Some Camera Advice

A colleague just asked me for advice about cameras – specifically how to get pictures and videos of fast-moving kids. I figured I’d share with the rest of you.

The best you can do for an all-in-one is this hard-to-name new breed of camera called alternatively hybrid or micro four thirds (same thing, essentially).

They work almost as well as SLRs, but they don’t have the internal mirror that allows you to look through the viewfinder and right through the lens. That makes them skinnier. You compose instead on the LCD (like with a pocket camera) or in some cases with an electronic viewfinder (like on a high-end videocamera).

If you affix the small lens (about 16mm) they are pretty skinny. Though it’s a fixed focal length, so no zooming. 16mm on this camera is just a little wider than what you see with your naked eye. For reasons that are almost impossible to describe, these cameras have a different kind of focussing mechanism that makes them slower than a real SLR but likely faster than a pocket camera.

The Panasonic (Lumix G/micro four thirds) are very good.

I have not used the Sony’s much (hybrid or NEX), but I also hear raves about them.

For a “real” SLR, the Rebels are really nice. Pretty darn fast, great image quality, and starting with the T2i, pro-quality video. (Some TV shows have been shot on their big brother, the Canon 5D mII, and the Rebel is damn close to that for about a third the price.)

The latest, the T31, is cool because the LCD articulates (like on a traditional camcorder) so it can face up and you can hold the camera down low, maybe steadied against your hip, to shoot. This is amazingly better than holding a big camera up in front of your face like a dork while shooting video.

BTW, the “kit” lens that comes with these cameras, though it feels cheap, is actually really good. I know the guy at Popular Photography who tests lenses with frickin’ lasers (or some such), and he says this one is really good for the money.

Only problem, it doesn’t open wide for low light or blurred background. If that’s important, you will not find an affordable zoom lens. Instead, buy the “body only” and get a 50mm lens (no zoom, but about the field of view you get with the naked eye).

For a small camera, I personally love the Sonys for quality. I have the WX5:

But they are all good. Speed, however, is not their forte, at least last time I checked. But look at reviews of newer models, maybe they go better.

The Sony’s also have cool special functions – super easy panorama shooting, high-contrast modes and the ability to shot in 3D which you can see on screen. It’s a neat “stupid camera trick” that everyone I’ve showed it to loves and will probably get giggles from the kids.

If you do get a Sony, make sure you get one with an “Exmor-R CMOS sensor” – the short answer is that it’s awesome both in low light and in hight contrast (bright sun and dark shadow).

I have not used, but have seen great results from and heard raves about a pocket camera from Canon called the  S95.

This was designed as a point-and-shoot for photographers. It has a the ability to set a very large aperture (good for low-light shooting and for the blurred background of a portrait), a wide angle for group pics, and controls that can be (if you choose to set them that way) similar to an SLR.

I’m not sure about the speed, but I suspect it’s pretty good. It may not do quite as well in low light as the Sonys, but should be pretty good.

So, with money not being a hindrance, the safest strategy is probably the T3i SLR and the Canon S95 pocket cam. Though if the benefits of the hybrid/micro fur thirds or the Sony point and shoots entice, they are good options.

Before you buy, check out the pretty thorough reviews at c/net, and if you like, the incredibly noodling reviews at (just skip ahead to the summary part for the latter).

A note of caution on tech reviews – the authors are pretty much required to find something bad to say about every product – as there is no such thing as “perfect,” and they don’t want to appear to give any product “a pass.” So often the dings are not relevant in the real world. You can tell if they seem to be struggling to make those points.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.