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Camera Recommendations 2017

I have said on this website that getting great images are not about your camera, and this is mostly true. By way of example the adjacent photo was shot with my iPhone. Good gear gives you the tools you need for the subject then gets out of your way. A good camera makes the much more important part, seeing- easier. I get asked all the time about which cameras I use and what cameras to buy.  This site is not a review site, but here are my current (2010) recommendations depending on your budget and subject:

Budget Compact:
There is nothing wrong with taking photos with a mobile phone. They have gotten better and better and now computational photography such as the two lens system on the new iPhone Plus will advance these camera phones even further. If you can consider taking a pocket camera with you for more versatility. The newer pocket cameras integrate with your smart phone relatively easily.

All small compact cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony are about the same. Sony (who also makes Nikon chips) seems to have better dynamic range (range of dark to light captured) Canon has better color rendition for most (warmer). Insist on image stabilization or vibration reduction. I prefer optical (in lens) to in camera and I think Canon has the edge. Do not fret over megapixels, 4-6 megapixels are more than enough for the vast majority of users.  Look at the lens zoom range and the f stop range. The faster the lens the better, for example, f2.8 is one stop faster than f4.0 meaning it allows in twice the light. I like the ability to shoot video as well. Also consider cameras that have built in wifi as most do. Consider trade offs. If you want a huge zoom range you will have worse performance in low light and perhaps more distorted images. Software does make up some of this gap but overall the best compacts for image quality might have 3-6 times magnification.

If you don’t mind some bulk consider the mirrorless from Sony (NEX) and Canon (M series) Also consider the last model- new, used or refurbished for additional savings. Fuji also makes some excellent mirrorless that are very stylish and have excellent lenses.

Pro Tip: Try using a compact camera for your macro work. Smaller sensors on compacts make for greater depth of field- frequently a must for detailed macros.

DSLR vs. Mirrorless: I love my mirrorless Sonys I use the A7 r2 for most of my serious professional work now. The Sony A7 r2 is the current winner on image quality metrics on DXOMark. It is also compact as it does not have a mirror box assembly. The other plus is that since the distance from lens to sensor is short virtually any lens can be used with adapters. I use my Canon lenses on my Sony with lots of success. DSLRs such as the Canon 5D Mark 3 I use are still best for fast moving subjects and still have more native lens choices. For sports, and anything fast such as capturing award winners on stage in a fast moving show DSLRs are better. Another plus of the DSLRs is that they have much better battery life. (bigger batteries and less screen use)

Canon vs. Nikon vs. Sony:
Sony (who also makes Nikon chips) seems to have better dynamic range (range of dark to light captured) Canon has better color rendition for most (warmer). Panasonic and Olympus are good cameras also especially if you want to have huge zoom range. If I were a bird photographer I’d strongly consider these cameras with their 4/3rds sensors that double to effective telephoto range of 35mm lenses. I don’t use these cameras so I can’t comment much but on technical image quality they are a notch below the Sony, Nikon, Canon cameras.


Be Different: Consider a 35mm Rangefinder like the Contax G1 or G2
About $200-$250 G1 | $400-$500 G2 | Lenses $150-$800
Shoot film and have it scanned. I prefer the Contax G1 or G2. Rangefinders have superior lenses to SLR’s and are compact. The Contax G series have autofocus and are easy to use. Film is especially great for outdoor shooting. Costco has great quality scans for cheap. I recommend digital for most users because it is easier and gives instant feedback via a LCD screen. Film is great for outdoor landscape shooters especially. Film SLR’s like Canon’s EOS 3 and Nikon’s F100 are great inexpensive options as well and superior for kids and sports where fast accurate autofocus and speed are important. The other plus of film SLR’s over Rangefinders is that their lenses are interchangeable with their newer Digital SLR cameras.

Wild Card: I am on the early list for the light L16 computational camera. Computational cameras might be the future. Traditional digital cameras have one sensor that gathers the light from one lens. Computational cameras have multiple sensors and lenses all working together to create a seamless composite image. The iPhone 7 Plus uses this method with two lenses. Even the older iPhones and Android smart phones already seamlessly take a few images when you hit the shutter to find the sharpest and sometimes increase the dynamic range (HDR). The light camera uses 16 lenses and sensors and powerful processors and software. From their website: “The L16 uses breakthrough optics design with the most advanced imaging engine ever created to give you the control of a DSLR with the convenience of a smartphone. With many cameras firing simultaneously, the L16 captures the details of your shot at multiple focal lengths, then fuses that information to create an incredible image with up to 52MP resolution.”

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