Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Camera advice bleg

I’m thinking about maybe getting a new camera.

Before I say anything else let me say that I understand that sensor size and lens rule all else, and that size does matter, except when it’s megapixel count, which is a glamour for the foolish.

That said, I’m off to South Africa in a few weeks, and while my Canon S410 was a fine camera 5 years ago, I’m thinking that for a trip like this with a safari in the middle, I should get something that sucks less. I don’t really care about GPS or interchangable lenses. (Yes, I should. You’re so right. But I don’t want to be bothered. I’m not a great photographer.)

I don’t want to have a full-bore SLR, as nice as they are. They’re too big, I won’t carry it enough to really justify what it is. So if I want to spend less than a thousand bucks (ideally < $500), have something that doesn't require its own carrying case or manual, what's the current hotness?

Are any of these “micro-four thirds” available? Worth risking? Worth overcoming my “don’t want to bother with lenses?” Should I look at a something like a Nikon Coolpix P6000? = Is it worth getting a new phd mini camera?

14 comments on "Camera advice bleg"

  • For the purposes of your current dilemma, a ยต-4/3rds camera is essentially an SLR: a slightly smaller SLR with no direct viewfinder, but still a camera body that’s meant as a platform for an interchangeable lens system.
    That said? For ~$500 (currently $525 on amazon), you can get the base Canon Rebel XS with the kit lens, and… treat it like a compact. The kit lens is an excellent all-purpose zoom, the whole camera+lens shebang is small and light, and it will take better pictures than any all-in-one camera on the market. Just leave it on the “automatic everything” setting and snap away: I took 2,222 photos in Zurich and Japan using pretty much exactly this approach, and the photos turned out great.

  • Chris says:

    Canon SX10is is pretty decent. I like that it runs on AA batteries: easy to get anywhere, and you can bring along a couple of spare sets and a charger. Now CHDK-compatible.

  • Rick says:

    With that much bright sunlight around you need a real viewfinder. The back screens are pretty much useless for shot framing. Through the lens is more accurate but test a few that attract and compare what you see with what you get at a number of different zoom settings.

  • Student says:

    As Dr. Memory said the Digital Rebel (also known as the 450D) is a very good camera for the money. The normal kit lens is an 18-55, 3.5-5.6 IS which you will find perfect for walking around, but a bit short on a safari. However, you will want something longer, preferably at 200-300 mm if you want to photograph animals at any distance beyond a few meters. There are plenty of options there:
    18-200 3.5-5.6 IS (replaces the kit lens)
    55-250 4.0-5.6 IS (Leaves you with two lenses)
    Or perhaps
    70-200 4.0 L (With or without IS, a lens to love, even if it leaves a gap)
    If you go this path there will be no saving you. Soon you will spend half your salary on new camera equipment ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • dria says:

    I’m on the verge of buying a Nikon P6000 as a good “carry around all the time in my purse” camera. It is absolutely in no way a replacement for a full SLR with a handful of lenses (3 will usually get you from end to end of all the focal range you need without putting you too far into debt), but the P6000 an *extremely good* pocket camera.
    The Canon equivalent is, I believe, the PowerShot G10 if you wanted to compare something in the same general range.
    As a slightly more expensive (but still < $500) option, you might look at the Nikon P90. I don’t know much about it beyond what’s on the ‘net, but I had an early early version of it a few years ago and it was a fantastic camera. The 24x zoom lens will give you a lot more flexibility and a better chance of getting good animal pictures on safari.
    Not sure what the Canon equivalent would be — I’m born and raised a Nikonian ๐Ÿ™‚
    Sounds like a fun trip!

  • patrick florer says:

    Hello, Adam!
    Photography – a subject dear to my heart, and an activity where I actually earn some money from time to time.
    I just want to comment about megapixels – they are more than glamour for the foolish, although they are that, too.
    The pixel count you need ties directly to the size of print you wish to make. Using 300 dpi as a rule of thumb for a crisp print (you might be able to get away with 240 dpi), then the math is simple: for a 4×6 print @300 dpi, you need 1200 x 1800 pixels, or approx 2 mb; for an 8×10, you need 2400 x 3000 pixels, or approx 7 mb; and for a 20 x 30 print, you need 6000 x 8000 pixels or approx 48 mb.
    One advantage of a higher pixel count is the ability to crop significantly and still have enough pixels for a sharp image without software resampling.
    If your framing/composition is not always perfect, and no one’s is, then you might want to consider something in the 8 – 10 mp range.
    I would encourage you to look at the Sony line as well as Canon and Nikon – I use Nikon pro gear, but think that Sony has some nice offerings that get good reviews.
    With regard to point and shoot vs. dslr, I have both. There is really no comparison – one pro lens costs 3x a high end point and shoot, but each format has a use. I don’t own but have used a Nikon D60 and was pleased with the results, but I used a lens that cost more than the camera body.
    Hope you are well
    Patrick Florer

  • As a postscript, while I really really really still advocate just getting the base Canon Rebel and treating it like a compact, if you’re completely allergic to the idea of an SLR and want to get an all-in-one with decent zoom capability, the following article will probably be of some use:

  • Chris says:

    i’m not one to bore you with all the details. I’m a SLR photograph lover. But i have a 2nd camera that i always carry with me. Small, no lens to change, makes great, and i do mean GREAT pics. After reading multiple pro reviews, i tought that this one was the one to get. I’m not dissapointed.
    Panasonic LX3. Lens made by Leica. awesome camera.

  • PHB says:

    If you are going on a safari you really want to get a camera that is light to carry, has fast shutter response and a decent viewfinder. You are not going to find much use in a back monitor in the African sun.
    For speed of response you really should go for an SLR. The compacts really do not measure up.
    You don’t care about interchangeable lenses, but that does not mean you should rule out a camera just because it gives you that as an option.
    I would go for a Nikon D60 or D5000 with the 18-200 lens. That one lens pretty much covers everything you might need. It is perfect for a long trip.
    Nikon make more expensive cameras, but they don’t say that one is ‘better’ than another. The D60 has fewer features than my D300, but it weighs less than half. I still use my D50 on occasion because it is much lighter. The D60 is also easier to learn.
    There are other DSLR makes, but the only other one that is really worth considering is Canon. Panasonic and Sony have been trying to break in, but they do not have the lens range. Canon was ahead of Nikon until a few years ago, but in the past four years, Nikon have been beating them on every front. Particularly ease of use. Nikons have great ergonomics, Canons are somewhat botched.
    You can get either camera as body only, or you may find a kit with the 18-200. Yes, the lens does cost more than the camera. You can also find a D60 kit with a bundled 18-55 and 55-200 for rather less.
    If you go for Nikon (or Canon possibly) and get the bug while you are out there, you can probably rent glass out there for not too much money or possibly even borrow from others on the same trip.
    Whatever you take on a safari, you are almost certainly going to want something longer.
    Much of Ritz camera is currently going out of business and there may be a local store with stock on sale – or not.

  • Richard says:

    I’d not try to travel with a full frame DSLR unless I was taking a photo workshop or getting paid to take photos on the trip. I find them too cumbersome.
    A light dx DSLR like a Nikon D40 or a Canon XT with a couple VR/IS lenses is the digital sweet spot for flexibility and low light performance. Even lighter is something like the Nikon FE film body and a few fast lenses, though you can’t see and correct immediately with film.
    If even that is too much heft, a digital ultra-zoom will get you a good mix of focal lengths for landscapes, people, and distant animals, though the noise reduction will start taking away details in anything but bright sunlight. My favorite there is the Panasonic Lumix FZ18 or FZ28, though the Canon SX10 is good as well.
    If you want a single pocketable camera with a large zoom range, then give the Panasonic ZS3 a try.
    Anything with a shorter max end (say, less than 250mm equiv) is going to leave you wanting when you’re taking animal shots.
    What I typically carry when hiking where I’ll see and take pics of flowers, animals and mountain ranges: a Nikon D40X w/ 55-200 and 300mm lenses, and a Canon G10. Come to think of it, I carry the same when on dive trips, though only the Canon G10 goes under water with me. If I’m going out specifically to take photos, I carry the FE and a passel of lenses.
    In the end, take what you’ll carry with you. The worst picture is the one you missed taking because you couldn’t get your camera out.

  • Roland Dobbins says:

    If you aren’t going dSLR, I’d second the nomination of the Canon G10. Get the telephoto lens mount and lens, a second battery, a couple of high-capacity cards, be sure to shoot in RAW, and use Adobe Lightroom to manage your workflow and do your post-processing (personally, I don’t use Photoshop at all, only Lightroom).

  • Alex says:

    Wade Baker gave me an AHP spreadsheet he used for Camera buying decisions. I’d be glad to forward it over.

  • Bob Blakley says:

    So Adam…
    If you’re not comfortable with taking an SLR, I’d advise against the current Micro Four Thirds offerings. They’re SLR-like in terms of shape, which is at least as important as size when it comes to carry-around-ability. They’re also not great in low light, and their lenses are disproportionately large, which diminishes the advantage of the small body.
    For a “smaller-than-SLR-carry-everywhere” camera right now, there are in my opinion only two contenders: The Canon Powershot G10 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC=LX3.
    I’ve tried the G10; it’s a bit bigger and heavier than the LX3 but feels more solid, and, importantly, it has a much broader zoom range especially at the telephoto end (it goes to a 35mm-equivalent 140mm whereas the LX3 goes only to 60mm equivalent; on the other hand the LX3 goes to 24mm at the wide end where the G10 only opens up to 28mm).
    But in the end I went with the LX3, mostly because its low-light performance is better to my eye.
    If you want to shoot landscapes and people, especially in low light, you’ll probably prefer the LX3. If you want to shoot wildlife, the G10 will definitely be a better choice, and you might want to consider something with an even longer telephoto like the Nikon Coolpix P90 (but this is in size, shape, and operational characteristics a lot like a small SLR with a non-interchangeable lens).
    If you’re willing to buy a used camera and shoot film your range of options is considerably wider, but that’s another conversation….

  • Iang says:

    I’m not a Nikon man, but went through this exercise late last year. The consensus is a Nikon D40, if you can deal with a small light SLR. If not, don’t know ๐Ÿ™‚

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