It's been awhile since I've updated my current camera recommendations, so I think it's time to do just that.
First though, let me say a couple of things:
1. All of this is just my opinion based on the reviews I've read, the comparison shots I've seen, and the things that I am specifically look for in a camera, so take it for what it is...OPINION.
2. I always feel a little bad choosing one camera over another, because that inevitably means about 50% of you are going to read these recommendations and leave here feeling like maybe you made the wrong choice in picking a camera. The truth however is that with today's digital SLR's, you really CANNOT go wrong. The technology has progressed so far that many cameras have more autofocus points than you'll ever need (too many in fact because I don't have time to toggle through 51 autofocus points to get to the one I want to use) and ISOs that are higher than most of us will ever need. So, while there is occasionally a camera released that I think is not worthwhile, that is pretty few and far between and I'd be happy to shoot with most of the digital SLR's currently on the market.
3. Great cameras do NOT make great photographers, and that means if any of us think that a camera upgrade will make us a great photographer, we're going to be disappointed with any camera we upgrade to. Great photographers make great photos and can do so with any camera. A great camera just makes the job a bit easier.
4. Don't forget that every great photographer was once a really crappy photographer. We all have to pay our dues.
Here we go...
Choosing a camera brand is an important decision because oftentimes, the brand you start with will be the brand you shoot with for the rest of your life. I wish there were one standout camera manufacturer because then, I could comfortably recommend that my students stick with that particular brand. Truth be told though, the best digital cameras on the market right now are not all made by the same company.
In general, Canon and Nikon have led the photography industry for years. Because they are industry leaders, Canon and Nikon-brand cameras are always loaded with the newest technology and have the biggest variety of lenses to choose from which is why I typically steer my students towards one of these two brands. That said, there are some great cameras made by Fuji, Sony, and Olympus as well – I’m just not familiar enough with those brands to be able to make specific recommendations on them.
I shot Canon for ten years before switching to Nikon. I didn’t switch to Nikon because I think they have better equipment straight across the board though. I switched to Nikon because given my criteria: a full frame camera under $3000 with a sophisticated focusing system, Nikon just offered a better camera at the time. That said, given different criteria, my choice could have easily been different. In fact, I think there are a lot of Canon cameras that are better cameras than comparable Nikons.
So should you get a Canon or a Nikon? That’s kind of like the great Mac or PC debate with people who shoot Nikon swearing by Nikon and people who shoot Canon swearing by Canon. The way I see it though, Canon and Nikon are two industry leaders who are going to continue leap-frogging each other with newer and better cameras and lenses as technology improves so you might as well pick a brand and then stick with.
I really recommend purchasing a camera you can ‘grow into’ because it just doesn’t make any sense to purchase a camera that you’re going to grow out of in a year. Therefore, I recommend purchasing the highest quality digital SLR you can comfortably afford (and pay cash for) while taking into account that you’ll need to save some money for lenses as well.
Technically, an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera is a camera that uses the same lens to shoot and view your pictures. A mirror inside the camera reflects the image from the lens to the viewfinder. But you don’t even really need to know that. More important to you, an SLR gives you maximum creative control by allowing you to make manual adjustments, control exposure and interchange lenses.
I recommend digital cameras because I think being able to instantly view your images is really critical to the learning process as is the ability to shoot a ton of pictures without having to worry about the cost of film and processing - though there is a great resurgence of film photography out there and I'm loving seeing it!
In reviewing the following cameras, I am going to compare cameras in similar price ranges, primarily based on what I think are two of the most important features of a camera: their focusing systems (The more autofocus points a camera has, particularly ‘cross-sensor’ autofocus points, the more quickly and precisely the camera will focus.) and the camera’s maximum ISO setting. (The higher the number, the more successfully you can shoot in low light situations without a flash.) Of course, there are other factors that I’ll be considering as well, but I won’t be talking in detail about those other considerations. Also note that I won’t be taking megapixel count into consideration because all of today’s digital SLR’s have more megapixels than most photographers will ever need. (I do want to note that a lot of newer Canons have cross-sensor autofocus points spread throughout the entire viewfinder while Nikon keeps most of theirs clustered towards the center of the viewfinder. And while upon first glance this might lead a consumer to think that this gives Canon a leg up, please know that just because a camera has cross-sensor autofocus points along the perimeter of the viewfinder NO autofocus point placed along the perimeter of the viewfinder can be as sensitive or effective as autofocus points placed towards the center of the viewfinder - it's just not optically possible at this point in time and therefore, offering cross-sensor autofocus points along the perimeter of the viewfinder does not guarantee a better focusing camera - it just guarantees that the camera specifications will look more appealing to the consumer reading them.)
Before we get started, I also want to mention that the Nikon D40, D40X, D60, D3000, D3100, D3200, D3300, D5000, D5100, D200 and D5300 do not have autofocus motors built into them. Because of this, they can only autofocus when used with lenses that have an autofocus motor built into the lens. These types of Nikon lenses are marked with the letters ‘AF-S.’ You can also use some off-brand lenses such as Sigma and Tamron on these cameras as long as they have an autofocus motor built into the lens. (This typically isn’t a problem as most of Nikons newer lenses are all AF-S lenses.)
Also, I really, really (really) recommend purchasing your camera body and lenses separately. A lot of cameras come in a kit, meaning you get the camera body and a lens or two. Unfortunately, the lenses that come in kits are typically manufactured with cost in mind, not quality. Remember that a lot of salespeople will try to talk you into the kit and they’ll talk your husband into it, too, and then you’ll feel like you have no choice but to purchase the dang kit … but don’t succumb to the pressure. Just say NO to the kit because you’re going to find that kit lenses just don’t give you the image quality you’re wanting. And note that prices for cameras may have increased or even decreased since I originally wrote this because prices change quickly.
Nikon D3300 vs. Canon Rebel T5 (crop factor cameras)
Nikon sells the D3300 in a kit with a Nikkor 18-55mm lens for about $600. It has 11 autofocus points (one cross-sensor in the center) and a maximum ISO of 25,600. The Canon Rebel T5 comes in a kit with a Canon 18-55mm lens for about $500. It has nine autofocus points (one cross-sensor in the center) and a maximum ISO of 12,800. Both cameras offer video. In addition to offering a higher maximum ISO, the Nikon also shoots more frames per second and offers more megapixels, so I’ll go with Nikon on this one.
Nikon D5300 vs. Canon Rebel T5i (crop factor cameras)
The Nikon D5300 is about $750. This camera has 39 autofocus points (nine of those are cross-sensors) and its maximum ISO is 25,600. You can pick up the Canon Rebel T5i for $700. It has nine autofocus points (all nine are cross sensors) and a maximum ISO of 25,600 as well. Both cameras offer video. Here too, I’d go with the Nikon not only because it offers more autofocus points, but also because the tests show it handles high ISOs better than the Rebel T5i, and because it offers more megapixels as well.
Nikon D7100 vs. Canon 70D (crop factor cameras)
The Nikon D7100 sells for about $1,100 and has 51 autofocus points (15 of those being cross-sensors.) The maximum ISO on the D7100 is 25,600. The Canon 70D runs about $1,100 as well and offers 19 autofocus points (all 19 are cross-sensors) and a maximum ISO of 25,600. Both cameras offer video. This one is really a toss-up because each camera has its pros and cons and ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either because they’re both amazing. In general, tests show that the Nikon D7100 offers better overall image quality, but the Canon 70D seems to focus a bit quicker, especially when shooting video and can shoot more frames per second as well. Ultimately, if you shoot a lot of sports or video, I think the Canon might be your best bet, but if overall image quality is your highest concern, I’d go with the Nikon.
Canon 7D Mark II (crop factor camera)
This camera really is in a class all its own. It offers 65 autofocus points (all 65 are cross-sensors) and a maximum ISO of 51,200 and runs about $1800. And of course, it offers video as well. This really is the top of the line crop-factor camera available on the market right now and Nikon doesn’t offer anything comparable.
Nikon 750D vs. Canon 6D (full frame cameras)
The 750D is Nikons entry-level full frame camera. It offers 51 autofocus points (15 of them being cross-sensors) and a maximum ISO of 51,200, selling for $2300. Respectively, the Canon 6D is Canon’s entry level full frame camera and offers 11 autofocus points (one is a crosssensor) and a maximum ISO of 102,400 for approximately $1900. Both offer video. Here, Nikon hits it out of the ballpark because even though the Canon offers a higher maximum ISO, the focusing system on the Canon seems almost archaic, with only one cross-sensor autofocus point. Yes, the Nikon 750D is more expensive, but it might just be one of the best cameras available on the market today with tons of great features, a remarkable ability to autofocus in low light, and limited noise even when shooting with high ISO settings. This is one amazing camera.
Nikon D810 vs. Canon 5D Mark III (full frame cameras)
You can pick up the Nikon D810 for about $3,300. It has 51 autofocus points (15 of those being cross-sensors) and a maximum ISO of 51,200. The Canon 5D Mark III runs about $3,400 and offers 61 autofocus points (with 41 of those being crosssensors) and a maximum ISO of 102,400. Both offer video. Though the Canon might look like the obvious pick here since it offers more cross-sensor autofocus points and a higher maximum ISO, the tests are showing that the Nikon produces higher image quality and less digital noise. Again though, these are two phenomenal cameras and you can’t go wrong with either.
After reading these recommendations, you might be led to think that I prefer Nikon because I shoot Nikon, but keep in mind that the last time I reviewed cameras, I recommended more Canons than Nikons because at the time, Canon simply had better cameras in each respective price range.
Note that there are other, higher-end full frame cameras on the market, but they’re out of my budget and out of the budgets of most of my students as well (think $6,000 to $8,000) and because of that, I don’t take the time to research or review them.
Also note that there are some great mirrorless cameras available on the market these days as well, though again, I’m not familiar enough with them to make specific recommendations.
And a quick self-portrait (I just can't bring myself to use the word, "selfie, so I'm just sticking with the old, antiquated, "self-portrait" instead.) that Cole took of himself just a few hours after the UPS guy delivered that sweet, little Nikon D750 that I am loving so much...