Choosing the right camera this Christmas
With so many cameras on the market, choosing one can be confusing. Travel photographer, Anthony Lydekker, gives us the lowdown on how and what to buy this Christmas
As Christmas and New Year sales approach we enter the peak weeks of camera purchases. With this in mind, here are ten cameras to consider…
In my own work as a professional photographer two factors have made me very much aware of what’s in the market: running informal courses for local elderly groups (mainly users of very basic compacts) and my own purchase of one of the latest ‘top of the range’ advanced compacts. I now use this for most travel work and carry a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) and lenses as back up – not the other way around.
Whatever camera one purchases, the constant principles of a good picture remain the same: use of light, composition, focusing correctly and holding the camera straight.
Doing it by the book
In developing the courses, I have come across a book which I strongly recommend: Mark Burton’s The Gadget Scientist Guide to Using Your Digital Camera. It can be used with every make or model of camera. Whatever your level buy it. If experienced, it will help you explain some of the mix of all the technical aspects to others!
Also, consider buying a book about your specific camera they are usually much better than the manual. Under ‘books’, search for the make and model on Amazon.
Five sorts of camera
Trying to pick up all the photo mags in a large newsagent could well result in a hernia. There are hundreds of digital cameras around which now fall into five groups: DSLR’s, Compacts, Advanced Compacts, Super Zooms, and the new Compact Systems.
I’ve have chosen two cameras in each category.
As well as wading through the reviews I’ve had feedback from colleagues, clients, course participants and from Jessops who were very supportive in my preparation of this article and enabled me to try out the all the cameras bar one – that’s my own Canon G12 (see below). With new cameras, retailer feedback is very important because they are in the front line for queries and niggles from owners.
If you’re thinking about video – then buy a stills camera first, as many have excellent quality HD video. That is the way the market seems to be going. Of course, you still have to learn the software, but that’s another story.
Please check current prices via web search, magazines, and retailer offers. They are likely to be lower than these guide prices. Do try and look for the precise number by make, for example the Nikon S9100 is not the Nikon S9 (latter is an earlier model), some models are produced only for retailers and catalogue sellers so the bodies look the same but the inside spec. is different.
Choose either of the two main brands’ entry level models: Canon 1100 (£379)or Nikon D3100 (£400). These cameras, with a standard 18-55 mm lens are excellent value for the next step up from a compact. They take you into the big boys’ world of photography. Both cameras accept the range of branded lenses and a vast range of accessories. These bodies are plastic but they are entry level cameras at the price of Advanced Compacts. If you want to take your photography further you can add lenses, and even consider upgrading the body from the second hand market. You can also hire lenses. For some specialist architectural jobs I rent a Canon tilt and shift lens which retails for £1,800 which would work on this Canon 1100 model.
A personal view about brands: choose Canon or Nikon because there are many more lenses, accessories including ‘third party’ products e.g. Sigma and Tamron lenses, flash guns, filters, available in Canon and Nikon fitting than any other brands.
But whatever brand you choose there is a strong case for sticking to it. The controls, arrangement of buttons, menu descriptions are the same or very similar from camera model to model and the cable connections and software for downloading images to pc or loading into the kiosks in high street printing outlets are the same.
Compacts under £150 are very basic but still take reasonable images on auto. The step up in quality to the next price level is significant with new low light technology and more features to produce images that will print well at A4 size these are both fairly new models:
Canon Ixus 220 HS £149 and Nikon S9100 £199.
These are superb cameras as they incorporate many DSLR features nudging through the entry level DSLR price. They capture RAW images (not just JPEGS), have viewfinders, as well as “ live view” on swivel screens, and hot shoe brackets for professional flash guns and wireless controlled accessories and 720p HD movie capture. The G12 has 27 shooting modes. Not much between them: Canon G12 £400 and Nikon P7100 £479.
These cameras, sometimes known as ‘Bridge’ have a fixed lenses with massive zooms equivalent to standard 35mm size of 24-840 mm and 24-720 mm respectively. Although lighter than a DSLR they are similar in bulk. They also have a high burst rate (i.e. 8 frames per second) and are ideal for sport . Due to the range of the single lens they are sometimes promoted as travellers’ cameras. Again they are in that similar price bracket of entry DSLR’s and Advanced Compacts. An alternative route is to carry a telephoto lens and get it out for the DSLR when needed. Even with some image stabilising in the camera, this sort of magnification needs a tripod. Not my personal choice but great cameras for what they do: Canon SX40HS (£450) and Fuji HS20(£379).
Compact System Cameras
These ‘mini SLR systems’ are the latest quite heavily advertised development in the market.
One of the principles is the removal of the mirrors normally used in DSLR’s and smaller but highly effective sensors. The costs of additional lenses are similar to those for full size DSLR’s . It’s early days for this sector and I am not sure if they will be taken up for professional use. This where we part company from the two leading brands. Canon has yet to launch a system and there are reports from magazine reviewers and trade of some teething problems with the two Nikon ranges. The two cameras are: Panasonic Lumix G3 £489 and Sony NEX-C3 £399.
As you may have gathered I am very happy with my Canon G12 and particularly the ‘movie’ function. The new Canon ‘HS’ low light is working well for the Church interiors I need sometimes for CD-Traveller articles. For big interiors I put on my Canon 280 flash gun on a lead from the camera body which is smaller than the gun. The swivel screen is ideal for candid shots looking the other way or with the camera waist high like the old days with a Rolleiflex.
Two final reminders
Make sure you specify the correct model number there are always offers on (sometimes less good) earlier models or specials for retailers.
Secondly, do try the book, The Gadget Scientist Guide to Using Your Digital Camera - I haven’t heard of a bad review yet. Let me know what you think by posting a comment below.