Choosing a Camera—Part 2


On Monday I presented Part 1 in a three-part series on helping someone select a new digital camera based upon their current needs.  Today, I present the actual recommendations based upon what we discovered from our future buyer on Monday:

So, we’ll want a camera with good resolution and low noise through at least ISO 400, and preferably up to ISO 800 or even higher.  We’ll want to accompany that with a telephoto lens that zooms from 24mm (ultra-wide angle) to at least 105mm (mild telephoto) with an aperture (lens width—the wider the lens, the more light it gathers) of at least f2.8, but we may have to go up to f4.0 (the larger the number, the narrower the lens) to keep within budget.  We’ll want to set all this with an external flash, and preferably one on which the head swivels up (and left and right if you can afford it) so you can bounce the flash for more natural indirect lighting.  That’ll run an additional $50 up to $200 for a good one.  I’d be inclined to budget in at least $150 for this, which brings our camera budget down to around $850.  So, here goes:

Compact cameras (with the added bonus of being able to shoot in Raw format):

Canon Powershot G12 (but the lens is a 28mm-140mm zoom, and may not be wide enough for your needs on this shoot; small sensor; good aperture at wide angle—f2.8-f4.5).  $380 (all prices are shop-around prices)
Nikon Coolpix 7100 (Same problem—28mm-200mm; good aperture on the wide side—f2.8-f5.6; small sensor).  $404
Olympus XZ-1 (28mm-112mm; great aperture—f1.8-f2.5; larger sensor).  $414
Panasonic LX5 (24mm-90mm, the first camera listed with enough wide angle, but limited on the telephoto; excellent aperture—f2.0-f3.3; larger sensor)  $348

Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILCs—one step below a DSLR; these cameras will be more versatile in the future, but right now lens availability may be limited):

Olympus Pen series—$500 to $900 MSRP with kit lens (28mm-84mm f3.5-f5.6)
Panasonic Compact System Cameras—$500 to $800 MSRP with kit lens (28mm-84mm f3.5-f5.6)
Sony Alpha NEX series—$500 to $850 MSRP with kit lens (27mm-82.5mm f3.5-f5.6, but you can get a 24mm f2.8 lens with no telephoto capability); largest sensor so far—APS-C size; no hot-shoe, so no external flash capability—a deal breaker for your above application, in my view.

Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLR):

There are a whole slew of cameras from which to pick in this field, with any lens you’ll need and just about any price range you can afford.  The big three in this field are Sony, Canon, and Nikon, with some great offerings also coming from Olympus and Pentax.  I’m a Canon man from way back, but I do have to say that the current leader in innovation is Sony with their new SLT series—not really a DSLR, and not strictly an ILC, but rather something in between.  The base-model SLT-A35 with two kit lenses (27mm-82.5mm f3.5-f5.6 and 82.5mm-300mm f/4-5.6—again, I’ve converted all focal lengths to their 35mm equivalent for comparison) has an MSRP of $900.  But you can get comparable capabilities for a lesser price from either Canon or Nikon.  In this range of cameras, just shop for the features you want.

Friday, the conclusion:  The pros and cons of the above suggestions

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