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by Bart Arondson

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I am planning to buy a new camera and am all confused. I am an amateur photographer who likes to click good photographs. I try to make the most of my Nikon CoolPix camera and have some decent understanding of what and how to click. Photography seems to be an upcoming hobby for me in recent past.

Below are some of my chief requirements :

  1. The camera should be able to take good pictures indoors. Mostly I will be clicking Indoors.
  2. The Camera should be able to click quickly. This is a must. This requirement comes as I will be mostly photographing my one-year-old daughter. Children are not steady — they don’t wait for your camera to stabilize the image. In the best case, the camera should be able to easily capture moving objects; I think it is like a "sports mode" or should have a high FPS. I am hoping that I can use the sports mode when it is difficult to make my daughter to pose.
  3. It should have a good zoom. Many a times, it is not possible to reach places which you want to photograph; for example, a bird sitting on top of a building.

I am now confused about which camera to buy: an SLR or an expensive Point-and-Shoot?. With the help of friends I have been able to shortlist the below two cameras:

  • Nikon D5100 priced at $676 at Amazon. A default lens of 18-55mm.
  • Sony HX 100 At $450 at Amazon. 30× Zoom

I am worried that if I buy an SLR, I will have to buy an expensive zoom lens as well. At 676 USD, the D5100 is already on the more expensive side for me. Also, in my experience, a 5× zoom looks trivial to me and I feel that a 10-15× zoom is generally needed. The Nikon 5100 comes with a 18-55mm lens which probably gives 3× Zoom. To my surprise, experienced photographers that I know said that you will not need much Zoom?! Also, I am told that a 30× zoom that the Sony P&S has will not be of much use without a tripod.

The Sony HX seems to have a good sports mode at a good 10 FPS. On the contrary, the SLR has a much lower 2-6 FPS, which means that I will not be able to capture moving objects. Again, my friends tell me that a 2-6 FPS that a SLR gives is very good.

Can you please suggest which camera will meet my requirements more? Is an Expensive Point & Shoot as good as a DSLR? Is Point-and-Shoot better for zoom and high FPS ?

I am also unsure why zoom is generally not given with SLRs, even though it is possible to calculate it.

And, finally, which camera will give better HD Video ?

share|improve this question
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Zoom factor isn't given with SLR lenses because it was something that was made up (as I understand it) when cheap digital cameras came out so that people who have no idea about focal lengths and the like can get a quick comparison of the reach of cameras. SLR's stick to the convention they've always used –  Dreamager Oct 7 '11 at 10:35
    
@Dream : I understand, sadly I fall in the same category who has no idea of Focal length. So why does Sony have a 30X Zoom and the SLR' with more cost without a Zoom. Does a 5100 without a Zoom equivalent to a Sony with 30X Zoom. –  Geek Oct 7 '11 at 10:50
3  
@Geek: There are some existing questions and answers which may help you out here. For the zoom question, What does 'how much zoom' mean?. For more on the differences between P&S and SLR cameras, see this. For more P&S vs. SLR info, see this, this, this, and particularly this. –  mattdm Oct 7 '11 at 13:06
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And on "What is focal length", I'm kind of fond of my own answer here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/5917/… –  mattdm Oct 7 '11 at 13:07
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What kind of comment is that, exactly, @FakeName? As far as P&S cameras go, a lot do not have an actual shutter, and DO make a "click" sound when you take a photograph. It is not really that far fetched to hear someone use the term "click" or "clicking" to refer to taking a picture, even if it is the "wrong" term. –  jrista Oct 10 '11 at 22:38

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Since you say "Photography seems to be an upcoming hobby for me in recent past", I think you should get a system camera of some sort. That means a camera with interchangeable lenses and other dedicated accessories (like hotshoe flash options). Usually, that means an SLR, but there's a relatively new class of mirrorless interchangeable lens digital cameras like the Micro 4/3rds system from Olympus and Panasonic or the NEX from Sony that you may also want to look into.

In this, you are giving up some of the convenience based flexibility of an all-in-one package with a superzoom lens in exchange for customizable flexibility where you can build a set of equipment for your needs.

Because you are trying to cover a lot of things, from low-light to extreme telephoto, any all-in-one package is going to suffer from a lot of compromise. The image quality of that 30× zoom lens is impressive for what it is, but not that great in an absolute sense. The same comes from the tiny sensor used, which enables the high telephoto numbers. (See this for the technical reason why a small sensor helps here; as you can see, it's really just like cropping.)

I've covered some of my reasoning in Are there disadvantages to a prosumer camera for a beginner, aside from cost?, and I'll try not to repeat myself too much.

You can get a lot from a point & shoot camera, although I'd steer you to one of the lower zoom high-end models which tend to focus more on image quality and low light rather than emphasizing the zoom range as a priority. Compromise has to happen somewhere, and for taking kid pictures, I think that's the right direction. That would be something like the Canon Powershot G12 or S95, Olympus XZ-1, or Fujifilm X10 (not to be confused with the X100, which is also very exciting but more of a commitment to a certain approach to photography).

If you go for an SLR, you'll have to put more work into clicking good photographs — but you'll also be able to get a much bigger return on that work in terms of results. You won't have the gigantic zoom range, so you'll probably have to move around more, and/or change lenses in the middle of things. Without spending for a camera body priced at about twice what you're aiming for, you won't get the raw FPS, so you'll have to learn to time your shots rather than counting on "pray and spray". If you had just said "I want to take good pictures and not think about it", I wouldn't advise this direction — but if you're really interested in photography as a hobby and in making great pictures, it'll be worth the investment.

You'll certainly end up putting in more money into a system camera, whether SLR or mirrorless. I think $1500-$3000 is a reasonable budget to start with for the first couple years, although you can be more frugal if you're careful. You don't necessarily need to spend that all in one go, but it sounds like you want to do a lot of things. You'll probably immediately benefit from at least a nice normal prime lens and a basic hotshoe flash. As you note, the 18-55mm kit lens doesn't cover a huge zoom range, and it's also not very fast. Given your desire for more telephoto reach, you'll probably want to add a telephoto zoom and a solid tripod. Each of these things, in their entry-level versions, runs about $200 — and you may decide you want to move up from entry level.

If you decide that frames-per-second are really vital, you may want to consider if you can stretch from the Nikon D7000, which offers 6fps (and comes with an 18-105mm kit lens, which offers more convenience but again is an exercise in compromise). Or you could look at the comparable Pentax K-5, at 7fps. I know this is stretching your budget (especially with a new baby — I've been there!), but you may decide it's worthwhile after all. Life is short, and your child won't ever be a baby again: start getting those great photographs as soon as possible. In support of this position, I'll leave you with one of my favorite camera-recommendation articles. It's tongue-in-cheek (there is no real "George") but is also serious: The Online Photographer: Letter to George.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks Matt. By now you might have figured out that I am entry level by all standards. I notice that Mirror less cameras are less expensive that regular DSLR's. Why is it so, what flexibility will it take away ? Also I notice that I am actually asking for a lot of things from my Camera( Indoor, FPS, Zoom ) etc so a compromise has to happen at some stage. Also by now, I am already thinking about SLR but somehow FPS seems important, also I feel the "pray and spray" works while clicking a 1 year old. Your thoughts ? –  Geek Oct 7 '11 at 14:40
    
On FPS: photo.stackexchange.com/q/16247/1943 :) –  mattdm Oct 7 '11 at 15:48
    
Mirrorless cameras are a compromise which gives a smaller form-factor with high image quality (very close or equal to some DSLRs) but slower autofocus since they use contrast-detection which is slower than phase-detection. Nikon claims to have fixed this in their upcoming Nikon 1 system (due out in 2 weeks). –  Itai Oct 7 '11 at 15:49
    
On mirrorless, we've got several Q&As like Are mirror-less cameras good enough to buy instead of a DSLR for home/amateur use? and How do Micro 4/3s cameras compare with DSLR cameras?. In short, though, they're not actually much cheaper than entry-level dSLRs. The current price in flexibility is basically fewer options since they're newer. Also, electronic viewfinders don't yet match the quality of good optics. –  mattdm Oct 7 '11 at 16:02

Based on your requirements a DSLR is necessary.

The main point is your focus on indoor photography, this requires at least a large sensor camera, so either a DSLR or SLD. No point-and-shoot gets close to those in terms of performance, although you may have seen very expensive fixed-lens cameras like the Fuji X100 which can do it, but that one has NO zoom.

The second point is speed. There three parts to this:

  1. Shutter-lag which is the time the camera takes to respond to you pressing the button. DSLRs lead here by a wide margin and this is probably most important when shooting kids because it lets you capture a precise moment.
  2. Autofocus speed. This is the time it takes for the camera to focus on your subject. Again DSLRs focus faster than all point-and-shoots.
  3. Continuous shooting. This is the speed at which images are shot continuously and where CMOS-based point-and-shoots lead by a huge margin. The top DSLR shoots at 11 FPS while the top P&S can do 60 FPS.

Understandably you are concerned by the lack of zoom. Zoom is not part of a DSLR but a property of its lens. The good thing is that it can be bought incrementally. Now, you can get a DSLR with a prime lens (no zoom at all) which is best for low-light and speed and buy zooms as you go along and can afford it.

Modern DSLRs have awesome video quality. Even though some can focus automatically while filming, doing so is poor (slow, noisy and disturbing). You really should learn to focus manually while filming. The shallow depth-of-field gives a cinematic feel but that also means that focus needs far more attention.

The only intermediate solution is to get an Sony SLT camera, like the SLT-A55, that takes interchangeable lenses, uses the same sensor as a DSLR but focuses much faster while filming. It also shoots continuously at 10 FPS with restrictions (or 7 FPS without).

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks Itai. Do you mean to say even with an advanced lense a DSLR will not improve at FPS ? D5100 has nothing close to 11 FPS :-( and others might be very expensive. Does FPS Change in an SLR with MegaPixels ? I mean if I reduce the MP in a picture will that improve FPS ? –  Geek Oct 7 '11 at 13:16
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No. The maximum FPS on a DSLR is dictated by the speed of the mechanical shutter. Those operate at 12 FPS max. Resolution has no effect. Nor can a camera autofocus at those speeds because there is not enough time between frames. Only SLTs can because they use a translucent mirror and measure focus during an exposure. –  Itai Oct 7 '11 at 13:21
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[Continued] One issue is buffer-depth. When you shoot at 60 FPS with a fixed-lens camera, it never does that for more than 1s (60 frames) and that is very rare. A number of 10 FPS cameras only shoot 3 frames continuously, which is not very continuous IMO. A DSLR can do so for long but entry level ones usually have less buffer than high-end ones. –  Itai Oct 7 '11 at 13:24
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My DSLR (Canon T1i/500D) "only" takes 3.4 frames/second, but that's really quite good for taking pictures of fast-moving toddlers. Remember that the counterpart to being able to take all those pictures is having to sort through them afterwards! This already takes me far longer than taking the pictures themselves does; I can't imagine sorting through 60 FPS batches. The Canon plus a fast, cheap prime (50mm f/1.8, around ~$100 when I bought it) is vastly better than my previous P&S. –  khedron Oct 7 '11 at 19:05

Short answer: get the DSLR - I've bought a DSLR before my daughter was born and my only regret is that I didn't buy it sooner.

Long answer:

  • The DLSR will give you much better pictures indoors (due to the better low light performance).

  • The DSLR is faster - there's no delay between you pressing the shutter button and the camera taking the picture.

  • The zoom number of the P&S is a meaningless number invented by marketing departments, a 18-55 will cover most of what you need, especially indoors (Canon has a 18-135 you can buy instead of the kit lens and Nikon has something similar, maybe 18-100, if you get this it will also cover almost anything you want to shoot on vacation).

  • High FPS is fun, but kind of useless unless you are actually photographing sports events - when I photographed my son jumping on a trampoline in continues dive mode (3.8 FPS on my camera) I've got about 50 pictures and the few best are sort of usable, when I timed it and pressed the shutter exactly when he was at the highest point of the jump I've got 5 great pictures.

  • Forget the bird on top of a building, birds are difficult to photograph, the P&S would do a bad job because of shutter lag and the 18-55 lens will be too short (not enough zoom).

  • If you are thinking about getting into photography as an hobby then forget the P&S, but know that this is an expensive hobby.

share|improve this answer
    
Hi Nir, thanks for the comments. I already made up my mind for the DSLR :-) –  Geek Oct 9 '11 at 18:07

Great answers already, so I won't dive in too far, but the biggest sticking point I have found for most of my recommendations has been size.

If you aren't going to bring a camera along because it doesn't fit in your pocket - then my all means get a point and shoot. If you are more interested in great images, and will bring the camera along no matter its size, get a DSLR. If you aren't shooting, you aren't doing photography, so make sure this requirement is firmed up and understood!

share|improve this answer

Let's go through your requirements:

  • The Camera should be able to click good pictures Indoors. Mostly I will be clicking Indoors.

This will be easier to achieve with the DSLR, especially if you then buy an additional lens with a wide maximum aperture (e.g. f1.8). Low-light photography with a point-and-shoot camera will give lower quality results, and may be impossible in some situations.

  • The Camera should be able to click quickly. This is a must.

Getting 5 fps is very fast; getting 10 fps is extremely fast. The Sony gives excellent results here.

  • The camera should have a good sports mode

This is essentially the same point. DSLRs are what sports photographers (equipped with excellent and expensive lenses) use to take professional shots. However, the Sony has good specs in this regard.

  • It should have a good Zoom. Many a times it is not possible to reach places which you want to click. For eg. A Bird sitting on top of a building.

The DSLR will allow you to get beautiful bird photographs, but ultimately at a cost - you would need to purchase an additional lens with a long focal length which can cost anywhere from $300 to $3000 and upwards. The Sony will allow you to focus that far but may require help to stabilise it (e.g. a tripod or monopod). The image quality won't be as good as a DSLR with a good lens but it won't be terrible.

Ultimately I suspect you prefer the idea of the Sony but worry about it holding you back. It looks to be a very high spec point-and-shoot camera. I think the main limitation would be low-light photography.

I suggest you try and get hold of the Sony to test, preferably at home. If you find it doesn't capture the low-light situations indoors, consider replacing it with a DSLR and a cheap wide-aperture lens (e.g. a 50mm f1.8 prime lens).

share|improve this answer
    
Hi Maynard, thanks for the answer. Can you please confirm some of the understandings that I develped by talking to some other photographers : A. DSLR's are generally slow to click. For eg. A baby who won't pose or loses interest very soon is less likely to be clicked better by a DSLR. Does this also mean that a DSLR without an adequate lense will not be good in Sports mode B. The default lense with Nikon 5100 55:18 won't be good for Zoom ? –  Geek Oct 7 '11 at 13:10
    
DSLRs are not slow to take photos - they can take many photos per second. I take photos of my eight-week old baby with my DSLR. Ideally you look for the moment and capture it rather than just taking hundreds of photos on the off-chance of hitting a good moment. The default lens (18-55mm) is a mid-range lens - good for portraits and landscapes. It will not allow you to zoom close enough for wildlife or bird photography. –  Maynard Case Oct 7 '11 at 13:25
    
Hi Maynard, thanks for the answer. Happy Parenting :-) Believe me as the kid grows up, the elusive moments become rare and the Sports mode comes into picture :-) –  Geek Oct 7 '11 at 14:34

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