‘Tis the season for buying exciting technology like cameras, and a question I get at least three times a week leading up to the holidays is “How do I decide which camera to buy?” Thus, I give you my Holiday 2016 Digital Camera Buying Guide. I’ve done your homework, weeded out the bad buys, and compiled a list of digital cameras to fit every budget.
The second most common question I get is “Which is better, Nikon or Canon?” Here’s the deal. This wouldn’t be such a conundrum for people if either of these brands were actually better than the other. They are both spectacular in terms of performance, value and quality. There are certain types of photographers who prefer one brand over another (for instance, a lot of wildlife photographers seem to go with Nikon, and a lot of portrait photographers like Canon), but that doesn’t mean that Canon isn’t good for nature photography, or Nikon isn’t good for portraits. You cannot go wrong with either one. Sony even introduced some mirrorless options recently that look pretty cool!
- Step 1 is to determine your budget. If you are looking at point and shoots, budget is easy because you really just have one thing to buy: the camera. You’ll need to buy a bag for it, too, but those are not expensive.
- Step 2 is to decide what you want to shoot. This will determine the capabilities that your new gear must posses. If you want to photograph indoor rock concerts, your needs will differ from someone who wants to photograph competitive sports.
- Step 3 is to decide if you are going to commit to learning how to use your camera, or if you’re really looking for something that you can pull out of the packaging, charge up, and then go and take photographs with without much of a learning curve.
- Step 4 is to purchase the camera at a local retailer like Hunt’s Photo and Video, which has locations all over New England.
There are about a bazillion cameras on the market, so I’ve gone through and chosen a few that really stand out in terms of quality, build, specs and value. I’ve broken the information down by budget range for this post, but I’ve also recommended specific cameras/lenses for different subjects. Without further ado, here we go!
Canon PowerShot SX610 HS ($249.99)
With 18x optical zoom and a 250450mm lens, you will be ready to photograph subjects closeby and far away with this little power-packed digicam. It even has built-in WiFi to transfer photos to your computer or phone. It also has a dedicated video recording button, so you don’t have to rifle through menus to start recording video.
Nikon Coolpix B500 ($259.99)
This Nikon is bigger than the Canons above, but it has a huge 40x optical zoom. If you aren’t bothered about being able to fit the camera in your jeans pocket, and want to photograph objects that are far away, this is a good little camera to accomplish that. It takes AA batteries, which personally I am not a fan of, but if you get rechargeable batteries then you will be better off than using disposables (plus the environment will thank you!). It also supports sharing by Bluetooth. Want to record video? This camera records 1080p Full HD movie clips up to 30 fps with stereo sound.
Olympus Stylus Tough TG-860/870 ($279.99)
If you have the habit of beating the living daylights out of your gear, do yourself a favour and get something like this Olympus Stylus Tough TG-870. This thing is built to suit an outdoor, wet, dusty, freezing, or overall dirty lifestyle with a dose of extra protection for all of you who have a tendency of dropping everything (from a height of up to 7′). Want something to take spearfishing or snorkeling with you? This camera will take great underwater photos and video down to depths of 15m/50ft.
Nikon Coolpix A900 ($399.99)
This high-end point and shoot boasts 35x optical zoom and 4k video capabilities. It’s small, compact, and has a durable exterior. 20 megapixels ensure that your images will be plenty big enough to share across platforms and print. Great low-light capabilities and WiFi, NFC and Bluetooth sharing. If you’re a selfie queen, this camera can also be controlled remotely. One other cool feature is that it can take up to 7 frame per second (FPS) so you’ll be all set to capture that action shot!
$400 and up
In this range I am only going to recommend dSLR’s. I will recommend lenses below. I personally think that kit lenses are mostly junk, and for the same price (or cheaper thank the junk kit lense!), you can purchase a much BETTER lens that you will actually WANT to use. You’re welcome! In some cases, like with the entry-level dSLR’s, they only come in kits. That’s ok…learn how to use the camera and then upgrade your lenses and use the kit lens as a desk paperweight. Seriously.
Speaking of lenses, if you are going to actually invest in good gear (i.e. not kit lenses) and want to make a solid effort at learning photography, then just know that Nikon lenses do not work on Canons, and Canon lenses do not work on Nikons. If you decide to switch brands, you’ll also need to change over all of your lenses. For this reason, I HIGHLY recommend going into a brick and mortar store like Hunt’s, B&H, or even Best Buy if you have no other option, and holding the cameras, going through the menus, and deciding which one feels best to you. Both Nikon and Canon have different user interfaces and some people have clear preferences, so if you want to make the most informed decision possible, go check these things out in person and then support our small businesses by buying your camera there!
Entry Level dSLR’s
Canon EOS Rebel T6 ($499.99)
My first digital SLR camera was a first generation Rebel and I learned so much about photography from that camera. Though small, these Rebels pack a punch and I am all for someone getting an entry level camera to learn on before deciding if they’d like to invest further in their photography.
I think the Rebel line is perfect for someone who is just starting out, maybe has a point and shoot and wants to have some more control over their images, and realizes that it is simply not acceptable to be photographing your family’s important moments and events with your cell phone (there, I said it). It’s equipped with an 18.0 Megapixel CMOS (crop) image sensor and will do reasonably well in a low-light situation (SIDENOTE: this really more depends on your lens…I will get to that more later). I used to shove my Rebel in my purse and take it everywhere with me. I would recommend getting a bag for yours, for sure, but the point is that this camera is super portable and low profile. You can use a USB cable or card reader to transfer the images to your computer. It has a beginner-friendly Auto mode and then all of your standard SLR modes when you are ready to learn more about how to use it. It shoots three frames per second, which is not that great, but it still gives you much better capability than your cell phone. It shoots full HD 1080p video in the MPEG format.
This camera comes with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II, which I’m sad to say is not a great lens, but it will at least give you basic zoom capability and a good feel for using the camera. Scroll down to see the lenses I recommend below.
Nikon D3400 ($499.99)
This is Nikon’s entry level crop sensor dSLR equivalent to the Rebel T6. It has comparable specs, but has 24.2 megapixels. My personal thought on megapixels is that unless you are going to be seriously blowing up your images on huge canvases or boards, then 12-16 megapixels is *more* than plenty. Do not base a purchase of a camera off the number of megapixels it has. Chances are you will never use it to its full capability anyway.
Like the T6, this camera takes full HD 1080p video and does reasonably well in low light. Overall it’s a good entry level camera that has way more power than any point and shoot or cell phone, so if you are coming from that world then you will be happy!
Canon EOS Rebel T6s ($849.99 Body Only)
Even though it apparently didn’t deserve its own name, the T6s is a good step up from the T6. It has 24.2 megapixels and a top LCD display, giving it a bit more of a pro feel. It has a live view mode, where you can see the image on the back of the camera much like a compact camera works (basically you don’t have to look through the viewfinder).
For video fans, it has a few extra HD shooting features like HDR and digital zoom while recording. It also has WiFi and NFC connectivity, which allows it to connect to nearby mobile devices like an android phone. Other improvements over the T6 body include an articulating touch screen display, 10 additional focus points (19 in total), 5 frames per second (FPS), and improved flash coverage/power.
Nikon D7200 ($999 Body Only)
Basically the Equivalent to the T6s, the crop sensor Nikon D7200 has WiFi and NFC connectivity, shoots 6FPS, takes full HD video, and performs alright in low light.
Again these two cameras’ prices are for the body only, so once you add a lense you are going to be over the $1k range.
Canon EOS 6D ($1499.99 Body Only)
In this range, these cameras are all full frame, professional grade bodies. Full frame means that the sensor in the camera is very high quality and there is no crop ratio in the lens. Google is your friend if you want to read more about the technical stuff. Suffice to say if you are a serious shooter or ready for a serious upgrade, don’t get anything with a crop sensor.
The 6D is a super camera with a ton of features, including a 20.2 Megapixel Full-Frame CMOS sensor, a wide ISO range of 100-25600, and a DIGIC 5+ Image Processor that delivers enhanced noise reduction and exceptional processing speed. It actually outperforms the 5D Mark iii in low light. It has 11 focus points and focuses well even in low light. 4.5 fps won’t make a great dedicated sports photography camera, but it will capture a heck of a lot of everything else. It shoots Full HD video with manual exposure control, multiple frame rates, and the benefits of a Full-Frame sensor provides stunning performance and creative flexibility. It has a built-in WiFi transmitter and allows location tagging in images.
Nikon D610 ($1499.95 Body Only)
The D610 has similar specs to the Canon 6D. Not sure which one to pick? Go try them out in person at a retailer like Hunt’s or B&H. With 24.3 megapixels, a 100-25600 ISO range, 6 FPS, full HD video and a full frame sensor, you will be in great shape to pair this camera body with your favourite lens and get out there and shoot.
Ok folks, we’re in the home stretch here! Lenses are what make the dSLR world go round. If you have $1000 to spend, spend half of it on the camera body and the other half on the best lenses you can afford.
Lenses are funny because the really good ones (and really expensive ones) often are not that versatile. They just do their job really, really well. There are also two types of lenses:
Prime – Prime lenses do not zoom. They always have a fixed aperture, and are often a bit cheaper than zoom lenses (though not always). Because there is no zoom or distortion, prime lenses take REALLY crisp images and there are a lot of pros (myself included) who prefer shooting with primes for that very reason. Sometimes, though, you simply cannot move yourself to change the frame, and that’s where a zoom comes in handy. You can get a great little prime lens for under $200; in fact, I shoot with one myself a lot, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 ($125 brand new).
Zoom – Zoom lenses offer a lot of versatility, and for the good ones, they come with a higher price tag and are also quite heavy compared to primes. You can always tell a quality zoom lens from the aperture capability. Does it have an aperture range like f/3.5-5.6? That is not a good quality zoom lense. That means that at the wider focal lengths, the lens can shoot at f/3.5 (which isn’t that great to begin with). But when you zoom in, the lens has to narrow the aperture and will only shoot at f/5.6. Not that awesome! If you don’t have any clue what that means, come take a Click with your dSLR class with me and I will teach you 😉 Expect to spend at least $600 ish for a quality zoom lens.
If you’re looking at lenses and wondering what the heck all the numbers and letters mean, here’s a little cheat sheet:
EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
- EF-S: this tells you that this lens is compatible only with crop sensor cameras. Lenses that are EF lenses are compatible with crop sensor AND full frame sensor cameras.
- 18-135mm: this is the zoom range. 18mm is normally a wide focal length, but on a crop sensor camera with a magnification factor of 1.6, 18mm is more like 29mm. Likewise, the most zoomed in focal length, 135mm, is more like 216mm.
- f/3.5-5.6: this is the aperture range. At 18mm, the lense has a max aperture of 3.5, but when you zoom in, the lens has a max aperture of 5.6. This makes shooting in low light very tough, and also shooting on manual will be more difficult since your lense will force the change of your settings. If there is one one f/number, that means that no matter what the lens is zoomed into, the aperture does not change. This is good! If you are going to be shooting in low-light situations (anything interior), get the lens with the widest aperture (smallest number after the f/) that you can afford. You’ll thank me later!
- IS: this stands for Image Stabilization, a nifty ability to combat camera shake. With a zoom lens, especially one that has a variable aperture, IS is a must.
- If your lens has an L in the name, that means that it is a Canon L glass lens. L glass is Canon’s best glass, usually reserved for the higher-end lenses. It’s a good thing.
Here are a few lenses I would recommend to a beginner. There are Canon and Nikon equivalents, just do your research and make sure you are getting what you want. I will list off Canon lenses since I shoot Canon:
Canon 50mm f/1.8, $125: I. LOVE. This. Lens. It is super cheap, but very fast and takes beautiful images. I shoot births with it. I shoot weddings with it. I photograph a lot of families and kids with it. There is a $329 f/1.4 and $1349 f/1.2 version, both fantastic lenses, but the $125 model will get the job done and without much damage at all to your bank account. This lens is compatible with both crop sensor cameras and full frame bodies.
Canon 85mm f/1.8, $349: Another very inexpensive lens, with a slightly longer focal length. Canon makes a f/1.2 version of this lens that is much, much more expensive, but the 1.8 version gets the job done in good fashion. This lens is compatible with both crop sensor cameras and full frame bodies.
Canon 135 f/2L, $999: Canon’s L glass is their top-of-the-line and this lens produces beautiful portraits. This lens is compatible with both crop sensor cameras and full frame bodies.
Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS, $799: I cannot in good faith recommend a lens with a varying aperture, so this is the grown-up cousin to the kit lens that comes with a lot of the Rebels. It has a relatively fast aperture of f/2.8, and also has Image Stabilization, so overall it will produce a much nicer image than its cheapie counterpart. Just one thing, though: this lens will ONLY work on a crop sensor camera, like the Rebel.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS, $899: This lens’s zoom range is pretty versatile. At 24mm you could photograph the interior of a room, and 70mm is a great portrait focal length. On a crop sensor camera this lens is more like a 38-112mm, and at 38mm you won’t be wide enough to photograph home interiors but it’ll still give you a lot of flexibility. It’s a fixed aperture f/4 lens, has L glass, and has Image Stabilization. At $899, that’s a lot of value for the money. This model has a f/2.8 sibling (Canon 24-70 f/2.8L, $1799) that is a very popular lens among pros.
I hope this helped you and didn’t confuse you too much. Prices are what’s on the market as of November 9th, 2016, but with Black Friday you may find kit deals for the lower end cameras, so if you are in the market for a kit then I would wait to check those out.
If you have any specific questions, leave a comment and I will do my best to help!
Also, these recommendations are my personal ones and there will always be varying opinions between others. I looked at technical specs, value, quality, and reliability of the cameras, plus read reviews on each camera. I personally shoot with a Canon 6D and a Canon 5D Mark IV, plus a myriad of lenses that I’ve collected as I could afford them over the years. Photography is not cheap! But most of all, I urge you to please take the time to learn how to use your new camera once you buy it. There is no reason to spend lots of money on a dSLR if you just want to shoot on Auto all the time.