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Ask Slashdot: Best Camera For Getting Into Photography? 569

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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  • Snapshots? Canon SD. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by David Gerard ( 12369 ) <slashdot&davidgerard,co,uk> on Friday November 25, 2011 @05:34PM (#38169352) Homepage

    Canon Ixus (or PowerShot SD in the US) is a really easy and good snapshot camera. Cheap, too. If you point it at things and click, you'll get decent photos most of the time. They're also easy to carry everywhere.

    That's the right sort of camera to learn composition and take pictures of everything and see what you can do with it and so forth on. Once you're sick of its limitations, go to a DSLR. Do not start on a DSLR, it's what you get second.

  • by forevermore ( 582201 ) on Friday November 25, 2011 @05:45PM (#38169508) Homepage
    Other than the quality of the sensor and the photographer, there are two things that contribute to a photo looking "good": lens diameter (collects more light) and number of lens elements (fewer is better). Going from a pinhole-sized smartphone lens to just about anything else is going to be a major improvement. Personally, I use a Canon DSLR (mostly because I like Canon, and it fit all of the lenses from the 35mm system it replaced), but I also carry a Panasonic Lumix "super zoom" point/shoot. It takes great photos (and video), and still fits in a pocket (it was better than the point/shoot Canons of the time). Their micro-4/3 systems with interchangeable lenses are also good. These systems (I've also heard good things about Sony's) offer a pretty nice quality/price balance between traditional point/shoot cameras and DSLRs, too. But as others have said, you should probably bulk up on your photo knowledge, too. Understanding stuff like shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, rule of thirds, etc. can go a long way to making better photos, even with a smartphone camera.
  • Re:Canon or Nikon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <> on Friday November 25, 2011 @05:50PM (#38169576)

    Talking as someone who was heavily into amateur photography until a year or so ago, the main reason you see Canon and Nikon "worship" is because they are the only two manufacturers where you can start out with a very cheap DSLR at the low end, and migrate your way right up to the top levels in equipment without ever having to dump your current kit and replace it - you can achieve that steady progression by buying lenses and bodies individually, there is no point to reach where the previous level of kit won't work with the next.

    It's really quite a nice position to be in.

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

    by capsteve ( 4595 ) * on Friday November 25, 2011 @06:27PM (#38170082) Homepage Journal

    this is the best advise i've seen so far... the best camera to start out with is one that will always be with you.
    WTF moderators, why did this get a low score?

    OP, unless you're dedicated to becoming a photographer and don't mind carrying around a DSLR all the time, you'd be better off carrying a small compact point-and-shoot camera. get something in the $200 range(8-12MP, 3x optical zoom) they're all pretty comparable, but i've always been partial to the canon xilim or canon powershot series. my criteria was a camera OS that was usable as well as quick and responsive. i've spent time in several stores testing various brands for what i felt were important features: power on to shutter ready; switching capture modes; the ability to turn off startup sounds/animations; size or a pack of cigarettes; sd card. once you've got narrowed you choices down to a couple/three cameras, go to [] and compare your impressions against someone whose tested many evices.

    IMHO, if you want to learn how to take photos, you do it by taking pictures. don't get an DSLR. don't get a micro 4/3. you can graduate to these later, when your comfortable taking pictures. don't buy a camera that you haven't actually touched and toyed with.

    1) carry a camera with you all the time.
    2) take lots of pictures. if you get a one good picture out of 20-36 exposures, you're doing well.
    3) not every picture is sacred. capturing the moment with all it's flaws is better than to miss the moment.
    4) keep taking lots of pictures
    5) don't be afraid to edit out crap images
    6) learn the various functions of your camera(night shot, red eye/no red eye, flash/no flash, etc)

    i take between 6000-10000 pictures a year(the camera is with me all the time). i replace my camera every year or so(depends on how beat up it gets).
    and i get surprisingly good images from a stupid little canon powershot. i have a lot of reject images, but i also more than my fair share of keepers. eventually i'll get a fancier camera, but in the meantime i'm looking at a new refresh(canon s100 is looking sweet) for my daily shooter.

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

    by dwywit ( 1109409 ) on Friday November 25, 2011 @06:46PM (#38170272)

    Testify, brother. It's all in the glass. I'd be happy with better lenses on a lower-model body. My wife bought a Canon kit with body, 50mm, 18-55, and a 75-200 (IIRC). My kodak DX6490 - at 4MP and a Zeiss lens - takes sharper pictures than the Canon 18-55 (which crapped out recently - autofocus she no work no more - and not worth fixing). The latency is a PITA though. I wish digital cameras had a "just take the damn picture" mode, using the last settings and don't-worry-about-the-focus. I'll rely on depth of field when I need to get the shot NOW.

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

    by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Friday November 25, 2011 @06:58PM (#38170392) Homepage Journal

    I'm seconding the opinion of Powershot + CHDK. It's a great combo for learning the basic-to-intermediate topics - composition, exposure, ISO, focus, basics of RAW processing, long exposures - and still allows to shoot "idiotenkamera" when there's no time to set things up.

    When the Powershot stops being satisfactory (primary limitation: poor color matching), get a middle-shelf 2-3 years old used EOS, a couple decent lenses - a set that combined will give you focal lengths between 15mm and 200mm, and the essentials: tripod, basic filters, remote. This will get you into "advanced" with combining focal length, aperture, time and ISO to limit depth, get motion blur exactly where you want it, reflect flash from surfaces, use focal length for artistic effects and not just cropping, play with manual focus etc.

    Note you CAN do most of this with a compact+CHDK, but... only if you know what you're doing. The interface is way too clunky to use it for -learning- the advanced stuff, things you do by a twitch of wrist in SLR require navigating two menu levels down and using the +pad for entering numeric value in CHDK.

    Still, it's good 2 years of learning using the compact till you should think about switching to SLR.

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

    by Skater ( 41976 ) on Friday November 25, 2011 @07:46PM (#38170814) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps not, but they're very close. My wife has a Canon SX130is (I think the current model is 150), and it's a pretty nice camera - and I'm an SLR guy (I recently got a Nikon D7000, but I've taken over 10,000 pictures with my D70). The other thing is, as someone pointed out above, it's much easier to carry around, so you're a lot more likely to have it for that perfect moment. We were on a photo safari with it a while back, and the professional photographer commented to my wife that we were all jealous, because she was getting shots as good as the rest of us, but much more cheaply.
  • by Will.Woodhull ( 1038600 ) <> on Friday November 25, 2011 @09:41PM (#38171692) Homepage Journal

    And the flip side is that the P'n'S that you bring to everything can never take a really decent photo.

    A decent photo is one that can you work with in Photoshop (or the Gimp, which is better for everything except a few types of professional work). The kinds of things you want to be able to do are cropping and rescaling, selective blurring of background distractions, selective sharpening with the "unsharp" capability, often some tweaking of colors. In this day and age, a photo is not finished until it has been photoshopped at least a little bit. The quality of the P'n'S image will limit what can be done, sometimes severely limit it. A DSLR camera will let you go further since the raw image is better. At this point I believe all DSLRs offer a .tiff or .raw format that the Gimp can work with, or an uncompressed .jpg format which is usually just as good as a .tiff. These uncompressed files give you all the detail that the camera actually saw. But P'n'S cameras generally only offer a lossy compression jpg format at around 85%, so the images you get from them are lower quality.

    To go to the thread's original question, anyone getting into photography these days should plan to use two different cameras. A DSLR for things like birthday parties, graduation photos, and so on, which should be the best camera that one can budget for. And a P'n'S that is easy to carry around and cheap enough that you are willing to risk breaking or losing it so you can take it everywhere. So I think the real question is which one should you buy first, and I think that depends on what you will be doing first: Christmas tree photos of the kids? Or snapshots taken from your seat on the ski lift?

    A little background is in order. I am squarely in the "pro-am" level of photography: I have sold a few photos but I do not aspire to be a professional. I currently own a one year old Canon Powershot P'n'S, a Minolta Z-1 DSLR that cost about $300 seven years ago, and a $1,500 Minolta DSLR (camera with $350 does-everything flash and other accessories). I carry around the P'n'S most of the time and even take photos with it sometimes. I take Z-1 on outdoor photo shoots at the beach, etc, and the really fancy camera only gets out of the house for safe events, far from sand, salt water, or other hazards.

  • by Beetle B. ( 516615 ) <`beetle_b' `at' `'> on Saturday November 26, 2011 @01:58AM (#38172990)

    And the flip side is that the P'n'S that you bring to everything can never take a really decent photo.

    Sorry, but utter BS.

    I was once part of a photography club. The members would regularly have internal competitions. The winning entries were more often than not from high quality non-DSLRs. The photographers had years of experience, owned DSLRs, but ultimately found smaller cameras to be more convenient.

    Technical aspects (camera features, optics, etc) do help, but they are merely one reason among many that you get good photos. Other factors are opportunity, photographer skill, and yes, the number of photos you take.

    As someone once said:

    Most of Ansel Adams's photos were crap. I know that because most of all photographers' photos are crap - you just see the good ones.

    If you're buying a camera that will reduce the likelihood of you taking photos, then you're likely going to get fewer good photos than with an inferior camera with which you take a lot more photos.

    To get to the rest of your comment:

    The quality of the P'n'S image will limit what can be done, sometimes severely limit it. A DSLR camera will let you go further since the raw image is better.

    Many non-DSLR's offer raw. This isn't 2001.

    At this point I believe all DSLRs offer a .tiff or .raw format that the Gimp can work with, or an uncompressed .jpg format which is usually just as good as a .tiff.

    First, almost all good point and shoots offer TIFF. When I bought my first digital point and shoot in 2001, all the "good" cameras offered uncompressed TIFFs.

    But that's all irrelevent because: A TIFF format is almost useless. You simply have a huge file with no lossy compression. This does not give you the extra manipulation headroom that you get with RAW. The benefits of RAW do not carry over to TIFFs.

    These uncompressed files give you all the detail that the camera actually saw.

    Not true. Uncompressed TIFFs have less information than RAW.

    Seriously, how did this comment get moderated up?

  • by Will.Woodhull ( 1038600 ) <> on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:47AM (#38173312) Homepage Journal

    Parent post has wandered off the original topic by discussing the difference in quality between good and average photographers rather than the original request about the qualities of cameras.

    The points about becoming a good photographer are valid. Basically if you want a few good photos, you need to click the shutter a few thousand times. And then learn to be really brutal in tossing out everything that is not quite perfect. That is now a lot easier to do with digital photography. Well, taking lots of photos is cheaper, being severely critical about your own art is still hard. In the process of taking those thousands of shots, if you are paying attention to what you are doing, handling the composition, lighting, and other aspects of the art properly will start to become habitual. At some point you become able to make good art consistently even with a disposable box camera, such as the photographers mentioned in parent post who were getting lots of excellent results with their P'n'Sers

    The more expensive P'n'S cameras probably do have .tiff and .raw formats. But the big point of getting a P'n'S is to buy something cheap that you will be willing to risk on that rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. Or carry in your pocket anywhere you go. Without feeling like you need to protect your investment by keeping it in a case that keeps you from getting it out and using it.... For me, that means something under $100, but then I am just one of the 99%.

    On the lower cost P'n'S cameras, .tiff and .raw are out of the question. The processing needed to write these big files to permanent memory is more than the low power processor can reasonably handle. We are talking about 3 volt systems running on 2 AA batteries: not much to work with. The camera uses .jpg compression to reduce the overheads of writing the image file. A moderately good DSLR will be at least 6 volts. With this it can offer several levels of .jpg compression (image quality) and either a .raw or .tiff option.

    Whether .tiff or .raw is the better format depends on several factors but in many forums is mostly a religious war. I have worked with both at one time or another. I recall that .tiff was easier to work with in layers in the old PSP and early Gimp, but now with the huge hard drives and 4 GB of ram to play with, I can work with huge image files directly in the Gimp's native format without having to load and unload separate layer files. If my interim image expands to 900 megabytes, so what?

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.