I did some extensive research to find the best camera to buy in five different categories:
- Best Budget Point-and-Shoot
- Best Enthusiast Point-and-Shoot
- Best Entry-Level DSLR
- Best Semi-Pro DSLR
- Best Professional Full Frame DSLR
To pick out what I think the best cameras are in each of these categories, I spent countless hours researching different websites gathering as much information as possible to find the best camera in each category. My research includes looking at customer reviews on Amazon, Adorama and BH Photo Video, reading professional reviews from DPreview, Imaging-Resource and Steve’s Digicams, and reading numerous online web forums and discussion boards. Of course I’ll add my OWN personal opinion in the mix, also.
Oh, a quick note… if there’s one thing to remember when shopping for new a camera, it’s that megapixels DO NOT MATTER. These big camera companies boast about having the most megapixels, trying to use it as a selling point, when they really don’t matter. Multiple resources on the web will say the same. Let’s start, shall we?
Best Compact Budget Point-and-Shoot
Staying under the $200 mark, and from the research I did, this little gem can take one heck of a picture, along with HD video, too! That’s right, this tiny guy has 720p (1280 x 720 pixels) High Definition video. Something that is rarely seen in a camera this cheap. From what I read while researching, this camera takes good quality photos for the price. The only drawback on it I found online is a slightly more grainy photo due to the 14MP censor.
Other than that, people love it for the ease of use, pocket-able size and good price-to-feature value. Other features include a large 2.7-inch LCD screen, optical image stabilization, a wide 28mm equivalent lens (I love wide angle lenses), HDMI output, and Smart AUTO. I head a lot of good things about smart AUTO. From what Canon says, it will “intelligently select between 22 different predefined settings.” Oh, and it comes in HOT PINK! Not that I care… After researching this class of camera for hours, the general consensus is that Canon makes awesome compact budget point-and-shoots. You will be satisfied with any of their budget models, including the SD1400IS. I have yet to find an awful one.
Best Compact Enthusiast Point-and-Shoot
Okay, now in my honest opinion, this is a no-brainer. The previous version, the Canon S90, was a massive hit. And the Canon S95 improves upon it. I mean come on! For a camera under $400, it has 720p HD video (with stereo sound!), a super bright f/2.0 lens, RAW mode (my favorite), a wide 28mm equivalent lens and HDMI output. Those are just a few features. The best part, and the part that makes the S95 the best enthusiast point-and-shoot camera, is the control ring.
This thing makes it a breeze to adjust focus, exposure, ISO, white balance, and pretty much all the manual controls. It seriously has everything a camera enthusiast would want in a point-and-shoot, and more! Let’s see… AUTO ISO, Color yRGB histograms, bracketing, a metal body, and crap tons of gimmicks and useless modes.
It also has an HDR mode. I’d never use it, but I guess it works pretty good. It takes three consecutive shots and merges them together for you. You can then edit them later on your computer. I, however, find it rather lame because all the important features are locked out, such as exposure and white balance. And HDR on a point-and-shoot? What has this world come to. Just buy this camera. Seriously. In all honesty I didn’t really do much research on other cameras in its class, because once I knew Canon was making the S95, it was going be a hit. Sure there are other good enthusiast cameras out there, but none that are nearly as awesome as the Canon S95 for the same price and size!
- Canon G12? Big and bulky at a price of around $500.
- Panasonic Lumix LX5? Still bigger, and still more expensive. Price? Around $450.
I think I proved my point. Of course this is just my opinion. I’m sure others will disagree with me.
Best Entry-Level DSLR
The Nikon D3100 is another obvious buy if you’re looking to get a Digital SLR. At around, or under, $700, you get one heck of a camera (with lens!) that is jam-packed full of features for the price. It’s also Nikon’s first DSLR to feature full 1080p HD video. Let me explain why I picked it as the best entry-level DSLR. First off, it comes with a very good kit lens, the 18-55mm AF-S VR, which is known to be a very good all-around kit lens. It’s sharp, has VR (Vibration Reduction) can focus very close – almost macro like – and has Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor which gives it fast, quiet autofocus. Everything I read was positive, except for the occasional “bad copy.”
The images the D3100 pumps out are so close the professional Nikon D3 and D700 in good light, that you could never tell the difference in a side-by-side comparison! High ISO on the D3100 is excellent, considering it’s not a full-frame camera. I would say it’s just as good Nikon D300s I own in terms of high ISO. In other words, don’t be afraid to shoot at ISO 1600. In-fact, make it your friend! The viewfinder in the D3100 is clear and distraction free. What I mean by that is it doesn’t have as much clutter going on in the viewfinder. This will make it easier to compose shots. Also, it’s a small, ultra-lightweight DSLR weighing in at 505 g (1lb 1.8 oz.) This is a plus to some, a negative to others. For me personally, I could go either way.
Other features include a large rear 3-inch LCD, 11 Autofocus Points, AUTO Distortion Correction, and Nikon’s new EXPEED 2 image processing engine. There are few (very few) things that the D3100 is missing, though, compared to higher end cameras; You can only use lenses that have a built in motor such as Nikon’s AF-S lenses (other lens makers have similar lenses) since the D3100 has no motor drive, there’s only one manual preset WB memory position, you don’t get any depth-of-field preview, and there is no Kelvin White Balance setting. If you’re in the market for an entry-level Digital SLR, now is the time to buy. And I recommend the Nikon D3100. And so do thousands of others.
Best Semi-Pro DSLR
Nikon’s newest DSLR, the D7000, is also one of the best in its class. Featuring a brand new and amazing User Definable Settings (U1, U2) right on the mode selector dial, these handy shortcuts allow you to set, store and change your cameras setting without having to go deep into the menu system! I’m envious. I want my D300S to have this. Actually, I’m considering getting the D7000 for this feature alone. There are other features I, and others (from what I saw numerous times) love about this camera, too, such as:
- Full 1080p High Definition video
- Light in weight, yet still ergonomically comfortable
- Best-in-class high ISO photos
- Quiet… Very quiet operation…Shhh…
- Ground-breaking 2,016-Segment RGB Meter
- Superior weather and dust sealing
- Six frames per second continuous shooting up to 100 shots
- New EXPEED 2 image processing
- 39 autofocus points with nine cross-type sensors
So as you can see, this camera is a bargain for its price, which is around $1200 (body only.) My research on the D7000 wasn’t as extensive as others in it’s class, due to the fact it just got released. And people are having a hard time finding it; it’s always sold out! I have yet to read ANYTHING bad on the camera. All I could find is that it can only bracket three exposures instead of the 5-9 that some other cameras can do. People are raving about the fast autofocus, and amazing metering due to the new 2,016-Segment RGB Meter. The Nikon D7000 is already a smash hit at the time of this article. It’s all sold out. Not surprising to me, since it’s just as good, if not better than the Nikon D300s which is $300-$400 more. Now if you excuse me, I have to go buy this camera.
Best Full Frame DSLR – TIE
After hours of research, I was determined to pick either the 5D Mark II or the D700 as the best professional full frame DSLR. One or the other. Not both. Well, after those hours of research I did, I failed. My final verdict is that you can’t go wrong with either of these stunning full frame DSLRs. They both provide breathtaking photos, even at high ISOs. And they both have excellent build quality that will last you years upon years. But what are the differences?
Let me explain:
Canon 5D Mark II Advantages
Good for: Travel, Portrait, Fine Art, Family and Landscape Photography Why:
- High Resolution for more detailed landscapes and fine art prints
- Lighter weight for traveling
- Fully loaded 1080p HD video good for family vacations and traveling
- Very handy Total Recall memories with C1, C2 and C3 positions on the command dial to swiftly swap between different camera setting on the fly without pushing tons of buttons
Nikon D700 Advantages
Good for: Low-light, Action, Sports, News Why:
- Superior autofocus with 51 AF points with great low-light performance
- Tough body construction for the very active news journalists
- Fast 5 frames per second and up to 8 FPS with optional MB-D10 grip, perfect for action and sports
The research done on these two cameras came up with mixed results. Thus the reason of my outcome. The one reoccurring problem I read was on the 5D Mark II, which was a faulty On/Off switch. Few reported it though. Price is negotiable; the D700 is $100-$150 cheaper. But to me, that shouldn’t be a deciding factor. If you want an excellent landscape camera (without going to medium or large format) than spending $100 more over the D700 to gain extra resolution is fine, and in that case you should buy the 5D Mark II. Personally, I would choose the D700 since I take plenty of low-light action shots of bikes.
I spent a good two days researching all kinds of cameras, and these six cameras were the ones that consistently came up as being the best in their class. This is just a guide I did for fun in my spare time, so please take it as a grain of salt. I like to think my opinion matters, but it doesn’t… In my opinion, of course. There are others out there whose job is to review cameras and test them to the point of failure. I simply go online and read reviews and opinions for hours upon hours finding out what people say. So until next time, Keep on shooting!
About the Author
Have you ever wanted to take better photos? How about create awesome images with the help of Photoshop? I know I have. With the launch of my new website, I’ll let you in on some secrets to creating stunning, memorable images, and how to get the most out of your camera.
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