What Camera to buy?

As a Pro photographer my friends and family will often turn to me for advice before investing in a new digital camera. The one thing their quests have in common is the desire to take better photos. Often they have children and are tired of the lag between seeing a perfect shot and taking it before the child has moved or run off to play with another toy. Kids are fast and always on the move hindering your ability to capture a moment in time. Others love photography and really want to get the best possible product for the best deal. It makes little sense for a college student, a retired couple, or a family, to drop 3K on a digital camera for everyday shots. Everyone needs a starter camera to grow with and possibility grow out of. I started taking photos with a point and shoot Minolta that was only 3mp. I then graduated to a Canon 20D that was 8.5mp (it was stolen), took the insurance money and my savings to buy the Canon 5D 12.1mp. After 3 years of great service from the Canon 5D, I just picked up the 5D Mark II, a 21.1mp full frame camera. Now my original 5D serves as a quality backup in case something goes wrong with the Mark II. As you can see I have grown from my first camera to my current camera.

Ok, so you want to buy a new camera…My first question(s) would be the following…

  1. What is your budget?
  2. What do you want to photograph?
  3. Is size a factor? (weight and bulk)
  4. Do you want it to shoot video? If yes, HD video?

The one thing that I cannot offer you here is advice on buying a Nikon. I don’t have any experience with that brand as I shoot with Canon cameras. I’ve been extremely happy with Canon’s quality in their cameras, lenses, warranties, and customer service. In the end, I chose Canon over Nikon because of the range of lenses they offer. I shoot architecture and need TS-E lenses. TS-E stands for Tilt + Shift and the “E” is a class definition. These lenses are are often called perspective correcting lenses. Canon simply has more quality products. So, if you love Nikon, you’ll have to go someplace else for help, sorry!

Most people base their new camera purchase on price or budget. People who want to take the next step in the world of photography want to spend about $800 to $1500 on a new camera and new lens (and sometimes even less).

If Size and $$ is a factor:
Many are looking for a great camera that has a fast lens (f-2.8) for low light shots with no flash, is compact, takes great photos and is 10mp or more and costs less than $800 (typically $400 to $600). To put it simply, they have bigger sensors than the smaller point and shoots.
If this is what you’re looking for, the cameras you want to focus on are:
Canon Power shot G11
Canon Power shot G10
Canon Power shot sx1 IS

All the information you are going to need are at the links above. One thing, don’t ever buy any products from Canon’s on-line store. They are marked up in most cases more than 30%. If you really want to get a deal, buy a camera on-line from a company that does not have a store in your state, you will avoid any sales tax. I buy most of my equipment from Calumet Photo here in Chicago, but when I’m going to make a larger purchase, I will do anything I can not to pay 10.5% sales tax. So buying from B&H on the east coast can save me hundreds of dollars and they often are priced lower as they buy in bulk. Even after shipping, I’ve saved money.

You want to buy an SLR (Single Lens reflex) camera.
If this is your first camera you want to go with the Canon Rebel line. They’re good starter SLR’s and most lenses you buy for it will work with any upgrade you make in the years to come. They’re affordable, smaller than pro cameras and take great shots for the money. You’ll end up spending about the same for a decent lens that I’ll talk more about below.

If you’re keen on this, these are the cameras you want, the best one first and on down the line:
Canon Rebel T2I EF-S (will shoot HD video + highest Mega pixels)
Canon Rebel T1I EF-S (will shoot HD video)
Canon Rebel XsI EF-S (highest Mega pixels with no HD)
Canon Rebel Xs EF-S (lowest price model)

In the end, you’ll have to do a comparison of these products to pick the camera that is perfect for you…you can do this on Canon’s website too.

Advanced Amateur
If you’re buying this camera because you want to start selling your photos or are starting on the path to professional or semi pro photographer, do not buy a rebel. You’ll out grow it very quickly and the quality in the end won’t be enough for what you need.

Semi pro cameras from Canon are extremely popular and they have all sorts of models. I’m not going to go into detail on these, but they’re listed below. You can always post a comment or email me if you really want to dig into what camera is best for you. They start at 1k and the 7D is about $1700 (it does HD video)

The advanced amateur cameras are:
Canon EOS 50d
Canon EOS 7d

You need a good lens
The 50d and 7d are body only cameras. Sure, there is always someone out there that will sell them with a kit lens that was not actually put together as a kit from Canon. All the Rebels come with an 18-55mm lens that is junk. It might be worth $50 and is built as cheaply. This is why I ask what you’re going to be shooting in order to find the perfect camera and lens for you. If you want to take photos of your kids in the house, at the park, on stage at talent shows, in low light with no flash or from a distance, you will not be able to do these things with the included lens. Take the lens out of the box and sell it on Ebay as fast as you can. Its only function should be as a paper weight not a lens.

What lens should I buy?
I’m glad you asked, this is my response…again cost is the biggest factor here for most. These are the most reasonable lenses you can get that are good in low light (f-3.5) and usually have image stabilization which is necessary for shots in low light. You will be hard pressed to find a zoom lens with an aperture of less than f3.5 for under 1k. With that said, I’m talking zoom lenses, the kind that are multifunctional. A lens you can leave on the camera to get shots of nature, family, your kids on stage at the local play, in tight spaces, you name it, you can shoot it.

Canon 18-135mm f.3.5 IS. This is a very clear (f 3.5) lens for the money. It also has image stabilization and you really must have it (the IS). You can get some nice wide shots and even a decent zoom at 135mm without having a huge lens. $499. Specs: 3.0 x 4.0 in./75.4 x 101mm, 16.0 oz./455g

Canon 55-250 f/4.5 IS. This is not my favorite lens, I would not buy it, but it is cheaper and you can see why (f 4-5.6). Picture quality comes mainly from the lens. But again, it’s cheaper. When shooting you’ll have problems taking a photo of the entire family together, getting the camera back far enough to fit everyone in the frame. And 250mm…what are you doing with it, bird watching? As well, it’s kind of big and heavy. Canon says it’s worth $299.
Specs: 2.8 in. x 4.3 in./70 x 108mm (maximum lens length), 13.8 oz./390g

Canon 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6. IS. Good clear lens with image stabilization and it does all the thinking for you. Let me explain…More times than not, you will dial the lens to a focal length that will leave you with distorted images and you’re left wondering why your child has such a large odd shaped head. It’s the lens…Anything under 28mm and you get massive amounts of distortion and most of the images will need cropping due to the distortion. The 28mm is still very wide and you can compose nice family shots with it in tight spaces. The 135mm will give you just enough to zoom when shooting subjects from a good distance. Canon says it’s worth $479.99 and it’s the most compact of the three. I wouldn’t mind having this one to shoot casual subjects as its light and small. Look for deals, you’ll find them on this lens.
Specs: 3.1″ x 3.8″/78.4mm x 96.8mm, 18.9 oz./540g

Other accessories to think about
Now that you’ve picked a camera and a lens, you need a few other things. You must have a compact flash card and these days you can get an 8gb card for less than $70. By the time you’re finished reading this they’ll be even cheaper.

All Canon cameras come with a strap. If you prefer something more comfortable without the Canon logo or the camera model on it you can easily find one that suits you online or at your local camera shop. Straps are relatively inexpensive. You can even get a hand strap too if you don’t want the neck strap.

You don’t need it, but it is nice to have a back up battery. You can simply swap it out when one dies rather than waiting for the original to charge. Don’t buy cheaper 3rd party batteries. They fail sooner and don’t hold charges as well as Canon batteries. Pay the $50-$70 (different from model to model) as it will be worth it, trust me.

If you’re gong to get into photography as a profession or as an advanced amateur then you should be prepared to shoot with a tripod. Quality photography on a pro level or even an advanced amateur level is difficult without one. Find a tripod that is light and affordable and use it. I personally use a Gitzo which is made of carbon and is super light and indestructible. I’ll have my tripod for the rest of my life unless someone steals it or I lose it. Buy something within your budget that you’ll actually carry around. Don’t be one of those people that buys a treadmill only to hang clothes on it. Weight is a factor, consider it seriously. If you buy a cheap and heavy tripod, you won’t want to carry it around and therefore you will not use it.

So there you have it. I hope this post helps you on your way to taking better photos and finding a camera and lens that suits your unique needs.


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