I need an awesome camera
February 21, 2012 10:17 PM   Subscribe

I need a DSLR camera that takes high quality pictures and video for $800 or less. I'll be using it for interviewing, artsy pictures, party pictures, "stand RIGHT THERE and smile, dammit!" pictures, short films, and everything else an amateur might get up to with a shiny new camera.

I am a total neophyte and know little to nothing about cameras. While I exercise my googling skills, what do you think I should get? I realize taking truly awesome and "professional-looking" pictures and video will require finesse, skill, and practice, but I'd like to start off on the right foot with the right camera. Thanks.
posted by jingle to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Crap. I forgot to say that I am not going into this without knowing if I actually like photography. I've owned a pretty decent point-and-shoot for ages, loved it to death, and feel ready for a significant upgrade that will leave room to grow.
posted by jingle at 10:22 PM on February 21, 2012

Nikon vs Canon vs Pentax vs Sony - go with whichever feels good in your hands, buy the 50mm prime lens. At that price point they are all basically identical aside from feel.
posted by iamabot at 10:22 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you are going to take video, you'll need an external mic or recording device. Lens whine is a thing.
posted by iamabot at 10:22 PM on February 21, 2012

Are you sure you want a DSLR and not a compact systems camera with large sensor and interchangeable lenses? I just got the Sony nex-5n which I find excellent - it has a DSLR size sensor with all the benefits and the body is smaller than a DSLR. It has really good low light performance, 1080p video and a vast range of settings from manual to fully auto.
posted by JonB at 10:36 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Sony Nex-5 is an excellent choice.
posted by joost de vries at 10:53 PM on February 21, 2012

I love my old point and shoot Canon Powershot A640. It has 10+ megapixels and video and you can fit in your pocket. As they say, the best camera is the one that you use.

Since you are looking to upgrade, you might consider a Panasonic FZ-150. It has a better lens (great in fact, a Leica) and is more suited for video. Or, you could look at the Canon DSLR packages offered at Sam's Club.

"Professional looking" pictures are achieved by learning. If you understand lighting, aperture, shutter speed, composition, etc., your pictures will look good… no matter what camera you buy.
posted by jabo at 10:53 PM on February 21, 2012

The Canon T3i is roughly $800 online but that leaves you with nothing left if you wanted to get something like a Zoom H4n for audio recording.
posted by cazoo at 10:53 PM on February 21, 2012

The adage is that cameras don't make the photographer. And this is mostly true.

(I strongly suggest you first take a basic photography class, either online or at a local community college. Starting off on the right foot means learning the basics about exposure, light, and cameras. This will help you figure out what type of advanced camera is the right one for you. And you'll also know what a DSLR or EVIL camera can really do.)

But you do sound determined to buy the camera first, so here are my suggestions. Buy a used camera. This way if you end up changing or upgrading, you won't take much of a hit, since you can resell for close to the same price. I'll talk about Canon hardware because that's what I know. The other manufacturers that iamabot mentioned are just as good.

The Canon T2i plus a 50 mm f/1.8 lens will run you about $550-600 used from forums like photography-on-the-net or fredmiranda or Craigslist. It can do video and many other lovely things.

I also recommend an advanced point and shoot like the Canon S100 or the G12. Both can be had for less than $500 new (and probably less used). They also have amazing image quality as well as all of the controls that DSLR shooters are used to. I cut my teeth photographing with cameras like these before stepping up to a DSLR. They are a great way to learn the basics of photography.

I beg you to save at least $200 of your budget for good photography classes.
posted by Mercaptan at 11:07 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Nthing iamabot; all the entry-level DSLRs (round that price point and slightly below) will meet all of your needs, and there's very very little to separate them beyond what you personally respond to when you're holding them. Get to a camera store and try some out.
posted by smoke at 11:17 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you do get a DSLR, please keep in mind that the video functionality of them is all manual, and the audio is very poor, so if you want to do anything considered professional, you will need a separate audio recording setup. You will also need to know how to use the camera extremely well to get consistent results, since you don't have a lot of the features of a real video camera.
posted by markblasco at 12:11 AM on February 22, 2012

Seconding the 'take a class first.

I was literally laughed out of a photography meetup by being the only person there without a DSLR of any kind (I have a Kodak Z915 for going into the pocket and a Samsung HZ50 for bigger deal stuff), and now I'm going to start on taking camera classes on the nearest community college and going for an AA in photography, just because, you know, I both can and want to.

The gear helps, but I've realized that I actually need to know more of the theory if I want to be a good photographer.

(You'll get people who tell you gear makes the photographer - the people at the National Association of Photoshop Professionals will do that - but the best gear in the world will not help you if you don't know what you're doing.
posted by mephron at 12:36 AM on February 22, 2012

I bought a FujiFilm HS10 bridge camera a while back, with the view to upgrading to a DSLR in the future.

Thing is, I'm so completely happy and blown away by the camera that I don't think I'll be joining the DSLR gang for quite a while.

I like it because it offers most of the settings of the DSLR in a package that's fairly easy to get used to. It's the perfect beginners camera because it takes great snaps straight out of the box, but every now and then I'll find myself delving into the manual and discovering a new setting that makes my pics look even better.

I do like the fact that it doesn't have interchangeable lenses, too, because it means that I don't have to worry about the myriad options you have when it comes to lenses, and that I can concentrate on how the camera itself operates. I'm a tad accident-prone, so it's one less thing to damage/lose/infect with dust somehow.

Critical responses to the HS10 seem to be mixed, and as it's my first semi-proper camera I might be a tad biased. Video's not great either, but apparently that's been sorted out on the HS10's successors, the HS25 and HS30.
posted by hnnrs at 5:43 AM on February 22, 2012

For a self-guided photo class, you could do worse than to check out Reddit's Own Photo Class. It's pretty great as a starting point.

All the DSLRs in your price point are about the same. Just get whichever feels the best and/or presents the best deal. Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras from Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic are also an option.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:30 AM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, god, no, don't buy the 50mm prime lens. It's way too tight for general photography and not tight enough for a good portrait lens - it's a cargo-cult leftover from film SLRs. It will make you unhappy, and seriously crimp your style as a photographer.

If you want to get a prime, get a 35mm lens, which has the field of view on a APS-C DSLR of the 50mm lens on a full-frame camera. It splits the difference between a short telephoto and a wide angle, and will "see" the scene pretty much the way you do. Additionally, wide-angle primes are pretty useful as well as "one lens" solutions.

But, more generally, the kit zoom (the lens included in a DSLR package) will be OK, especially as you learn the camera. Decide on primes and telephotos later, after you're comfortable with your camera and are developing your own shooting style.

The quality between the different manufacturers are very close - it really comes down to how the camera feels in your hands and how it looks when you see through the viewfinder. Don't discount mirrorless systems - they offer quality on-par with entry level DSLRs in a smaller package. (Tho the Sony NEX models in your price range do not have a hotshoe, which may be an issue if you decide to explore off-camera flash photography, and its lenses aren't as respected at its competition, and the Pentax Q is basically a toy.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:12 AM on February 22, 2012

Wanted to nth 1) getting an external mic (so making sure whichever camera you buy has a jack for one) 2) taking a class to get all the mechanical and artistic basics down (I knew a woman with a Leica who took horrible pictures--cameras maketh not the photographer)

And I love my f1.4 50mm lens; lets me take pictures in low-light situations that my kit lens can't handle. It was a gift, but they can be had for less than $150.
posted by smirkette at 7:15 AM on February 22, 2012

Oh, god, no, don't buy the 50mm prime lens. It's way too tight for general photography and not tight enough for a good portrait lens - it's a cargo-cult leftover from film SLRs. It will make you unhappy, and seriously crimp your style as a photographer.

I agree that you shouldn't buy a 50mm 1.8 just yet, especially not as your only prime.

That said, in defense of nifty fifties, it's not as if 85mm lenses for 35mm/FF cameras were ever less than useful. They're just not good walkaround lenses.


All the kit lenses for the major brands are pretty good. Surprisingly good. Better than kit lenses ever were back in the day. Competition between brands is so vicious, that no one can afford to put out a bad kit lens. Don't worry about them too much.

OTOH, if you're willing to spend the extra bucks, then by all means get a quality prime in the 28-35mm range. Pentax has a very nice 35mm for about $150.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:41 AM on February 22, 2012

Oh, god, no, don't buy the 50mm prime lens. It's way too tight for general photography and not tight enough for a good portrait lens - it's a cargo-cult leftover from film SLRs. It will make you unhappy, and seriously crimp your style as a photographer.

nth. IMO, the big problem is less the field of view than the fact that it's really hard to exploit the big aperture for low light ability at that focal length. I can do hand-held images by candlelight pretty easily with my F1.4 30mm @ ISO1600 or 3200. F1.8@50mm on an APS-C body doesn't get me there, but then I don't have the world's steadiest hands. 30mm f1.4's aren't quite in that budget, though.

I'd stick with the kit lens and save up OR give up on the video requirements and get a decent used body and a couple nice-ish lenses (FWIW, a 30mm f1.4 and 10-20mm are what I use 90% of the time). Video is a whole different ball game in terms of learning curve, skill set, time and data requirements, and I'd focus on still photography first if it were me.
posted by pjaust at 8:42 AM on February 22, 2012

I'd stick with the kit lens and save up OR give up on the video requirements and get a decent used body and a couple nice-ish lenses (FWIW, a 30mm f1.4 and 10-20mm are what I use 90% of the time).

That's a good thought. If you're willing to give up video, then a whole new world of used, inexpensive semipro models open up. Get a Canon 40D or a Pentax K20D (or the Nikon/Sony equivalents) and you'll not only have a camera with better handling than an entry-level, but you'll also have $400 or so left to spend on lenses. If you decide to graduate to video, then you can hock your old camera - which won't be too terrible, because you had already bought it at a depreciated price - and then you can buy something else with the extra capabilities.

Just a thought.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:31 AM on February 22, 2012

I just bought a Canon T2i; camera+kit lens is about $600 almost everywhere. I bought just the body for $400 new with a coupon at Adorama (sorry, expired), and spent $250 on a 18-200 zoom lens and $50 on a fast memory card (for multishot and video) -- if I paid full price for the camera, it would have been about $800 for everything. It'll do highdef video (someone mentioned a mic; the T2i has a mic jack), and the lens was picked out for multipurpose use; it's not a very fast lens, nor a very high-end lens, but it is more point-and-shooty than having a bag full of lenses to switch regularly. I'm pleased with the T2i's controls for changing shutter/aperture/iso/etc, they're all quite accessible and easy to change during use. If you're new to SLRs in general, its auto settings are pretty good, as far as any digital camera's autosettings are.

I would also discourage the 50mm prime. 50mm prime on an old SLR had a nice field of view, but the DSLR equivalent is somewhere from 28-35mm due to sensor size. I looked, and fast primes in those focal lengths cost as much as the camera itself, or more.

But, like others have said, at that pricepoint there's not a lot of difference between the bigger-name DSLRs, it's more important how it feels in your hands. I like the T2i's controls, but the Nikon D5100 is pretty close in specs, so find a camera store (or even Best Buy) where you can pick up the cameras and mess with them, and decide which one feels best in your hand.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:29 PM on February 22, 2012

You can try the Epm-1 with Panasonic 20mm lens.

That will give you high quality image with fast autofocus.

The downside is that you will not be able to zoom with the lens.

Here is a good article describing the two combination.
posted by Thisispiggy at 8:48 PM on March 24, 2012

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