Cheap Digital Hobby Camera
July 15, 2016 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Lately, I've been feeling nostalgic for my high school photography class. I don't have the money for film or instant camera stuff. I have a Moto X that takes okay enough digital photos for where I'd want a basic point and shoot, but I'd like something with an actual camera body and some degree of tweakable settings. Any ideas?

To be clear, all I need is enough resolution to look good in the odd blogpost or facebook share. I'd probably mainly take pictures of landscapes and still lifes, usually with a good amount of ambient light. I don't like to take pictures of people.

I'm debating picking up an older low-resolution DSLR. I'm not looking to take studio-quality pictures to blow up to poster size. A "toy" type camera with some kind of gimmick might be fun, too, but most of those (ie LOMO) seem to be either film or surprisingly expensive in digital form. I liked working in the darkroom at school, but I live in an apartment and I'd probably need to send it out to a lab. And I don't have the money for an enlarger or quality negative scanner.

I'd be fine with a point and shoot camera as well, so long as it lets me adjust the exposure settings.

Ideally, this camera would also have a built-in battery or work well with rechargeables.

My budget is probably too low. I don't want to spend over $100-150 to get started, but remember this is mainly just because I want to take pictures for fun. I just want a cheap hobbyhorse camera. Used is probably a necessity. A part of me wants to get one of those Sony cameras with the floppy disk semi-ironically.
posted by mccarty.tim to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You can pick up a Nikon D40 off ebay for less than $150.
posted by LoveHam at 12:43 PM on July 15, 2016

I have a Pentax K10d that is great. Mostly I shoot in full manual mode using an older f2.0 50mm lens. Pentax DSLRs, at least up until I bought this one, are backwards compatible with all the older pentax lenses, so you can play with a huge variety of lenses that are often available used. That, plus the heavy weight and non-plasticy feel, are what decided me on Pentax vs. the inexpensive Cannon/Nikon DSLRs. Looks like they are still available new on Amazon through third party sellers for $150-$200. Ebay is probably also a good option, or craigslist.
posted by ChrisHartley at 12:49 PM on July 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another option is that you can install (free open source) firmware called CHDK to many Canon point and shoot cameras that unlocks a ton of features that aren't supported out of the box.

There's a list of supported models in the sidebar here.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:49 PM on July 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a pro and my personal for fun cameras are from the Fuji X line. IMO the images are better straight of the camera than almost any other I've used including my ones for work (technical stuff: their sensors are unique for a few reasons).

I would up your budget slightly and get a Fuji XE1 personally (~$250-ish used without a lens). All the camera and resolution you'll ever need, much smaller than a DSLR, old school style interface (ie. actual knobs!!) but you can still change the lens (and the Fuji lenses are excellent).
posted by bradbane at 12:59 PM on July 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't say enough good things about my Canon Rebel DSLR. It works whether you want to tweak every shot or just point and shoot, or do something in between. FYI you can get an excellent Canon these days for $250 if you can amp your budget.
posted by bearwife at 1:02 PM on July 15, 2016

Something in the Canon S90/S95/S100 series would be good. Pocketable (unlike those DSLRs), fine image quality for your not-too-demanding requirements (especially if you're not printing), has full manual controls, and used models should be well within your price range.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:04 PM on July 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I absolutely love my Pentax K10D. I've taken more than 20,000 images with it. And, as ChrisHartley says, it is compatible with all Pentax K-mount lenses.

I even did a 22-hour time-lapse movie with the beast. True work horse.
posted by yesster at 1:07 PM on July 15, 2016

Here's another (oldie but goodie) Canon model for about $220.
posted by bearwife at 1:11 PM on July 15, 2016

You can get a Canon PowerShot G12 on ebay for about $150, and it runs CHDK, but it does pretty well without it - the only thing I would want out of CHDK is to be able to manually force flash for outdoor in daylight, otherwise on a sunny day, you get shadows in people's eye sockets.

It is not a DSLR - it falls somewhere between point-and-shoot and DSLR. Not so small to fall out of your hands, but not as big as an SLR. As such, there id pretty much nothing in the way of lenses, if you want a growth hobby camera.

The summary in the conclusion of the dp review:
Good for: Enthusiasts who want the maximum manual control in a compact (ish) package
posted by plinth at 1:27 PM on July 15, 2016

I'm going to go with a used Sony NEX-3N with the kit lens. It falls within your budget, gives you complete control, has an APS-C (large) sensor and takes outstanding photos. The interface isn't as easy as an SLR because of fewer physical controls, but the photos are just as good, it's far smaller and gives you more or less the same level of control.

Having said that, I'd really recommend bumping up to the NEX 5T for another $75. It's basically the same sensor, but adds Wifi and a touch screen, both of which are really worth having.
posted by cnc at 1:29 PM on July 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

it looks like you can get a canon g9 (second hand) for that kind of money. that's the kind of camera i'd go for. compact enough to use whenever, but with all the controls you need.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:37 PM on July 15, 2016

I love my NEX F3, but I don't use the kit lens—I bought some converters for old SLR lenses. The NEX, like a lot of mirrorless cameras, has focus-peaking, which makes it really easy for a total beginner (like me) to manually focus a camera, and having to do everything myself has been the easiest, most useful lesson I've ever had in how a camera works.

My go-to lens is a 58mm f1.4 Minolta from the 60s. A lens that nice would be way out of my price range as a hobbyist if it were a modern, autofocus lens designed for my camera. But this one was about $60 on eBay, and I've gotten some beautiful photos with it. And when I want to try new things, it's just a matter of buying another really cheap lens on eBay or at a garage sale and getting a new $15 adapter.

"Hobby" is the key word for me—I've never trusted my instincts or talents as a photographer enough to make just taking pictures fun, because I know I'm an amateur and that psychs me out. But learning to use a camera, looking at weird lenses from 50 years of camera history, trying new things with new gear, etc.—that's enough to make it a hobby for me, and as an added bonus I've taken better pictures than I ever would've had the guts to try for before.
posted by Polycarp at 1:41 PM on July 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have to second the Canon S90/S95/S100 choice. Can be had super cheap and full manual control and small enough that you can carry it with you. Even cheaper if you get one with broken LCD and get a replacement LCD from Canon. Tons of how to's videos on YouTube.
posted by Ferrari328 at 2:34 PM on July 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had an S100 for years (until I dropped it). Great camera, highly recommended.
posted by bonehead at 2:37 PM on July 15, 2016

This might be pushing it a little but you can get a used Canon EOS 1100D (Rebel T3) on eBay here in the UK for around £175 - which is about $150.

It's a proper honest to goodness DSLR and gives you everything you need to get going. You don't have to shoot in RAW if you don't want to and there are both manual, semi-manual and fully automatic modes.

If you get bitten by the buzz then there is an established upgrade path, so you don't have to buy a whole new camera again.
posted by mr_silver at 1:02 AM on July 17, 2016

£175 - which is about $150.

not even with brexit. that's $230 USD right now.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:53 AM on July 17, 2016

not even with brexit. that's $230 USD right now.

Ahh shoot, I did the conversion the wrong way around. Now it's gone from "slightly out of your price range" to "really outside of your price range". Sorry about that.
posted by mr_silver at 4:54 AM on July 17, 2016

I just wanted to add that this thread encouraged me to buy a second-hand NEX-5T and a few lenses (the Sony kit power-zoom and some fast vintage glass) and it's revived my long-dormant love of photography, which goes back to having 126 Kodaks and then a lump o'metal Zenith as a teenager.

Want a toy camera effect? $30 CCTV lens. Want something that works in marginal light? Try a Russian rangefinder lens. Or vintage Japanese. I've spent a bit more than $150 so far, but a NEX-3 body will get you started. Stick it on shutter priority and Auto ISO, and you can tweak the aperture and exposure as if you're using an old SLR.
posted by holgate at 9:21 PM on August 6, 2016

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