A blog reader, Mary Jo, recently e-mailed me to ask what camera I thought would be good for the novice nature photographer who has not owned a camera for many years. She joins many who have asked similar questions. Well, folks, there is no single answer.
Nature photography -landscape, travel, wildlife, birds and people at play – covers a lot of territory, so as a novice, the camera you choose will need to have flexibility and also should be lightweight. There are literally hundreds of cameras in the $130 to $350 range that can fill that bill, and almost all will deliver excellent image quality. Many of them offer a wide range of focal lengths, and some have wide-angle zoom capability.
In today’s world of cameras, there are basically three types of digital cameras available. They are digital single-lens reflex (DSLRs), point-and-shoot, and the new kid on the block, the EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) camera. Of course, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for.
The DSLR is far and away the most used for nature photography for many reasons. They produce excellent image quality, are flexible, quick, and the many features they come equipped with make them highly versatile. They also have the advantage of an unending selection of lenses that can be used in any situation. Overall, DSLRs give you the results and performance that a point-and-shoot cannot match. However, they are costly, usually bulky and many times quite complex. Sometimes even reading their operator’s manual is somewhat like reading a book written in Greek.
The point-and-shoot cameras come in all price and quality range. You can buy them for as little as $29.96,or pay as much as $700 for them. This is where I tell most people to use the old adage “buyer beware.” I have a rule that says if it’s under $130, you most likely will not get the quality camera or results, you want. Every manufacturer in the world seems to think they can market a digital point-and-shoot camera. On Amazon, currently there are 376 different ones being offered by the many camera manufactures, plus a few from companies like Sakar, Cuddeback, Lomography or maybe even Vistaquist. Who ever heard of them? I think you should buy only from manufacturers you know. Even then you need to be careful. Even old standby Kodak will cease selling cameras as of August this year.
The EVIL cameras are very new. They sound like a perfect mix of the DSLR and the point-and-shoot. However, they are not inexpensive. The price range is from $500 to over $1,200,and includes just one interchangeable lens. This mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera is smaller, lighter and less complicated than the DSLR because it estimates the reflex components. That means the mirror, mirror-box, focusing screen and prism viewfinder are no longer necessary. These changes allow designers to make many wonderful changes inside the camera. The main purpose of the EVIL camera is to provide DSLR image quality in a compact body. Most of them do this by putting a DSLR sensor in the EVIL’s compressed body.
Which is right for you? It depends. I do not think most novice nature photography buffs should go out and spend a minimum of $1,200 for a DSLR until they are sure they really like working in the field and have the patience to work hard at getting to know what they want out of this demanding hobby. I also do not believe that a cheap $80 point-and-shoot is a good way to start. The EVIL cameras may be fine. However, they ARE new, so as a novice I might wait a couple of years before I make that big of a leap. So, most likely a novice might consider an advanced point-and-shoot model as a starting camera.
Next week I will review three or four cameras that the novice could consider. Until then, see you on Presque Isle.
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