There is a question I get a lot that goes something like this: “Can you recommend a good camera? I don’t want anything too fancy or valuable, just something nicer than what I have now. What should I buy?”
I get this on the blog, in real life, on Facebook…it’s very flattering.
Before we go further I need to explain that I am not a photographer by trade. I took some photography classes in art school, I know what an F stop is, and my images have appeared in some magazines and on retailer shelves…but this is not my area of expertise. I know enough about cameras to recognize the difference between a qualified camera expert and the dude trying to sell me crap at Best Buy, and, I know enough to recognize I am not an expert. That said, I’m happy to tell you what I know. And, since this is the season to be capturing memories, I thought I’d make a simple chart on how I like to break this down for friends and family.
Both of the cameras I recommend are Canon because of a lot of reasons, but mostly because I dig Canon lenses and their customer service is pretty great (I have first hand experience on that). They are not sponsoring this post, and there are certainly other great brands on the market, but if you are the type of person who is looking for a safe “name” to stick with, I can vouch that Canon has never steered me wrong.
That’s my recommendation. Want to talk about this some more? Let’s do it.
One dog: two heads
There are two major types of camera; DSLR and point-and-shoot. What is the difference?
My recommendation at $449 Canon EOS Rebel T5 EF-S 18-55mm IS II Digital SLR Kit
Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)’s are faster when it comes to things like focusing and shutter lag. They have larger image sensors which allows for larger pixel sizes, which generally leads to better quality photos. DSLR’s are bigger, heavier, less portable, and more expensive than point-and-shoot cameras. Many DSLR’s are sold with an all-purpose kit lens (like the one I recommend), but most users will eventually move on to purchase other lenses. Often times the easiest way to upgrade your DSLR shooting is to buy a better lens. I’m a fan of prime lenses, but that is a story for another time. If you already own a DSLR camera and are looking for a quick primer, this gal knows how to break it down. Also, Youtube is busting with free DSLR tutorial videos – this one is long but very, very worth it.
My recommendation at $179 Canon PowerShot SX600 HS 16MP Digital Camera
A point-and-shoot camera is all-in-one. The lens does not come off (usually). It often (but not always) looks like a compact little box you can throw in your purse. It’s easy to operate without any training, and these days most point-and-shoots are built with sensors that do the hard work for you when it comes to lighting, speed, focus, etc.. Many point-and-shoots are now built with video capabilities, which is a great feature for vacations and family occasions. Point-and-shoots are generally much less expensive than DSLR’s, but when the image results are compared side-by-side, the difference between DSLR images and Point-and-shoot images can be staggering.
Are camera phones really that good?
Yes. They are. They have the potential to be amazing if you know how to operate them properly. Here is a great post on that. And if you want to pump up the jam with a great app, there are oodles of them, but I find Afterlight to be the most flexible and user-friendly.
How much do I need to work on my photography skills before I’ll see nice pictures?
A lot. Saying that a camera takes nice pictures is like saying a piano plays nice songs. Cameras and pianos can only do so much without human intervention. Don’t expect the equipment to do all the work for you.
The $300 Dessert
The weird thing is, I have noticed, if you ask a non-photography person what a ‘good’ camera should cost they always have the same answer, which is, “Around $300.”
This is odd because there really is no camera worth that amount of money. There is a significant quality jump in the middle. There are great cameras that cost $200ish, and there are great cameras that cost over $400ish, but there really isn’t much in-between (unless you find a great sale, in which case you should call me). Most $300 cameras are probably only worth $150 but that extra money makes some consumers feel like they are buying a better product, so companies are happy to repackage the old goods in a new way and charge more for it. I’m not trying to dog any single product here, I’m just encouraging you to do your homework. I think you will realize that most of the stuff in that $200-$400 range is comprised of kits with lots of unnecessary bells and whistles you neither want or need.
Stop saying “megapixels”
Sometimes when I ask people what they think defines a good camera, they start going on about megapixels. Megapixels, megapixels, MEGAPIXELS.
“I need a camera with the most amount of megapixels!”
“Do you know what a megapixel is?”
“Then why do you want more of them?”
“Ummm… Ashton Kutcher said so in the commercial.”
And there you have it. Ashton Kutcher, the mastermind behind the late 90s John Deer trucker hat movement, has now been set in charge of recording your most important memories.
What am I saying? Stop obsessing about the megapixels.
For example, one of the most popular point-and-shoot camera lines on the market right now, the Panasonic Lumix, which is a great camera, varies in price in a big way, but not so much in megapixels.
$88.99 PL 14.1 Megapixels Digital Camera with 5 Optical Zoom
$134 PL 16.1 Megapixels Tough Digital Camera with 8x Intelligent Zoom
$229 PL 16.1 Megapixels Compact Digital Camera with 20x Intelligent Zoom
$297 PL 12.1 Megapixels Digital Camera with CMOS Sensor and 24x Optical Zoom
You see what I mean? Sure there are differences, but the photos coming out of the 14 megapixel camera and the 16 megapixel cameras aren’t going to be that different to the human eye. At least not $209 dollars different. Again, comparing these four variations on the same Panasonic Lumix camera, the body structure varies greatly, but the lens and technology that built the camera is pretty much the same. Spending money on a fancy “looking” camera is just plain stupid. That’s like buying a race car with a minivan engine. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with a minivan engine, but if you can’t tell the difference between the two, don’t buy the racecar.
Ohmygod I just made a car analogy. Did you even see that? SHOOTMENOW.
“New” Does Not = “better”
Okay. If there is one thing about camera buying you need to understand it is this: a camera is a machine and that machine hasn’t changed in decades. It is the same machine your mom used to take your baby photos, and not a lot has changed since then. Digital cameras changed the recording process a few years back, but really, cameras are made the same way as they always have been. Gadget freaks will tell you different, and that’s fine. Spending money on new gadgets makes them happy and it helps the economy, but I’m not writing this post for them; I’m writing this post for people who want a quality product at a reasonable price that will last a long time. And good news: a good camera can last for ages. They don’t get outdated every six months like software. Lenses are constantly evolving and improving, and if you get good at photography you will want to upgrade eventually, but for everyday snapshots? Yeah. Don’t just buy something new because it sounds better. Newer does not = better. More money does not = better. Granted, I’m sure you can find someone who would argue that there is a vast difference between the $99 camera and the $125 camera next to it on the shelf, and that’s fine, but if you are reading this I’m guessing that explanation isn’t going to make a meaningful difference in your purchasing choice or the photos you take. Some people just feel better spending more money, in which case, go for it.
Looking for tips? Here is another post: Quick-n-Dirty tips for taking great Christmas photos.
Disclaimer: The product links above are Amazon affiliate links. That means if you buy those products on Amazon (or other stuff on Amazon) after clicking through my blog, 4% of the sale goes to me. I’m not telling you this because I want you to send me money, I’m telling you in a spirit of honesty and to let you know that’s how this works. And, if you regularly read another blogger’s work and they use affiliate links, and you are about to buy something on Amazon, do them a solid and click through their site instead of just Googling “amazon” like you usually do. Note: if you are not purchasing a camera online, I do not recommend getting camera advice from a big box store like Best Buy or Costco (even though they may have better deals). Unfortunately, high-end cameras are a specialty item and the employee who knows a lot about televisions or computers probably doesn’t know much about cameras and will likely pretend to know enough to sell you whatever inventory item their manager needs to push that week. Instead, I would recommend looking into a local/independently owned camera store in your area. Camera work is their bread and butter – they will know what they are talking about. In Chicago, my personal favorite is Central Camera on South Wabash (disclaimer: my father, uncle and grandfather have all worked at Central Camera at some point in their life, so it is a family favorite (not to mention a time machine!)…I’m just sending a shout out to a place I repeatedly recommend to my friends and family). You will quickly discover that camera gurus are more intense than Star Wars gurus, which is really saying something, but if you can go in and say “THI$” is your budget and ask for a recommendation, you’ll probably come out happy. And, you if you have questions, you can go back to the store in the slow hours and they’ll probably show you what to do. Camera people are nice like that. Now go forth and take some pictures!!!