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Which camera to buy?

by Andre
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Andre
#1
Dec31-10, 04:58 AM
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That question comes up every now and then. So maybe it's an idea to unanswer that here in this thread.

So you want to be able to make those nice pics you see in the nature books, commercials etc. Obviously you need good equipment for that.

The first essential thing is brain, the most important part of the camera is usually a few inches behind it. or a few feet with the nice big screens nowadays. You'd have to visualize the pic you want to make. How to make compositions. You could go and take a course for that, but reading a few books on the subject will certainly help too or browsing around on internet finds lots of sites like this.

So which camera to start with? Well it should basically make the pix that you want it to make. Main things to consider are basic picture quality, decay of picture quality under low light conditions, zoom range and focus range (macro) to capture the shot and finally but very importantly, speed, as sometimes the magic photo moment lasts only some second.

to be continued soon.
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The legend
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Dec31-10, 05:13 AM
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That website is already helping!

Thanks a lot, Andre
turbo
#3
Dec31-10, 05:28 AM
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Response time is a big one for me. I can perfectly compose a shot with my point-and-shoot Panasonic DMC-ZS3 and lose it because of lag-time. When shooting wildlife, pets, active children, etc, you can miss the "perfect" shots, especially when shooting in automatic modes in which you're relying on the camera to make decisions regarding shutter-speed, ISO, auto-focus, etc.

I have two Canon 30Ds with a modest array of lenses. Those cameras can blaze away at 5 frames per second, and they have helped me catch some things I would have missed otherwise, like a really precious expression on my niece's face before she knew that I was shooting her. (She was already camera-conscious by the age of 2!)

Andre
#4
Dec31-10, 05:59 AM
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Which camera to buy?

Right, thanks Turbo

You can make the most beautiful compositions with a phone camera or the simple point and shoot cameras, but don't expect quality nor any control about details like depth of field.

Quality increases generally with sensor size primary and pixel count secondary. You can already get quite some possiblities with the bridge cameras with a great zoom range but essentially still the quality problems of a small sensor and the speed is not great either because of the limitations of the focussing method.

If speed is all important as well as quality, you need a DSLR as Turbo indicated. It's not only about the ability to shoot at 3, 5, or 8 or even 10 frames per second but also how fast it shoots from power up and the lag between pushing the button and the exposure actually being made.

But with DSLR's the pecunia factor starts to play as well as the limited zoon range of the available lenses.

My favorite sites for that

http://www.dpreview.com/
http://www.slrgear.com/
Andre
#5
Dec31-10, 07:30 AM
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Before we concentrate on the DSLRs I should mention that there is a new in between class of camera's, the micro four thirds, also a sort of hybrid with exchangable lenses. Note that this page gives a lot of useful information, also about sensor size as well as a good elaboration of the advantages and disadvantages. Quality, size, etc. All in all I would not want to discourage a serious look into this class of cameras.

Edit,
The main reason for chosing this class of hybrid cameras is the factor light weight, while sacrifying some speed and some quality compared to the DSLRs but a quick look at prices shows that this cannot be a big factor.

Actually this buying guide sums it up:

Hybrid camera advantages

•Smaller, lighter and usually quieter than equivalent SLR
•Ease of use with many compact camera features (such as face detection)
•Better integrated video capture functionality
•Electronic viewfinders usually larger than entry-level SLR optical viewfinders
•Full shooting information and menus in the viewfinder
•Smaller lenses

Hybrid camera disadvantages

•Fewer models / brands to choose from
•Limited lens choices
•Slower - in some cases much slower - autofocus
•Limited continuous ('burst') shooting capabilities
•Electronic viewfinders cannot match the clarity of a good optical finder
•Current models offer relatively poor low-light performance
Andre
#6
Dec31-10, 09:02 AM
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So we continue, assuming that we really need the speed and versitality of a DSLR. This brings two important decisions; which brand and what price/performance level.

It's important to realize that the first buy of a certain brand, basically means that you're stuck with that brand for the rest of your life. As you buy more lenses and accessories, these are basically not interchangeable which makes a change over very costly as it goes for most of the equipment. On the other hand the quality and prices differences between the major brands are not that much as the competition is considerable. To keep it that way, buyers should certainly not chose for the same brand. So it's not a good devellopment that Canon is by far the biggest SLR brand. Nikon and Pentax are excellent too.

Anyway, I ended up with Canon because at that time I chose for the camera with the best image quality but that was only a moment in time.

On the issue of which level, SLRs start with entry level cameras for beginners then we have the semi professional midrange cameras and the professional cameras on the high end. The difference is mostly about pixels and speed.

Personally I have some reservations that beginners should start with the simpler entry level camera's. If you spend that kind of money, you sure have made a major decision about it. So spending that to try and see if you like it, seems odd. But the simpler cameras also leave you with less options, mostly lack of speed. I find it quite impossible to catch a dragonfly or a swallow in full flight with the Canon 550D by the limitations of the cheaper focussing system while the Canon 7D (almost twice as expensive) with a very sophisticated focussing system has no problems with that.
turbo
#7
Dec31-10, 10:05 AM
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Like Andre, I went with the Canon line, in large part because of the output of pro and semi-pro nature photographers with that equipment. In particular, I was blown away by one bird-photographer's work with the 100-400 L-series zoom. Until he responded to my queries about equipment, I assumed he was shooting with prime lenses.

As Andre has said, once you take the plunge, you are probably locked into that brand unless you are financially independent because those expensive lenses that you buy aren't going to work with camera bodies of other manufacturers. Back in the times of manual cameras, it was sometimes possible to "make do" with adapters, but many modern lenses have features like image stabilization and rapid auto-focus motors built in, and the more complex the lens, the less likely that it will be adaptable to uses that don't involve that brand's camera bodies as an imager.
Andy Resnick
#8
Dec31-10, 12:54 PM
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Good idea for a thread, Andre.

I'll just toss out these two sites:

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech.htm
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/index.shtml

I'll also state Andre's point that the number one most important part of any photograph is *you*- your eyes and your brain.

The second most important part is the lens. A garbage lens on a pro camera gives garbage (as always, there are exceptions- gifted photographers can use a garbagee lens and make great art: see http://www.squidoo.com/holgaFAQ). A great camera, great lens, and poor technique will also (generally) produce garbage.

The third most important part of a photo is the *lighting*. Get a decent flash, learn how to use it.

I'll mention that you are *not* really locked into a brand nowadays- you can get adapters that let you attach (pretty much) any lens onto any camera. Maybe not beginner stuff, but there's enough enthusiasts out there (and here) that can help.
Andre
#9
Dec31-10, 03:45 PM
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Quote Quote by Andy Resnick View Post
Good idea for a thread, Andre.

I'll just toss out these two sites:

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech.htm
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/index.shtml

I'll also state Andre's point that the number one most important part of any photograph is *you*- your eyes and your brain.

The second most important part is the lens. A garbage lens on a pro camera gives garbage (as always, there are exceptions- gifted photographers can use a garbagee lens and make great art: see http://www.squidoo.com/holgaFAQ). A great camera, great lens, and poor technique will also (generally) produce garbage.

The third most important part of a photo is the *lighting*. Get a decent flash, learn how to use it.

I'll mention that you are *not* really locked into a brand nowadays- you can get adapters that let you attach (pretty much) any lens onto any camera. Maybe not beginner stuff, but there's enough enthusiasts out there (and here) that can help.
Thanks for that Andy, maybe I'm allowed to comment a bit. For instance from the first site

Forget Resolution and ISO

Resolution and ISO are silly numbers used to try to sell you more expensive cameras.

Resolution, expressed in megapixels, is no longer relevant. Forget it when comparing cameras. I've made great 12 x 18" (30x45cm) prints from a 3MP camera and 40x60" (100x 150cm) prints from a 6MP camera. 6 Megapixels is all anyone needs for anything, and every camera here has two or three times that.

Resolution is nothing more than a sales pitch to get you to pay more.

Now that every camera has double-digit megapixels, camera makers invented another meaningless number they can use to extract more cash from the innocent, called ISO.

ISO is a rough measure of sensitivity to low light. It only matters if you shoot in the dark, and then shoot without flash. As soon as your flash pops up, the higher ISOs aren't used anyway. Even if you learn how to use the higher ISO settings of your camera (few people do), there isn't much difference between cameras of the same type and era, regardless of cost. All the higher ISO settings do is make the picture look grainier, and the cameras that sport the highest ISO settings look horrible at those settings!
This is a bit of misinformation, the pixelmania arguments are typically Nikon that refused to keep up in the megapixel race. It's more complex and also a function of pixel quality and lens quality. Indeed it is useless to increase pixel count if the lens is the critical limitation for more resolution but often it is not. Smaller pixels are obviously struggling with signal noise ratio but that doesn't mean that the optimum solution is in the low pixel count. And a high pixel count allows you to crop, the more the better.

<edit>
Tinypic seems out at the moment but when it's back I'll demonstrate how important that is.

Let me illustrate the importance of pixel count with this picture:


this is on 15% of the real size which is 12.1 MP of the Canon 450D, you see that I used it in the current photo challenge in a crop of 50% size. That'sthe closest I could get that picture with the 300mm zoom

This is a crop on 100% size:



So if the camera was only on say, 3.5 MP, the best I could have done was this:



So more pixels is indeed more resolution (lens depending) and a priory dismissing the higher pixel count is an unjust generalisation.

Then the high ISO. Apart from the fact that natural light is miles ahead of flashlight for a nice harmonious shot, there are also several occasions that the normal numbers fall short. If you want to do fast sports hand held with a telelens on a gloomy day or marcoshots from life insects, the situation requires high shutterspeeds and small apertures, allowing only a little light to the sensor. That's also where high iso numbers save the day.
Borek
#10
Dec31-10, 04:06 PM
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Quote Quote by Andre View Post
This is a bit of misinformation
You are very charitable. I would classify it as "intended misinformation", worth 3 infraction points.
edward
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Dec31-10, 07:47 PM
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Quote Quote by turbo-1 View Post
Response time is a big one for me. I can perfectly compose a shot with my point-and-shoot Panasonic DMC-ZS3 and lose it because of lag-time. When shooting wildlife, pets, active children, etc, you can miss the "perfect" shots, especially when shooting in automatic modes in which you're relying on the camera to make decisions regarding shutter-speed, ISO, auto-focus, etc.

I have two Canon 30Ds with a modest array of lenses. Those cameras can blaze away at 5 frames per second, and they have helped me catch some things I would have missed otherwise, like a really precious expression on my niece's face before she knew that I was shooting her. (She was already camera-conscious by the age of 2!)
I have the same lag time problem with my point and shoot. The odd thing is that the video starts instantly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7iJWQcRYog
Andre
#12
Jan1-11, 04:51 AM
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Quote Quote by edward View Post
I have the same lag time problem with my point and shoot. The odd thing is that the video starts instantly.
Most older point and shoots don't do much when the button is not depressed. So it would have to focus and meter the light first, and make some decisions between depressing the button and actually making the pic. In the movie mode these functions are likely active continuously.

Also all non reflex cameras struggle a bit with auto focussing using contrast detection. That takes a lot of calculating, think in half seconds. However, the mirror system in an SLR allows for phase detection which is much faster, think in milli seconds.

This also means that when you don't use the view finder but the life preview mode of the modern SLR's that the mirror locks up, disabling the phase detection. So then you also lack the speed of the phase detection as it has to revert to a phase detection mode again for the focus. Canon also has a (selectable) hybrid solution for that, if you hit the seperate focus button, the mirror drops, the phase detection auto focus activates and after focussing the mirror locks up again. A bit too complex for my likings.

Next ..but what camera to buy?
Andy Resnick
#13
Jan1-11, 11:22 AM
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Quote Quote by Andre View Post
Thanks for that Andy, maybe I'm allowed to comment a bit. For instance from the first site

This is a bit of misinformation, the pixelmania arguments are typically Nikon that refused to keep up in the megapixel race.
I understand your point, but Ken's is that unless you are making prints larger than (say) 4" x 6", why pay for pixels that aren't used? Clearly, the issue is more subtle- with a larger image size/greater number of pixels, you can crop the original and then make large prints from the *cropped* original. But for simple snapshots- the 99.9% of camera users that don't do anything more than snap a pic and email it to friends who look at it on their cell phone or blackberry or computer screen- you really don't need more than (say) 6 MP. The bottom line is that pixel count, in and of itself, in *not* a useful metric- image *size*, on the other hand, *is* a useful metric.

I do a demo in class where I compare a cell phone image to my Sony- the reason why cheap cameras work so well for facebook/blogs/cell phone backgrounds/etc is that you don't need a gazillion pixels.. Some students (the ones who work at electronics stores) get upset when I point out that a $1 camera phone image is nearly indistinguishable from a $4k DSLR.

And, this doesn't even get into the issue that DSLR sensors use a Bayer filter- a 24 MP DSLR sensor is not the same as a 24 MP monochrome focal plane array.
DaveC426913
#14
Jan1-11, 11:51 AM
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You guys are touching on the very things I used to pick my cameras.

IMO, the best way to louse up an otherwise excellent pic is to not have your camera with you when it occurs. I went with a point & shoot rather than a DSLR for that reason. I carry it with me in my "murse" next to my wallet and keys.

The second best way top louse up a shot is to have your camera pointed at your shot but it's not ready. Lag time was the primary factor. I tested a bunch to see how long it took to turn on nad how long it took to be ready between shots.

After that, I looked for MP, because I like to do heavy cropping.

One misleading factor is zoom. Optical zoom is the only one to bother with. Digital zoom simply interpolates.
Andy Resnick
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Jan1-11, 12:06 PM
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Quote Quote by DaveC426913 View Post
<snip>

One misleading factor is zoom. Optical zoom is the only one to bother with. Digital zoom simply interpolates.
yes- excellent point!
Andre
#16
Jan1-11, 12:10 PM
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Quote Quote by Andy Resnick View Post
I do a demo in class where I compare a cell phone image to my Sony- the reason why cheap cameras work so well for facebook/blogs/cell phone backgrounds/etc is that you don't need a gazillion pixels.. Some students (the ones who work at electronics stores) get upset when I point out that a $1 camera phone image is nearly indistinguishable from a $4k DSLR.
Thanks Andy, that sort of comforms to my OP:

Quote Quote by Andre View Post
So you want to be able to make those nice pics you see in the nature books, commercials etc. Obviously you need good equipment for that.
So which Camera to choose? If you'd opt for the bridge camera, this may be an interesting comparison.

For DSLR brands: Canon is the largest and has some status to keep up, the fastest camera being the 1D mk IV and the full frame 5D mk II camera for the 'best' image quality versus a reasonable price. Nikon is the runner up with some pretty interesting trumps like the best full frame low light camera, the D3S. But not cameras for mere mortals on a tighter budget. Pentax is only close behind. Sony (formerly Minolta) holds records for resolution and has interesting gadgets. Olympus specializes on small sizes with the four third system and other brands like Panasonic and

So if I had some spare cash and enough persuation power, and having Cano lenses already, I'd go for the Canon 7D almost a professional fast camera for a reasonable price. But simpler cameras with the same sensor and hence image quality are the new 60D and the 550D (mine).

Would you fancy Nikon then the semi professional D7000 is a good one or the entry level D3100. But a excellent competitor is the Pentax K-5, with an amazing low light performance. But also the Sony alpha55 is certainly worth considering
turbo
#17
Jan1-11, 12:37 PM
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It's also worth considering how technologies are implemented. Canon and Nikon integrate image stabilization in their lenses, for instance, so that the IS is optimized for each lens. Other companies implement IS with some sort of sensor-shifting mechanism, which may or may not work as well. With short focal lengths, the moving-sensor technology can work very well, though with long focal lengths, enough image-shake can out-strip the ability of the sensor to travel to match it.

Lenses with built-in IS have to be more complex, and perhaps more expensive as a result, but I like the results. I own an ancient Bogen tripod, but I never bother tossing it into the vehicle when I load my camera-case. Good IS lets me treat almost all shots as snapshots, and it's great to be free of that heavy tripod. I have a walking-staff with a 1/4" x 25 stud hidden under the head, and that can serve as monopod, if necessary, though I use that only rarely.
turbo
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Jan1-11, 12:45 PM
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BTW, I used to travel with an OM4, several OM1s (usually 3 of them) loaded films in a range of ISOs, and lots of prime lenses, plus a couple of flashes, and that heavy Bogen tripod. I am spoiled by these Canon 30Ds and Canon zoom lenses. When I was shooting film, I never owned a zoom. The optical quality was generally very poor, and the loss of speed necessitated shooting with faster (and grainier) films. Today's lenses often employ aspheric elements, high-dispersion glasses, etc, and can cover a wide range of focal lengths with very little distortion.


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