Which Camera Should I Buy? (Part III)

Welcome back for the third and final installment in my 'Which Camera Should I Buy?" series.  Previously we covered camera basics and higher end SLRs.  This time we'll focus on the 'middle road' of cameras, which are the more advanced point & shoots. If you are…somewhere between the two worlds I mentioned in my previous posts, you probably need an advanced point & shoot.  This style of camera is a great mix between the SLR and more basic point & shoot.  Portable, advanced, and ability to produce sharp pictures make this relatively newer entrant to the market excellent candidates for a wide range of photographers .  There are two subcategories that we'll discuss: some still have interchangeable lenses for even greater creativity while others rely on a fixed lens with digital zoom.

The 'Fixed' Lens Compact This is what I carry on each of my trips when I'm flying for the airline each week.  In fact, it rarely leaves my messenger bag just in case I find something noteworthy in my travels whenever I have my bag (which is quite often).  For the last few years I've been using two different advanced compacts that I love for different reasons.  One of my two is the beloved Sigma DP1, which has no zoom, a slow start up time, slow shutter speeds and mediocre low light performance.  Why do I love it then?  The Foveon sensor contained within the camera is utterly amazing.  The color production, hues, saturation and sharpness this little camera produces are unparalleled in cameras this size.  Case in point from a courtyard in Guatemala:

This camera is more for the landscape and street art photographer who wants to take the time to compose images and make beautiful shots.  While I won't recommend this camera for everyone, a camera of it's quality just might be worth your investment down the road.

Now that I told you about a camera that I won't recommend for everyone, I'll move on to the my current camera that is my go to choice for this category.  For the last couple of years, the trusty Nikon P7000 has been the 'daily driver' that fits my needs for a true travel-friendly compact camera.  It does everything my beloved Sigma doesn't.   The newer version is the Nikon P7700 which has been upgraded from my current model in several areas.  Portability, great zoom capability, good ISO performance (low light capability), shooting in RAW file format and wide angle format are some of my favorite features of this camera.  Of course, the portablity factor is huge for outdoor action sports capability.  I can strap the camera case on my backpack when mountain biking for instance and be able to create great images on the fly.  Case in point this shot from Horsethief Bench Trail near Fruita, Colorado:

Definitely check it out and consider purchasing one in the near future!  Other options in this category include:

Canon Powershot G12 Sigma Merrill DP1

Interchangeable Lens Compact This is a category that allows for switching lenses on the go and a wider variety of creative options.  However, the trade off is you might carry more gear along thus it won't be quite as an all-in-one as a 'fixed' lens compact.  This category contains the hot up & coming mirrorless cameras that offer some distinct advantages to their predecessors.  While I don't own one of these yet, the Nikon 1 J2 is high on my list to be a partner to my other compacts.  This trend of compact cameras with interchangeable lenses does seem to be gaining strength, so if you want the best of both worlds between portability and creative options with lenses definitely consider this category.  Two other options which have garnered rave reviews are:

Olympus Pen E-P3Panasonic Lumix GF5K

I hope this series has helped narrow down where you should start your search and what kind of camera to look for.  Remember, always head to your local camera store and try before you buy.  And of course, being local-minded as I am - support local business and buy it from the store!  The support & knowledge that your local camera store will offer will pay dividends down the road as you embark on your photographic journey.

Which Camera Should I Buy? (Part II)

Last time we covered the basics of camera buying and simple point & shoot options.  This time we'll focus on the high end of my recommendations in this three part series. If you are…wanting the challenge of stepping up to an SLR with interchangeable lenses, feel your old point & shoot just doesn't do it anymore, desire to shoot sports of any kind, want to expand your artistic eye, and don't mind carting around bigger equipment: then it's time for an SLR!  This will be the high end of my recommendations so be prepared for perhaps a little sticker shock.  While I won't recommend the SLR that the guy from Sports Illustrated uses, there are plenty of more entry level priced SLRs that pack a serious punch in both quality and features.  And of course the ability to change lenses pushes your creative senses to new heights!

There is a saying in photography to spend the money on the glass (lens) and not so much on the camera body.  In my opinion it is a very accurate statement.  One of my favorite images I've ever taken came from my 'lowly' Nikon D40X which at the time was an entry level digital SLR.  I had a very nice lens that I had rented which certainly made a huge difference.  See below for my testimony to this belief.

Zebras - Madikwe, South Africa

With that said, you can feel good about buying an SLR camera body on the lower end of the spectrum even if you plan to step up your game down the road.  Whichever camera you choose, you'll be on solid footing as you begin to explore the creative possibilities of owning an SLR.

Nikon D3200

My recommendation?  The Nikon D3200.  This is Nikon's latest entrant in the do-it-all SLR category.  HD video?  No problem!  Low light?  No problem!  Fast shutter speeds?  No problem!  I think you get the point.  At $700 MSRP (lens included) it might be a little bit of sticker shock for the new entrant into higher-end cameras, but believe me that price is worth it.  One of Nikon's perpetual strengths is the quality of the image sensor in their camera bodies, even the lower end cameras as evidenced above in my Zebra image offer excellent output.  The sensor found in most SLRs will make or break the image quality and Nikon simply gets it right.

Most DSLR camera kits come with one or two lenses, often a 18-55mm lens is common.  It gives a good range to start with a decent wide angle option at 18mm and a bit of zoom on the other end at 55mm.  Just enough range and quality to get you started on your adventure and education in photography.

Also consider:

Canon EOS Rebel T2i Sigma SD15 Sony a57 DSLR

Whichever camera you choose, be sure to test it out at your local camera store and ask lots of questions.  Be sure to check back soon for the final part of my 'which camera to buy' series!

Which Camera Should I Buy?

As a photographer, I'm commonly asked "which camera should I buy?".  While flattering that folks believe my retail camera knowledge is at least half way decent, it is not an easy question to answer.  Probably 99% of the time my answer is, "it depends!", since it is nearly always a contextual question.  I like to dig deeper before answering by asking specific questions.  Such as are you wanting to get into photography as an art medium or perhaps new parents wanting to capture your newborn's adventures or how about a mountain biker wanting to capture stellar shots on the local trails? While I could likely write a novel's worth of camera recommendations for all levels of photographers, I'm going to do my best to divide the question into a three part series.  I'll make the disclaimer that I am a Nikon junkie, so while I'll reference some of my own gear & favorites I'll also branch out and give some non-Nikonian recommendations as well.

Before we get started, one very important aspect to consider is how the camera 'feels' to you.  To see what I mean go to your local camera store and actually use the camera you plan on buying.  Intuitive use of features and easy access to menus is very important in overall camera satisfaction.  One of the primary reasons I've been shooting Nikon products is that their SLRs just made sense to me when I started out.  Everything from ergonomics to menus to physical controls on the camera body matters.  So make sure the camera fits with your style and sensibilities!  Then come back and be sure to purchase it from your local store!  So, without further ado…

If you are…not wanting to spend an atrocious amount on a new camera, not interested in advanced picture taking but still want good photos that you can easily share or print: then it's time for a nice point & shoot.  Don't go too cheap here, but rather spend right around the $250-350 mark and you should be fine.  The nice thing about technology and cameras, something that used to to cost $450-600 now costs half the price and takes better pictures.  The evolution is on-going and nowadays you can get some pretty snazzy results from entry level cameras.  Features such as face recognition, HD video, smile detection, in-camera editing, waterproof, easy printing, touch screens and even social sharing are all offered at this price point.  You just have to figure out which functions you really desire.

My primary recommendation at this price point is going to be the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20.

The ZS series from Panasonic has a history of making great images at a great price point.  It incorporates a Leica lens (high quality) and records in HD video for those interested.

I've used this camera in the past myself, and loved it's easy to use controls and features.  Picture quality, auto-focus and zoom were all quite good at this price point.  Other handy features include image stabilization, in-camera editing, continuous frame shooting up to 10fps, and HD video.

Below is a short list of other cameras to consider at this price point and generally in the user-friendly category:

Stay tuned for the next post on the "Which Camera Should I Buy?" series!  We'll focus on SLRs next time which will be the high end of my recommendations.  I'll then wrap up the series with the 'middle of the road' recommendation for those of you not wanting to step up to an SLR just yet.