As Christmas approaches I’ve started to receive emails from readers who seem to mistakenly believe I am some kind of camera expert. :) I am most definitely not, although I do have some opinions regarding what cameras I think are the best bet for certain consumers. My recommendations for this post will all be Canon, as I think it’s a great brand and the one I’m most familiar with. I think Nikon has equivalents for each one of these, and certainly with point and shoots you can move to other brands as well, Panasonic, Sony, FujiFilm, etc. I, personally, think sticking with Canon or Nikon when it comes to dSLRs is your best choice because of the long-standing reputation of both companies, the amount of money they have which allows them to quickly develop new technology, and the wide range of accessories that work with those two brands.
If you’re really feeling lost about which camera will work best for you, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to go to a store and try it out for yourself. Hold it in your hand, put it in your pocket (just don’t walk out with it, no one should be blaming me if they get arrested for shoplifting), see if the response time will work for your needs. I think it can get overwhelming to go to an electronics store and see all of the choices, so make a list of what features are most important to you. Will you be shooting in lots of low light situations without flash? Is portability the most important feature for you? Do you want to be able to turn some of the settings to manual and have more control over what your photos look like? What’s the largest size you’ll ever be blowing up an image to, as often sensor quality is more important than a high megapixel count. Choose your top three most important features and find the camera that best fits those needs.
Point and Shoot
Pros: It comes in a variety of colors, 10 megapixels, compact, movie mode, and reviews say it’s very easy to use.
Cons: It’s not going to perform well in low light situations without the flash, and I think everyone with a camera (no matter what kind) should be using their flash the least amount possible.
I have the Canon G9, a fantastic little camera, and the G10 is great as well (and both went down in price after the G11 was released), but it’s the latest model, the Canon G11 that has photographers buzzing. I’ve even heard people claim they wouldn’t be afraid to shoot a wedding with this thing if their main body were to freak out during the wedding day. I think that’s a bit extreme (and you would look ridiculous shooting a wedding with a point and shoot), but it gives you an idea how much this camera is loved by pro photogs.
Pros: The ability to shoot completely in manual just like you would be able to do with a dSLR, 10 megapixels, gorgeous LCD, ability to flip the LCD out from the body making it perfect for self-portraits (you know I love that feature!), ISO settings ranging from 80-3,200. Macro macro macro! This thing has superb macro performance.
Cons: For that much money you really could get a dSLR which would give you the ability to buy and use different lenses (something that can’t be done with a p&s), rather expensive for a point and shoot, very grainy at the high ISO settings.
Entry Level dSLR
As everyone knows, I’m an avid hater of kit lenses and I highly recommend buying body only with any dSLR purchase and then buying the lens that works to meet your specific needs. I wish someone had given me this advice when I bought my first dSLR, as the kit lens is sitting in a corner of my closet, collecting dust, only having been used a handful of times.
Canon EOS Rebel XSi (body only)-$500
Pros: Fast, good battery life, bright LCD, 12 megapixels, 9-point autofocus.
Cons: Maximum ISO of 1600, feels a bit cheap in hand, continuous shooting mode of 3.5 fps, LifeView mode isn’t that great. It also is very noisy when the shutter is triggered, something some prefer but I find to be annoying and amateurish.
Canon EOS Rebel T1i (body only)-$600
Pros: HD video (although it’s won’t be nearly as good as what you will find in the bodies that cost $1000 more), quick startup, quieter, features “creative auto mode”, 15 megapixels (three more than found in the xsi), 9-point autofocus, improved low-light autofocus over the xsi, bright LCD.
Cons: Identical body to the xsi so some may also say it feels cheap, small viewfinder, battery drains quickly in LiveView mode (though this is true for all dSLRs).
Although I’m snobby and don’t think you should buy any dSLR over $1000 if you don’t know how to use your camera on manual, there are most certainly people out there who work hard and are able to splurge in life. If you’re one of those people, either one of the cameras below should make you very, very happy.
Canon EOS 7D-$1700
Pros: ISO 100-12800, 19 point userselectable autofocus (twice as many as found in the 5dmkii, one of the huge pluses of this model), great battery life, bright 3″ LCD, 8 fps, noise much improved over the 20D-50D line, wireless off-camera flash system built into the camera, 18 megapixels.
Cons: The biggest con? It’s not full frame. I’ve also picture quality suffers somewhere around 1600 ISO and above.
Canon 5d Mark II-$2700
Pros: Full frame! Beautiful HD video! (Can you tell I adore this camera?) High quality images even at higher ISO settings (translation: better low-light photos without the need for a flash), 21 megapixels, beautiful colors (I own it so I’ve seen this firsthand!), ISO range of 50-25600
Cons: No built in flash (I actually consider this a plus :) ), better autofocus on the 7D (which is a less expensive model by $1000), only 3.9 fps, no in-camera wireless flash controller, image stabilization not found in camera (only in the Canon lenses).
Need a lens? I personally don’t think that Canon makes a high quality zoom lens for less than $1000. If you think you can get used to not being able to zoom in and out (more exercise that way!) I’d recommend a 50mm lens to start with.
EF 50mm f/1.8 II-$100
This lens is beloved by those who have a tiny budget, but it’s biggest con is it’s plastic construction and slightly inferior glass to the 50mm 1.4. I’d say it’s better than a kit lens any day, but I’d strongly recommend rounding up an extra $250 for the 50mm 1.4 if you can.
EF 50mm f/1.4 USM-$350
The 50mm 1.4 is a great little lens, much lighter than the 50mm 1.2 (which costs almost $1000 more), and almost as good in quality. In fact, I know there are several well known photographers out there who prefer the 50mm 1.4 over the 1.2 because the difference in quality isn’t as noticeable as you would think and the lighter construction makes it much easier on the wrists after a long day of shooting. If you can get used to moving around instead of zooming you are going to love this lens!
The lens that is sitting at the top of my Christmas wish list this year is the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, which would set me back at least $1,840. I’ll keep dreaming until the 25th passes me by though!