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This an attempt to fit the camera recommendation to the person and
task. Cameras are tools and the project determines which tool is appropriate.
Camera for a Young Kid
A camera for a child aged 4 to 10 should be
hard to break
cheap to replace
simple to use
with a low per-exposure cost
A single-use camera from Kodak or Fuji meets all of these criteria
except that per-exposure cost will be high due to processing fees. How
can these cameras, referred to in less politically-correct times as
"disposable", deliver good image quality? They use molded aspherical
lenses, shapes that would be very expensive to realize in a traditional
glass lens. These radical shapes enable a very simple lens to deliver
sharp photos and don't add anything to the cost of the camera since it
is all molded out of plastic anyway.
Quick Snap Outdoor is probably the best for a young
child. Since it does not have a flash, the camera will force the child
to think a little bit about light and also to get outdoors and explore
the world. An alternative is the
If you think the kid is ready for a "real camera", a simple point and
shoot is probably a reasonable purchase:
If the child is careful with toys and machines and facile with
computers, you might consider getting a low-end
digital camera. The
cost of this camera will be higher than a single-use film camera,
but the kid will be able to make thousands of photographs without
bankrupting his parents.
Suggested Digital Cameras:
Kodak EZ200 (640x480 resolution; available at
Adorama for $130)
Olympus D-360L (1280x960 resolution; complex features; available at
Adorama for $270).
Kodak DC3400 (1760x1168 resolution, good for prints to 8x10;
excellent image quality; available at
Adorama for $400).
Camera for Someone Learning Photography
Most photography instruction these days is done with
a digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, the same type of
camera that you would typically find draped around a photojournalist's neck.
Canon Digital Rebel XTi and Sigma 30/1.4; the camera has many bells
and whistles but they can be disabled when the camera is in manual mode.
Nikon D40 and Sigma 30/1.4 lens (Nikon has been losing market share
to Canon for many years and the Canon EOS system is probably a better
A lot of people get serious about photography when their first baby
arrives. The new parent faces the following challenges:
nobody looks good when photographed with on-camera flash
a baby's eyes may be sensitive to flash
some of the baby's most appealing moments are likely to occur when
the light is dim
the baby, wardrobe, and surroundings are unlikely to be
babies spend a lot of time on the floor
These challenges should be tackled with the following tools:
a high-speed len, good at gathering light, with a maximum aperture
between f/1.4 and f/2.8
black and white mode or conversion to black and white in
if determined to use color, reduction of contrast and color
saturation either in the camera or in post-processing on a computer
and getting down so that the
camera is at the same level as the baby
To ensure that you are getting
a high-speed lens, you have to look at the aperture specification. A
lower number is better and the difference between small numbers is
significant. For example, a typical point and shoot will have an
aperture of f/11 at the longest zoom length. A typical normal lens for a
single-lens reflex camera will have an aperture of f/1.4. The f/1.4
lens is capable of taking a picture in light that is 1/64th as bright as
the f/11 lens.
To get artistically compelling photographs of your baby, you'll want the
following items: (a)
and normal lens, (b) a
backup/purse/pocket camera that you can have with you at all times.
Choices for the main camera:
Canon Digital Rebel XTi and Sigma 30/1.4 lens for everyday
situations; add an $80 Canon 50/1.8 lens for portraits
(low budget) Nikon D40 and Nikon 50/1.8 lens for portraits
If you go to most camera shops, they will try to sell you a zoom lens
with an aperture of f/4-5.6. This means it is f/4 at the wide end
but only f/5.6 at the telephoto end. With a lens like this, you
will be saddled with the task of
choosing a focal length every time you want to take a picture. You will
also be forced to find light that is between 8 and 16 times brighter
than you'd need with a 50/1.4 lens. Very few shops will stock the
fast "prime" (non-zoom) lenses, which are typically purchased only by professionals, so
they'll try to sell the cheap crummy zoom lens that they do have.
As far as having a backup camera goes, you want a compact point and
shoot camera. The only special requirement is that you probably want
one that need not be used with flash all the time. There are three ways
that a camera can capture a good photo without using flash:
low noise at high ISO settings, which typically requires a
specialized sensor (the full-frame Canon digital SLRs such as the EOS
5D) or unusual electronics (one or two Fuji point and shoot cameras)
a fast lens, which typically means a non-zoom (very few point and
shoot cameras offer prime lenses)
image stabilization, enabling the use of slower shutter speeds
without camera shake (but you still might get blur if the subject is moving)
The only point and shoot camera right now that is appropriate is the
If you're going on a fabulous long trip to somewhere interesting, you
have to first decide to what extent you'll be concentrating on
If photography is a minor goal of the trip, take a camera that is
easy to carry. See "Best
Digital Cameras" for our current recommendations. Concentrate on
the Compact category; the Ultra Compact cameras don't make sense for the
trip of a lifetime. A lens that zooms out at least as far as a 28mm
perspective is essential, a feature found on the Panasonic Lumix
DMC-LX2. Keep in mind that these cameras aren't very rugged or reliable. Be
prepared to buy a new one halfway through your trip.
If you're going to spend an hour or more per day trying to achieve some
artistic objectives or seriously documenting your journey, you can
probably justify taking a physically larger camera.
Canon Rebel XTi and 17-55 IS lens.
Olympus E500 and **** lens; the Olympus E-system is a compact
rethinking of the digital SLR world.
"zoom-lens reflex"-style camera; a big high quality lens attached to
a camera body; the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 is probably the closest
Whatever you buy, make sure that you test it before you leave! Fill
up each memory card that you're planning to use and make sure that you
can read all of the images on a computer.
A lot of experienced photographers with old
manual 35mm camera systems look longingly at the advanced new
cameras advertised heavily by Canon and Nikon. You probably won't get
substantially better photos with an automatic camera. However, some of
the new features can increase your yield of usable photos. For example,
autofocus is a God-send to those with poor eyesight or if you want to
take pictures of your kids playing soccer. Automatic detection of
film speed and autoexposure are good if you're in a hurry and apt to be
sloppy. The latest professional-grade zoom lenses offer near-prime
image quality and aperture with zoom convenience.
Elan 7 and 50/1.4 USM lens: lets you enjoy simultaneous auto and
manual focus, the best features of the Canon EOS system, at a reasonable
price with a very high quality lens; about $700 (Elan 7 $400, 50/1.4 (gray) $340, 50/1.4 (USA) $365 at Adorama)
EOS-3 ($770 at Adorama), PB-E2 power drive (and vertical grip/release) ($340 for gray market and $400 for USA), 17-35/2.8L ($1100 for gray market and $1230 for USA), 50/1.4 ($340 for gray market, and $365 for USA), 70-200/2.8 ($1230 for USA), and 550EX flash ($320 for gray market and $370 for USA) : a complete Canon EOS system, about $4200
The most effective picture-taking machines these days are graceless
bulky black professional cameras. The cameras in this category aren't
the best value measured in strictly photographic terms. Nor will they
take a better picture than a modern plastic single-lens reflex. But
they can be appreciated as objects.
Canon ELPH: the only APS camera that captured anyone's
imagination, about $175 at Adorama
Contax G2: an auto/manual focus rangefinder camera, a lot like a
classic Leica; interchangeable lenses; much much larger than a point and
shoot camera, about $1400 with 45/2 lens ($1075 for gray market and $1500 for USA)
Leica M6: manual-everything rangefinder camera; so much like the
classic Leica that it is the classic Leica, about $3000 with a
50mm lens ($2000 for the chrome body or the black body and $995 for the 50 F2-M in black or chrome)
When you want to take better pictures than National Geographic
If you want to achieve better results than what you see in
National Geographic, you'll first have to carefully study
this tutorial on photographic
light. After that, you can trivially crush them in terms of image
quality simply by getting a larger format camera. These expose
negatives that are 3 to 16 times the size of a 35mm negative and
therefore you don't have to enlarge as much for a fixed print size.
Medium Format Cameras
Fuji GA 645Zi: a zoom point and shoot 6x4.5cm camera with built-in
pop-up flash and auto-everything, the 55-90mm lens gives a perspective
equivalent to a 34-56mm on a 35mm camera, worth it for the sheer
bizarreness of the idea; about $1900 at Adorama in silver or black.
Hasselblad 501CM outfit: the classic 6x6cm single-lens reflex
system, all-manual, waist-level viewfinder, interchangeable lenses,
backs, and viewfinders, Ansel Adams used one; about $2700 at Adorama.
Rollei 6003 SRC 1000 outfit: similar to a Hasselblad but includes
an in-body meter and autoexposure; about $3200 at Adorama.
Mamiya 7: a rangefinder camera sort of like a Leica that makes
negatives 6x7cm in size (about 5 times the size of 35mm), superb
interchangeable lenses; about $3200 with a normal perspective lens - available at Adorama with a 80/4 lens for $2550
Fuji GX617: makes 6x17cm panoramic pictures that can be enlarged to
cover a wall, interchangeable lenses; about $5200 with a lens: $2700 for the body and $2450 for the 105/8 lens.
Large Format Cameras
Sinar F1 150mm image kit: makes 4x5 inch sheet film images
(extremely tedious to load), includes a lens; about $3650