Last minute rush to buy your new camera for Christmas? Think twice before you buy.

Written by Gary on December 22nd, 2011

If you are upgrading from a point and shoot digital camera you have 2 main options:

  1. a digital SLR
  2. a mirrorless compact

BOTH will give you almost the same image quality which is FAR better than point and shoots and BOTH will give you the versatility of interchangable lenses and external flash.

There are some good reasons to buy a dSLR:

  • you really really need to be able to autofocus on fast moving subjects – BEWARE though you will need to buy a high end dSLR (eg Canon 7D $2000 or Canon 1D mark IV at $5000 BUT NOT the Canon 5D Mark II as this is not designed for sports) for good action/sports AF and a very good lens (add another $1000-2000 per lens)
  • you want a fast flash sync of 1/250th-1/300th sec for outdoor fill-in flash in bright sunlight with wide aperture lenses (not all dSLRs have a fast flash sync!)
  • you want to be a commercial photographer and need your clients to think you have a pro camera – BEWARE wedding and fashion photography is HARD and you should be aiming for a full frame dSLR such as a Canon 5D Mark II or a Nikon D700 and pro lenses (OK you are looking at $4000 plus)
  • you want to really explore off-camera flash in remote TTL using PocketWizard radio triggers – you will need a Canon or Nikon dSLR, preferably a pro one with a fast flash sync.
  • you want to use BIG, HEAVY super-telephoto lenses which cost $1000-$10,000 each
  • you want to do highly technical work requiring remote control of cameras, intervalometers, etc
  • you want super shallow depth of field – get a Canon 5D Mark II full frame dSLR and a Canon 85mm f/1.2 lens = $6000
  • you want a weatherproof camera – get a high end dSLR – hopefully a weatherproof mirrorless will be coming in 2012.

IF none of the above apply, then you are probably BETTER off buying a mirrorless compact camera as:

  • smaller, lighter and cheaper and generally higher quality consumer level lenses
  • you are more likely to take it with you
  • easier to travel with, less weight for cabin baggage
  • can take more lenses for same weight in your backpack
  • easier to use as don’t have the complexities of mirror vs mirrorless live view modes as with dSLRs
  • you will not be so intimidating to your subjects
  • live video mode and movie making as well as manual focus is so much easier
  • face detection AF, liveView AF and movie mode AF actually are fast unlike the currently unusable versions in dSLRs
  • less noisy
  • you are likely to be allowed to use it at commercial events such as concerts which generally ban dSLRs
  • you won’t look like a dork at parties
  • you can have a lot of fun buying cheap old lenses and using them on these cameras
  • Olympus flash units are MUCH easier to use than Canon flash units
  • Custom White Balance is generally much easier to use than on a non-pro Canon dSLR
  • no need for mirror lock up when doing high magnification shots such as macro, super telephoto
  • the Panasonic GH series have an oversized sensor which allows uncropped 16:9, 4:3 or 3:2 images
  • the Olympus cameras have built-in image stabiliser that works on all legacy lenses as well as dedicated lenses
  • they have better quality and functionality for not much more money than the entry level dSLRs such as a Canon 1100D which has poor build quality, poor ergonomics, cheap non-touch, non-swivel, low res LCD screen, only 720p video with no manual control, very slow AF in live view, clumsy live view functionality.

Which camera to buy in a rush this Christmas?

  • dSLRs if you must have one:
    • Canon 7D, or 600D if you can’t afford a Canon 5D Mark II full frame
    • Nikon D7000 or D300s if you can’t afford a Nikon D700 full frame (but this is an old model and doesn’t have video)
    • perhaps consider a Sony
  • mirrorless:
    • I prefer Micro Four Thirds cameras because of the better range in AF lenses than Sony, the better hotshoe, and you can’t yet buy the Sony NEX7 due to flooding of Sony’s factory
    • if you want to take great indoor party shots, make sure it has a hotshoe so you can buy an external flash to bounce of a wall.
    • Panasonic GH-2 is the current top of the range – best video, best image quality, automatic switching between EVF and LCD screen and over-sized sensor which I love
    • Panasonic G-3 is a cut down cheaper version of the GH-2 so an excellent value for money and has the lovely swivel out,  touch screen LCD
    • if these are too big, look at the models with optional viewfinder which sits on the top of the camera:
      • Olympus E-PL3 has built-in image stabiliser, better flash control than the Panasonic and flip out screen – perhaps the best of these
      • Olympus E-P3 a little more expensive than the E-PL3 but no flip out screen
    • avoid the older models as they have much slower autofocus

Now the lenses:

  • choice of lens is generally FAR MORE important than the camera in allowing you to take great photos – choose wisely.
  • if you are buying a dSLR DON’T waste your money on those twin lens kits – both lenses tend to be very ordinary and will not give you the image quality you want from these cameras nor the ability to blur the background – if you are just going to buy these, you may as well have bought a mirrorless camera.
  • for a dSLR, consider either one really good zoom lens with an f/2.8 aperture, or if you can’t afford this just get the cheap standard zoom lens for the time being and supplement it with a few prime lenses such as 50mm f/1.8, 100mm f/2.8 macro and if you can afford it 135mm f/2.0L lens. Of course the those with the money and strong backs to carry them will look at a 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 ISL lens.
  • for the mirrorless cameras such as Micro Four Thirds:
    • one or both of the kit lenses as these will be very useful on this format in daylight conditions ONLY
    • a low light/indoors/portrait/night lens such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens, 25mm f/1.4 or the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens – both available for around $350 if you go looking. At least one of these are ESSENTIAL
    • if you want to really blur the background but can’t afford the autofocus lenses that do this, look at the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens (you will need an adapter) but you can achieve similar image quality of a $6000 camera for under $300 with this lens!! I love it!!

Some essential accessories:

These make great gift ideas for the new photographer.

Circular polarising lens of the correct size for each of your lenses which you will use outdoors.

Cokin neutral soft half gradient filter 0.6 to make the stormy clouds really come out.

Medium size external flash which rotates for bouncing off walls – eg. Olympus FL-36 for Micro Four Thirds, – see tips for better Christmas party photos

Sturdy tripod if you intend to do night shots, flowing water shots such as waterfalls or at the beach at dusk.

 see more on previous blogs:

 

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