Most parents, even if they are not photographers, want a camera that is easy to use and will capture high quality photos of their kids as they grow up – and as good as smartphones are, they can really suck with poor image quality in low light, and often have trouble capturing the moment, not to mention, lack the option of having a bounce flash for nice light.
A cheap digital SLR camera will do a good job of moving subjects but these cameras and lenses are too big for hand bags and are not able to automatically autofocus on a child’s face and lack the many features we now take for granted in mirrorless cameras. Nevertheless they could be a cheaper option for some. For example, Canon 100D with 40mm f/2.8 STM lens will cost around $AU490 after cash back and then you can throw it away and get a mirrorless when you can afford it.
Mirrorless cameras offer smaller size and are quierter, less intrusive while allowing a range of features not available on dSLRs – unfortunately they do tend to struggle with focusing on moving subjects unless they have PDAF technology (the larger OM-D E-M1 or Sony mirrorless) or DFD technology such as the latest Panasonic cameras.
All cameras will struggle to focus on strongly backlit subjects (sunny window behind your subject) or low contrast subjects such as black cats in dim lighting.
The falling Australian dollar has made camera gear more expensive in Australia which makes finding a good camera and good low light lens for under $AU1000 challenging – don’t forget to consider buying second hand on Ebay!
The main requirements:
- affordable – around $AU1000 for camera and lens
- compact – should fit in a ladies hand bag
- high quality images – thus a reasonably big sensor is needed – Micro Four Thirds gives this while still allowing compact camera and lens
- fast, accurate autofocus on the child’s face – now this is where things can get difficult in low light and with a moving child
- ability to touch the rear screen and rapidly have the camera focus on that area and take the photo
- smartphone WiFi connectivity to allow instant uploads to the net via the smartphone
- image stabilised 1080HD video capability
- a low light lens to allow better images indoors with or without a flash
The Olympus options:
I love Olympus cameras, particularly the OM-D series (as I prefer to use a viewfinder rather than the rear screen), but the Pen series may be very adequate and more compact for the casual parent photographer who is happy to just use the rear screen and not have a view finder.
None of the Olympus models at this price point have PDAF capabilities so will not be able to track a subject with autofocus, but their autofocus is so fast you can usually get away without this as long as the subject is not moving too quickly.
- Olympus OM-D E M10 mark II $AU699 body only
- Olympus Pen E-P5 $AU568 body only although this model is getting a bit old now
Then you would need to select a nice low light lens which will allow better images in low light indoors, and for this, I would look at the Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 ($AU431) (or Olympus m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 ($AU509) if you want a wide view or Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 ($AU382) if you want a closer view). If you have lots of money then the Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 lens will be even better but this will set you back around $AU1600 for the lens alone!
The Panasonic options:
The latest Panasonic cameras are very nice as they have Panasonics DFD autofocus technology which should allow faster autofocus on moving subjects.
- Panasonic Lumix DC-GX850 $AU649 with kit zoom lens – coming in Feb 2017, has 4K video, selfie mode with flip up screen and hands free modes (face shutter, buddy shutter, Jump snap) as well as Background Control features makes it a nicer camera for the parent than the Olympus options but you do lose the viewfinder, hotshoe for a flash and the built-in image stabiliser.
- Panasonic Lumix GX85 $AU 980 with kit zoom lens – awesome camera, similar to the GX850 but you also get the viewfinder, flash hotshoe and image stabilisation built in.
- Panasonic GF8 – $AU579 with kit zoom lens – older model with similar capabilities to the GX850 but no 4K video
You will then need a Panasonic low light lens such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens ($AU378), Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens ($AU288) or Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens ($AU790) if you just want one zoom lens and don’t mind it being a bit bigger. The autofocus is not quite as fast on the pancake lens but its compact size makes carrying in a handbag easier.
The high end mirrorless options:
For those where size and money are not an issue, here are a few options which will allow even faster autofocus and shallower depth of field with a range of other benefits:
Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I ($AU1150) or the much more expensive, new E-M1 mark II version ($AU2750) coupled with the Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 lens ($AU1600).
Sony a7II full frame mirrorless ($AU1900) with Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens ($AU1150), but this route will take you down a path of financial pain – their full frame mirrorless lenses are very expensive!
If you have the money and don’t mind the larger size and lack of selfie features, go for the Panasonic GX85 and buy a low light lens and a bounce flash to sit on the camera for when the light is dim and not so nice.
If the GX85 is too expensive, and you want to use bounce flash, go for the Olympus OM-D E-M10 mark II with an Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens.
If you can’t see yourself using a bounce flash, the lighter, smaller, cheaper, Panasonic GX850 with its selfie features combined with a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens or for faster AF but larger size, Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens, the would make a great compact combination.