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Intro to Manual Photography (Video Tutorial)

Want to break out of automatic modes on your camera but overwhelmed with choices in manual mode? This brief video tutorial breaks down shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity to help give you...

What Camera Should I Buy?

A Guide for Beginners by Philip Greenspun, June 1998 (updated January 2007)

It dropped so low in my regard
I heard it hit the ground,
And go to pieces on the stones
At bottom of my mind;

Yet blamed the fate that fractured, less
Than I reviled myself
For entertaining plated wares
Upon my silver shelf.

-- "Disenchantment" by Emily Dickinson

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
Ice cream sign in front of old Volvo in Stockholm

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.

Fujifilm 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 amazonKodak Max HQ

(with flash).

If you think the kid is ready for a "real camera", a simple point and shoot is probably a reasonable purchase:

Rolls Royces.  Getty Center underground garage.  Los Angeles, California.

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

Acura NSX-T

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.

Suggested Models:

  • 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 investment)

More: Building a Digital SLR System.

Last Update: January 4, 2007.

The New Baby

Old Volvo.  Sodermalm.  Stockholm, Sweden

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 color-coordinated
  • 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 post-processing
  • 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) Digital SLR 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 Fuji F30.

More: Once you've burdened yourself with a fancy camera body, you might eventually want to consider adding a lens, so read Building a Digital SLR System. To make the best use of that point and shoot camera, read Good Photography with a Point & Shoot Camera.

Last Update: January 4, 2007.

The Round-the-World Trip

Volvo.  Visby, Gotland, near Fiskarporten.

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 photography.

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 current camera

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.

More: Choosing a Camera for a Long Trip

Last Update: January 4, 2007.

Complete 35mm System for An Experienced Photographer

Swans on the River Boyne.  North of Dublin, Ireland.

See the Canon and Nikon system pages.

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.

Suggested Outfits:

  • 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
  • Nikon F100 ($985 at Adorama), 20/2.8 ($410 for gray market and , $480 for USA), 28-70/2.8 AF-S ($1400 for USA), 80-200/2.8 AF-S ($1440 for gray market and $1445 for USA), SB-28 flash ($280 for gray market and $310 for USA): a complete Nikon system, about $4600

More: Building a 35mm SLR System.

Last Update: December 29, 2000.

Camera that goes underwater

If you want to take a camera underwater read the photo.net underwater photography primer.

Very small objects

If you want to take a picture of something comparable in size to a 35mm negative (i.e., about one inch square), read the photo.net macro photography primer.

Toys to delight a rich photographer

Cars.  Deutsches Museum.

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.

Suggested Models:

  • Canon ELPH: the only APS camera that captured anyone's imagination, about $175 at Adorama
  • Contax T2S: shirt-pocket sized titanium body, fixed 38/2.8 Zeiss lens, about $600
  • 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. [example images]
  • 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

More: Choosing a Medium Format Camera and Choosing a Large Format Camera.

Last Update: December 29, 2000

The Next Steps

  1. Visit Where to Buy a Camera to find a reputable shop.
  2. Read this introductory photography textbook
  3. Expose some film.
  4. Get it developed at one of these recommended labs
  5. Read this book chapter on how to put all your photos on the Web so that we can see them!

Readers' Comments

Add a comment

dr.peter m. winter , June 05, 1999; 03:03 A.M.

I own a Contax SLR system (RX and Aria) and an Contax G2 range finder. The G2 may be expensive, but it is an excellent choice, if you don't have to take pictures of very small objects and if you don't need a large tele-lens. The quality and sharpness of the lenses is (much) higher then of most SLR lenses, even manual-focus, since the G2 lenses do no not need the "retrofocus" construction to avoid a swinging mirror.

I can travel with wife and child (or soon children g.w.) and carry an excellent camera with 5 lenses in a small foto bag. The swiss photographer Comte and some other professionals do use the Contax G2. It is neither a toy for the rich nor another Leica M6. The G2 is a serous alternative vor classic reportage and travel photographers.

dr.peter m.winter

Stephen C. Murphy , July 25, 1999; 05:13 A.M.

Last summer at a family picnic I gave my 4-year-old son a single-use camera just for fun and to see what kind of pictures he would take. It was an instant hit. I was glad I got the Kodak type which has a flash that fires automatically once it is turned on, so I could turn it on for him when we were indoors and have a higher probability of getting a recognizable image. It was a lot of fun to watch him and his friends play, snapping images of literally anything that struck their collective fancy...the floor, the ceiling, the TV, each other, mommy, daddy, assorted relatives. It was NOT fun to see how quickly they ran out of film--a period of time seemingly best measured in seconds rather than in minutes. At a cost of about $1.80 an exposure after processing, this was not cheap entertainment!

So I did what any good father would do...I improvised. I carefully "unsnapped" the camera, retrieving the film canister from the camera for developing. Then I cut a small hole in the camera back exposing a sprocket which, when turned, would cock the shutter and reset the flash. Voila! The kids got a satisfying flash and "click" every time they shot the camera and they could "take pictures" all day and it only cost daddy a few cents to replace the single AA cell in the camera every couple of weeks.

The pictures he took were really fun, though--it sure was a shame that the cost per picture was so high. Enter the Nickolodean PhotoBlaster. The PhotoBlaster is a reasonably rugged plastic children's camera that takes four pictures per normal 35mm frame; so you get 96 exposures on a normal 24 exposure roll of 35mm film. I first heard about it online but when I called local toy stores none of them had heard of it and none knew how to order it. After doing several searches online, I finally found it and I bought one.

The PhotoBlaster meets all of Philip's criteria for a "Kid Camera":

  • Hard to break
    Except for a couple of caveats listed below, the PhotoBlaster is ruggedly build and seems to be able to take a fair amount of abuse from young hands.
  • Cheap to replace
    It's about $40.
  • Simple to use
    We bought the camera for my 4-year-old, but were amazed when, after watching his brother take several pictures, our 20-month-old picked the camera up and snapped a picture! He can even snap open the lens cover and wind the camera without any help too! This camera is easy to use.
  • with a low per-exposure cost
    This is where this camera excels and the other cameras Philip mentions fail for very young children. Excluding the cost of the camera, I figure my per-exposure cost is about $.08 an exposure! We have never tried a 36-exposure roll (for a whopping 144 exposures) because it takes long enough to take 96 exposures that we have actually gotten impatient and processed an incomplete roll! A single roll is good for weeks of enjoyment. The camera is also smart enough to only use the flash when needed and to turn itself off after 60 seconds of inactivity, so it doesn't go through batteries quickly either. It takes two Alkaline AA cells.

    The PhotoBlaster takes four pictures per normal 35mm frame by incorporating two lenses, one above the other, on the front of the camera. Each lens in turn takes a half-height picture filling 1/4 of a 35mm frame, one on the top half and the other on the bottom. The film then advances 1/2 a frame and two more pictures are taken. (The resulting film can then be processed normally, but your photo processor might get a little confused the first time they see the negatives, so you might want to warn them ahead of time to avoid delays). Opening the back of the camera is a two handed affair requiring that two buttons be slid simultaneously, so Jr won't accidentally open the back and overexpose his roll of film. You probably won't want to enlarge these pictures to 11 X 14, but they do a fair job of recording the moment.

    The camera is not perfect. While the camera back is admirably immune to being opened by little fingers, the battery compartment is easily opened by my one-year-old. Not only that, the battery cover latch is so wimpy it opens every time the camera is dropped (read: every 5 minutes). We secure the latch with scotch tape. The shutter button on our PhotoBlaster sticks in the down position sometimes, but eventually pops back up. Viewfinder Parallax causes framing errors on close-ups, chopping off foreheads on one frame and chins on the next. Sliding a door on the front of the camera turns it on and reveals the two lenses, but there is no indication in the viewfinder when the door is shut (and the camera is off) and you have to be careful to open the door all the way or the camera won't turn on, causing considerable frustration. Finally, the rewind knob is flimsy and easily extended by little fingers, so I expect it to seperate from the camera soon.

    Even with its weaknesses, we love this camera. There is just something great about watching my son engrossed in watching a "Star Wars" video pick up his camera absentmindedly and click pictures of Darth Vader, the Death Star and the Millenial Falcon knowing that the pictures only cost eight cents each. Instead of warning him that he will run out of film we now encourage him to explore and take as many pictures as he wants. On a recent family trip to Disneyland the PhotoBlaster was constantly in use and the film from it was the most entertaining that we took on the trip.


  • Richard Dzeng , August 10, 1999; 09:05 P.M.

    What I'd Like to Say is that for the longest time, I've just had an old 1977 Nikon FM that my father Gave me. but, Moving up to autofocus, i decided to get another Nikon Body because of the Backwards compatibility and the Fact that I probably will not be gatting any soper long and expensive lens, And will probably not benefit from Canons, Image Stabilization (my view on Image satbilization is that if anything helps getting a better picture, that its good. Also, I like taking pictures without a flash, so I decided that I wouldn't want anything slower than 2.8. So, For be to get the best range possible while not spending a lot of money, I decided to keep my 50/1.4, and get a 24/2.8 (for a wide) and a 80-200/2.8 (tripod) to cover everything else. In that Way, although I may have to switch lens, I still have a good range covered, and with some high-quality, fast lens. Just wanted to throw that In.

    Jim MacKenzie , August 24, 1999; 07:08 P.M.

    Interesting page...

    One thing I would comment: I don't think a 50/1.4 is necessary. A 50/1.8 is a serious alternative that bears consideration. A 50/1.8 can cost as little as a hundred bucks US, new, whereas a 50/1.4 is two to three times that. The difference in aperture is only 2/3 of a stop. I personally prefer an f/1.4 lens, but I think a person would be better to get a better camera and a 50/1.8 or buy a second lens (like a 28/2.8). As for optical quality, most 50/1.8s are as good as or slightly better than the 1.4s; they're simpler. (One caveat: I don't like Canon's EF 50/1.8 II because it has a plastic mount. It's okay if you only own one lens, but you shouldn't own only one lens if you really want to use your camera. Buy the older EF 50/1.8 I if you can find it used, or splurge for the 1.4. Sorry. Nikon's low-end 50/1.8 AF is made in China, but it has a metal mount... it's a nice lens.)


    andrew fildes , September 06, 1999; 09:18 A.M.

    Cameras for kids and beginners? I found a cheap alternative that kept the family happy. I'm happy with my fifteen or so cameras but my wife and two sons don't share my sickness and find them all too difficult, weird or intimidating. They have no interest in taking more than the occasional snapshot - after all, I can do the tricky stuff, can't I? So, while buying a Canon Speedlight in a second hand shop, I also bought an old Canon Sureshot (Autoboy) for my 15 year old son for about $US25. It was old (early '80's?) but solid - the first autofocus P&S, I think. The results he got without trying were so good that I took a closer look. Good viewfinder, focus indicator, robust, AA batteries. Great. For $15, I bought another one for my other son, a 21 year old who seems to take most of his snapshots at drunken parties or similarly extreme environments. Even better! I bought one for my wife too! Then one to keep in the car as a 'just in case.' In all. I bought five for between $10 to $25 and only had to take one back as a dud - most pawn shops offer a one month or a one film warranty. I lend them to people, lend them to my students (take a few shots for the school magazine on that sports excursion), take them out in the rain and sand and, when I finally break one, I'll throw it away gratefully. They're small and black so are good street shooters, especially in awkward situations like protests. And f2.8 isn't too bad either. This is the ultimate disposeable - Canon must have made squillions of them. I think they almost all still work and seem to have been owned by people who hardly used them.

    Steven Owens , September 28, 1999; 09:18 P.M.

    I own a Stylus Epic that will probably grace my desk drawer for the rest of the time I own it. While it was light with good optics, the pictures I got back were typically either under or over exposed (the exposure system seemed really finicky) or not focusing as expected. After doing some reading, there were others that had the same experience, so it's not a fluke.

    Never tried a T4, but I did get a chance to play with a Contax T2 I really liked this camera, but for less money I could (and did) pick up an FM2N and a 50mm f/1.8 lens. While it feels a bit small for me, I love how light and solid this camera feels. Nikon now makes the FM10, which might be a decent choice, given that you can pick this up with a cheap 35-70 for under $300 (I'd suggest trading the 35-70 for a 50 f/1.8 ASAP, though), but I haven't had a chance to play with one yet to see if it comes close enough to my FM2N to be a worthy successor.

    Chris Costello , October 06, 1999; 11:10 P.M.

    Do not forget that there are Minolta and Pentax SLRs that are good for beginners and trips also. I am trying to learn photography right now with a Minolta 600si, and it is at least as good as the Rebel 2000.

    Bobby Jefferson , November 27, 1999; 09:43 A.M.

    About the Nickelodeon Photoblaster, That is a great camera and I used it in my travels to Tokyo and surrounding areas. The cost of photographing Tokyo (for fun) was so cheap ! I got my photoblaster at Kmart and it was 24.99.

    Jorge Diaz , July 31, 2000; 01:14 P.M.

    On the G system...Well G1...I just got a G1.I own a Leica M6.Frankly I was expecting more to judge from the controversies.I was expecting a techno glorified M6 from the G1.It is not.It is a glorified p+s.It does not have a dof scale and the manual overrides are alarmingly discrete as opposed to analog continuum.AF is foolable.One senses that it will not be remotely close to the legendary (and very real) durability of the Leica, that it is bound to be 'dead in the water'as soon as some static charge or faulty solder joint wreaks havoc with those minute magic electronics chips that operate on such tiny charge amounts.To call it a rangefinder is stretching it.Sure, it is not an slr.But somehow when I am told rangefinder I picture split line triangulation metering a la Leica and not infrared rangefinding even for the"manual" focus.I thought I was buying a camera with real hardware connected controls instead I got joystick technology. Don't get me wrong I love this camera, in fact I'm in a honeymoon with it as we speak.But I'm no virgin.I've had painful divorces.While the Contax G1 is like marrying Sharon Stone(who cares if she leaves you after the honeymoon-you've had the gusto of a life!)you are on shakier ground than with the beautiful tank Leica.I do not mean to put down a genial product.I mean to set some record straight so that fine products like G system cameras don't get bad reputations on the account of unfulfilled inaccurate expectations.

    David Mason , June 27, 2001; 10:04 P.M.

    I'm getting very good results from a Canon Sureshot 85 zoom. The lens is amazingly good - sharp, contrasty, vivid colors. Costco prints come out with the kind of vividness you expect from large format negatives, very noticeably better from cheaper P&S cameras we've owned over the years. No problems with film transport in about 10 rolls. I see this as a real alternative to lugging along a system camera when you don't need extreme wide angle, closeups, telephoto etc. Because of the aperture falloff as you zoom out, you probably want to stick with ISO 400 film. Biggest complaint: flash sometimes overexposes faces. Also the "zoom" has about 4 discreet focal lengths, doesn't seem to be infinitely variable.

    Dave Mason

    Dave Mason

    Sandra LeVar , July 03, 2001; 06:37 P.M.

    Just an additional comment to the subject 'The New Baby' ...

    I am a new mother of a 15 month old. And while it is true that my sister took BEAUTIFUL photos of my infant (birth to ~8 months) with her Canon Rebel (SLR) she has been VERY fustrated by the fact that every since he learned to walk/run (Aka Active Toddler!) MY photos with an Olympus D-640 (Digital) have been BETTER. Agreeably this is probably because I take SO very very many photos (possibly 100s?) of a constantly moving target that it is easier to get one or two great shots and delete the rest.

    My suggestion to new parents would be to use what you have, borrow what you don't, and save your money to buy a camera "for a life time of uses" rather than the first few years of your childs life. They change too much and your needs/wants when photoing them change too much. -- Unless you have a large enough budget. THEN get THREE ... 35mm SLR (artsy infant and family photos), APS point-n-shoot (panoramic and quick/easy), and digital (delete makes it cost worthy for toddlers and "action"). [Or go get yourself a digital camcorder to use instead of a digital camera and video camcorder 'cause they're really cool and easy to use but expensive (ouch)]

    Ramin Mohammadalikhani , July 20, 2001; 02:28 A.M.

    I wished the writer would have not neglected other brands than Canon and Nikon! There are in fact choices in Minolta and Pentax line at least as good as Canon and Nikon entry levels. Minolta600si (though discontinued) and Pentax MZ-5n are just two examples of camera much superior to rebel2000, and NikonN65 for a beginner who wants to learn! In current Minolta line, MaxxumXtsi/HTsi are even better than rebel2000. Minolta Maxxum 800si, Minolta Maxxum7 are excellent choices for an advanced amateur and professionals. Maxxum9 is as good as top Nikon and Canon pro level cameras at a fraction of their price. Pentax MZ-3 and the new Pentax MZ-S are also excellent choices in Pentax line. There is also Contax N1 which must be a very good camera. Ramin

    frank philcox , August 29, 2001; 08:12 A.M.

    Hey Phil, what about a Konica Hexar for a backup camera? It is smallish, great optics, no messing with interchangeable lenses and certainly better than the inconsistent red-eye producer Olympus Epic.

    Peter Leyssens , November 05, 2001; 12:21 P.M.

    Overall, the article confirms a number of established preconceptions of what cameras should be used for what situations. I don't think that's particularly bad, but I give myself the liberty not to agree, and to travel with a semi-automatic SLR with only a fixed 90mm lens :-)

    One thing that's rather disturbing about Phil's articles, and a major part of the photography world, is the ubiquitous adoration for high end equipment. I plead guilty, but I'm working on it ! Aside from that, there's indeed (as mentioned above) quite some Nikon/Canon-ophilia in this article. In my opinion, the best camera to learn photography is definitely not a cheap new SLR, but a second hand camera. Even cameras from a brand that's not so well respected are often sufficient. The main things you need to learn don't have much to do with film comparisons or lens resolution. Those are details anyway, and as the saying goes, a good photographer will take better pictures with a plastic lens disposable camera than a bad one will do with an F5.

    The advantages of cheap second-hand SLRs are the following. First, they are manual almost by definition, and quite frequently mechanical, too. Some even have light meters that don't need batteries ! Second, they're cheap ! Usually, there's a 50mm "body cap" which, as long as it looks decent, will do just fine. Third, the simplicity is important to make the student focus on the composition, the light and the meaning of diaphragm aperture, instead of turning him into a gizmo junkie.

    I don't know the market too well, but out of my head, I would consider types like Praktika (really !), older Pentax manual models, the Minolta X-700, older Canon models and obviously the brilliant Olympus OM-1. Any of these can be bought for $150 or less. I've seen too many people start with photography and decide it's not their thing. It would scare some good people away to tell them to buy a $650 FM2, and the ones that do continue and revert to P&S after a while, spent a lot of money on equipment that stays unused. If the student becomes more serious after a couple of years, he can either expand his system, if it's a brand name with a wide range of equipment, or replace it for a more professional body with more possibilities. Even if a Praktika body is replaced by something else, it's not lost : you can hand it to friends or kids, to help them learn about our favorite art. Or you can use it as a hobby kit, and try to convert it into a pinhole camera, try to mount your cheap lens onto some wood and turn it into a shift/tilt combo etc. Lots of fun !


    Brandon Nightingale , December 16, 2001; 12:56 A.M.

    Is there something wrong with Minolta cameras? For some reason it seems that most of these articles, if not all (I haven’t read all of them), seem to specify Nikon and Canon models of cameras. I think that is completely wrong. Minolta made the first true AF SLR, and yet no one seems to suggest them for beginners or advanced, or pro! Minolta has cameras for every one of the situations listed, from P&S, to Pro SLR, to Digital ZLR, even underwater P&S cameras, the only thing they don’t have is a digital SLR. For example, the new Maxxum 5 would make a great beginner camera, the Maxxum 7 would be great for an advanced camera, and a pro would be plenty happy with the Maxxum 9.

    In the last year, I have been searching for a new Advanced AF SLR. I have a Pentax ZX-M right now with a really bad zoom and an awesome 50mm F2 lens, and I really need something with fast AF, decent FPS, easy to use (one of the most important factors in my decision), good flash system, expandable, large lens choices, good meter (although I can do most of it in my head), compact and light (for backpacking). In the last year I have looked at (in order): Pentax ZX-5N, Canon IIe, Nikon N80, Canon A2e, Canon 7e, Canon EOS 3, Nikon F100, Maxxum 7. Of all of those, I have finally decided on the Maxxum 7 after going to multiple stores and trying most of them out in my hand. I decided that the Canon cameras were all to difficult to use in manual mode quickly choosing AF point (without ECF), F-stop, and shutter speed. The N80 seemed perfect, but I was looking for something more advanced. Then I looked at the F100, which was way out of my price range, doesn’t have mirror lock up, and a built in flash is really convenient for fill flash or close subjects. Then one day I saw the Maxxum 7 ad in Pop photo and did some research, tried it out, and decided that it out performed all of the others in AF, features, compact/weight to feature ratio, advanced flash (including High speed wireless flash), and most importantly, it felt perfect in my hand and took almost no instruction to use most of the features.

    So, Thursday was my birthday, and my parents decided that they would pay for the body, and in the next couple of days I am expecting the camera with a sigma 24-70 2.8 D lens. I really think that ignoring Minolta is a major mistake, without them I would be fumbling around hitting 2 or 3 buttons at once just to choose an AF point, or missing out on higher FPS, or waiting longer to get something that costs more and still doesn’t even have mirror lock up, or completely missing a picture because the controls aren’t within finger’s reach. I think you see my point; it’s a shame. Well, I hope you start adding Minolta to your list, because they definitely deserve it! The only thing that they are lacking right now, Digital SLR, and IS lenses (which would be nice, but not a necessity at all), and Tilt/Shift lenses (which are expensive and not too many people use), and I don’t ever plan on going digital (the darkroom is just way too fun!). Well, that’s just my opinion and observations, hope you’re listening!

    Quang Nguyen Duc , February 25, 2003; 01:05 P.M.

    I agree with Brandon, Minolta Maxxum 7 is great. But why everyone just talk about Nikon & Canon so forgeted Minolta. Maxxum 7 have most of feature in Nikon F100 and Canon EOS 3, and give half price with F100 & EOS 3. Especially I love Maxxum 7's Datasaver, which can save data exposure till 7 rolls. Save data exposure , which some famous brands (Nikon & Canon) missed( just Nikon F80s had but it so hard to buy in VietNam), need for many many photographer raise their skill. But what I dislike is: first Maxxum 7 have not get dust and water proof, so poor to F100; second Minolta lens less to Nikon & Canon . Good choice ? Reply me if you have answer: ducquang@msn.com

    Stefan Kordos , February 26, 2003; 05:36 A.M.

    Why everybody is recommending only Canon or Nikon cameras? Yes - it seems so like everybody forget perfect Pentax and Minolta cameras, especially in lower-prices, offering much better features for the same price! Look for example at Pentax MZ-6/ZX-l or Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 5! These cameras at the same price like Canon Rebel 2000/EOS 300 or Nikon F65, but has much better features like 1/4000seconds, metal bayonet mount, +-3EV in 1/2 steps exposure compensation, spot metering, DOF preview. Especially I like Pentax MZ-6/ZX-l, which I have bought as a great deal at www.bhphotovideo.com. This Pentax is well build with all features needed for any amateur and semi-pro. Who is saying Nikon or Canon lenses are better like others? I have made some tests and I must say they are generally not better! My love is TOKINA and Tamron. TOKINA is company that is able to produce very cheap lenses at perfect quality - like Tokina 28-70/f2,8 ATX PRO or Tokina 20-35/3,5-4,5 ATX II. They are both perfect metal build with very good optical performance!

    So here are my recommendations:

    For advanced amateur - semi pro: Pentax MZ-6/ZX-L with Tamron 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 and Tamron 75-300/4-5,6 LD or Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 5

    For semi-pro- pro Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 7 with Tokina 28-70/f2,8 ATX pro SV!


    Clayten Hamacher , March 27, 2003; 10:18 P.M.

    When buying a camera for children you should consider digital. For $100-$200 you can get a passable 800x600 or 1280x1024 fixed-focus camera with automatic flash. No LCD on the low-end ones, but the kids won't know what they're missing.

    This is best if they're 7+ and can use a computer without help, the should be able to unload and view the pictures easily. If they're younger you may have to help. Most of these cameras have 8-32mb built in and thus hold 100-200 pictures, even if you have to help them it won't be every hour.

    You won't have to worry about them burning through the film, there aren't any incremental costs. You print only what you want, having seen that it turned out.

    Beginners (and casual photographers) might want to investigate slightly higher-end digital cameras with an LCD and some manual controls. Learning the technical aspects of photography is so quick when you've got instant feedback, and even if you're happy to stay with the automatic controls, you at least know if your shot didn't turn out - before it's too late.

    Before buying your new camera, play with it in the store. Without the salesman. If you can't turn it on, take a few pictures and review them, and use a few of the more advanced features without help, it's probably not the camera you want. Don't be afraid to pass on a camera simply because you find it clunky, you're the one who'll be stuck using it. Consider buying a used camera, the technology is advancing so quickly that last week's model is "obsolete". It'll still take great pictures, but the specifications aren't geek-worthy anymore so it'll be going for half, or less, of the sticker price.

    franco pagliari , April 05, 2003; 09:10 A.M.

    I would like to make an alternative recomendation for those people who are serious about learning photography and wish to spend the least amount possible to get thier toes warm.I recently purchased for £4 ($10) a Lomo Classic Symbol,yes, a cheap Russian plastic toy camera.These toys are really rated for the quality of the glass and my first roll of film came out crisp and beautifully resolved.I showed the prints to my Leica owning friend and he was astounded.I recomend this camera for serious beginners as the amount of brain work required to operate the camera is more than u need for a standard beginners SLR.The camera is an uncoulped fixed lens 40mm rangefinder,u cannot focus through the eypiece,instead u guesstimate the distance and set the corresponding number on the focus ring.Practice at this for a few months and youve learn't a new skill which u could use when graduating to an SLR or other rangefinder.There is no light meter so buy a cheap one ok maybe another $25 dollars,so u learn to use a light meter and understand light and how to measure it accuratley,u could evetually graduate to med or large format.Shutter speed is from B-1/250 and will accept flash to 1/250, the low shutter speed is a bit inhibiting but u can use ND filters,same as with Hexar AF.The camera is fun,I found myself being not so precious with my approach.O.K no depth of field preview no big deal anyway for 35mm ,test some film at various f stops or use a table.Because of the above mentioned limitations u need to think about all aspects of your picture taking,philips articles are a good place to start for learning.All I can say is that the quality of the images form this £4 box are beautiful.Many of u may have heard of Lomo who make the 6by6Lubitel TLR and the LC-a pocket camera.I recomend the above model or the newly released Smena over the pocket model for beginners as the former are fully manual.Happy shooting.

    Joe Garrick , September 04, 2003; 12:36 A.M.

    The answer to the question of why everyone (not just this article, but in general) seems to recommmend Canon/Nikon vs. everyone else is that most of the articles are written by professionals, and professionals generally only take Canon and Nikon seriously because Canon and Nikon are the only companies that take professionals seriously. Try finding a specialized lens or some other esoteric piece of equipment available for rent (or at all) for an Olympus, for example. Canon and Nikon take pro support seriously and have better dealer networks and rental availability. There's nothing wrong with the other brands, but since they don't support pro users as well, they're used by fewer pros and subsequently recommended by fewer pro authors. For most of the purposes described in the article, any decent brand will work, but people tend to recommend what they know, and most pros know Canon and Nikon.

    Ted White , October 05, 2004; 06:59 P.M.

    I bought two new Minolta AF Maxxum 7000 bodies in 1985 when they were first released. I also bought four primes: 50mm 1.4, 24mm 2.8, 50mm macro, and 135mm 2.8.

    Today I use a Maxxum 7 (Dynax 7). However, both Maxxum 7000 bodies still work perfectly, as do the original primes.

    Oddly (perhas not so oddly) I prefer using the old primes to the new series lenses (28-80 zoom, for example, is made of plastic).

    For anyone starting out, or anyone who is a serious amateur, I recommend the 7000 bodies and lenses. The bodies are quite sturdy, and they can be had cheaply on ebay. The lenses are the equal of any Canon or Nikon lens. The only criticism I've ever heard against the original bodies was that their autofocusing systems were "a tad slow." Big deal. They were lightning fast in 1985. When I put the same lens on each body (7000, 7) the Maxxum 7 seems maybe a half-second faster.

    For getting into photography really cheaply, try this: I bought a 1973 Yashica Electro 35 GSN on ebay recently for $11.27. From Yashica_Guy I got the battery adapter (original mercury batteries no longer made - which is probably the major reason these cameras are so cheap) and a new, buy-it-anwhere battery for $16.00 delivered to my door.

    This is a sturdy metal camera with a fixed 35mm f:1.7 lens. The lens is fast and sharp. I ran two rolls of Fuji Superia ISO 400 through it and the images are all properly exposed.

    This an odd ball sort of camera, though. Range finder. Aperture preferred. ASA film speed dial, but no shutter speed dial. Two tiny lights on top of the camera. You focus the lens (both images come together in the viewfinder), and then rotate the aperture ring. If one light comes on, rotate one stop less until the light goes out; if the other light comes on, rotate one stop more open until it goes out. When both lights go off, bingo. The camera has selected the proper shutter speed for that aperture setting. I guess that's how it works. At any rate, it seems to work just fine, and it's amazing how quickly you will adjust to it.

    And there's an unexpected bennie: What a conversation piece! Especially when you're around other 'seasoned' photographers. Newbies of coure won't have a clue. One said to me, "I didn't know Yashica made a Leica."

    Shara Pierceall , October 28, 2004; 08:06 P.M.

    When I searched for my first camera, I found the number and inconsistency of viewpoints very confusing. Buy new or buy second-hand, buy with automatic capability or buy all manual, buy major brand or buy lesser known brand. Now, after taking Photography I twice (had to drop it the first time due to chronic illness), I have two words:


    The Rebel (recommended in the article) provides consistent quality, ease of use, entry level price and wide familiarity with professors. If you're on a tight budget, find a Rebel on Ebay. I witnessed too many students with older cameras and less widely used cameras having difficultly loading film, setting ISO and finding some functions. On occasion the instructor didn't know how to use a camera. As a result of camera problems (not any other difficulty, just camera issues), students' first roll of film wouldn't be exposed properly or at all. The Rebel 2000 and later models (and probably earlier, I don't know the specs) has a simple loading system, automatic ISO setting and is familiar to professors. The Rebel does have all the manual controls needed for a photography class. Once a student has some experience, they can explore the full range of camera and lens choices. I'd just like to unconfuse some people by saying, you can (and I believe should) get a Rebel for your first camera. It's a good camera, not a cop-out.

    Zach Johnson , May 15, 2006; 02:59 P.M.

    i dont know abou the rest of you...but as a beginner, i would not have the money to invest $350 or so dollars on a camera...i would say a pentax k-1000 from ebay, or something similiar

    Andy Spiridonica , July 18, 2006; 08:31 P.M.

    It's been 4 years now since I began shooting press photo. It's been 7 years since I got my first SH Minolta camera, it was a Dynax 3-something which, although a SLR, had two buttons. (Made for reporters, I was later told). My next good thing in life happened to be a Praktica MTL5, together with a range of lenses that were covering anything an amateur would want. 100% mechanical, never failed, although 10 years older than me... To make a long story short, then came Canon EOS 300, then EOS 10d and finally the Mark II N (yes my wallet still stings, and I didn't mention the L lenses yet). I don't expect everyone here to go for pro, it's just that one thing leads to another and now I can say that buying a simple camera sometime in the past changed my entire life and got me into a new carreer. So... careful what you wish for, folks! :) And of course, best of luck.

    Jennifer Winfrey , March 28, 2007; 03:00 P.M.

    I'm new to the world of serious photography. I was shooting weddings all last season and loved it, although it's not what I really want to be doing with photography. We primarily used the D-70 and the D2Hs. Honestly I preferred the D70 over the D2Hs. I understand that speed is important when doing the photojournalistic style. But I'm on a limited budget and want one camera to do it all (until I can afford a series). I'm hearing the great debate of pixels versus speed. Which reasonably priced camera can I find to handle the fast paced action of weddings as well as the posed artistic stuff as is my true love? Not to mention, wedding shots do need to get blown up rather large at times.

    Jack Jones , July 14, 2008; 07:10 P.M.

    I'm 14 years old and i am just getting into photography, and i was wondering if you had a rcomendation for an SLR camera that a little cheaper than the NIKON and CANNON that you recommended for someone that is learning.

    Maybe something closer to the range of 80-250 dollars?

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