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THIS PAGE: Cameras & Lenses Cameras I've Been Lusting After
Cameras & Lenses I Have Known or Lusted After
This page is all but defunct.
Look, Ma! No mirrors or reflex housing:
The Panasonic Lumix G2 with micro 4/3 sensor showing
If I were starting out photographing anything, I'd get an inexpensive dSLR camera that has excellent image quality (which you learn about from reading reviews on Credible Review Sites linked below), a short zoom or a bright fixed lens, a self-timer, manual exposure controls [cameras with, listed on that other page] or plus-or-minus 3 or more EV controls, so you can lighten and darken the image before you take the photograph, and Cameras with articulating LCDs [also on the other page] so you can shoot up or down or at odd angles at any subject.
I used to recommend a Nikon D5000 or the newer D5100, but compared to much else now available, that's a mediocre camera. See DPR's full test.
You could start off with a compact camera that can cost much less. We'll talk about those, too. What you lose by going the Compact Camera — often called Point+Shoots — route will be speed of use and image quality. With a Point+Shoot — and the Nikon D5100, when you push the shutter button, you still have to wait large fractions of a second before the shutter actually fires.
And with compact cameras, you almost always get a much smaller and more densely populated sensor, which adds to give you substantially lower quality, especially in lower light — anything not as bright as the sun.
I use my smaller, lighter, mirrorless and pentaprism-less (why it's so much smaller and lighter) Panasonic G2 for images of art, birds, people, art competitions and abstracts on the Internet, and my Nikon D300 for photographs for clients and publications. Before I got the G2, I either used my Canon S90 or my Nikon D300, and I was always on the lookout for something to replace one or the other of them. The S90's sensor is 43 square mm, and the D300's is 373 square mm. The G2's sensor, like all Micro Four Thirds cameras, is 225 square mm, five times the size of the S90 (which is itself slightly larger than most compact cameras) and only 1/3 smaller than the Nikon's.
Read The Advantages of an Articulating LCD on DigitalShotsGuide.com.
You will also need software to improve your digital images and correct mistakes. Probably the best, comparatively easy program is Adobe Photoshop Elements. The full-blown version of Photoshop is expensive — $700, and more difficult to learn and work well, but you'll need it if you get into image tweaking full-time. I got my first copy free with a long-ago scanner and update it every third major number version.
Elements and a P+S is a good-enough beginning for photographing your work (so you remember what you did and how you did it and what you named it for every piece you ever make), entering competitions, submitting work for invitationals, etc.
Janet Chaffee Underneath and In-Between paper cut-outs on the front
wall at MFA Gallery in Dallas, Texas, USA photographed with a Canon s90
Read The Advantages of an Articulating LCD on DigitalShotsGuide.com.
Cameras I Have Known & Used
or Lusted After enough to thoroughly investigate
Although some of the following cameras are excellent or outstanding, most of them are here, primarily because I have owned them. These boxed reviews are here to show some aspects of camera use that go wrong and go right. The cameras I actually recommend are several clicks below.
For its day, the Sony F707 was a fabulous camera, but I no longer use it.
Sony F707 "Prosumer" camera •
|38~190mm f/2~2.4 (very bright ), EV±2, EVF, 23.5 oz, vertically twisting LCD, MWB,||123,000-pixel 1.8" LCD; 1.5 fps, no IS, can only address (write to) 128 megabytes (max) on memory card||DPR|
F707 body articulating up and down from
the lens, which
is attached to a tripod.
I no longer use by Canon S5 IS.
Canon S5 IS P+S •
|2.5-inch, fully articulating LCD (aL), full manual exposure mode, EV±2, 10:1 zoom, good flash,||LCD doesn't show true color in Tungsten light, noisy over ISO 80, VGA-only movies, weighs 1 pound,||DPR, LL, IR, S,|
The JR number is me rating usefulness, 1-10.
I rarely use my Canon SD780,
although I sometimes stow it in my pocket, just in case.
Canon SD 780 IS Pocketable P+S •
|SD 780 easily pocketable, EV±2, tiny optical VF, IQ better than most, 4.2 oz with card and battery, MWB, LCD hard to see in bright light, HD movie, easy to use, cwa, 35mm wide angle ideal for art (just back off a little sometimes or zoom in slightly), 3X zoom 33~100mm, HD 720,||usually shoots at max aperture even in bright light, easily scratched body and LCD, often will not turn off, shows low battery even when it's fully charged, slow dark 3x zoom, nearly useless tele, dark recessed buttons hard to push, especially in the dark, often the only way to turn it off is to slide the battery/memory out, replaced 6 mos later (without notice) by the sd940, not a low-light camera, mostly useless over iso 400, wide-angle distorts objects shot close||KR, IR,DCR,|
Canon SD 780 ravaged
by being in a pocket without a protector
I own a Canon S90, and until several of the features I liked best about it failed, it was my favorite pocket camera. Now I don't use it nearly as much as I used to.
The differences between the S90 and the S95 are listed on my S90/95 Tips & Accessories page.
Canon Powershot S90 P+S • The S95 was introduced in August 2010
|EV±2, barely pocketable, full manual exposure, MWB, 6.9 oz, good IQ, 28~105 zoom, RAW, LCD hard to see in bright light, cwa, smarter menu system than 780 or 940, internally corrects lens distortion in JPEGs (but not in RAW),||slow, actual exposure not always what the LCD shows, VGA-only movies,|
The G12 uses an essentially similar sensor
as the S90, and I know several
G11 with articulating LCD
Canon G12 "Compact" camera introduced in September 2010
|EV±2, MWB, good IQ, 28~140 zoom, OVF, articulating LCD, cwa, Like the S90's, the G11's sensor is 1/1.7" — bigger than most P+S cameras, weighs 12.5 oz.,||big, clunky, VGA-only movies,|
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS P+S introduced in September 2010
|SX20 EV±2, 28~560mm f/2.8~5.7, cwa, 720 HD, full manual exposure, stereo sound, 2.5-inch fully articulating LCD||21 oz, color fringing with hi-con subjects, no RAW, 1 fps continuous shooting, no superfine JPEG,|
||SX30 21 oz, 24~840mm, f/2.7~5.6. 4.8 x 3.6 x 4.3 inches||21 oz, 5 x 3.5 x 3.4 inches|
Micro 4/3rds cameras (m43)
For a long time, I lusted after Olympus' EP-1 and EP-2 m43 cameras and studied them extensively.
Olympus EP2 with Electronic View Finder
|in-camera IS, LV, .7 pounds, optional
OVF, better high ISO performance than competition, many external controls,
now focuses as fast as competition,
||expensive, messy menus,|
Since I wrote some of the text above, I have bought
a Panasonic G2, and I
G1 with Fully articulating LCD
Panasonic G1 and G2 — Fast focusing,
good EVF except in low light,
|G1 With kit lens weighs 28 oz.(My Nikon with a similar zoom but with constant f/2.8 aperture and no IS, weighs 56 ounces),||trouble with yellows and oranges,||CL DPR LL
Pop IR, ND.
||G2 With kit
lens weighs 21 oz., articulating LCD, hi-res EVF, AF tracking,
LCD touch controls for AF, fast AF, shutter speed preview, AF
assist, uses Olympus or Panasonic lenses, fast 1280x720 HD
video in AVCHD Lite,
||slow video startup, typical G series yellow & orange tint (which I have never noticed)||
|GH2 with kit lens and pretty much everything the G2 above has, plus full HD video|
Nikon D300 and Canon S90
I have no personal experience with the following camera. For awhile, I thought I'd wait for the NEX-7 or NEX-9, but since I have the G2, it seems unlikely. The NEX-7 is a remarkably good camera, but there's not much of a system to go with it. I need a "super" zoom for birds, and they don't have one. Yet.
Sony NEX-5 with vertically articulating LCD
|small body, 10.1 oz body w batt & card, 330-shot battery, 920k LCD, 1080 HD video (720 on NEX-3), continuous focus and exposure adjustment in while shooting video, bright 3-inch LCD, superb high-ISO, low-light shots, quick startup, fast focus, good for kids and pets, max burst rate of 7 shots in one second, or 2.3 with focusing, Auto HDR combines 3 photos in one, LCD shows shutter results and depth of field, NYTimes says its is better than Oly or Pany m43 cameras, exposure bracketing, excellent color, partially articulating LCD works well in bright sunlight, aimed for P+S users stepping up, full manual modes,||
big lenses, no VF, few direct controls so everything is in the menus, and they are slow.
This camera is designed for amateurs, so there's few manual controls. It's not an enthusiast's camera, it's a compact concept with big lenses and a big sensor.
oversaturated reds (like Sony's been doing for decades), lousy battery life, idiot menu spelunking required for exposure alterations
Nikon D300 •
|EV±5, cwa, fast operation: I click, and the shutter fires within .05 seconds. Focuses almost that fast. Interchangeable lenses — even 20-year-old ones still work great. Six frames per second. LCD allows 20x enlargement. Good high ISO IQ. Nikon lenses are among the best in the world, and there's lots to choose from.||It's not full frame FX. High ISO shots could be better. No built-in Image Stabilization. weighs 32.6 oz. with battery,||CL|
I don't have much experience with the Nikon D40,
but Anna does, and I am sometimes envious of her for it's light weight and comparatively
18~55 3.5~5.6 kit zoom, full Manual exposure modes, OVF, cwa, 18.5 oz. with card + battery,
Nikon D5000 dSLR
|vertically articulating LCD, 1.3 pounds with a battery that gets 500 shots, great image-stabilized short zoom lens||
More D5000 info below.
Nikon D5000 with articulating
on imaginary air tripod that
Nikon D5100 with fully articulating LCD floating in space
|All zoom ranges in 35mm equivalence, cwa = Custom White Adjustment: fill screen with white object, push button for optimal White Balance, EV2 = +2~–2 adjustable Exposure Value; fps = frames per second; JRR = J R's Rating 1~10; IQ = Image Quality, LV = live view; MWD = manual white balance; n = new; nr = Nikon Refurbished; • = I have owned or used; OVF = optical viewfinder; VF = viewfinder; wn = when new, * = I never consider Canon dSLRs, because all my lenses are Nikon.|
Valuable Lens Info
Before we get going on lenses, there's probably some stuff you need to know about them. These links are to stories I should have written, but these guys (almost always guys) got to the subject before I even thought about it, and they know their stuff. Presented in alphabetical order by website.
Digital Photography Tutorials:
Using Telephoto Lenses Using Wide Angle Lenses
Understanding Camera Lenses Camera Lens Quality
Depth of Field Hyperfocal Distance Understanding Camera Autofocus
Understanding Lens Flare Sharpness
Macro Extension Tubes & Closeup
How to Use Ultra-Wide Lenses by Ken Rockwell - direct, honest, no BS
Why Fixed Lenses Take Better Pictures by Ken Rockwell - not zooms
Lens Sharpness by Ken Rockwell
Nikon's 10 Best Lenses-ever
Luminous Landscape Tutorials:
Understanding Bokeh - Exploring Out of Focus by Harold M. Merklinger
Changing Perspective by Peter Cox
Do Wide Angle Lenses Really Have Greater Depth of Field Than Telephotos by Nick
Focusing In The Digital Era - Part One by Gary Ferguson
Focusing In The Digital Era - Part Two by Gary Ferguson
Understanding Lens Contrast and The Basics of MTF by Mike Johnston - Different kinds of photographic contrast
Pinhole Photography by David F. Stein
Lenses I Have Used and Appreciated
Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens
Probably the best lens I've ever used, and that I wholeheartedly recommend, is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8, which Anna gave me for Christmas 2008, back when it cost a little more than $110. Photozone tested it and found that, "at medium aperture (near the middle of f/5.6 or 8) settings the resolution figures are exceptionally high, and [it] is surely a benchmark to beat. Ken Rockwell lists it first in his Nikon's 10 Best Lenses-ever.
Photozone said, "Distortions are negligible and vignetting is very well controlled." They also liked the build quality and Auto Focus speed. It's $125 at Amazon, which is an amazing bargain for this good a lens, although for awhile it sold closer to $100.
Turns out it's a great lens, and since its maximum aperture is so bright — especially compared with most compact camera or any other lenses, I didn't need a tripod, so my back doesn't hurt later from bending and stretching in all the wrong directions. And it's tiny, weighing 5.5 oz.
The Kathy Boortz sculpture at the top of this page and all of the images on her DallasArtsRevue.com Supporting Member page were photographed with this lens on my Nikon D300 camera.
NOTE: Canon dSLRs have a very similar lens, also a 50mm f/1.8 that is as inexpensive and as outstanding for IQ.
Nikon has since come out with what may be a better, yet more expensive 50mm f/1.8 G lens. The older one is now called the 50mm f/1.8D lens. The new G cost $370, and now the D cost $160. Their half-stop brighter 50mm f/1.4G SIC SW Prime Nikkor Lens costs $550.
You can see the obvious differences between shots rendered with this lens and all the other lenses firmly affixed to all my other working cameras in my The Great Art Camera Shootout.
Nikkor 18~55mm zoom
The 18~55 f/3.5~5.6 non-VR lens is a very different animal from my large, ungainly yet awkwardly amazing un-VR 17~55mm f/2.8 [See it below], although because of the similarities in the numbers of their respective names, there will always be confusion, until it comes to the price.
Plus, there are two varieties of the 18~55 Nikon lens I'm talking about — with and without VR. The VR Version is, of course, better, but either is a fine little lens that focuses close, especially at wide-angle. Adding VR helps, because at any zoom toward telephoto, these lenses close down (become darker, requiring longer shutter times) considerably (as inexpensive "kit" zooms tend to.).
I tried to use a non-VR version, briefly, without a tripod in a gallery photographing art, which it did very well at — excellent resolution, color, etc, but at full tele zoom where its field is flat (that is, the lens does not distort the image), it required disappointingly long shutter speeds. As I got into the darker reaches of that gallery, the shutter speeds got so slow the images blurred.
Without a lot of practice, most photographers cannot hand-hold (as opposed to putting it on a tripod) a camera slower than 1/60th of a second. The general rule is not to even try to hand-hold slower than 1/125th of a second.
With good IS (Image Stabilization; also called VR — Vibration Reduction; OS — Optical Stabilization and probably some other acronyms), one can usually hand-hold a camera at longer (slower) shutter speeds, if one knows how to do it, has seriously practiced and is very careful.
The basic rule is to aim, take a deep breath, hold it, then let out the saved breath as you click, supposedly when you are at your most relaxed, but or some other comparatively unmoving object. Waving it out in front of you will likely blur the image every time.
Christmas Card Flower Close-up shot with Nikon's non-VR 18~55mm f/3.5~5.6 lens at 1/40th at f/5.6 with the Nikon D40 held against a coffee table. At 100% original size, I could count fibers in the paper. This image is three times larger than on the original Papyrus Holiday card copyrighted by Chrisina Ladas. Nice card, Dottie. Thanks.
On a tripod or outdoors, or at wide-angle, the non-VR version works great, although the D40 (like all other older dSLRs) does not have the 'live view' that almost every new point & shoot does, so you can't properly judge exposure, color, shutter speed etc. till you make a shot.
The normal and mostly correct procedure for figuring out the correct exposure for dSLRs or other cameras without 'live view,' and several cameras with it, is to shoot, check the resulting image on the LCD, adjust either aperture or shutter speed, then shoot again. It takes longer and seems stupid, but that's the way it is.
Even with live view, it's often a good idea to check your work often.
The 18~55 f/3.5~5.6 non-VR lens weighs just under 8 ounces.
The 18~55 f/3.5~5.6 VR lens weighs 9.3 ounces.
My 17~55 f/2.8~2.8 non-VR lens weighs 26 ounces and cost more than a thousand dollars.
Photozone tests the non-VR, 18~55 that comes with the D40 (and that I used) and finds its resolution remarkable but the build-quality lacking. They say "if you use its apertures from f/6.7~f/11, you'll be a happy camper in most situations." Which means it'll do better on bright days or on a tripod, where you can use those smallish apertures and a slow shutter speed.
DPR tests the new VR version that comes with the D5000 and probably the 5100 and recommends it, citing its "decent optical quality, effective Vibration Reduction [what Nikon calls Image Stabilization] system and very good macro performance," although it has some distinct drawbacks, too. Don't point it anywhere near the sun.
Nikon 17~55 f/2.8 — It looks a lot bigger in reality.
I wouldn't dream of using mine without the lens hood,
but this is the only image I could find of it online.
What I used to always use for both three-dimensional and flat art and people was my 17~55mm f/2.8 Nikon zoom, set somewhere in the middle of the zoom range, so there's less obvious distortion in flat art. Three-dimensional art makes far fewer demands on rectilinearity. So I felt safe using any wide, tele or in-between zoom on sculpture, which is my favorite art form to photograph.
But now I usually use the much smaller, lighter and significantly cheaper 50mm 1.8 [above], although for my shaky hands, I'd be well disposed to a VR version, it's hard to imagine a better quality lens than the 50/1.8.
The big 17~55 f/2.8 weights 26 ounces.
The 17~55 is sharp with a constant f/2.8 aperture (Reviewers now call it "bright.") throughout its zoom range. Most, cheaper lenses — especially on Point & Shoot cameras have smaller and smaller apertures ("dark") as you zoom to telephoto, requiring longer shutter speeds at full zoom, where you most need shorter shutter speeds. It shows the least linear distortion at 24 and 55mm, but I have often wished it had image stabilization, because my hands tend to shake.
The 17~55 zoom is ten times the price of the wonderful little 50mm f/1.8 lens, which is a great lens for shooting art or anything else, especially without a tripod. For flat art — drawings, paintings and prints — the fifty is great, especially with its bright f/1.8 maximum aperture. Sculpture, too.
Documenting an exhibition I'd curated — and especially wanted good documentation, I brought both the 50mm and the borrowed 18~55mm non-VR zoom kit lens that came with a Nikon D40. I was experimenting and didn't want to lug my huge 17~55mm zoom.
Diana Chase Jump Right In cast and fused glass 16 inches diameter
The 50 acquitted itself well, but I kept trying to make it zoom. I ended up using the 18~55 non-VR zoom for most of the afternoon. This shot from the 50mm turned out so well it's now on my How to Photograph Art page illustrating the rule about photographing translucent materials with light coming through them instead of just on them.
Prime lenses (non zooming ones) almost always have better IQ (image quality) than zoom lenses.
With zooms, you can set up the tripod and camera, then zoom to the desired composition. With a single focal length lens, you have to move you, your camera and your tripod. Every choice brings a trade-off.
Shooting small and medium-sized sculpture — like Kathy Boortz', whose work always tops the How to Photograph Art page, a zoom lens is handy to hone in on details like tiny faces and feet and hands, without seriously adjusting the tripod.
Because the Nikon's sensor is so large, I can use its comparatively high, base ISO of 200 or the next bump up to 320, and even hand-hold it in a gallery or artist's studio under a variety of lights.
My Nikon also shoots RAW, a format that saves more information than JPEG, making resulting files significantly larger. JPEG is a compression format, and we have to be careful never to save it at less than 100%, because once it is compressed any, you can never get that quality back.
With RAW, I don't have to worry what kind of light I'm shooting in (daylight, tungsten, fluorescent...), because I can adjust that later in PP (Post Production — in Photoshop), where I can usually save over- or under-exposed images. Regular, old, JPEG format is less forgiving. The Nikon also does TIFF, but I don't, although many people insist upon it.
DPR has the best review of the D300s, but Ken Rockwell's is good and Ken also has an extensive, step-by-step guide for it, and other popular cameras.
DPR reviews the Nikon (officially "Nikkor" for optics) 50mm f/1.8 lens and Photozone gives much more detail. Ken Rockwell also reviews it. Photozone also reviews my Nikon 17~55mm zoom, which is not as sharp, nor as distortion free.
My Latest Camera Lusts
Lately I've been lusting after a Panasonic GH2, which, when it is available in this country, costs twice as much as my G2 did, but it has significantly better IQ.
I like my Panasonic 100~300mm zoom lens, and use it almost every day, especially for birds (See my now 5 year old Amateur Birder's Journal for lots of examples of images from that great little (!) lens. But I'd still like a longer lens. There have been rumors of a Panasonic 500mm lens that sound intriguing. The zoom gives me a 35mm equivalent angle of view of a 600mm lens, but 1,000 mm would be more helpful, if its IQ is spectacular.
Panasonic is also rumored to be working on a 12~60mm f/2.5~3.3 zoom. If it has image-stabilization and great IQ, I think I could really use it.
My latest email address is always on the Contact us page.
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