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First, My Main Assumptions
In order to be as concise as possible (although this is me we’re talking about, so this post will, of course, be a novel…), I’m going to make the following assumptions:
You are either:
- looking for a basic camera that takes good pictures for every day life (kids, pets, etc), or
- going on a vacation and wanting something other than your phone to document your trip.
I’m also going to assume that you are not a photographer and that you don’t have any interest in photography aside from wanting to document your life. If you are looking to pursue either a hobby or business in photography, I’ll type up a post for you eventually. Keep pestering me about it and I’ll get around to it.
Three Considerations: Size, Cost, Image Quality
Here’s the deal about cameras. If you want something compact with great image quality (the holy grail!), it’s going to cost quite a bit of money, probably between $1000-$2000. If you want something under $1000, you’re going to have to sacrifice on either size of the camera or image quality, or possibly both. So before we get too far into this post, you’ll want to think about what is most important to you.
My thoughts: if your camera is too big and bulky and heavy, you’re not going to want to carry it around with you and you’ll resort to using your phone’s camera. Similarly, if the photos aren’t that great you’re probably just going to be better off using your phone camera anyway. I am a firm believer in spending more money up front to get a better quality product. Some people might not agree with me, but it’s going to be a waste of $600 to buy a camera that sits in the back of your closet because you decided it’s too annoying to lug around with you. Even if it takes a few months to save up, I promise it will be worth it in the long run.
*I am a pro photographer and even I hate carrying around my DSLR for outings or traveling. Some people who might be enthusiasts or interested in pursuing photography as a hobby would probably benefit from a DSLR, and I’ll address that later, but for an everyday camera, the majority of people won’t take it with them.
Compact + Cheap(ish): The Point and Shoot
This is the Point & Shoot camera category. Honestly, if your phone was made in the last year or two, don’t even bother with this category of cameras. Your smartphone will take photos that are of similar quality and who doesn’t ever have their smartphone with them? I’m not even going to recommend one because there are SO many different ones and many of them are very similar. If you really have your heart set on it, hit up Best Buy or a local camera shop so you can play around with some.
One exception to this rule is an underwater camera. We bought a waterproof Panasonic Lumix (similar to this one) before our destination wedding in Mexico and it was nice to have something to take while snorkeling. BUT, nowadays you can just buy a waterproof case for your phone and call it good. I had a LifeProof case for a long time, but you can also get a generic waterproof pouch, too. I use a Dicapac brand waterproof bag/pouch for my every day camera and it’s worked out great and quite inexpensive.
Good Quality + Budget Friendly: The DSLR
The good old DSLR. I’m willing to bet that most people who ask for a camera recommendation are expecting me to point them to a DSLR. It’s what the pros use for a reason!
I’d recommend an entry level camera body – they are smaller than the professional bodies but still have good image quality. Check out the Canon Rebel SL1 or the slightly better Canon Rebel T5i. Please don’t obsess over the differences between the two – the T5i simply has a slightly better focus system and a flip-out screen.
Now, listen up. More important than the camera body is the lens. HEAR ME ON THIS ONE. If you buy a camera with the kit lens (18-55mm), you will most likely be disappointed. Kit lenses are very basic – they are decent glass and have good zoom, but they are terrible in low light situations and do not produce the creamy, out-of-focus backgrounds I’m assuming you want. The reason kit lenses can’t do this is because their apertures only to f/3.5 and that’s at the widest focal length. (Check out this post for more information on aperture and how to create blurry backgrounds.)
My recommendation is to get a nice wide aperture zoom lens. The Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens is my top recommendation. Yes, it is more expensive, but it’s an all around great lens that can be used in a variety of situations and has a wide enough aperture to do some really cool stuff with it. It’ll work so much better in low light than the kit lens and you can get lovely, lovely backgrounds with it. Throw your camera in Aperture Priority mode, set it to f/2.8, and go to town! You won’t be sad. (I know quite a few photographers who use a similar lens to this one as their primary lens.)
If you didn’t need the flip-out screen that the T5i has, and instead went with the Canon Rebel SL1 and a Tamron 28-75mm lens, you’d be looking at about $900 (as of Nov 2016). More expensive than just getting the kit lens, of course, but not too shabby in my opinion. And I shot with a Canon Rebel for the first 2ish years of my photography business and I’m telling you, you can do wonders with an entry level camera if you have the right lens(es).
The biggest down side to this option is that this is a bulky set up. Even with the kit lens it’s pretty bulky. I probably wouldn’t want to carry it around all day on vacation and I definitely don’t want to carry it in my purse or diaper bag. I actually did that for a while in college, when I was first getting into photography, and it was awful. It made my bag so heavy and then I always hesitated pulling it out to take photos because other people hated it. There’s something about a big dslr camera that intimidates people.
So, we are moving on to my TRUE recommendation…
The Best of Everything, Except Maybe the Price, But Hear Me Out
Please step into the wonderful world of mirrorless. A few years ago I fell in love. Nope, not with my husband, but with a CAMERA. But first, what is a mirrorless camera? It functions mostly the same as a DSLR but is smaller because you don’t have the mirrors that DSLRs use. Internet trolls, please don’t attack me for that oversimplified explanation. But really, the main reason that mirrorless cameras are more compact is because, well, they don’t have to have space for the mirrors!
So this camera that I fell in love with? It’s the Fuji X100s. No, I do not get paid by Fuji to talk about it. I’m just that passionate about it. You can find it used on Amazon starting at around $700, or you can buy the new version, the Fuji X100t, for $1300.
Now, I know that’s a lot for the average person to spend on a camera. But you do want something compact with good image quality, right? We already discussed how the smaller the camera, the more likely you are to actually take it with you and use it. And the image quality on this thing… so good. This is the ultimate every day camera. I do carry it around with me most days, and the majority of the photos I take of my daughter are with it.
[ Check out all of my photos made with the X100s here. ]
In 2013, the Mister and I went to Europe for 10 days and I left my DSLR at home. I took only the Fuji and it was the best decision ever. Then in 2014 we went to Mexico and again, I left my DSLR at home. This time I made photos and created a vacation video. In 2015 we took a tour of western Nebraska and, you guessed it, no DSLR. I don’t really want to toot my own horn, but I think the photos from all of those trips are so lovely!
In addition to the cost, there is one thing you need to know about this camera. The lens is a fixed focal length. This means that it does not zoom. No zoom, you say? I know what you’re thinking… why on earth would you buy a camera that doesn’t zoom? But the fact that this camera doesn’t have a zoom lens is what makes it so compact. Besides, you have two feet right? Let those do your zooming for you! Get closer or farther away depending on your photo. Bonus – you’ll get a few extra steps on your FitBit! I traveled around Paris and Barcelona and I don’t ever recall wishing I had a zoom function. And even so, the images from this camera are high enough resolution that you can just crop a photo later if you want it to be “zoomed in.” I know this is cheating, but it can work.
I can’t even tell you how easy it is to run this camera, too. For starters, I always have it set in Aperture Priority mode, so that I can tell it that I want to shoot at f/2.8 to get shallow depth of field. Then the camera choses the ISO and the shutter speed based on the amount of light coming in to the sensor. And there’s this nifty dial at the top called the exposure compensation button, and if you think the photo looks too bright you just move it up or down (like the exposure control on the iPhone). Sometimes I will even let the camera choose my focus points if I need to shoot quickly (#kidsonthemove) and don’t want to worry about it. It works well. I can be in photographer mode without actually being in photographer mode worrying about settings. It’s very automated but works so well. Yes, you can shoot in Aperture Priority and Auto ISO with a DSLR, but they’re not as small as this camera.
Fits in your pocket. Easy to use. Gorgeous photos. I understand it’s a little pricy but it’s so great! I have even converted the majority of my photographer friends to this camera for their every day / personal stuff. Oh, and you can also get a teleconverter lens for this camera which takes it from a 28mm to a 50mm portrait lens. I have it but don’t really use it much because it’s just one more thing to fiddle with. Path of least resistance friends. :)
Or, if you really want to go all out, and add zoom to the mix, you can get the Fuji X-T1 (similar to the X100 series but can have interchangeable lenses), and the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 lens. Very similar set up to the DSLR set up above, but smaller. And also more expensive (over $2000). Again, you have to pick what’s most important to you!
My word count is at 1953 so I’m going to wrap this up. Hopefully it was helpful. Sorry for pushing the Fuji at you so hard but seriously it’s the greatest little camera. Shoot me a message if you have any follow up questions, and happy shooting!