Help Selecting Camera
January 28, 2012 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Need to understand what kind of camera I should get based on the criteria of this beginner's class. (You need to scroll down to the second class, "Introduction to Digital Photography.")

I want to take a class and want to get a camera for it. Here's the course description:

introduction to digital photography

Want to find out what White Balance, Resolution, and Mega Pixels are all about, speak the digital lingo and finally understand that manual? In this class, you will learn how to use your digital camera more effectively, review the fundamentals of image capture and camera operation, proper exposure and effective composition. Weekly assignments and sharing images in class will help you troubleshoot and develop a creative eye. Students are expected to provide a digital camera with manual adjustment capacities (Aperture (A), Shutter Speed (S, or Tv), and camera manual (bring to first class). Automatic point and shoots are not suitable for this class.

I don't know what all this means and don't know how to pick a camera that has these options. Any suggestions that are mid-range priced? I am a total noob when it comes to cameras. Thanks in advance!
posted by orsonet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total)
Any SLR camera (digital or film) will have those manual adjustment features. You can generally get an entry level DSLR kit (camera + one lens) from Nikon or Canon in the $400 to $600 range, perhaps cheaper if you hunt Craigslist.

There are some higher end compact cameras that have manual features, too, like the Canon S100. But I think for that money, you should lean toward an SLR that will have a bigger imaging sensor and support interchangeable lenses. Compacts just can't compare to SLRs for depth of field and low light (handheld shots at night or indoors).
posted by knave at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2012

I am reading this to mean a digital camera that has an aperture priority mode and a shutter speed priority mode. That's virtually any consumer-level point-and-shoot camera these days. Do you already own a camera? Take a look at the mode selector dial on the top. Is there a setting (or multiple settings) denotes by the letters A and S? Then you're set.

To briefly explain, these are "semi-automatic" settings that put you in control of one of the variables that goes into setting up a shot: how long the shutter stays open (shutter priority) and how wide the aperture is (aperture priority). When you set one of these, the camera adjusts the remaining settings to optimize your shot. The next step would be a full manual mode where you set up the shot more or less by yourself, and that's what DSLRs are for.
posted by Nomyte at 1:11 PM on January 28, 2012

I don't think it's true that virtually any compact has manual adjustment features, but even if it is, it's generally not built to be used (easily or often). On an SLR, shutter and aperture will be physical dials. On a compact, you'll often be navigating through a menu system to find the options, and even then they will be more limited. I tend to think that a compact is inappropriate for a photography class, although if you really can't spend the money, you suck it up and use what you've got.
posted by knave at 1:16 PM on January 28, 2012

I'm with knave, but I wouldn't go out and get a DSLR until I was sure I enjoyed the photography hobby enough to make it worth is. Probably using a compact with a manual mode will be enough to learn whether you care enough to upgrade.

I'd also email the instructor and see exactly what "automatic point and shoots" means.
posted by gjc at 1:22 PM on January 28, 2012

Many compact cameras fake aperture control with a neutral density filter, so any attempt to control depth of field won't work with them. Looks like a DSLR or higher-end compact (Canon PowerShot S or G, Micro-4/3) is what they need.
posted by scruss at 1:38 PM on January 28, 2012

If you're willing to forgo new cameras given that you just entered the hobby you can find several on ebay. I'm looking to get back into it and mostly I just want a camera with manual features again; Often when I'm looking on ebay there are several tempting offers if you're willing to get the lenses on you're own. For example this GF1 which is only 2 or so years old
posted by Rubbstone at 1:51 PM on January 28, 2012

What exactly do you mean by mid-range price? Give an exact price range and we'll have some specific model suggestions. Also are you OK buying used (for more suggestions)? What camera make and model do you have now and do you like it or not? There may be suggestions with a brand/family resemblance.

If you have $500-600 get a DSLR kit. That's what the instructor is hoping for anyway, since that will be easiest for "teaching" the class from his viewpoint.
posted by caclwmr4 at 3:36 PM on January 28, 2012

Response by poster: I'm certainly up for something used.

Also, I don't know what I mean by mid-range because I don't know what the full range is.

Specific model suggestions are welcome!
posted by orsonet at 4:44 PM on January 28, 2012

I think the best thing to do is to try snapsort it seems to be offering fairly good recommendations and providing salient details.

Midrange for cameras is close $3000 because they can cost as much as 30k but most people stay in the enthusiast or used midrange catagory. Under 1k and usuallly less than $700.

If you are looking for a start as to what is currently well reviewed on the market. The Sony NEX-5N is getting good reviews and you can also consider the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i
posted by Rubbstone at 6:14 PM on January 28, 2012

Midrange is hard to say because you will have a person with a 150$ tiny thing (a point-n-shoot w manual controls) right next to a person who got a 1500$ DSLR for xmas.
Most folks will probably have a new body plus a kit lens (~450$), ~10-12 megapixels (for beginners, more just uses up storage).

I'd suggest a Canon body, used, 300D XT XSi XTi 20D 30D 40D 50D or something of the like and the 'nifty 50' - Canon's legendary 50mm f1.8 lens (~80$ retail, less if used). Its an EF lens, and will work on any of Canon's bodies. It's not a zoom lens, this will focus you on composition. I love the f1.8 b/c it will REALLY show you a difference when learning to control aperture (how many things both near and far are 'in focus') and its likely to stay in your kit for life. I'd bet you can find both, used, for <300$.

NB- There are many too good to be true 'body only' 'deals' but then the company calls post-sale to offer a costly add on kit. Tell them NO.

**I think your best option is to buy from someone you know- ask around. Most digital photographers with fancy cameras have old bodies/lenses they haven't bothered to ebay. They will be a great resource & can open the door to buying even more cast-offs in the future!
posted by iiniisfree at 7:23 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think a Nikon D40 with the kit 18-55 will be just dandy and re-sellable for what you paid for it if it turns out you don't like photography.

For a compact, I like the Canon S95 (or the new S100) but think the Panasonic Lumix DMC LX3 or it's successor the DMC LX5 are all great.

Again, resale value is good on any of these.
posted by bz at 12:04 AM on January 29, 2012

seconding Nikon...the lens mount they use (the mechanism that locks the lens to the camera) has not changed since the 1950's which means they have more compatible lenses than any other manufacturer (this is why you DONT want to go with sony...they have just entered this market) can pick up all sorts of fun, crazy vintage lenses if you look around ebay, etc for cheap. lenses are important! be sure to ask the teacher for reccomendations!

seconding BZ to look at the lower-end DSLRs...i just got the new Nikon D5100 (one of their latest) and love it! remember 100 and 400 speed film? well it shoots the eqivalent of 25,000 speed film, making it awesome at low-light situations. it also shoots full 1080p HD digital video and just in general has more tricks up its sleeve than a magician. it lists for $850 with the 18-55mm zoom lens, but if you look around online you can save a ton (i think i paid 700 on amazon...make sure you get the one with the lens...they also sell it without) ...its also a breeze to use in auto mode and takes stunning 16MP images. (the other kids will be jealous)

also, as far as reselling camera equipment, try this trick: list it on amazon on a thursday with good clear pictures taken with lots of light on a white(!) background...include all the original packaging, etc. ....include as much info as you can find and pick a ten-day auction with no reserve. (reserve makes people afraid to bid) that way it gets two full weekends, and you can often turn a small profit.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:48 AM on January 29, 2012

fyi - there are two companies that are respected and sell used equipment, KEH and B&H. The DSLR landscape is super-competitive so the age of the cameras actually is important. I'd suggest you that think about your budget first and them accomodate your camera purchase around that.

But let me get more specific. I'd suggest that you would want to go with the "Advanced Consumer" line of cameras, which is to say the bodies will have independent analog controls for shutter speed and don't want to "menu dive" when you are learning. Now, Canon is a great company, but I don't know their products so I'll go with what I know, Nikon. This Nikon D70s (body only)*, for example, is at that level and sells for $265.00, used.

One the one hand, it was released in 2005 and there have been serious Image Quality improvements in the seven years since. One the other hand, take a look at a flickr group of D70s that image quality up to your standards?

If you want something better, I'd avoid the whole D80 line and jump right to the D90. Note that even used, the prices will jump up a bit. If you want some perspective from an expert, you may want to look at this list of upgrade paths, which answers a question that is little different than yours, but may inform you nonetheless.

* I am not going to tell you that iiniisfree is wrong, but buying body-only is the only way I'd go if I was in your shoes...Nikon kit lenses are often highly-rated but I feel like you'll learn about your camera more quickly with a prime lens which is never sold in a Nikon kit...something like this.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 10:51 AM on January 29, 2012

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