Cameras that can take a beating
April 20, 2010 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Sturdy, dependable cameras for a school?

I’m not a photographer, but I am teaching art classes using Photoshop and want to put in a request for my place of work to purchase a few more cameras. These will be used by dozens of young adult students and will have to stand up to considerable wear and tear. I’ve been told there’s a budget of about $5000 USD. I would like to purchase at least one DSLR for students who are more seriously interested in photography but also some point-and-shoots for those who just want quick, decent quality source images to work with.
posted by Cuke to Shopping (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Nikon FM10. Similar features to the venerable Pentax K1000, but still in production.
posted by domographer at 1:01 PM on April 20, 2010

The FM10 is a great suggestion if you are using film. I'm assuming you want digital? I would suggest looking at DSLR and point+shoot cameras from the same company for simplicity. For example every Canon I have ever used has a very similar menu structure and icon set for specific functions; it will make moving from the point+shoots to the DSLR easier for the students.

If you have lenses for existing DLSRs already, they might also work with new digitals so use that as a basis for expanding your options while saving money. Don't go buy a bunch of Canons for example if you have Nikon lenses laying around, and vice versa.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:08 PM on April 20, 2010

Olympus SW series or any other ruggedized/waterproof point and shoot. The S is for shock proof ( 3 foot drop) and the W is for waterproof ( 3 ft or 10 ft, depending on model). Trust me the S and the W are important around Youts.
posted by Gungho at 1:20 PM on April 20, 2010

The Canon 5D is a really solid workhorse camera, and should be able to take a few gentle knocks. You could have one as your "hero" camera. It should be under $2k if you can find a MKI, or a MK II, which can generate gorgeous 21 megapixel images, is around $2.5k.

As far as compacts go, Canon is really the way to go. They're just a foolproof option. The Canon S90 is the current star of the game, being small and very high quality for the size.

If you want a really (really) solid DSLR, the 1Ds series or equivalent Nikon are tanks, but you pay serious money, beyond your budget.
posted by Magnakai at 1:23 PM on April 20, 2010

I don't see any reason why people learning photography would need a 5D. Really, a T1i (or whatever the entry-level Rebel is) will produce results that are indistinguishable from the results a 5D produces to the new photographer's eye. The new Rebels and Nikon Dxxxx series do HD video too, which students could find great uses for.

However, I think Gungho has a great idea... shockproof cameras would REALLY extend the life of those cameras. I know most schools end up buying great new equipment for their students and end up with a drawer full of wrecked equipment at the end of the year. Then again, a decent shockproof camera costs, on average, $100-200 more than a comparable conventional camera of the same specs... so maybe just buy more cheap cameras (to deter theft, too?). How many cameras do you need?
posted by speedgraphic at 1:37 PM on April 20, 2010

Check Olympus' eBay store for their refurb waterproof models... they're going for under $200-150 now.
posted by speedgraphic at 1:39 PM on April 20, 2010

Sure, a 5D could be overkill for their needs in terms of it's output, but it's a better built camera than a Rebel. That was the question. It may also be useful for generating very high-res imagery for whatever Photoshoppery the OP wanted. I'm not trying to second guess anyone's needs, it's just my opinion as someone who uses this kit daily.

On a tangent, I feel there's no need for students to necessarily learn on outmoded and unprofessional equipment. A school has the resources to show students exactly what they're likely to be doing in the real world, and to give them access to equipment that they'll likely never be able to afford at that stage in their career. To be able to come out of school and have worked with gear that is likely to be used professionally would be a real boon for many kids. /rant
posted by Magnakai at 1:59 PM on April 20, 2010

seconding getting more of the lower-end dslrs than one really pricey one...decent p&s cameras can be had in the $100-200 range, and the lower-end dslrs in the $400-500. getting a good set of lenses is vital as well...lenses are generally more important than the camera body and, as has been mentioned, can be used on multiple cameras, as long as they are by the same manufacturer. don't bother with any DSLR that isn't nikon or canon (i prefer nikon, myself) check out, particularly for more exotic lenses (they've got an 8mm fisheye for under $300, and 500mm mirror lenses for around $130)...though these lenses are more limited, they're good for students who want to explore different kinds of shooting

some tips:

-a 35 or 50mm 'normal' lens is vital, particularly ones with a low f-stop number (the lower the number, the wider the lens opens, allowing for shooting in lower light) and nikon both make a 50mm f/1.8 that run around $100.

-when buying a zoom lens, don't get one that zooms over more than a factor of 3-4x. divide the big number by the small number to get the zoom factor. for example 50-200mm: 200/50=4, good. 18-200mm=~10, bad. zoom lenses with a large factor tend to take really distorted images. it's much better to have two lenses that split the range. i.e.: an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm

-most dslrs come with the option of buying the body only, with a moderate zoom (usually 18-55mm), or with a crazy super-zoom (usu 18-200 or 18-300mm). as i said, dont get that one.

-when buying a P&S, get the one with the bigger piece of glass on the front. a larger lens will always take better, sharper pictures than a small one, no matter what the 'megapixels' are.

- a good plan might be:
2 DSLRs (like the nikon d3000 or d 5000), both with the more moderate zoom option(18-55mm): ~$1500
a more telephoto zoom (like 55-200mm) ~$250
a 50mm f/1.8 ~$100
a 35mm f/1.8 ~$200
the fisheye and mirror lens i mentioned ~$400
a good lighting kit (including flash, stands, and umbrellas) ~$500
5 good tripods ~$500
10 P&S cameras, including a few that are waterproof/shockproof ~$1500
total: ~$5000
posted by sexyrobot at 2:41 PM on April 20, 2010

For P&S, I'd avoid compact ones with moving lenses. Get something like this. As a benefit, chunky & ugly cameras are less likely to be pockted or stolen. For DSLRs, you face a conundrum: The most robust DSLRs are also the most expensive.

Also worth mentioning, some Canons' firmware can be hacked with CHDK which can unleash all sort of fun artistic hackery on low end cameras, like time lapse video.
posted by chairface at 3:52 PM on April 20, 2010

Thanks everyone for the answers so far, they are all helpful.

To answer some of the questions - yes, these would be digital cameras. I would like to have anywhere between 5-10 units. We don't have a big problem with theft, but things do get broken. The equipment we have now is Canon, so I guess it makes sense to stick with that. I'm going to look into some of the options mentioned above.
posted by Cuke at 5:56 PM on April 20, 2010

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