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Engineering Student
Hello all,

For those who are just getting into railroad photography, don't be discouraged by others who have massive telephoto lenses and expensive DSLR's. You can take great photos with "beginner" DSLR cameras like the Nikon D3400 or Canon Rebel T6i. Heck, even your phone works! Sony and other manufacturers are now making competitive mirrorless cameras rivaling the traditional SLR we've become so accustomed to as well. Consider renting or borrowing before making the break. Lowest price beginner DSLR cameras run at about $400. But remember to factor in other costs such as spare batteries, hoods, bag, clear or polarized lens filters/protectors, and new lenses to broaden your range.

In my bag, I have a Nikon D3300 for video and a Nikon D3400 for photos. Including all equipment I'm about $1500 in the hole! Do I want the top-of-the-line Nikon D5 full frame camera? Yes, of course! Can I afford it? No, I'm in college!

Here is a sample photo from the Nikon D3400, Nikon AF‑S DX Zoom‑Nikkor 55‑200mm lens:


Forum Host
Staff member
First of all, great photo, please consider posting that in the photo gallery as well! I would much appreciate that.

Secondly, I totally agree with you. The difference between a $500 Nikon and a $3,500 Nikon is what it can do when pushed to extremes. For example, how fast will it focus lock? How many frames a second will it shoot, how large is the sensor and what dynamic range does it have? If you're taking photos under normal conditions, it can be hard to justify the price difference.

I compare it to buying a car. If you're commuting to work and picking up groceries, you don't need a Ferrari. For that matter, you probably don't want one, they're not exactly loaded with trunk space for that trip to Home Depot. For what a typical railfan photographer does, a mid range camera and kit lenses will work just fine. I've had photos published that I took with the Nikon D40X and the 18-55 kit lens.

Use what you have available, learn on it, and you'll know when it's time to upgrade. When you reach the point your existing gear can't do what you need to do, then you look at getting better gear.

Oh, and invest in good glass. You'll change camera bodies during your career, say every 5 years or so, but a good lens can stay in your bag for a very long time.

Do I want the top-of-the-line Nikon D5 full frame camera?
Given my choice, I'd buy the Nikon D850 instead. Cheaper, and better for the work I do.

Another handy trick for new photographers on a budget? Buy good quality used gear from a reputable dealer. Everything that made that camera totally cool when it was brand new is still there. You won't have the latest and great feature, so maybe it won't shoot 4K, or doesn't have a touch screen, but they don't suddenly turn to junk the moment the next version is released.
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Forum Host
Staff member
On a related note. Pretty much any DSLR camera you own can take a photo like the bridge photo Alex posted. Long exposure photography does not require expensive gear. Typically you shoot at a low ISO, so noise isn't factor. You can also do just fine with your lens set at f8, so you don't need "fast glass" and in fact you don't want to shoot at F2.8 most of the time, as you'd get shallow depth of field. Sometimes that's useful, but often it's not.

What you need most for a photo like this is skill and technique. A good composition, a rock solid tripod, the ability to trigger the shutter without vibration (use a cable release or self timer mode) and the knowledge of what setting to use, since you'll be shooting on manual mode. It's a challenge, but it's a challenge you can accomplish with just about any camera. All you need is the ability to shoot in Manual.


Forum Host
Staff member
Thanks, I think it explains it well. The difference between various cameras in the same lineup can be subtle. Last summer, I had recently purchased the Nikon D500, and was at a Rennaisance Faire shooting a joust. Another one of the Faire's photographer's was standing next to me, and we were talking gear, as often happens. He said "Hey, you bought the D500? I've been looking at that, do you like it? Why did you buy it?" The first two horses entered the list, and I pressed the shutter. The camera sounded like a machine gun at 10 frames per second. I didn't have to try to get lucky and capture the instant that the lances met the knights, I just had to track the riders and keep focus lock. Some things you simply don't have the reaction time to catch exactly right, and you need the speed. So in a case like that, 10 frames a second is useful. After hearing how fast it shot, he said 'I'm going to order one tonight!" He had it the next weekend. :)

However, for a railfan photographer, you can often line up the shot, you know exactly where the subject will be, and wait until the framing is right. That can be a case of "One and done!" and you don't need a camera that can shoot fast, or an expensive memory card that can handle speed the images are coming in at. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to