Christmas Camera Recommendations

I always enjoy hearing from friends and readers. Recently a long time friend emailed me asking for a camera recommendation. And thus begins my 2011 Christmas Camera Recommendation post!

JD,
I hope all is well, and congrats on the 2nd little one coming your way. Michelle and I are expecting our 1st in February which brings me to the reason I am e-mailing. We are looking to upgrade our digital camera so we can take lots of photos! We currently use a Fuji F70EXR but were considering upgrading to a higher end camera such as a Canon Rebel.

The Rebel link is more just an example, but:
do you think that an upgrade to a much higher end camera like that is a good purchase, or would we be fine just sticking with the Fuji F70EXR?

Thanks,

RW

Yo RW! Cool, what is your max budget?

JD,

I’d say $500-$750 max… We are not going to be professionals but want nice photos.. The Fuji isn’t bad but it’s not great

Thanks
RW

Hola Ronnie,
Congratulations! I talked to your mom & dad at the recently, they were very excited :-) I hope you guys will come down and visit not long after your bundle of joy arrives :-)

Here is  my response on whether to upgrade or not:
Yes, I do think a camera upgrade would be worthwhile. The quality and quantity of photos that you can capture with a better camera will be worthwhile as you look back on those treasured memories of your first child :-)

And here are my top camera candidate recommendations:

Two of my favorite cameras EVER: white Olympus XZ-1 and blue Canon ELPH 100 HS

 

Compact point and shoot camera:

Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS
$140, comes in a number of colors
Samantha has this camera in blue. It takes great photos & video, especially in bright situations. For dark environments it will need to use the a flash. Our friend Joy just ordered one today too… If Shelly wants a new camera to carry in her purse or (soon) her diaper bag then the Elph 100 HS is hard to beat.

Enthusiast camera:

#1 Choice: Olympus XZ-1
$440 and comes in black or white. I have the white version
Pros:
This is a very stylish and simple to use camera. However, it also features a very nice lens that captures a lot of light. This allows for decent photos even in poor lighting (often without the aid of a flash). The control system is easy to master especially when you use the control wheel that encompasses the lens and lets you quickly scroll through settings/options, as well as rear controls for additional adjustment. I highly recommend this camera if you do not want to mess with a DSLR and interchangeable lenses.

Cons:
-Will not be able to focus as quickly as a good DSLR (this can be frustrating when trying to capture a moving subject)
-Features a decent multi-shot “burst mode” but  it pales in comparison to DSLR frames per second IMHO
-Quality in low light is good, but not exceptional

#2 Choice: Panasonic LX5
$370 Comes in black or silver, my dad has the black version
Pros:
A precursor to the XZ-1, it is similar in features and quality. However, in my opinion the controls/handling take a bit more time to master and it is not quite as easy to simply pick it up and (easily) take photos as good as with the XZ-1. If you are willing to take the time to learn the ins-and-outs of it then it truly is a bargain.
Cons:
-Same cons as XZ-1, i.e. in that it will not be able to focus as quickly or take as many burst mode shots as a good DSLR
-Same low light constraints
-Slightly more complex handling/layout buttons than the XZ-1 IMHO

DSLR -or- Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (N/A)

#1 Choice: Nikon D5100 $750 [or Nikon D3100 at $550 if cost is important]
#2 Choice: Canon Rebel

Pros: very fast focusing, easily take multiple shots per second, ability to take good photos in low light situations, expandable (add new lenses as you need them)
Cons: comparatively bulky, expensive

Why I chose the Nikon, I believe it gives you the option of 1080p video, better build quality IMHO and potentially better low-light performance. Canon makes great cameras too though, so if you already have friends/family that shoot with one or the other that could be a decision maker for you :-)

Toward the bottom of this page: http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Nikon_D3100/verdict.shtml
You can read a nice summary of the D3100 vs the Rebel T3/1100D DSLR that you had linked to
http://snapsort.com/compare/Canon-T3i-vs-Nikon-D5100

NOTE: both Canon/Nikon DSLRs are excellent cameras, but the lenses you pair them with will have a huge impact on quality.
If you get a DSLR then, in addition to the “kit” lens that comes with the DSLR, I highly recommend at least one “prime” lens. These lenses do not zoom to different focal lengths, they are static at a single focal length (so you have to move closer/further away from the subject). But, they are extremely sharp and let in a lot of light so you can get photos in very dark environments. Here are a couple example lenses:
Nikon 35mm
http://www.amazon.com/Nikon-35mm-AF-S-Digital-Cameras/dp/B001S2PPT0/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1320380533&sr=8-4
Nikon 50mm
http://www.amazon.com/Nikon-50mm-1-8G-AF-S-NIKKOR/dp/B004Y1AYAC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320380533&sr=8-1
(Canon will have comparable lenses)

#3 At this time I cannot recommend a mirrorless system [Olympus/Panasonic/Sony have them & Nikon just introduced a system), I have tried a number of them and personally I do not feel they are as good as DSLRs yet. :-(

CONCLUSION
For the price of a DSLR & nice lens(es) you could buy the ELPH and the XZ-1 to have a pretty potent photo taking combo.

Beyond that it really comes down to how much you want to do with your camera: IMHO you cannot beat a Canon or Nikon DSLR for capturing a toddler taking their first steps or getting a photo of them in their crib sleeping soundly (even when it is dark and you don’t want to use a flash).

Otherwise, if you are happy with getting great photos when the light is already good and you don’t mind taking a few shots before you finally get that toddler walking capture in focus… then the ELPH/XZ-1 produce great results: as long as you realize their limitations.

So,
XZ-1 & Elph -> do a great job with stationary subjects when you have good lighting (or with flash)
DSLRS -> can do a great job even with moving subjects or difficult lighting situations (with or without flash)

Also, if you order directly from Amazon, not a third party seller on Amazon ,in my experience they have a generous return policy so if you are  not fully satisfied then you can return it within the designated period. http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?ie=UTF8&nodeId=901896

Best regards,
-JD

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