Digital cameras have become the standard in the photographic industry. Many students are interested in purchasing one, but it can be a difficult decision. So here are some of my recommendations when considering which camera to buy.
DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)
If you can afford the plunge, I would recommend a DSLR. It gives you excellent image quality and the potential to have full control over your camera from exposure to focusing. And if you're used to film SLRs, it's a simple transition.
I would either choose a Canon or Nikon. The reason is that these companies are two standards of the photographic industry with a large variety of lenses and accessories, all of which are typically high in quality.
Actual cameras can usually be placed into one of three catagories: consumer, pro-sumer, and professional; consumer being the least expensive, often easy to use but with the fewest custom functions and upgrades, while pro cameras are the most expensive with the highest quality, speed, and ability to customize.
What you need to figure out is (1)your purpose for this camera and (2)your budget. If you just want something to make good photographs and use as a hobby, look toward a consumer model. If you're more serious and are very interested in photography, look for a pro-sumer model. If you plan to do some jobs to make money with your camera and are on a budget, pro-sumer is good again. If you're going to make a living with the camera, look at pro models and high-end pro-sumers.
A note on megapixels: I've heard it said that a 6 megapixel camera is the equivilent of 35mm film. Thus, a 6 megapixel camera is a decent place to start. However, as cameras improve there has been another plateau near 10 megapixels. And then there are the pro cameras that move up to into the teens. 6-8 megapixels is good for normal shooting and consistent prints up to 8x10 and 11x14. With know-how, you can even print poster size with quality. My camera is 10 megapixels and has plenty of detail for 11x14 or 16x20 and larger with know-how.
Cost and Cameras
This is where the rubber meets the road: the price tag for a DSLR runs from about $500 - $5000 and up. Here are some current suggestions:
Canon: Rebel XS, Rebel XSi, Rebel XTi (400D)
Nikon: D60, D40, D40x
Canon: 30D, 40D, 50D
Nikon: D80, D90, D200, D300
Canon: 1Ds Mark III, 1D Mark III, 5D Mark II, 1D Mark II N
Nikon: D3, D700, D2Xs, D2X, D2Hs, D2H
You typically won't find DSLRs on sale or in student purchasing programs because they sell so quickly and easily. However, another option might be to buy a used camera. Often times people are upgrading to the next best thing and selling their "relatively old" cameras, which are still perfectly fine (especially for someone just starting out with a digital camera). Here are some older models that might be interesting:
Canon: Digital Rebel (300D), Digital Rebel XT (350D), 10D, 20D, 20Da, 1Ds Mark II, 1D Mark II, 1Ds, 1D
Nikon: D50, D70, D70s, D100, D1X, D1H, D1
Don't Forget the Lens
Last, but definitely not least, choosing a good lens is a big part of how well your camera will perform. Most consumer level cameras and some pro-sumers come with a lens as a "kit." The lens works, but may not always be the best. Do a little homework and try to make a wise decision because ultimately the lens is a big part of image quality. Also, be aware of the focal length changes between SLRs and DLSRs. The sensor inside a DSLR is typically smaller than a 35mm negative. Therefore, the focal length of a lens appears differently. There is usually a multiplication factor of roughly 1.5x. That means a normal 50mm lens will look more like a 75mm lens on a DSLR. A 17mm-55mm zoom lens mimics the look of a traditional 28mm-80mm.
One last recommendation: do some research at Digital Photography Review. They typically have extremely in-depth reviews of cameras to help you make good decisions before buying.
Last Updated: November 27, 2008