What’s the best camera?

I play a sport which many in the US might consider “girly” called badminton with mostly Southeast Asians. Many of them are medical professionals like doctors.

Inevitably the post game conversation will always lead to the poor doctor being peppered with questions like, “I have a pain in this part, gesturing to show body part, do you think it’s serious?”

When my badminton buddies learn I’m a photographer, you can guess what they want to know, can’t you?

In my mind, the best camera is one that’s working and ready-to-go when I need it.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a point-and-shoot or a high-end digital single lens reflex camera.

If we were holidaying in Scotland and we spotted the elusive Lochness Monster. You have a Canon 1DS Mark III & a 400mm f2.8 telephoto lens and all I have is a Canon Powershot G10.

At the very moment Nessie shows herself, your batteries die and mine are fine, would I trade cameras with you? Not on your life!

Okay, I’m getting carried away and being totally ridiculous.

But my point is any camera is better than no camera when there is a need.

So the “best camera” is relative to what you want to capture and how much you want to spend.

These days a fancy camera can cost as much as a car.

If I had $10K to start my business, I would not blow it all on gear especially if I didn’t have reliable transportation.

I would make sure I buy a reliable car and figure out what is left for the photo gear.

And if I don’t have a capable computer, I would seriously factor in a possible upgrade and any accompanying photo editing software.

Having the nicest gear with no way to get around when you want to be a photographer reminds me of the political leaders of my former homeland, Malaysia, buying the latest greatest military armaments just to impress the neighboring countries.

They can’t afford to keep a stockpile or even fire any of the missiles. To do any test would break the bank.

By the same token, don’t buy a 21 Megapixel camera if you have a computer that is older than 3 or 4 years. You will develop a weight problem, oops I meant a “wait problem.”

If it’s a Mac, you’ll be seeing many spinning beach balls.

So, going back to my original question about the camera. Let’s assume you’re all set with transportation and your computer, and price isn’t an issue, how would you decide what to buy?

Ask yourself these questions, they may help.

Do you own any film photography gear?

If you do, are those lenses autofocus? Are they compatible with the digital bodies?

Nikon users can check their Nikon lens compatibility against photographer Ken Rockwell list.

Likewise, if you have external flash units, check to see if they are compatible.

Even if you don’t get the exposure automation like ETTL , you can still use the units with manual power ratio settings especially if you use a radio slave as a trigger.

If you have no film gear then you need to go to the store and hold the camera in your hand. The camera must feel good in your hand.

It shouldn’t just look good. I prefer camera bodies that have a solid feel instead of cheap plastic.

Reviews are useful but you need to be mindful of who’s doing the review.

The reviewer needs to be a photographer instead of just an occasional camera-user. Seek out professional reputable websites like Sports Shooter and Rob Galbraith .

Don’t forget to plan for the extras like spare camera batteries and memory cards. These extras are just as important.

Once you decide to go digital, you are forever tied to some sort of electrical power usually battery power and memory cards.

The more spares you have, the longer you can work.

If this is your very first digital SLR, I highly recommend you buy a 50 mm lens.

The Canon 50 mm f 1.8 is about $100. Nikon’s cost about $200.

I can guarantee this lens will be your favorite long after it has paid for itself by giving you wonderful pictures.

There is a a “faster” f1.4 version but you’ll have to cough out 2 more Ben Franklins (US 200) more.

Do you see yourself taking this up seriously or is this a passing fancy?

Photography is an expensive hobby . Even in the digital era, those plastic end caps  with that name brand cost a ridiculous amount of money.

If you’re just testing the waters, maybe a used camera body isn’t a bad idea.

Let someone else take the depreciation.

There’s always someone out there that has to have the latest camera body.

A new camera body comes out about once every 6 to 8 months, so shop the used places.

What will you be pointing that camera at mostly? Put another way, what are you going to be taking pictures ?

Please don’t expect one camera body bundled with 2 kit lenses  to allow you to shoot everything you want successfully.

If you’re thinking that, you are way out of touch with reality.

The camera is just a tool. You need to learn how to use it.

If you’re disappointed with the results, there’s a very good chance it’s operator error.

For the guys, here’s a comic strip from one of my favorite cartoons, “What the Duck”


6 thoughts on “What’s the best camera?”

  1. Thanks Steve for visiting my blog and commenting. You make some great points about portability, image stabilization and general readiness.

    I’m actually considering the Canon Powershot G11 just for those very reasons.

    My G3 is still working great. The images are just too noisy.

  2. I figure that anyone who asks a question like that isn’t already involved with photography. They would know that there is no single right answer.

    I ask them for 3 ways they would like to use their new camera, what they want to do with the pictures and a rough amount they would be willing to spend.
    Invariably some kind of image stabilization is a good idea, even on point and shoots.
    Many randoms WANT a simple pocket-sized point and shoot. One important issue becomes – how often will they use it? If the answer is not often – maybe on on trips, I be sure it can use AA batteries since they will forget to charge it…and forget the charger.
    I find that any camera that won’t fit in a purse and be ready any time is a radically different commitment to photography.

  3. DeeAnn,
    Lost to most people who go out and buy their digital Rebel is this fact:

    The camera will require some formal training or schooling especially if they want to shoot weddings with it.

    I’m not saying their camera can’t do the job. But what I’m saying is these digital Rebels are not the best choices for those starting out in digital photography.

    They are simply too complicated for most beginners to try and figure out on their own.

  4. Ted,
    I hadn’t intend to write about gear again but I get asked a lot.

    It’s a question that can’t be answered easily because I’m a practical “poor” person.

    My purchases are driven by what I need more than what I want. Fortunately I’ve been weaned of the lust for “new” and “latest” gear, having used those when I worked at the paper, my advice always starts with those questions I pose.

    Not everyone needs a Canon 5D Mark 2, not even me! I’m sure I could have use for one, hint to my wife. But she doesn’t read my blog, so I can hint till the cows come home?

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