Canon EOS 350D
My trusty 350D has seen better days: the rubber viewfinder was lost somewhere in the Czech Republic, the shutter is a tired veteran of a hundred thousand frames and cries with each reflex, the housing is worn to a mirror finish in parts. And yet, it works; while it’s quite noisy in low-light environments, it’s reasonably fast, brackets and meters well, and generally gets the job done. I’m very tempted to upgrade, however. Thoughtful gifts graciously received.
Canon 17–85mm f/4.0-f/5.6 IS lens
This is my main walkabout lens, and the vast majority of my photographs are taken with it. While a little slow for low-light work, the wide focal length range makes this a highly versatile lens. It’s second from the top in its category — the next step up is the Canon 17–40mm f/4 L.
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens
This is my nocturnal lens of choice. Wide enough for group shots and with a very large aperture, it lets in a lot of light; at f/1.4 and ISO 1600, it can capture a scene lit only by candlelight in its natural colours without use of the flash. However, it suffers from a fiendishly difficult focus system, and a very slow and unrealiable auto-focus mode. Image quality, when it is in focus, is superb.
Hoya 67mm, 72mm circular polarising filters
These filters protect the outer lens element from dust and damage, and filter unpolarised light (including glare and some ultraviolet sources). This results in richer colours and deep, blue skies, providing the filter is aligned with the light source properly.
Sandisk Ultra II 8GB CompactFlash card
This, plus two other 1GB cards, gives me adequate storage on longer trips. It’s a real pain to have to stop in an internet café every few days while travelling in order to transfer images onto a DVD; this allows me to shoot for up to a week before having to refuel.
An entry level purchase should be governed by four criteria:
The old addage runs: pick any three (or N minus 1, for N criteria). Obviously, these criteria entail tradeoffs against one another: the more portable the camera, the less likely it is to have a long battery life (thin batteries may look nice, but they don’t have a terribly high MaH capacity) or quality lens (good glass is heavy and bulky, and this cannot be avoided). For similar reasons, photo quality is more or less inversely proportional to cost.
With these comments in mind, you could do much worse than the Canon PowerShot series of cameras. They’re cheap, lightweight and have decent optics inside. They’re often fairly configurable, too, which gives new photographers some creative options once they master the basics. The PowerShot S80 or A80 , while relatively old, are both still good options. The PowerShot A710 IS is a newer, slightly more expensive, somewhat bulkier alternative (of commensurately better quality). If ease of use is your main criterion, you can’t go past the Sony Cybershot series, which are irritatingly simple. Of the recent models, the Cybershot S-730 stands out as having the best balance between portability, quality and value. Battery life is generally in proportion to the bulk of the cameras — adequate on the Canon models and excellent on their Sony counterparts.
The ‘prosumer’ category of camera has seen significant growth, but it remains an odd category. Bigger and bulkier than their entry level counterparts, this class of camera is not the kind of thing you could fit into a pocket or handbag; it’s also a bit too costly for casual shooting and — in light of major lens and image processing advances in the entry level cameras — their quality is no longer substantially greater than cheaper models. Moreover, their quality is noticably worse than even the most basic dSLR. Consequently, this is increasingly a category in search of a user.
That being said, enthusiast cameras can be a useful stepping stone from an entry level camera to a more advanced dSLR. Either the Canon PowerShot G7 or the excellent Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 would be my picks. In the case of the latter, its image quality can sometimes even exceed a basic dSLR camera with an entry level lens — certainly, its versatility and out-of-the-box image processing will compete favourably with a beginner dSLR user.
A dSLR is really the only class of camera that I would seriously consider. If you want to take the next step up, this is where you should be looking. Your choice at this point depends upon two factors:
Sub-$2000 dSLR recommendation: Canon EOS400D — the successor model to the EOS350D, this is an excellent camera with a host of options and full compatibility with Canon, Sigma and Tamron EF and EF-S lenses. Arguably outshines the Nikon D70 and D80 (just) in terms of image quality and user interface.
Sub-$3000 dSLR recommendation: Canon EOS 40D — broadly similar to the EOS 400D, but with much better build quality (leather grip, weather hardening, weight balancing, etc), user interface (hotkeys and presets, scroll wheels, etc) and image processing (lower noise levels, better metering and colour balancing, etc). It’s also excellent value for money, being only slightly more expensive than the 400D.
Sub-$5000 dSLR recommendation: Canon EOS 5D — now we’re starting to get professional. A fantastic full-frame camera.
Recommendations last revised: December 2007.