolution). Its more important to look at the number of megapixels (anywhere from 8 up is good, you don’t need to go really high unless you intent to make very large prints), lens quality/range and weight.

    4. For those not planning to make a career out of it – you don’t need a high-end model (unless you really want one!!), go with what feels best for you but I would say if you choose a compact camera, make sure it has a good stabilisation system and its sturdy. Also make sure that they throw in the battery, charger, protective case and a good memory card. Often they will try and charge you extra for these. If you can afford a second memory card, get it! Always handy when your traveling.

    5. For those more serious – if you are going high end consider shooting in RAW and Jpeg, so make sure that the camera supports both formats. Because my eyesight is not the best, I find the number of focus points on the sensor very important, the more the better for us blindies!!!! When choosing my “main” camera, I even sacrificed megapixels for more sensors…….but if you have good eyesight, no need! Also, for the super serious, its time to go Full Frame, its the way of the future, and fantastic for electronic processing, publication and exhibitions.

    6. Finally, Oaxaca is pretty dusty so don’t forget your lens cleaning equipment!

    Happy shooting, and good luck to all!!! Thanks to Norma and Sam for offering such a great program!!


    • Kerryn, I can’t begin to thank you ENOUGH for your great advice and recommendations. This is all very valuable for any would-be traveler to Oaxaca who wants to tote their camera. And, this is particularly important information for those who are considering attending our summer photo expedition. I am completely blown away that you took the time to write at length about what you think would benefit folks as they travel to Oaxaca. Saludos y abrazos, Norma

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