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Ask Slashdot: Best Camera For Getting Into Photography? 569

Posted by Soulskill
from the those-ones-you-can-throw-out-are-the-best dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I've managed to go my entire adult life without owning an actual camera. I've owned photosensors that were shoehorned into various other gadgets, but I've gotten to the point where the images produced by my smartphone aren't cutting it. My question: what camera would you recommend for getting into basic photography? I don't mean that in the sense of photography as a hobby or a profession, but simply as a method for taking images — of friends, family, and projects — that actually look good. That's a subjective question, I know, but I suspect many of you have a strong grasp of price versus performance. For example, when I'm picking a new video card, it's easy to figure out which cards are the best deals for a given price point — then I just have to pick a price I'm comfortable with. I figure a decent camera will run me a few hundred dollars, which is fine. But I don't have the expertise to know at what point spending more money isn't going to do me, as a camera newbie, any good. Any thoughts?"
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Ask Slashdot: Best Camera For Getting Into Photography?

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  • Canon or Nikon (Score:4, Informative)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Friday November 25, 2011 @04:30PM (#38169290)

    The Canon or Nikon entry level DSLRs...you can't go wrong, except for the fact they are made for really small hands seemingly. For a little more money, get the next step up from either of those brands so you get a camera body that actually fits average human hand sizes.

  • by HFShadow (530449) on Friday November 25, 2011 @04:31PM (#38169302)

    http://www.engadget.com/2011/11/25/engadgets-holiday-gift-guide-2011-digital-cameras/ [engadget.com]

    If you just want to snap pics, go for the lumix. If you want low light photography, I'd go for the s100.

  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:5, Informative)

    by nharmon (97591) on Friday November 25, 2011 @04:36PM (#38169370) Homepage

    SLRs are very forgiving to people who are inexperienced with taking pictures. So yes.

  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:5, Informative)

    by tibit (1762298) on Friday November 25, 2011 @04:39PM (#38169404)

    The problem with non-SLRs is that they seemingly all suck when it comes to turnaround time between pictures, and their autofocus is universally slow -- if you have ever had experience with manual focus. A decent 35mm film SLR from the 80s with TTL exposure control, IMHO, outperforms pretty much every point-and-shoot when it comes to how quickly you can retake a previously set-up picture. Most of them, at least with experienced operator, will outperform even starting from scratch (focus way off, aperture/iris way off, etc).

    Entry-level SLRs seem to be really a class above point-and-shoots, especially that you regain control of the focus adjustment and aperture. This really is a make-or-break when taking multiple pictures of the same subject, like you often do (bits are cheap!).

  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:5, Informative)

    by quarterbuck (1268694) on Friday November 25, 2011 @04:39PM (#38169410)
    That or Micro four thirds/ Micro four thirds.
    Two things to consider when trying to learn photography are 1) Interchangeable lenses and 2) Getting the largest possible image sensor you can get (Noise decreases with image sensor size, not with megapixels).
    Micro four thirds (or similar formats from Sony/Samsung) have a larger sensor than a typical point-and-shoot. So they work better in low lights and generally have a higher Signal-to-Noise ratio.
    Olympus EPL line is a pretty good and cheap micro 4/3 camera. Sony makes their NEX series which are the full blown APS-C (DSLR) sensors squeezed into a small camera. Olympus and Panasonic both make micro-4/3 cameras, so the lenses are easier to come by. Also they can use adapters for various other kind of lenses. On the flip side, the micro 4/3 sensor is only 60% or so in size compared to a DSLR sensor.
    All the above also have pre-set modes to increase/decrease brightness, contrast etc. -- they are useful to start. Once there you can set the camera to full manual and learn the physics part of photography. I've been told that Samsung makes the easiest to use interface , but I have never used it.
  • Canon S100 (Score:5, Informative)

    by richardtallent (309050) on Friday November 25, 2011 @04:45PM (#38169520) Homepage

    It's a newer camera, great mix of features (including 1080P video and GPS geo-tagging). As a professional photographer, I'm a Canon fan-boy. (Nikon is good too.)

    DP Review is a great geek-compatible site for camera reviews, here's their take:

    http://www.dpreview.com/previews/canons100/

  • by gaijin_ (134592) on Friday November 25, 2011 @04:47PM (#38169554)

    If you want good pictures of children. It is really only one thing that is important and that is the delay from pressing the button to taking the picture.

    I got a D40 from Nikon just when they released it four years ago and have gotten tons of great pictures with it.

    It has a rather small sensor and not that many functions, but the shutter delay is measured in milliseconds.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 25, 2011 @04:51PM (#38169602)

    Those recommending otherwise aren't thinking this through. You've gone your entire adult life without a camera. You're used to your camera substitutes fitting in your pocket and that's how you should start with a real camera. The idea otherwise, that you will be instantly alright with carrying a DSLR is folly. You don't have the habits for a DSLR, you won't feel right, etc. My point is, you won't use it. It'll sit on a shelf. Sure as hell it'll take great photos the day or two you mess around with it, but after that, shelf time. I've seen it too many times before.

    Start small. Grab a good point-and-shoot. I recommend a Panasonic Lumix with a wide-angle lens, high optical zoom and GPS. In particular, the DMC-ZS10. I'll admit I don't personally own one, but a friend of mine just picked one up and I've been amazed by what he's been able to pull off with it. That's the way to go. If not that camera, one like it. Something that will fit in your pocket - so you can make a habit of having it with you.

    Then after a couple years after you've become used to a camera as a separate object, and have experience with having an actual camera, you'll have both the habits and the knowledge required to choose something better, whether that is another point-and-shoot or a good DSLR.

  • Re:the best camera (Score:5, Informative)

    by Teun (17872) on Friday November 25, 2011 @04:54PM (#38169634) Homepage
    Yes and no.

    You should at least pick a camera with the option of full manual control and a good picture quality in automatic mode.
    When the last one sucks you quickly lose interest!

    I would suggest one of the top of the line compacts of Canon or Nikon, new serves no purpose except poser status and maybe warranty.
    I can strongly recommend the Canon G-series like the G10 or the Nikon P5000, others mentioned the Lumix series but I hate their low-light noise reduction.

  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:5, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 25, 2011 @05:03PM (#38169724) Journal
    The trouble is that SLRs(while undoubtedly extremely capable) tend to suffer very heavily from 'the best camera is the camera you are carrying' syndrome.

    By virtue of the more complex optical path, the modular lens options, and the various other bits and bobs that SLRs end up with, they get big enough that 'bringing the camera' becomes a decision, not an automatic thing.

    With the fairly impressive capabilities of contemporary point-and-shoots(yes, admittedly, the capabilities of SLRs have enjoyed the same technological improvements, only more so because they have more space and a bigger budget), you really start to hit the wall of diminishing returns pretty quickly(It takes surprisingly few good megapixels to spit out a butter-smooth 8x10, and a 2560x1600 display is only a smidge over 4 megapixels, and those are $1,000+ Serious Screens).

    There are some genuinely ghastly point and shoots out there, to be sure, and the weaknesses of the entire genre will start to bite if you need low light performance, run into situations where you need a somewhat atypical lens, or are really serious about your manual settings; but it isn't hard to get a ~$100 P&S that'll happy-snap just fine, or a 200-250 one that will have a nicer optics package, some of the more useful historically-SLR-only features not removed from the firmware(histograms, RAW, some manual options), and generally compete pretty well with the low end DSLR and shitty kit lens of the moment...
  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:3, Informative)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Friday November 25, 2011 @05:07PM (#38169780)

    I suggested Canon/Nikon solely because you can't go wrong. Sure Sony, Olympus, Pentax, et. al. make some good gear, but it's a crap shoot. Plus, with Canon or Nikon, you can see if you like photography, buy some nice lenses, and if you like it, upgrade your camera body while keeping the lenses.

    Then there's the whole used market advantage for Canon and Nikon. It's much easier to find good used gear for Canon and Nikon than it is the other brands.

  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:5, Informative)

    by tirerim (1108567) on Friday November 25, 2011 @05:21PM (#38169980)
    Um, that's true of Pentax, too. The lenses that work with my K1000 (fully manual film SLR, production started in 1976) still work great with my K10D (digital, released in 2006). The newest lenses that lack aperture rings won't work with the manual body (at least not other than wide open), but that's true of Canon and Nikon, too. This also means that you can get some very good older lenses on eBay for very reasonable prices ($50-$100 each), as long as you don't mind some manual control (which is not that hard to learn -- before all of the automatic stuff came out, anyone who wanted to take pictures had to deal with it, and without even the benefit of instant feedback that you get now with digital). I haven't tried the entry-level Pentax dSLRs, but I've heard good reviews of them, and I can say that the mid-level is great. They don't make a "pro" level dSLR (in other words, full frame), but I don't think that matters much for most people. The one disadvantage of SLRs is that they're big. Even if you're just carrying the camera with a single lens, it's still going to be pretty bulky, weighing in at over a pound. Definitely not something you can slip into a pocket "just in case you want to take a picture". For that, I recommend something like the Canon S90/S95/S100, which combine a good lens and sensor with a small size and some optional manual controls (very useful as you learn more about photography and become smarter than the camera). They still don't compare to an SLR, but there's an adage in photography that the best camera is the one you have with you.
  • Common question (Score:5, Informative)

    by AncientPC (951874) on Friday November 25, 2011 @05:23PM (#38170024)

    I'm surprised that this question came up on Slashdot, but I regularly see and answer this question in other photography communities.

    Use these two links to determine which camera to buy:
    Snapsort [snapsort.com]
    DPReview [dpreview.com]

    There are a few things you need to decide:

    • budget: DSLRs and lenses are a huge money sink.
    • portability: Are you OK with carrying a bag of lenses? Do you want something to throw into your backpack / purse?
    • subject material: People? Sports? Landscapes? Events? Macro?
    • movie mode: 1080p @ 30fps a must?
    • durability: Do you plan on shooting in the rain? In sandy conditions?

    My question: what camera would you recommend for getting into basic photography? I don't mean that in the sense of photography as a hobby or a profession, but simply as a method for taking images — of friends, family, and projects — that actually look good. That's a subjective question, I know . . . I figure a decent camera will run me a few hundred dollars, which is fine.

    (emphasis mine)

    You state that you don't want to get into photography as a hobby or profession, but you just want to take good family portraits? Good portrait photography is not really that subjective and is a combination of good lighting, subject isolation, and timing (for non-posed shots). A camera is just a tool, you have to gain some basic mastery of the tool in order to use it well. Dropping a few hundred dollars on a camera and leaving it in Auto / Program mode will not get you the photographs you're looking for.

    Without more information, these are the suggestions I'd offer:

    Non-DSLR, non-superzoom route:
    - Canon S100 or S95
    - Panasonic LX-5 or LX-3

    Canon if you want more zoom range, Panasonic if you want better low light capabilities.

    DSLR route:
    - used Canon Ti1 or Ti2
    - used Nikon D90

    Pick up a 50mm f1/.8 when you feel limited with the kit lens.

  • When I sold digital cameras back in the bad old days (mostly pre-y2k) I observed that most people fall into one of two categories of photographers:
    • People who want to take pictures of other people they know
    • People who want to take pictures of everything else

    And these people need significantly different kinds of cameras.

    People from the first group want fast shooting, small cameras with minimal fuss. 99% of these people buy point-and-shoot cameras. They might or might not be technical people. They will probably get their pictures developed at the drug store or just post them to their favorite web site. Red-eye reduction is more important to them than long zoom or the ability to manually do much of anything.

    The second group want a zoom lens longer than the longest you have on hand. They want to take a picture of the nose hairs on Mount Rushmore and they want to count the feathers on baby bald eagles. They have plenty of time to get their pictures "just right" and they will pay more for professional grade media. 99% of these people buy DSLRs (or the closest things we had to them back then). You can sell a tripod to these people but they don't really care about facial recognition or red eye reduction because they aren't looking to take pictures of their best friends since they already know what they look like. These people are not necessarily anti-social they just see photography as being about remembering things more so than events.

    So my advice is first figure out which group you fall into. Then you can quickly rule out a good chunk of the cameras on the market. And don't let someone tell you there is one camera that does both well, because that is a lie. There are small cameras with good zoom but they are nowhere near being equals to DSLRs, and no DSLR is ever going to fit into your pocket.

  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:4, Informative)

    by bedonnant (958404) on Friday November 25, 2011 @05:30PM (#38170108)
    If you buy a cheap 50mm for your camera, it'll work from entry level to pro body. I only use Canon since I got the 350d, but since then I steadily upgraded my gear, lenses and bodies. I never was at a point where a lens was not compatible with my camera. At one point of course you can choose to sell a lens to get a better one, but that doesn't mean all of your gear has become useless. So I don't get where you think this is a fallacy -- it actually is one of the strongest selling points for DSLRs, image quality aside.
  • CHDK! (Score:3, Informative)

    by GodGell (897123) on Friday November 25, 2011 @05:37PM (#38170182) Homepage

    I'm amazed that noone has suggested this yet.

    Get a Canon PowerShot. For one thing, they're great little cameras (I started out with one), but that's besides the point. We're on Slashdot here, after all.
    The point is that you can make it a lot better with a firmware hack called CHDK [wikia.com]. It is loaded into RAM from the memory card without touching your original firmware, and gives you full manual control over your camera.
    In addition to getting features normally only seen on DSLRs (such as bracketing, saving in RAW, and a live histogram), you can write and run Lua and uBASIC scripts on the camera, allowing you to program it to do whatever you want (such as motion detection to trigger photo or video capture, sophisticated timelapse scripts, intervalometers, USB remote triggering, etc.). You can take exposures far longer than the factory limit (mine went from a max of 15" to 64 seconds with CHDK), or far shorter in fact, allowing you to take both very low-light or very high-speed photographs that were simply impossible with the camera as it came out of the factory.

    You can even play games on the thing. It's ridiculous.

    If you can really say no to all that on a simple compact, you can buy me a DSLR and I'll give you your geek card back.

  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:5, Informative)

    by penguinstorm (575341) on Friday November 25, 2011 @07:36PM (#38171240) Homepage

    Canon G12 or whatever the most recent iteration of it is.

    I normally shoot with a Canon 5d MkII and owned a G11 before when I was still shooting--shocking!--film, up until last year. Honestly, the average person couldn't tell the difference between the shots I took with the G11 and the 5d from a *quality* perspective. (I swapped for an S95 when I bought my 5d, purely for the smaller size.)

    There are differences to be sure, and work I do with the 5d that could NOT be done with the G cameras. The most notable difference is the greater depth of field afforded by the full frame sensor and how I use it, but from an "I'm just taking pictures..." perspective the Gs are excellent and you can exert as much or as little control as you want with shutter and aperture priority modes.

    MOST and by MOST I mean ALMOST ALL people who buy a Rebel wind up shooting with the kit zoom anyway. It's a crappy, slow lens and I'd argue that MOST people would be better off shooting with a G--which is also free from the dust on the senor problem--seeing if they like it and then deciding to move to a Rebel or a 60d or a 7d or whatever suits their budget.

    You'll carry the G much more than you'll carry a rebel. Though it's not tiny, it's noticeably tinier.

  • Light and Tradeoffs (Score:4, Informative)

    by nick_davison (217681) on Friday November 25, 2011 @09:49PM (#38172110)

    Photography's all about capturing light. The less of it you have, the longer you need to spend capturing it. This leads to blurry images as most things move and your hands will shake too.

    You can partially solve this by:

    Using more natural light - Shooting outdoors in daylight (can lead to harsh shadows and doesn't really work for your stated goal of shooting friends and family who tend to gather indoors for things like parties)

    Supplying more light - using a flash (with the risk of redeye). Redeye is caused by light bouncing off the back of the eye on to the sensor. The closer the flash is to the sensor, the smaller the angles involved and the worse this problem gets. A flash hotshoe lets you move the flash away from the sensor. Also, external flashes tend to be angleable so you can bounce the light off ceilings and walls to get a smoother fill.

    Reducing movement - You can put your camera on a tripod but it's a pain to carry around and a lot of compacts don't have mounts. You can also ask your subject to hold the pose but this annoys friends and most people other than trained models can't really do it. You also lose all action/candid shots.

    Using a larger sensor - A larger sensor gives you a larger area to collect light.

    Giving the light a larger hole to come through - Apperture. The problem is, the wider your apperture, the shorter your depth of field. A lot of compacts abuse apperture to make up for their small sensors but you end up with horribly shallow depths of field.

    Amplify the signal - Rather than collect more light, you can amplify what you do get (higher sensitivy - ISO). The problem with this is photons hit relatively randomly with densities based on the light of the image. In large enough numbers (usually due to time), they average out and you get a nice smooth image. In small numbers, they're broadly but not exactly distributed based on the image you expect to capture. Amplify this noisy image and you get a lot of noise in the end result.

    A DSLR solves most of these issues by giving you a much larger sensor than compacts use, uses higher quality components like microlenses, has much larger glass for collecting the image, provides a mount point for a better flash and gives you the ability to fine tune everything to get the right combination of tradeoffs for the shot you want. They also tend to come with much better autofocuses so you get the shot you wanted rather than wait for the focus to hunt and give you the shot a second after the action. For that reason, most people will suggest DSLRs - your odds of getting the shots you want are dramatically improved.

    However - The best camera you can ever own is the one you have with you. If a DSLR is large enough that you never have it at parties, too expensive to risk at the beach, don't leave in the trunk of the car when out for road trips, it's completely useless except for the couple of times a year you plan a staged shoot.

    Many of us with DSLRs realise and accept this so we see it for the tool it is, accept it may get damaged but a damaged and used camera is worth far more than an undamaged and unused one so we get a decent bag, toss it in the trunk, accept the weight of lugging it and all the glass everywhere and always have it with us. If you're like most normal people however, and won't do the above, a DSLR's a very expensive paperweight that's kept safely at home. Keep all of the information from the start of this post in mind and then find the compact with the fewest tradeoffs that's still small enough you'll have it everywhere (smaller size usually means more tradeoffs).

    That might mean one of those credit card style totally flat cameras with a folding optic that goes everywhere. That might mean a basic compact with a zoom that comes out of the body. That may mean a larger compact with a larger fixed zoom. Or it may mean a DSLR. The point is, not knowing you and knowing what you will or won't put up with carrying, none of us can tell you what the right camera is for you. The best we can do is give you pointers to what will minimize your frustrations with a camera (namely ability to capture in non ideal light) and then leave you to decide what balance of size vs. tradeoffs is right for you.

  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:2, Informative)

    by CycleMan (638982) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @12:12AM (#38172800)

    Just remember to get a memory chip with some capacity. Look at price per capacity, but I assume a 4 GB should cost next to nothing these days, and it will keep more than a thousand images.

    Agreed. Get 3 4 GB cards. That way if you forget to empty your card (or go click-happy), you have another one waiting. And why 3 4 GB cards instead of 1 16 GB card? First, if you get busy, you can be downloading pics from one card to a laptop while still shooting (mostly affects wedding photographers, but we've known unpaid amateurs photographing weddings who were in that situation), and second, if your friend forgot to empty his card for his camera, you can hand him a loaner without stopping your photography. Third, sometimes you can get the multi-pack at your local warehouse store for much cheaper than the one mondo-card.

    Finally, know one thing: card size isn't the only factor; write speed can matter too, especially if you end up with a point-and-shoot. Until it stores image #1 of your baby doing a cute thing, it won't let you take image #2 -- and a fast card can make the difference between "got it" and "almost..."

  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:4, Informative)

    by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @09:48AM (#38174568)

    2) take lots of pictures. if you get a one good picture out of 20-36 exposures, you're doing well.

    Your advice is good - although I'd add a few comments:

    1. Digital cameras have made it easy to shoot hundreds of pictures in hopes of getting one good one. The problem with that is people never learn composition, lighting, etc. - things film forced you to consider due to cost and limited exposures per roll. Sure - take lots of pictures but read up on the basics of exposure and composition - learn the rule of thirds. light zones, etc. Experiment with different settings - aperture, shutter speed to see what happens. Look at photos and decide what you like about them. Learn to look behind the subject - 30 photos with a branch growing out of someone's ear doesn't do you much good. Ultimately, it's the brain behind the lens that makes the difference.

    2. The biggest advantage you get from a dSLR is depth of field - but it's not worth it if you leave your camera at home. I have a number of dSLRs and a bevy of lenses; but 80% of the time it's a 5 year old Canon point and shot that I have on me, simply because fit early fits in a pocket or briefcase.

    3. Consider a ruggedized point and shot - one that you can take to the beach or in a pool. Buy extra batteries. Buy several smaller memory cards instead of one really large one. You can swap them out and if one dies you don't lose everything.

    4. Don't get caught in the hype over megapixels or zoom length. Every name brand point and shot today has a good quality sensor and lens that will work just fine for a hobbyist photographer.As with any hobby, some people spend more time measurabating over specifications than actually enjoying the hobby.

    5. Visit some photography web sites. I like Fred Miranda's site (fredmiranda.com) - posters will give good advice and critiques of your work, no flaming or gear wars; just a group of people interested in photography.

    6. Start saving money because once you get hooked...

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