Please help me pick out a new camera!
June 28, 2015 9:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for my first nice camera, as my iPhone is no longer cutting it. I am thinking to purchase a mirrorless, but the possibilities seem endless! Please guide my decision.

I would like to buy myself a new camera, mostly for vacation, travel, and family photos. My iPhone isn't cutting it. I'll be doing little editing, and little large format printing, but wouldn't mind the option, of course. Mostly just on the go photography that I'll print to 4x6.

I've gotten a sense of the offerings, but everything seems to change so quickly. I used an S90 for a number of years that I really liked. Still seems to be a good option, but I want something that I can grow into a little bit more, if I find I enjoy the hobby.

Options I'm checking out are: NEX-7, RX-100 ii (maybe I should just forego the whole lens thing?), E-PL6, OM-D E-M10. However, around every corner, it seems like there's another camera that everyone says is better! I'm lost...

Budget is up to $500. No local shop for me to check these out in person.
posted by masters2010 to Technology (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I bought an NEX (F3 I think) a few years ago because I was working as a music writer and I sometimes had to take photos for show reviews. I love it, and it takes incredible pictures—it's my first Real Camera, so I don't really have a control group—but as small as it is compared to a DSLR I still find myself reluctant to take it places, just because I'm so spoiled by my iPhone.

As a result, I sometimes wish I had just gotten an RX-100 instead; less sensor, and much less versatility, but I imagine there are quite a few photos I would have taken that just don't exist now because my versatile camera was sitting on my desk.
posted by Polycarp at 9:39 PM on June 28, 2015

I have the RX-100i, because I had about 400 eur to spend on a camera at the time and I wanted something pocketable, and I'm THRILLED with it. It's enough of a step up in quality and versatility to be satisfying, but still pocketable. I actually find myself carrying it with me and whipping it out all the time.

The best camera is the one you have with you. I think the RX100ii will be a great step up from your phone.
posted by nerdfish at 11:31 PM on June 28, 2015

The best camera is the one you will use! I had one of the Leica DMX for a while, and currently have a Panasonic with a Leica lens. They will take excellent pictures and it will fit in your pocket. Many in the series offer optional full manual control, if you want to learn about that, and a good lens makes a world of difference. I have a degree and some pro experience and have used a lot of cameras. Memail me for specifics.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:44 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wirecutter's camera articles - starting, probably with "Which camera should I get?" are pretty good at guiding decisions. A few months ago I used their "Best point and shoot camera under $1000" article to guide me in the direction of a Canon G7X. Several hundred pictures later I have not regretted it. Like you I wanted something which was going to offer a sufficiently large leap in quality over an iPhone to justify me carrying it around - I also wanted something portable.
posted by rongorongo at 12:57 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Honestly, those are all great cameras and you would be happy with any of them.They all have their pros and cons, but they are all fine. I would personally lean towards a system as opposed to the lovely RX's as there is more scope for growth if this hobby continues to interest you.

The other cool thing is that camera bodies are the cheapest things to upgrade; its buying into the system where things start to get pricey.

Accordingly, the m/43 cameras like the olympus have the biggest lens selections by a mile. However, the Sony's have bigger sensors (in the 7's case, much bigger), that means superior low light performance - but it also means the camera is slightly larger, the lenses are larger, and generally a bit more expensive.

Then again, the RX is truly rooly very portable.

People tend to get a bit (stupidly) tribal about camera brands - and worse they always recommend the brand they use, and that brand is often the only brand they've used. So recommendations are not especially useful - but they do illustrate how hard it is to buy dud camera these days. I've gone through three different systems with cameras, and I would recommend any of those brands again, to be honest.

camerasize is a useful site for comparing real world dimensions of different cameras. Be sure to pay attention to the measurements, as 3cm can look a lot bigger on the screen than in your hand though (protip, click the hand link to get an average hand to appear to compare with! Genius!)
posted by smoke at 5:05 AM on June 29, 2015

Some good responses so far, thanks for the info! I especially like the camerasize website.

Updated options:

Nex-7 with 18-55mm kit lens ($500)
Sony A5100 with 18-50mm ($500)
Lumix GF7 with 12-32 ($510)
Fuji X-A2 ($500)

Of these options, do any of them particularly stand out, or is it six to one, half dozen to the others?
posted by masters2010 at 6:39 AM on June 29, 2015

The NEX-7 is a pretty old body at this point. It's lacking a few of what are now standard features like built-in wi-fi, a touchscreen and focus tracking. I bought a Panasonic G2 when it came out a few years ago and the focus tracking is one of my favorite features. If you have a young family, I wouldn't buy a camera without it, you touch the face of your kids on the LCD and it keeps the focus on them while they run around. The other three cameras you mentioned all have that feature.

The only other thing that sticks out about the others from a quick glance at the specs is that they lack a hotshoe for an external flash. This was one of the first accessories I added and makes a huge difference in the quality of photos over the built-in.
posted by IanMorr at 9:21 AM on June 29, 2015

is it six to one, half dozen to the others?

Basically. At that point the differences are (1) so many, (2) so varied, and (3) so flat-out comparable that it becomes just a personal assessment.

I probably wouldn't recommend interchangeable lenses for someone just looking for a step-up from an iPhone. The point-&-shoot market is fantastic. And while I sympathize with your anxiety—"everything seems to change so quickly"—you have to recognize the degree to which that feeling is artifact. The market does indeed change quickly, and that's going to continue no matter what you buy or when. Take a beat and think critically about how much of the preference for newer/better is social conditioning, versus how much is actual desire for features you will frequently use.

Every camera discussed here will take a great photo. There's nothing wrong with over-agonizing your equipment decisions; many of us do it, and mostly we end up with well-suited equipment as a result. But it's worth noting that there's no wrong decision. You can take great photos with all these cameras. Pretend you're in a state park with a lot of paths, and it's a beautiful summer afternoon: just pick a direction and start walking. Life is short, and you'll have fun.
posted by cribcage at 9:26 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a Lumix that I got last year, and I love it.

My wife has a DSLR and I have my Idiot Picture Box -- and my images are at least the equals of hers, without all the fussing.

It's a DMC-ZS40, and the third Lumix pocket camera I have owned. (Plus it's cheaper than your choices mentioned, above.) No regrets on this thing: I take it everywhere and it never lets me down!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:16 AM on June 29, 2015

I don't think I'd recommend interchangeable lenses with that budget.

Every review I've read of the Sony RX100 line says that it's insanely good. The RX100iii is the latest, but the RX100ii ain't that bad. People rave about these cameras. But, not everyone likes the ergonomics.

What I'd do is collect the various recommendations that have been made and head down to your local big-box retailer and see if you can get even a little bit of hands on time with the cameras. All of them are going to take outstanding pictures because that's just the way the market is these days (if you can't beat an iPhone camera then you don't deserve to live as a camera, and that sets the bar pretty damn high).

One important consideration is portability. A bigger camera is more of a pain to carry around. A portable camera can be slipped in a purse/jacket pocket very easily. A camera that remains at home will never take good pictures.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:14 AM on June 29, 2015

I'm a big Micro Four Thirds partisan at this point because it's not just that the cameras are small, it's that the lenses are very small. If you don't get something with an integrated lens (like the RX-100 ii several people have mentioned above) you will end up with a smaller, lighter kit with m43 than you will with any other interchangeable lens camera. It maybe doesn't make as much of a difference with just one lens, but if you start to carry around a second or third lens that starts to add up. And the smaller and lighter your camera is, the more likely you are to have it with you when you want to take a picture.

I'd be a little concerned about the lack of grip on the GF7, but it's also significantly lighter than the E-M10 so maybe the lack of grip just wouldn't affect you. If it were me I'd go try to handle both of them and figure out if the extra grip and in-body image stabilization in the E-M10 was worth the extra size and weight.

Otherwise between Fuji and Sony: they're both great. Fuji maybe has a better selection of lenses, but if you don't specifically know a focal length you want it's hard to say that one of them would particularly be a better choice than the other.
posted by fedward at 4:09 PM on June 29, 2015

Sony's A6000 - especially if you get it, say, refurbished, is marginally more expensive, and much better than the A5000, in my opinion. An Electric Viewfinder (EVF) is actually a pretty big deal for usability. NEX-7 would have it as well (A6000 essentially replaced the NEX-7), but is basically newer with more features, and way better autofocus.

But I agree with the recommendation to avoid interchangeable lenses: the whole value for interchangeable lens cameras is the idea of changing lenses. I have a full frame DSLR, but I also have the Sony A6000 for cases when I want to bring a camera and 3 lenses to switch between in a pouch smaller than some purses, rather than my full backpack with camera and 5 lenses. The A6000 and all its lenses weigh less than some of my single lenses for my DSLR. I second a recommendation for the RX100, because it probably offers the features you want and is small enough to carry everywhere - in a pocket.

RX100 III - with the viewfinder I suggest - is available for $600 refurbished. RX100 II will have a wider zoom range, but lets in much less light at the long end of the zoom.

Are you sure there's no shop to check these at? Best Buy is one of Sony's primary retailers, it seems, and they tend to carry a bunch of Sony's cameras. The larger Best Buy locations will also carry Fujifilm options.

One more piece of advice. If you're going to spend $500, but not more, definitely don't buy into interchangeable lenses, because a fixed lens will always turn out more quality for fewer dollars at the cost of some flexibility. But if you're going to drop $500 on a camera, promise yourself you'll spend 10-15 hours learning how to use it (If only by reading on the internet, I know many great places chock full of nice tutorials) and bring it with you. Make it a goal to get off fully automatic shooting as soon as you can, otherwise you may as well just use your phone.

As a side note, if your phone is indeed no longer cutting it, ask yourself what specifically you need to do that the phone won't do. You'll be surprised what a new camera app with properly used controls, a tripod, and careful composition can accomplish.
posted by Strudel at 6:12 PM on June 29, 2015

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