Digital Camera Recommendations

Over the past month or so I’ve had four people ask me to recommend a good digital camera. I decided it was time to review the landscape and come up with a summary that could simply describe the alternatives (and reduce workload for the next 12 requests). The latest request came from fine forum contributor Druid and when he saw what I’d developed he suggested I post it here. So, I’m doing that.

I preface this by saying that photography is one of my long term sidelines and what I look for is something truly portable, modest in cost; yet not sacrificing a whit of quality.

Hope you find this useful!

Dave
Digital Camera Rec.pdf (467 KB)

I think you’ve missed one, but I’m not sure which category you’d put it in … the Panasonic Lumix LX3, or presumably later versions. It is slightly smaller than the Canon G12, though maybe not quite as small as the other Canons. It is solid, being built on a metal chassis, and most importantly has a superb lens and 3-colour light metering, giving superb picture quality. Images can be switched instantly between 16:9, 4:3 and 3:2; it has full controls over everything; and excellent video if you want it. The zoom is not as big as the Canon’s and I can’t compare them in terms of low light, but I wouldn’t say it’s top-of-the-range for that. A colleague comments on slowness in taking exposures, but I don’t think she’s explored the options.
But if Druid hasn’t yet settled on a camera and he’s looking for something in the G12 class, I’d recommend taking a look at that.

:slight_smile:
Mark

If you want to shoot video as well as still, you might also look at the Canon D7. I’ve had mine for about six months. After a touch of buyer remorse (inevitable with any expense over, say, $500) the finished product has more than justified the cost.

ps

I like your "responsiveness" ratings. But that raises a very important question: How is digital better than film again? Sure you don't have to buy film, but my $200 Elan from 1993 still rolls though 36 frames of 800asa 35mm in about 4 seconds. All perfectly exposed. And since I can get my 35 delivered at full res on a dvd-rw for the same price as 4x3 I figure I will need to go through what, 1,000 rolls of film to justify the 1ds-mk3?

For the point and shoot crowd, like my wife and progressively me, digital blows so bad that we aren’t even taking pictures anymore. Which is sad. So much of our life is lost because I am unwilling to spend 2K on a Canon body.

Maybe my standards are just too high.

Ok, back onto what camera though. I don’t need a 3FPS rate on a travel camera. But I would like something reasonable and something that actually takes a photo when I press the button. Where would that be on your responsive scale?

I ask because I am about to approach the goddess and humbly request that she allow me to think about considering the research to purchase a better digital. I would like something that will use all my EOS lenses, but I think she wants more of a PAS.

They’re now up to LX5 :smiley:

The LX5 has great specs. I prefer the G9/10/11/12 because of the complete set of manual controls and real, gasp, knobs for exposure compensation & ISO, as well as the articulated rear LCD.

That there 7D is some mighty fine iron! I hear the viewfinder is wonderful.

Ask any pro and they’ll tell you digital is now substantially better than film in virtually all imaging metrics. Some of them still like the film look and process, so they still do that, too.

Unless you are a working pro or independently wealthy 1DS-MKIII class cameras should simply not even be on your radar.

See attachment of original post :laughing: If you want something to work with your EOS lenses, PJS’s suggestion of the 7D is excellent. It’s a tad more money (cough) and you can’t put it in your pants pocket but it is a superb camera.

Dave

I think for me EOS stuff I will settle for something in the Rebel line. I just can’t justify that kind of $$ for the few super fast action shots I take these days.

I should probably look at the G12/S95 for general use though…

Bah. So expensive.

For the record, I do get the value of digital for the pro. The consumer though… not so much.

I had an early Rebel and liked it a lot. The current one looks very good.

See Flickr and Facebook for consumer embrace of digital (no comment on quality). :slight_smile:

Dave

For consumers, the two big advantages of digital are instant preview, and ease of sharing.

You can see whether a picture turned out immediately, meaning that you can take another one if it didn’t. And you don’t have to pay to develop the duds.

And then you can share the good ones just as instantly, without having to wait for the film to come back. (Even if it comes back in digital form.)

For the really good ones, you can do all the cropping and such on your own computer, then take them to the camera shop for top quality prints.

Plus, film is getting more and more difficult to find. It’s quite possible to run out and not be able to get more, even at a tourist-heavy location.

Katherine

My main beef with digital is that you buy film for life when you buy a camera. If you don’t like the “film” it provides, tough luck, and most cameras out there have really crappy “film”, it takes a lot of research and work to find cameras that can pull off a decent shot, and many of them are locked in unsatisfactory camera bodies (Foveon X3) or ridiculously expensive—enough so you could buy a car instead (Leica M9). But in that Micro 4/3ds range, there is a nice pocket between reasonably affordable and reasonable quality, without the bulk and indecency of a full dSLR. Good solid street cameras that have a decent pixel-to-chip size density ratio, ability to mount the best glass in the world, flash mounts (or viewfinder mounts), RAW (anything else is asking the developer to throw away the negatives), and unpretentious sizing and design.

It’s a good category with some good innovation, dSLR sized chips in some cases, and for the enthusiast, not bad in terms of price. The fact that you can slap a Zeiss or Leica M mount lens onto the thing with an adapter just seals the deal for any serious amateur or even pro on a day off.

It’s a good time to be alive for film enthusiasts though. There are some fantastic cameras out there that are still in great condition in the used market. I’ll cry for joy on the day when they start making digital cameras with replaceable cores. Start building those things as chunks of metal and glass again, with basic manual controls for features, and make the firmware and photo sensitive chip a thing you can pop out of the bottom and upgrade or replace with a different brand for flavour. Maybe there would even be a market for a genuine black and white chip, if they went that route, which would please me greatly.

As much as digital has done for the trade, I will say it has damaged the variety of the trade. Now that everyone is shooting on equipment that all strives toward one single apex of “purity”, the flavour and individuality of film choices and development treatments has slipped away. Amping and pumping up things artificially in Photoshop isn’t a substitute.

I do carry around a cheap digital point and shoot, by the way. One of the Lumix POS designs. I don’t take pictures with it; it’s the kind of thing I carry around with me at all times in a pocket to visually augment my daily journals. For that, digital is cream.

If you do a little research, you can find the best digital developers in the area and in some cases you can even download colour profiles for that precise machine and its operators and calibration. Carefully setting up the file with your own cropping and colour correction, then be sure to write on the envelope that they are to leave all automatic functions off. You can get some very nice prints this way!

With the easy use of Flikr, Facebook, and cheap digital point and shoot cameras the world is now exposed to a lot of bad photography.

But the instant gratification is nice.

Areas where I would love to see cameras improve on,

Low light.

Low light fast action

Low light with certain bright light sources (think indoor concert lighting)

Affordable Digital bodies that can use other brand name lenses ( like the old days)

Better integration with computers via software (setting up, setting defaults, or defining custom defaults).

Better blacks and shadow representation in more affordable models.

For consumers the ability for the camera to auto resize pictures and auto rename pictures for digital representation ( like face book).

More options on manual controls on consumer models. (like focus, fstop, and shutter speed)

Here’s my basic problem. I have kids that are “active”. One plays tennis, one does stage performance in plays. With a $15 film based disposable we used to be able to get “decent” shots of either. With a $400 EOS kit I was able to get “really darn good” shots of both that were acceptable for enlargement. Not to mention I could play with exposure, lens, filters, and all that other jazz that let me explore the art of photography (I actually did my own color darkroom work for a while).

Fast forward to today and while a kid can take inappropriate pictures of their friends and post those pics for all to see, I can not get a decent shot of the kid playing (tennis or acting). Go to any school event and you will see many frustrated parents mumbling about the pictures the “new improved camera” takes.

Katherine, I actually understand the improvements to the consumer. I would suggest that the argument doesn’t take into account the actual difference in end results. My wife even commented on it over christmas. She took several hundred digital picture of which maybe 10 were worth keeping (mostly due to a slow camera). Compared to 4 years ago when we were still using film and out of 64 pictures taken most were worth keeping. By “worth keeping” I mean only that the image was not motion blurred and that the subject was in frame.

I have use our POS PAS camera to make enlargements (tripod and timer with natural lighting) and they turned out great.

Which I think comes back to my unreasoned opinion… too many $$ for too little improvement for the consumer.

Then again I am not an online guy. I only frequent 2 online sites (that are not my own personal playgrounds). Scrivener is the only one where I am really active. Maybe that is my problem. I am not up with the standards of today.

If you’re lucky, you can get good shots of tennis with a compact. There is no way on earth you’re going to get good stage performance pictures from a modern point and shoot. Period. For sports and low lighting you’ll require something like a Rebel. You can get a body-only 550D for around $700 or shop around for last year’s model which should work just fine. By the way, The S95 takes surprisingly good low-light interior pictures.

Attached is a G10 image from this summer. No, the butterflies did not agree to stay still.

Dave

But my LX3 has full manual controls, just not on knobs. I haven’t even looked at the successors to the LX3, but if they’ve removed the manual controls on the LX5, no way would I be interested.

I’ll give you the knobs, though … setting aperture, shutter-speed and focus through a joystick is not so good … and the articulated LCD perhaps. The penalty is rather bigger size, I guess from the ones I’ve seen around.

You list the Olympus 4/3 on your PDF. My thinking is I’d go with the Panasonic equivalent G series … but one of the SLR-alike ones; with my shaky hands, I do have problems with an LCD only like the LX3 … being able to use my cheek-bone etc. to stabilise it would help.

Talking of stabilisers, while the in-lens stabilisers on the Panasonics are really very good — though my tremor can still defeat them — the in-body approach of Olympus gives you the possibility of a wider range of lenses while retaining the stabilisation. I was an Olympus man — starting with an original model OM1 with their fabulous 100mm lens, through a couple of digitals — until the Lumices came along.

Mark

Are you comparing point and shoots, or SLRs? My Nikon D50 SLR takes pictures fully comparable to the (film-based) N50 it replaced, with just as much control over framing, exposure, etc. (And using the same lenses, so optical quality is identical.) I don’t have a daughter who plays tennis, but I have caught my cats in full leap and other action subjects, in a wide variety of light conditions.

Now, digital SLRs have a mechanical shutter, the same as film SLRs. That means there’s no lag between clicking the shutter and capturing the image, hence no motion blur and no chance for the subject to move out of frame. Shutter lag is a big problem for many point and shoots, and for your application I’d look at that specifically when comparing models. Still, the newest PASs do pretty well: my husband’s been pretty happy with his new Canon S90. You can also learn to anticipate lag, and mitigate it by panning with the subject, shooting in burst or even video mode, and so forth.

There may also be a certain amount of selection bias. All those parents grumbling about the pictures are doing it in public in real time, not in private when the pictures come back. Plenty of bad film images have silently settled to the bottom of the drawer.

Katherine

Katherine,

PAS is where I am. The digital SLR are wonderful if you are really into photography. I want one, but I am too cheap to do it right now. The Mrs hates the SLR as they are “too complicated” for her. And by that she means that you have to turn it on, set it to automatic then click the shutter. That extra step of setting it to full auto is the problem.

I shall now retreat to the rock I came out from under.

The GH2 is looking very good. If tremor is a problem, I’m afraid I’m going to suggest you go with a bigger camera even though I, myself, can no longer abide them. The weight of the camera will really act as a damper. You might want to look at the Sony A-55 (Sony bought Konica-Minolta a few years ago so they actually have some serious in-house photographic chops now). On a lighter note, the current huff-n-puff is for the Fuji X100, a retro-styled rangefinder with some serious technical innovations.

Ah Ha! The core motivations are revealed! Ha! So, Jaysen, go to a real camera store and check out the s95 and G12. The Mrs will like them, you’ll fulminate for a bit, but both of you will admit they produce excellent pictures. The only question will be whether the S95 is too small. On the topic of shooting theater, you could, you know, like, borrow somebody’s DSLR to do those? If you get a small stock windfall, you should actually look at the Micro 4/3’s cameras. They don’t have a mirror you see, so you don’t get that deafening kapow as the mirror slaps up and down and audience members start shifting toward you with large cudgels.

And, now, as the sun slides gently toward its rest in the West, I’ll point out that my initial gauge for these suggestions was that the camera be easily carried and produce excellent images. I stand by my suggestions. This photo gear stuff is fun but the real measure is whether you actually take pictures with your camera. For near-infinite discussion of the pros and cons of each of the 5,000 cameras released this year I direct you to dpreview.com

Dave