What camera should I buy?

As a photography instructor, I am often asked “what camera should I buy”? To answer this question intelligently, I need some additional information, like “what are you going to be photographing?” and “how much money do you want to spend?” Often, people tell me they want the best camera they can get for under $500. Lately, I’ve been suggesting that people consider buying a used, pro-level D-SLR.

I recently bought (as a backup camera) a used Canon EOS 1D, which is at least six or seven years old. It’s only four megapixels, and it cost me (with a cheap lens, two batteries and a charger) just over $500. That might sound like a lot for a four megapixel camera, but consider what the 1D has to offer: tank-like, weather-sealed construction, 8 frames-per-second shooting speed in RAW, very fast autofocus, a nice, bright viewfinder, and a low-noise CMOS sensor with only a 1.3x 35mm conversion factor. A 4MP RAW file from the 1D will compare favorably with a 12MP JPEG from most compact point and shoot cameras for both detail and dynamic range. You could also snag a Nikon D2H (4MP) or D1x (5.7MP) for the same price or slightly less.

A sample photo from the Canon EOS 1D

A sample photo from the Canon EOS 1D

The camera I bought was in superb condition, which is a genuine consideration when buying a used SLR. Pro-level cameras are designed to live through at least 100,000 shutter actuations, but keep in mind that these models were used by professional journalists, who might have treated them roughly. You don’t want a camera that has been through a sandstorm in Iraq.

Don’t want an SLR? Prefer a camera you can put in your pocket (or at least in your purse or a small bag)? I recently compiled a list of compact cameras that offer an indispensable feature: manual exposure control:

Canon Powershot G10 (about $550)

Canon Powershot SD990 Digital Elph (about $325)

Canon Powershot SX1 IS (about $550)

Canon Powershot SX10 IS (about $350)

Canon Powershot SC110 IS (about $250)

Canon Powershot SC200 IS (about $350)

Casio Exilim EX-FH20 (about $425)

Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR (about $320)

FujiFilm FinePix S1500 (about $200)

FujiFilm FinePix F70EXR (about $280)

FujiFilm FinePix S200 (about $600)

Kodak EasyShare Z915 (about $180)

Kodak EasyShare Z980 (about $353)

Leica D-Lux 4 (about $700)

Nikon Coolpix P90 (about $400)

Nikon Coolpix S710 (about $250)

Nikon Coolpix P6000 (about $500)

Olympus SP-590UZ (about $350)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 (about $400)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 (about $400)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 (about $500)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8 (about $160)

Pentax X70 (about $320)

Samsung TL320 (about $380)

Sigma DP-1 (about $550)

Sigma DP2 (about $650)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 (about $440)

Sony DSC-H20 (about $250)


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