Jim Doty - Photo Blog

Photography: Photos, News, and Tips
Thursday, December 08, 2005

It's that time of year. "What kind of camera, lens, software . . . . . do you recommend." The questions come all year long, the pace just picks up a lot this time of year. This is the first of a series of articles based on emails I have writen. Film and digital, P&S and SLR, my highly opinionated suggestions follow.

The primary choices are film or digital, point-and-shoot or SLR. The choice is yours. Here are just a few thoughts to consider.

Film or Digital?

If you like film and want to stay with film, then do so. Don't worry about the folks that say "film is dead" or urge you to get on the digital bandwagon. If you are happy with film, stay with film.

On the other hand if you like to work on the computer, you get some of your film images scanned to disc, and you want to edit and print your own photos, then maybe it's time to jump to digital.

Some folks love to tinker around with photos on the computer. Others just want to get their prints back with minimum fuss. Film is quick to have processed and printed. Digital is time intensive if you edit and print your own photos.

Digital gives you fast feedback - click and look. Film is delayed gratification.

Film cameras cost less, film processing costs a lot over time. Digital cameras cost a lot more than film cameras and get replaced a lot more often. It is very economical to burn your digital photos to disc. In terms of total cost over time, one may not have a significant advantage over the other.

Only you can decide if it is time to jump over the digital divide.

Point and Shoot or SLR?

If you want an all-in-one, do-it-all camera with no decisions to make, point and shoot may be the way to go. Of course many point and shoot cameras give you a lot more control than they used to. Most DSLRs have a simple mode so they can be used like a P&S. The big question is do you want thye flexibility of being able to change lenses? If you do, then you need an SLR or Digital SLR. SLRs and DSLRs are bigger, heavier, and usually more expensive than point and shoot cameras.

Point and Shoot Film Cameras

Short List:
Canon Sure Shot 130m
Contax T3
Minolta Zoom 110 Date
Olympus Stylus Epic (the best, inexpensive non-zoom cameras)
Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 115
Pentax Espio 24 EW (widest zoom lens on a P&S)
Samsung Evoca 90W Neo
Yashica T4 Zoom

To figure out what features you need in a P&S camera, read my article here. Part 2 is a bit dated but the cameras mentioned are still good cameras.

Manual SLR Film Cameras

Short List:
Canon AE-1
Canon AE-1 Program
Canon A1
Canon F-1N (New F-1)

For a retro approach to film photography, these oldies but goodies will take good pictures. Be sure and get them from a reputable source, preferably with a warranty of some sort.

I've used Canon film cameras for a long time. I know them and like them. There are other excellent cameras of course. I just haven't used them.

If you want to go the all manual route, you can still find some AE-1 and AE-1 Program cameras out there. The Canon F-1N (sometimes called the New F-1) pro line camera is a great manual everything, professional grade camera. My AE-1 and F-1N cameras are now 15-20 years old and they still work fine. The Canon "FD" manual focus lens line is highly respected and you can get them for a song compared to the autofocus lenses. NOTE: FD lenses go on the older manual focus bodies like the A-series, T-series, and F-1's. The EF Canon lenses go on the autofocus and digital bodies. THE TWO SYSTEM ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE.

So far as the other cameras brands are concerned, these cameras have good reputations but I haven't used them so I can't vouch for them myself:

Nikon FM (shutter works without batteries)
Nikon FE/FE2
Nikon FA
Minolta Maxxum 7000/7000i
Minolta Maxxum 9000
Olympus OM2n
Pentax Super Program
Pentax LX
Nikon FA

Autofocus SLR Film Cameras

Short list:
Canon EOS Rebel T2
Canon EOS Elan IIe
Canon EOS Elan 7e/7ne
Canon EOS-3
Minolta Maxxum 7/9
Nikon N80/F100
Pentax *ist/ZX-5n/MZ-s
Sigma SA-9

For autofocus cameras, my short list includes the Elan IIe, and EOS-3 cameras. I own and use them, and they are great camera bodies. You can use the lenses in manual or autofocus modes. You can meter manually or use program, aperture priority, or shutter priority modes. What more could you want in a film camera?

You can pick up a used Elan IIe for a very reasonable price. I've recommended them to friends who were ready to go from P&S film to SLR film and they all like this camera. I've purchased the Elan IIe for myself and to give away. It is a great little camera. I haven't used the Elan 7e in either version but I've read good reports. If getting a used camera makes you nervous, the Elan 7e/7ne is a good mid priced option.

The EOS-3 is a step up from the Elan cameras. It is more rugged, faster, and better weather sealed. It has more autofocus sensors and focuses faster. My EOS-3 is my number one, autofocus film camera.

I haven't used the Canon Rebel T2 or the other cameras on the list so I can't vouch for them personally. They are highly rated by the sources I trust.

Digital Point and Shoot Cameras

Short List (sensor size in megapixels, lens range):
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200 (7 mp sensor, 3x zoom)
Canon PowerShot A620 (7 mp, 4x)
Canon PowerShot S80 (8 mp, 3.6x)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC V3 (7 mp, 4x)
Canon PowerShot G6 (7 mp, 4x)
Canon PowerShot S2 IS (5mp, 12x)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC H1 (5mp 12x)
Panosonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 (5 mp, 12x)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC R1 (10 mp CMOS sensor, 7x)

These are all of the cameras that received a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating (the highest) from DP Review in the last 12 months. They are listed in order of approximate size. It is a good beginning list for picking a digital P&S. Don't buy any of these cameras without reading the full review at DP Review.

You can expand on this list by deciding what kind of P&S you are interested in: compact, medium sized, or an almost full-sized camera with a long zoom lens that looks like a DSLR.

Look at reviews of the kind of camera you are interested in at DP Review. Make a short list of the cameras of the type you want that have at least a RECOMMENDED or HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating from DP Review. Take your short list to your local camera store and look at just those cameras. Don't let some salesperson talk you into looking at something that is not on your short list. Buy a camera you like from the short list.

It will help if you read my article on choosing digital cameras.

Digital SLR Cameras

Short list:
Canon 10D/20D/5D
Fuji FinePix S3 Pro
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
Nikon D50/D200
Olympus E-1/Evolt
Pentax *ist D/S

DSLRs come in low, medium, and high priced ranges. I will mostly cover the first two. These are relative price ranges of course since a low price digital SLR can cost as much as a mid range film SLR.

The good news is that most of the current crop of digital cameras will do a fine job. If you already have a set of lenses for a film SLR and are going to make the jump to digital, it makes sense to get a digital body that you can use your current lenses on.

I will cover Canon cameras first.

I've used the Canon D30, 10D, 20D, and 5D cameras and own all but the D30.

The D30 was fine for its day, but technology has passed it by. If you can find a used D30 for $300, it could be a great camera for you provided you understand its two primary limitations: image size and digital noise at high ISOs.

You can make excellent prints from the D30 up to 8x12 or 10x15 inches. With excellent technique and the right subject, you can make 12x18 inch prints. If that is big enough for you , the D30 will work.

The D30 has higher digital noise levels at high ISO settings. If you work mostly around ISO 100 or 200, this won't matter to you. ISO 400 is still pretty good. At 800 and higher, noise is much more obvious. If you need low noise levels at high ISOs, then think twice before getting a D30. Or use Neat Image (there are free and paid versions) to remove the noise. Lastly, a good friend of mine just acquired a used D30 and loves it.

Then 10D and 20D are both very fine cameras. The difference are spelled out in this article. If the particular advantages of the 20D are not important to the kind of photography you do, by all means save some money and get a new or used 10D (around $650 used, in fact I have one for sale). On the other hand, if you need the 20D advantages, then get the 20D (around $1300).

One last thought on the 20D, there are a lot of rumors that a replacement will be announced in February. If you want a 20D, I think it is worth waiting to see if the replacement is significantly better. If it is, get the replacement. Iff not, the prices on the 20D will drop and you can get a 20D.

The 5D has some advantages over the 20D, most notably a full frame sensor. The disadvantage is a big increase in price ($3300 vs $1300). My 20D vs 5D comparison article is here.

That covers the camera I have used. What about the Digital Rebel XT? I haven't used it myself so I can't vouch for it personally. It has a good reputation. If cost is a consideration, consider getting the Rebel XT.

EF vs EF-S Lenses

One last important Canon digital camera point. Canon EF lenses fit on all of the Canon digital SLR cameras. EF-S lenses will fit on the 20D and Digital Rebel XT. They will NOT fit on the D30, 10D, or 5D. If you have an eye on one of the EF-S lenses, particularly the 10-22mm lens, then you should choose a camera that will let you use EF-S lenses.

How about all of the other brands? They all make some fine digital cameras. Pick one that you can put your existing SLR lenses on. If you don't have any SLR lenses, then consider one of the Canon cameras above.

If you have Nikon lenses, the D50 is a good low priced model. The D70 is a good mid range model but I think it is worth waiting for the D200 instead.

Two magazines have published articles comparing DLSRs. Be sure and read my summary of these articles here.

Where to Buy?

What is a good place to buy a camera?

Your local camera store is one option. If you would like to help support this website, consider getting your camera at Amazon or Adorama. Just click on a link at the bottom of my home page and order your camera. Other good sources are in the "CAMERA STORES" section on the top right side of this page.

For used equipment, I recommend Adorama, B&H, and KEH which are listed under the above CAMERA STORES link.

Happy Shopping and Merry Christmas!


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