SLR Camera & Accessories: My Recommendations
I'm often asked what kind of camera I recommend -- I guess because I'm always taking photos and I walk around with a big ol' honkin' huge camera, people think I have some authority and expertise.
Well, I don't know about all of that, but if you ask me what *I* think, as an amateur, hobbyist, not-for-hire, mom photographer - here's what I'll tell you:
Unfortunately, I don't have a recommendation for a point-and-shoot camera. I rarely use them, and when I do, they don't compare well to my SLR, so I just don't know much about the different point-and-shoot models and options, etc. Sorry!
I've always used Canon SLR cameras, so that's what I will recommend. That said, I'll bet the Nikon and other brands are fabulous too. I just haven't used them, so I couldn't say from experience.
My current camera is the Canon 40D. I love it. I use mostly manual settings on it because I don't always love the auto-setting results it gives me. So I've learned the manual settings and techniques while using this camera.
Most of what I do is trial and error, but I typically shoot on AV priority and change the aperture based on the lighting and number of subjects in the photo. Low number (2.0) for less light, less subjects, and a higher number (5.0) for more subjects.
I also adjust the ISO - using a low number (200ish) for lots of light situations and a higher number for low-light situations (up to 1600, which is grainy, but still helfpul especially when a flash won't reach your subject as in a really large room).
I bought the 40D almost 2 years ago (instead of another Rebel) because I wanted the high ISO ability - up to 1600 (great in low light) - a super-fast recovery speed, and wasn't as interested in the video features that are available on many digital SLRs now (though now I might be more swayed toward that option). Also, since I bought a refurbished model, it was in my price range. So far, I've been very pleased.
My old camera was the original Canon Rebel. They have released several newer models since mine was introduced, all of which are a great deal and a great camera, especially for someone just getting started with an SLR camera. When I had that camera, I almost always shot with automatic settings, but with no flash. I wasn't brave enough to try the manual stuff then! I would definitely recommend the EOS Rebel series though.
PS: Don't be lured by oodles of megapixels. They're nice, they're great, but you can get a great 8" x 10" or 11" x 14" print with a 6MP image. You don't *need* 14MP for every photo. Most of the time I shoot on 6MP. Thousands of 14MP image files will fill up your hard drive fast! I only use the 10MP setting (the highest on my camera) for special occasions or portraits that might be cropped or super-enlarged for printing.
Let's talk lenses. Lenses make ALL the difference in the final image. My Rebel came with a kit lens - the 18-55mm zoom lens. It's kind of "eh" if you ask me. But..it's the only lens I used for years, so I can't bad-talk it too much. And it's still my only wide-angle lens, so I do pull it out occasionally when I need a wider angle shot.
Eventually I bought a Canon 75-300mm zoom lens. I use it mostly for outdoor events when I'll be farther away from the action - the zoo, sporting events, beach, etc. It's a great lens, and takes fabulous shots, but it's heavy to carry around and my kids are usually too close to me to take photos of them with it. Someday it'll be great for sporting events. For now, I like to use it to get up close and personal to this beautiful beast (taken through glass at the zoo):
Then, I bought my favorite lens - the Canon 50mm fixed 1.8 lens. Some call it the "thrifty fifty" because it costs right around $100 and takes great portrait photos with low aperture (lots of great blur behind the subject of the photo). That also means it does well in low light situations without a flash, which is nice when you take pictures indoors, but don't like using an on camera flash (solution for that later). I highly recommend this lens for anyone with little kids. Even though it doesn't have any zoom, it's usually at just the right distance for great portraits of the little guys and girls. Occasionally I wish it was a wider angle (like when Paxton is crawling into my lap or running towards me while I try to take photos), but most of the time, this is the lens you'll see on my camera. In fact, I've bought it twice, because I dropped the first one and it broke. At only $100 it was worth immediately replacing.
Now...on my WISHLIST is the all-inclusive ultra zoom lens - theTameron AF 18-270mm. If I could sell my 75-300mm & 18-55mm to buy this lens, I would. But, I'd still be short about $500, so I better sell a few more signs first. :) It appears to be a great all-purpose lightweight lens that would be especially wonderful for traveling. I would LOVE to try it out one day.
Don't use the on-camera flash unless you have absolutely no choice. Blech. Those pictures usually look terrible - washed out, flat and boring.
A bounce-flash is nice, I used to have a Canon Speedlite flash that I liked. It could bounce light off of walls, cielings, etc. However, it was bulky, ate batteries, and was an expensive piece of equipment. I sold it a few years ago when I needed to replace my Rebel with a new camera since it had sat unused for several years and I haven't really missed it.
Recently, I discovered this fabulous jewel - the LightScoop. At only $30 it does what I loved about the Speedlite, for MUCH less, and it doesn't require any batteries and is extremely lightweight. SCORE. It uses a mirror to bounce light off of a light-colored ceiling or wall and softens the photo perfectly. It's best in rooms with low to mid-height ceilings, and might not be a good choice if you have really tall or dark painted ceilings (like it wouldn't work in your car). But if you're like me and have white 9ft ceilings in your house -- it's perefect! Check it out:
Cool, huh? My indoor photography style has been changed forever. Love this new toy.
And of course, there are a few extras you'll want to have when you make a jump to an SLR camera.
A good memory card (or 3). I use a Kingston Elite Pro 8 GB 133x CompactFlash Memory Card, and since I dump my pictures to my hard drive daily, I NEVER fill up my memoy card -- but it's a big one, so I shouldn't! It is definitely worth having at least one backup though.
Speaking of backups - a backup battery is a VERY good idea. I've been left with no battery power at the beginning of a big event more times than I care to admit. Though I will say, I'm very impressed with how long the battery lasts. Often a week or more, depending on how often I use the camera.
A lens-cap keeper for each lens. It's annoying to hold them, keep track of them, and even more annoying to lose them and not have anything to protect your lens. These little rubberband-like straps keep the lens cap attached to the lens -- definitely more helpful there than squashed in your back pocket.
A UV Protection Filter for each lens. These are a very good scratch insurance policy. It's so much easier to replace a $12 filter rather than your $300 lens. Going to the beach? You better have one of these on each lens!
A tripod. I wouldn't be able to get my self-timer full family photo shots without a decent tripod. Ours is kind of a mid-range Ambico model, with a quick-release mounting system. It works sufficiently and we also use it for our video camera. A mini-tripod that fits in your bag would also be a good investment if you do a lot of traveling, though I don't have one of those...we just drag the big tripod with us to the beach for our family portraits!
On my wish list - I still haven't bought one, I guess because I like that self-timer-running-to-get-into-the-picture-rush - is a wireless remote shutter release. Then I wouldn't *have* to do the running back and forth and could take several shots at once when you got it framed the way you wanted it.
- And, finally with all that stuff...you need something to carry it in and protect it. There are all kinds of REALLY cute camera bags and options out there, but I have a pretty basic backpack style bag, simliar to this Lowepro Slingshot 100 all-weather digital camera bag. It holds all my gear, plus my wallet, keys, phone, gum, and of course a diaper & wipes & a snack. Let's be honest, we all need a multi-purpose bag that lets your hands be free! This one does the trick. Plus you can whip it around to the front of you to get what you need without taking the whole bag off. It was a fabulous solution when we went to Disney World a few years ago.
Photo Editing Software:
Finally, I highly recommend finding a photo editing software program that you like. I started with Paint Shop Pro years ago, then switched to an old version of Adobe Photoshop 4.0 and then within the past couple of years have switched to Adobe Photoshop Elements. It's a cheaper version of Photoshop with many of the same bells and whistles. I've really enjoyed learning all about it and using it to enhance my photographs. I know there are other software programs that are cheaper and that people love as well...but if you ask for my help - this is the software I know, so I won't be much help with the others. :)
And there you have it folks. Those are my digital SLR camera & accessories recommendations. Take them for what they are - from a photo-lovin' mom of two preschoolers, scrapbooker, blogger, and artist - and NOT a professional photographer. :)
If you have other questions about the equipment I use or what I recommend, post them here and I'll try to update this post as necessary!
Here's a list of all the products I mentioned:
- Canon EOS 40D 10.1 MP Digital SLR Camera
- Canon EOS Rebel Series
- Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS SLR Lens
- Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 Telephoto Zoom Lens
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens
- Tameron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Lens
- Canon UV Protection Filter
- Ambico V-0554A 58-inch tripod
- Wireless Remote Shutter Release for Canon 40D
- Lens Cap Keeper
- Kingston Elite Pro 8 GB 133x CompactFlash Memory Card
- Adobe Photoshop Elements V9.0
- Lowepro SlingShot 100 All-Weather Digital Camera Backpack