One of the most common questions I get from budding photographers is what equipment they should buy. Most of these people are owners of a relatively low-cost DSLR such as a Nikon D40 or Canon Digital Rebel that they bought with a kit lens. The cameras that come with these kits are great. Any digital SLR that is currently in production is capable of professional quality results, which is a big difference from even just a couple years ago. There are three problems that people have with these great little cameras. The first is that they don't really know how to use it, which is a much longer subject than I'm going to cover in this short blog post! :) The second is that the kit lenses basically aren't very good. And the third is that the little flash that is so handy on the top of the camera produces horrible light especially when used in the fully automatic mode.
Canon 35 f2.0, which is what I put on my daughters Rebel XTi.
Since problems two and three can be solved by throwing a little money at the problem and that is what this post is about. The first thing I recommend for any DSLR owner is to get something to supplement the kit lens. I recommend a 35mm or 50mm lens. These are excellent, cheap, small lenses. The big difference is that they let in so much more light into the camera. To give you an idea, the lower the number for the f-stop or aperture, the more light is coming through. A typical kit lens is Canon's 18-55 3.5-5.6. That means that at 55mm you are at f5.6. A 50mm f1.8 would let in around 10 times as much light. You could be creating photographs in 1/10 the light. That is a pretty incredible difference. It would also allow you more control over your depth of field, which means you can control what is in focus and what is out of focus. But that falls under "how to use" rather than "what to use".
Next is the flash. I hate on-camera flash for the most part and the built-in flashes on the little DSLR's are one of the worst offenders in the "unpleasant light" category. Photography is all about light, so having unpleasant light (unless you are doing it on purpose), is not desirable. The solution - a bigger flash that you can bounce with. That means, you can point it behind you or to the side to bounce off of a wall or ceiling rather than pointing it right at your victim. I'd say subject, but direct flash makes them more of a victim. :)
Here are the specific items that I can recommend. Lenses Canon 28 1.8, 35 f2, 50 f1.8, 50 f1.4 Nikon 35 f1.8 (just announced and not yet available), 50 f1.8, 50 f1.4 Sigma 30 f1.4, 50 f1.4 (I just bought it and I love it)
Canon flashes: 430EX, 580EX Nikon flashes: SB-600, SB-900
Almost all of this stuff is available through my new Amazon store on my website. Convenient, huh?