My Thoughts on Camera Recommendations…

So a lot of people ask me, “What camera should I buy?”

Well, being kind of a techie, and a camera nerd, I guess it makes sense that people ask me.  But then again, you never hear people ask, “What kind of car should I buy?”.  Just like there’s no one right car for anybody, there isn’t going to be a camera that will please everyone.  People have different needs and preferences, so it’d be really hard to recommend just one camera to fit everyone’s needs.  I think the issue is that most people don’t know much about cameras, and what the differences are between the different kinds. I’ll try and breakdown the major differences between the major types, but I do recommend you do your own research for a specific camera, as you’ll be much more satisfied with the purchase because you’ll rest assured it’ll meet your specific needs.  Also, for the most part, any kind of camera you are looking for will be listed/reviewed at (it’s one of the premier camera review sites; it’s where I do the most research on new cameras).  In any case, here are my thoughts:

CompactPoint and Shoots (P&S) <$300:
Most people have a P&S camera, and are looking to move from this to something “better”.  So I won’t make any recommendations here.  But typically, you are looking at compact cameras, with small sensors, average lenses with adequate zoom ranges, that take photos in mostly automatic modes with few options to adjust settings on your own.  I’d also group super zoom cameras in this category due to their smaller sensor size.
Enthusiast Compact Cameras (or Advanced Point and Shoots, as I like to call them) $300 – $500:
They look like a P&S camera, and are often times sold among them, with a bigger price tag (not literally), but what does the increased price get you?  Typically with these style cameras, you can expect:
– a larger sensor (better image quality, and better ISO/low light capability ~ 1/1.7″ sensor (Compared to 1/2.3″ sensor for compact P&S).
– better lens/optics.  Typically faster/wider apertures (improved low light capability, shallower depth of field), better image quality.
– Similar, if not better, zoom range as the compact P&S, but, some start from a wider focal length.
– Advanced control modes and manual settings, in addition to your typical auto settings.
– Capability to shoot in RAW, JPEG, or RAW + JPEG (RAW is basically a digital negative, which provides more adjustability during post-processing.  You won’t want to shoot in this mode if you won’t be doing any post-processing, but it’s a nice feature to have just in case).
– Better flash
– Better LCD (look for one with at least 460K dots).
– HD Video Capability
– Still pocketable or at least more portable than DSLRs.
I’d recommend (In this order): Canon S95, Canon G12, Olympus XZ-1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, Nikon P7000.

Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (AKA Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens or EVIL) $400 – $800:
A line of cameras that combines the larger sensor sizes (and image quality) of DSLRs in a more compact body and smaller, but interchangeable, lenses.  It loses some versatility and portability of the compact cameras, and the speed and control of DSLRs, but great image quality in a nice portable package.  Olympus and Panasonic pioneered this market with the development of the Micro Four Thirds (or m4/3) system, and currently have the largest share of the market, as well as being the most established with the widest variety of lenses available.  The only other manufacturers at this time are Sony and Samsung, with Canon entering the market soon, and Nikon rumored to do so soon as well.
– Larger sensors, starting at 4/3″ for Olympus & Panasonic and larger for Sony & Samsung. So substantially better image quality and low light capability.
– Better quality lenses, and there are a wide variety of lenses available which will be better for more specialized purposes (i.e. portrait lenses, macro lenses, telephoto lenses).  However, you may stick with the kit lens, as this can quickly get expensive.  However, Sony, and Samsung may have fewer lenses as they are just entering the market.
– Advanced control modes, manual and auto modes.
– RAW & JPEG capabilities.
– Some models may or may not have a built in flash.
– Look for a high quality LCD, as you’ll be using this to frame your shots (similar to what most are used to with P&S cameras, but differs from DSLRs optical viewfinder). 460K or more.
– HD Video capability
These cameras are a little bulkier than your P&S, but is much more portable than your typical DSLR.  They offer high quality images similar to DSLRs, but in a smaller package.
I’d recommend: Olympus E-PL2, Panasonic GF-2

Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLRs) $400 – $5000:
So many options here.  These are further split into different categories and different price ranges. Entry Level (<$800), Prosumer (<$1700), and Pro (<$5000).  I’m sure you’ll be looking for something in the entry level category, especially if you’re just getting into it.  In fact, most DSLRs are pretty darn good.  Whatever you decide to go with, you’ll likely be happy with the results.  You can even buy used.  There are a lot of people who end up upgrading their gear, or not using it as much as they’d like, so they end up reselling their gear.  Just something to think about.  Mostly though, you’ll find that most cameras offer similar in their respective ranges offer similar things.  Megapixels (typically 12+), HD Video, Image Stabilization (either in camera or in lens), ISO sensitivity, etc.
Of the entry level DSLR cameras, I’d recommend:
– Nikon & Canon are the most popular for a reason.  They offer good features for the price.  I think the Nikon D3100 or the Canon T2i are easy choices.
– Pentax & Sony, I don’t know much about.  But I think they suffer a bit due to their lack of popularity.  I do know that Sony sells it’s sensors to Nikon, and they are innovating some new technology.
– Olympus, that’s what I started out with (e510 and then an E620).  I don’t think I would recommend this as I recently switched to nikon.  Their lenses are top notch, but their DSLRs are mediocre (offer Live View, but no video recording), and rumor is they may not be supporting the entry level DSLR market for too much longer in order to focus on their mirrorless interchangeables, which they are doing very well with.  So expandability is low, and used lenses and accessories aren’t as easy to find (personal experience).

So, with that said, I’d recommend considering these aspects when buying a camera (In addition to image quality, and all the techical specs):
– Ergonomics and control.  How a camera feels in your hands is important.  It’s gotta fit right, and the controls have to be easy to access.
– Portability.  Be comfortable with the size of your camera.  Because, it’s like they say, the best camera is the one you have with you.  And if it’s too big for you to want to carry around, you’ll never use it.
– Upgradeablilty.  For some people, the kit lens is all you need.  But maybe someday, you’ll want to upgrade that kit lens, or pick up a portrait lens, or a telephoto lens.  On this aspect, I think the Canons and Nikons have got it.  They have a great share of the market, and have been around so there are a lot of (used and new) lenses available on the market.
– Use what your friends use.  Sometimes it’s nice to be able to use what your friends are using, so you can swap lenses, talk about settings, or just help each other learn together.
– Budget.  For the most part, you get what you pay for, but I wouldn’t be afraid to buy used or refurbished.  Refurbished cameras often come with the same warranty as new, so you don’t have to worry too much.

My current setup:
I’m sure you’re curious, even though I’m sure it’s way out of your budget, but here’s what I’m using:
Nikon D700
Nikkor 20mm f/2.8
Nikkor 35mm f/2.0
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4
Nikkor 85mm f/1.4
Sigma 24-60mm f/2.8
Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8