We get asked a couple times a week for our recommendations on equipment. Cameras mostly. We love talking gear, and while we’re not going to be one of those tireless camera reviewing blogs, we thought we’d put together a quick, honest, summary of answers to a few of the most typical questions we get. Okay? Here it goes, starting with pocketable point & shoots to entry-level SLRs as of winter 2013, and deliberately avoiding phones and pro-bodies. We’ll update both content, and announce anyone that gets de-throned from the list. Image links will take you to the OEM’s site. Recommendations are based on personal experience with the company, their equipment, and our gut. Alternatives are listed to mitigate any bias we have toward brands.
The ‘nice point & shoot’
What is it? A compact, generally retractable lens body that fits nicely in a jacket pocket, purse, or man bag. Simple controls and the ability to capture a shot as quickly and with as minimal fuss as possible. A very popular category though seeing signs of weakness with the ubiquity of cellphones with very competent cameras. A huge category too – compact, travel, superzoom, etc. We generally are asked about “something that will fit in my pocket” so we’re focusing on the compact size here. Look to spend $300-400 for something that will have a good interface, optics, and design aesthetics. The top pick here is Fujifilm’s $400 XF1, and it hits all three of those components. A great attribute for us and our loathing of flashes / strobes is its very open aperture of f/1.8 (at least at the wide end of the lens) which will be great for low-light and the ability to avoid that blue, non-flattring, tiny flash that plagues this category. A manual zoom, great optics, and a snappy response from controls and focus make it very, um… not frustrating. Aesthetically, its classic, kind of sexy looking in structure and in color, sturdy, and easy to hold. Canon has an S110 that is a nearly equivalent (price and features) alternative if you’re more of an introvert.
FujiFilm XF1 is $400 of pocketable, stylish, point & shoot.
What is it? A medium’ish camera with integrated lens that typically protrudes disturbingly far. We’re not going to talk about them. They’re dumb. If you think you need anything more than a 300mm equivalent (roughly ~5x on point & shoots) then you just need to climb over that fence…
The ‘$500 SLR’
First, can we please just start saying ‘SLR’ instead of ‘DSLR?’ It’s still an SLR, and unless it’s owner is Chris-Kluwe-cool, smoking American Spirits, or has money to burn on processing film, it’s probably digital. This is a tight range that can be frustrating or really satisfying. We advise one of two entry-level bodies in the $600-900 range that come as kits (a basic lens included) from Nikon. The D3200 at around $600, and the D5200 for under $900. Both are be very good camera bodies with easy controls, light weight, and excellent quality. The lens with either kit will be basic and slow, and we always recommend a 50mm lens with an aperture of f/1.8 which is inexpensive enough ($200 for Nikon’s new G version) that buying one of these cameras as a body-only (no cheap lens) will not only save you money, but give you better shots and a better experience. You can add lenses or use older ones if they’re compatible. The more expensive 5200 will have better focus, lower noise at higher ISO sensitivities (ie; less grain) and a nicer screen. Don’t get the red one though. We’ll tease you forever. And really, these bodies are pretty much as good or only slightly better than Canon’s offerings, we simply have more experience with Nikon and we really like Paul Simon. For comparison though, Canon has similar kits for a Rebel T4i for ~$800 if you’re going to be all Canon vs. Nikon snobby.
Nikon’s entry-level D3200 and D5200 are perfect for beginners and point & shoot upgrades.
The ‘something different’
As a tangent, you might want to consider a SLR-stlye camera that has interchangeable lenses but is in a compact package and a digital interface vs. more optical. They are popular, referred to as ILC (interchangeable lens cameras) and a good alternative if someone is used to holding a camera out in front of them instead of up to their face look at Nikon’s updated “Nikon 1″ system. The J3 is powerful, compact, and comes with none, one, or a Timbuk2 bag full of lenses in a kit for $600-850. Sony has some very refined models in their NEX line too. Similar ranges, though not as cute as Nikon’s…
Nikon’s “1″ series are mirror-less, compact, interchangeable lens bodies.
Finally, if you’re looking for a retro’ish camera that does it all in one chunky yet very handsome package (if you can find one in stock) it’s hard to beat FujiFilm’s X20 for $600. Its in a newer category called the ‘enthusiast compact sector’ though it’s not pretentious enough to demand that you know what all the dials on the top do. It’s larger than a compact point & shoot but could be more satisfying and the image quality and speed (f/2.0 – 2.8 across its modest zoom lens) and will surpass them in image quality. You also don’t have to change lenses or wear a slouchy beanie hat with thick-rimmed glasses to be cool with this camera, so there’s that… Shooters more comfortable with brands like Microsoft, LL Bean, and Starbucks should look at a very competent alternative in this field: Sony’s Cyber-shot RX100.
Film-shooting Hipsters will be jealous of this does-everything-well camera.
Hope this helps your gift shopping, your impulse buying, and fosters your love of taking photos. Bring it to one of our workshops and we’ll show you how to master it.