Camera conundrum
May 7, 2016 5:40 AM   Subscribe

I need a new camera, and I don't think there is any one that fits all my wants. I have a few options, and I'm wondering which is best in the long run or if there's another option I haven't considered. More inside.

I've only ever had one DSLR, which was a Nikon D3100. It suffered a lot of smoke damage and took discolored pictures. I liked the camera for the most part. My biggest complaints were that it was bulky, could be slow to process, and not that good in low light. I could get another one used for around $200, and then I'd already know my way around it. But I was really hoping for something more compact and street-friendly.

Which brings me to the other thing I'm considering. I've been reading about mirrorless cameras, and I'm excited about the image quality they seem to offer in a compact package. I have my eye on the Sony a5100, but the price point is still a little steep for my meager budget. I could make it happen if I was sure that was the best option, but I'm not yet.

One thing I definitely need a good camera for is photographing my art when I sell it on etsy or elsewhere. Currently I have a photographer who comes out when I have a big batch, but I'd like to add a piece at a time. Therefore, a camera/lens that capture excellent detail and true colors is really important. I also just like to have a camera for everyday exploring, travel, etc. I don't take a lot of nature pictures; I'm more into urban decay and Halloween decor and street art. I'd love to get better at shooting live music, but that requires low light and quick processing capabilities.

So, I don't know what camera I should get, and I feel sure that I'm overlooking some options. Let's say my absolute budget is $500, which rules out a lot, but I'm happy to buy used. Anybody have ideas?
posted by mermaidcafe to Shopping (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should read Ken Rockwell's recommendations. All modern cameras capture excellent detail and true colors. Use a tripod to get the stability for pictures of art. For street use, he recommends a Fuji X100 series (and includes some links) and the Sony RX100 Mark V (double your budget, unfortunately.)

I've had very good luck purchasing used cameras from KEH.
posted by blob at 5:52 AM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have an mirrorless micro-4/3s camera that I dearly love. You can get some really high quality pics (good lens is also important). A great tip a photographer friend of mine told me is that you can search Flickr by camera (and lens) to see images taken with those items.
posted by smirkette at 6:28 AM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

For $500 you could get a used Sony A6000 with the 16-50 kit lens. It's a nice upgrade over the 5100 and if I absolutely didn't want to spend more than $500 it's probably the camera I'd choose. It's very popular and for good reason, it's a great little camera. You could also get one of the Fuji mirrorless bodies, like the X-Pro1 or X-E2, but at that price it probably wouldn't include a lens, and both are slightly larger the the Sony. Still, the 18-55mm Fuji kit lens is excellent, and they have a few other lenses in their lineup that are even better while still being very affordable and great deals. They're also widely available used.
posted by Venadium at 6:31 AM on May 7, 2016

For the highest quality art reproduction consider a medium range prime, that'll give you the lowest distortion at the edges and a bit faster so you may not need to set up lights. But what was the setup your photographer using? A couple flashes on stands with poloroid filters? That's more important to reduce glare and have an even illumination. But the right room on a bright overcast day will work just fine, tripod is essential.

Perhaps make a list of the kinds of photos you want to take and work backwards from there, what lens's will be best? Where it's best to compromise. On the crazy side one can get an adapter ring to use the nikon lens on a mirrorless with limitations of auto focus mostly. I been meaning to do that just for the macro capability of an old nikon.
posted by sammyo at 8:18 AM on May 7, 2016

Ditto to picking up a used Fuji X100. They're on keh for ~$500 and they're wonderful cameras.
posted by dis_integration at 8:40 AM on May 7, 2016

Truly, most cameras at that price point have good image quality- the variability is in physical shape and size, what kind of lenses are available, that sort of thing. My go-to place for comparing cameras is dpreview. They cover every aspect you might possibly care about (and more) and (for instance) will tell you whether a particular camera has disappointing image quality for the price, whether it has a crappy UI, that sort of thing.

Ditto to picking up a used Fuji X100. They're on keh for ~$500 and they're wonderful cameras.

They really are. The only thing to keep in mind is, they're not interchangeable lens cameras. The lens is a 35mm equivalent prime, so zooming isn't going to be on the agenda at all. On the plus side, they're perfect for a lot of street photography. I love my X100S to death, I've had it since it came out and it's going as strong as ever. A fast prime lens means low-light photography is actually feasible.
posted by BungaDunga at 3:19 PM on May 8, 2016

Smartest thing to do: (and I've said this in many previous answers to similar questions)

Go to a camera store, or best buy, or similar, and try the cameras they have available on display. Find one you actually like to use (preferably try in manual exposure mode).

If it's too expensive or big for you (and for this reason I suggest a non interchangeable lens camera), find one that's similar from the same company. Feel free to get a used version or older version of that same camera, because anything made in the last 5 (honestly, even 10) years is adequate for taking great pictures if you know what you're doing. You could take a perfectly adequate photo with a modern smartphone, if you take control of its settings.

A great tip a photographer friend of mine told me is that you can search Flickr by camera (and lens) to see images taken with those items. What's that illustrating? A great photographer can use gear from 10-15 years ago and take a better photo than somebody with the latest, greatest stuff. It won't really prove anything useful to you. Skill and understanding is far more important than what gear you use.

Which is why I suggest you buy something you actually like and want to use, as most of the cameras sold on today's market spend more time in closets than anything else. Price shouldn't be an issue, because you can just buy an older or used model.

For the needs you're describing, you can do it with a smartphone or point-and-shoot and a tripod. The gear you get will matter less than your efforts to become proficient with it. Plenty of cameras or lenses you buy for $500 will do the job, because you don't have specialized needs such as 1:1 production or high detail on birds in flight 300 feet away.
posted by Strudel at 6:18 PM on May 8, 2016

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