Update: Camera and Lenses Recommendation for this Christmas

Apologies to my followers, I have been way too busy with the part of my life that pays the bills to post as much as I should have. I will start adding more and more content to the site, and probably revamp the format a little bit.

Until then, time to update the gear recommendation section (Christmas is coming)! Many of you told me that what they liked best about this blog is the fact that I filter out marketing junk to recommend the cameras they actually need, at the benefit of their wallet. I'll then make sure this post follows the same principle, that is to say pushing you towards the camera that is best for your need and budget, while explaining you why such and such characteristic is more or less useless for you.

First let's remind everyone of the following: image quality comes strictly from the sensor, the lens and you. Every choice of camera bellow, no matter what is your need, will be based on this. Therefor it is important that you read the following if you are not too savvy about cameras.

The sensor
The bigger the sensor, the better. Noise, blur, 3 dimensional rendering, crispness of the image. All of this improves when the sensor gets bigger. Sensors are never names after their size, that would be too easy for you to figure out stuff. They are called micro four third, APC, APS-C etc. No matter what your budget is, you should look for the comparably priced camera with the biggest sensor. That all. Here is a chart to show you what that means:
Credits to Paul Fox

The lens
The rules with lenses are about as simple as for sensors: the simpler the lens, the better. For example, a prime lens (no zoom), will always perform better (sharpness and low light) simply because it can be optimized for a single focal length. On the other hand, a huge zoom will be average at everything, because compromises needs being made. Concretely, you need to balance functionality with image quality. Keep in mind that a X40 zoom lens on a 300$ camera is very suspicious. It probably is very very crappy. I selected cameras that privilege a decent compromise, or mostly image quality.

Yes you ! You probably already have a decent camera, and you might be thinking that a better camera will allow you to take better pictures. You've never been so wrong, probably. Indeed, learn how to use your equipment before buying. Try manual settings, learn the basics, and you might realize it was right there all along.

For the casual shooter with a small / medium budget

Let's be honest, 90% of all cameras sold will be used very casually: big vacation coming up, baby on the way, or desire to make a fancy gift, compact cameras are often the kind of product you buy because you feel like getting a nice gadget, treat yourself with something to play with. Good news everyone: those are perfectly valid reasons to buy things ! Yet, it doesn't mean you should spend your money unwisely. 

If you belong to that category, the "I just want an easy to use camera that does a job" people, keep in mind that you are the main target for marketers trying to sell you bullshit features and fake innovations. On the lower end side of things, let's be honest, image quality is about the same. You should privilege good travel companions, preferably rugged, possibly water & shock proof. Avoid mega zooms, they are useless because you won't be stabilized or have a bright enough lens to shoot sharp most of the time.

  • SH-25MR : because Olympus always made reliable cameras and good lenses over decades, because it is cheap, has image stabilization and because it's not pink. It has a touchscreen, a GPS and full HD recording. You can't possibly get more at this price. Many compacts over similar features, but for this christmas,  this one is also among the most recent ones.
Olympus SH 25MR

  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5K : in case you party / travel hard. It will resist dives in ocean, swimming pools or beer. All compact waterproof cameras have the same size sensor and type of lens, and to be honest they are pretty close to one another. The overall package on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5K appears to be the best. 
Panasonic Lumix FT5

For the casual shooter with little a decent budget

You are still a vacation shooter, you just have a bit more money. Go for either one of the following pieces.

  • Sony NEX-5 (or 3): it has an APS-C sensor (see chart above, second biggest after full frame), and quality interchangeable lenses. It to a large extent the same cameras as the NEX 7 which is a lot more expensive, due to marketers choice to segment the range. Also, as you learn and enjoy shooting, you'll be able to upgrade via new lenses, instead of changing it all.
Sony Nex 5

  • Fujifilm X100S : if photography tickles your arty bone, and you want a camera that will allow you to explore photography as a proper hobby, I recommend models that offer manual controls, and with simpler, higher quality lenses. The most obvious product is the Fujifilm X100S , that is essentially an excellent sensor and an excellent prime lens, in a well built body. In other words, a good camera. It only suffers from a autofocus that could be a tad bit faster. Yet it, its quality easily overcome that little flaw. 
Fuji X100S

  • Olympus OM-D : the limit of the Fujifilm X100S is the fix lens, 35mm only, which mean no zooming. A good alternative if the constraint of a fix lens is too much for you is still the Olympus OM-D , which a already recommended in the past. The sensor is a bit smaller but still of a decent size, and the camera body is weather sealed. With a vast array of interchangeable lenses, it makes it more versatile than the Fujifilm X100S . For the traveler, it might be an even better choice.

Olympus OM-D

For the advanced amateur who is willing to blow way too much money on cameras (you'll recognize yourself)

First of all, you need to bullshit your wife/husband on why you need a new camera. You are on your own, sorry. Once you've achieve getting away with it without too much blame, you might want to consider those babies:

  • Nikon D610 or Nikon Df , they are essentially the same camera. The Nikon Df looks way cooler, and the smaller resolution (i.e bigger pixels) allows better low light performance, as well as easier to process files. It's also a bit lighter. If you don't print large, I'd go with the Nikon Df, but it's 95% the same camera. Although, at 1000$ more than the D610, it's a but a of a joke, you clearly pay for design and marketing, up to you if you can afford it. Why Nikon? It is superior to Canon on built quality, customer service, sensor, metering...well you get the picture. Of course, a talented photographer will always take better pictures with a Canon over a bad Nikon user, and to be honest, who can spot the difference on picture, knowing that lenses do most of the job. Yet, if you are a lab rat, Nikon wins. If you are just a customer who care about 2 important things (durability and customer support), Nikon wins. Last but not least, the basic high quality prime lenses at Nikon are fairly cheap: the 35mm F2 full frame is around 400$.
Nikon D600

Nikon Df

You should not get a D800. It is too big to carry around, files are enormous to process (you probably would need a new computer too), and unless you print A1 format, it is simply useless. 

Those who are scared of the Nikon D610 because of sensor issues, be reassured: the issue doesn't affect the D610, and if you were to get a cheaper D600, nikon replaces the entire defective part for free, even outside the warrantee. I had mine redone, they are really cool about it. Overall they offer the best customer service.

I thought for a second of recommending a Fuji system, such as the XPro1, but I decided not too for the following reasons:
  • It isn't even smaller
  • Zeiss lenses are brilliant, but so are Nikon premium lenses
  • You pay the design and premium positioning

For the advanced amateur who wants to switch to {troll alert} real photography

You came to your senses: 98 megapixels, hybrid sensors with TRX 8000 technology and other geeky things don't make a good camera. Format does ! But what larger format camera to go for? What are you options:
  • 645 film: greater portability, often with metering and auto focus, cheaper, 15 shots per roll of film
  • 6x6 and 6x7 film : even greater images as the format grows in size, bulkier, often without metering. Avoid when traveling.
  • Large format film : stunning images, huge, requires mastery of photography basics, exposure etc. 
I purposely don't mention here medium format digital cameras, for two reasons: 33x44mm is not medium format, and mostly, if you can afford one (roughly the price of a nice BMW 3 series) you can afford every camera mentioned in this post, so choice isn't really a problem for you.

645 film cameras
Go for a Pentax 645 or Contax 645. I like Mamiya too, but in that format, the other two are a tad better both in terms of lenses and built quality. There are many version, AF or no AF, compatible with digital backs etc. Get them used, but check the version, they are mostly called the same yet some can be a decade older.

6x6 or 6x7 cameras
Go for the Pentax 67 II if you do portraits. Go for the Mamiya 6 or Mamiya 7 if you travel and do lanscape. I'd pick the Mamiya 6 for travel since it gives you a couple of extra frame per roll.

Large format cameras
I don't have for a habit to talk on this blog about thing I don't master properly. For good advice on picking a large format camera, I recommend you read this instead, or this.

For the pro

Come on, you're a pro, you should know what you need! Otherwise don't call yourself a pro, you're a phony :p

But you probably want a D800 and a Pentax 67II, just saying.

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