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Just what the title says really!

I want to be able to take good product photos, close up pictures of nail art and also make nail art videos that look great. In case you hadn't guessed, I'm a blogger, so I need much better quality photos to show off the samples I review, etc.

I'm thinking of buying a Nikon D5100 DSLRwith a 18-55mm VR lens or a Panasonc Lumix FZ45 "bridge" camera. Which one do you think I should buy and why?

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If you buy the FZ45 you must be SURE that it meets all your needs wrt macro work as you have no changeable lens. If the FZ45 suits its a good camera. The 600mm equivalent optical zoom may be a real bonus, or of no interest. The D5100's 18-45 lens MAY not focus as closely - BUT you can do macro with revered lens add on, add macro add ons, cheaply with extension tubes, or with other lenses. More flexibility long term. || –  Russell McMahon Apr 28 '13 at 11:17
    
You really need to try both cameras to see how they suit YOU. From a review "Beneath the control dial is the AF/AF Macro/MF button. When MF is selected the focus range can be manually set between 1ft and infinity with the central portion of the frame enlarged so sharpness can be more accurately determined." from photographyblog.com/reviews/panasonic_lumix_dmc_fz45_review || If the FZ45 fully meets your need and you do not want more abilities then decide on performance and price. [I'd buy the SLR :-) but you may well find the fZ45 better suited] –  Russell McMahon Apr 28 '13 at 11:20
    
The MFD of the Nikon 18-55 is about 11 inches, less than the FZ45 in "macro" mode. The much smaller sensor of the FZ45 does give it a larger magnification ratio. –  Michael Clark Apr 28 '13 at 12:01
    
@MichaelClark so the fz45 would be better at close ups? –  HappyDaysEveryDay Apr 28 '13 at 12:29
    
It would allow you to fill the frame with smaller objects, but that doesn't necessarily mean the quality if the image would be better. I think you would still do better with the D5100 and maybe the AF-S DX Micro-NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G. I don't know a lot about that lens, but the reviews look pretty good. Any lens that Nikon puts Micro on is usually pretty good in terms of sharpness and minimum focus distance and maximum magnification. –  Michael Clark Apr 28 '13 at 12:34
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Photographing nail art is essentially product photography. The key to good product photography has less to do with which camera you use and everything to do with lighting the subject properly, so your first concern should be some of the resources mentioned in this question and this one.

Having said that, I would recommend the Nikon D5100 over the Panasonic Lumix FZ45 and here's why.

  • The lens. There's nothing wrong with using a fixed lens bridge camera for product photography, but the FZ45 is a super zoom with a 24X zoom ratio. The disadvantage of such a wide range of focal lengths is that a lot of design compromises are made to create such a lens that ranges from 4.5-108mm (field of view equivalent to a 25-600mm lens on a 35mm format camera). They have their uses when size, weight, and the need for a wide variety of focal lengths in one lens is a big factor, but for shooting product photos or nail art you don't need to be able to go from 25mm to 600mm without changing a lens, so why settle for the compromise in image quality? Depending on how tightly you want to frame things, you might consider the AF-S DX Micro-NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G as your lens instead of the kit zoom.
  • The sensor. The D5100 has an APS-C sensor that is 23.6X15.6mm. The FZ45 has a sensor that measures about 7.7X6.2mm. That means you could fit almost 8 of the FZ45's sensors on a single D5100 sensor. This makes a huge difference in image quality. Even though both cameras have basically the same number of pixels (16.2 vs. 14.1) the pixels on the Panasonic are packed in so much tighter that it affects the amount of image noise. Not to mention that the Nikon sensor can catch almost eight times as much light due to the larger surface area.
  • The light control. As already mentioned, managing the light is everything in product photography. With the Nikon D5100, you will be able to control an external flash via the hot shoe connection. A simple i-TTL (Nikon's name for automatic flash control) with a head that will rotate up to allow you to bounce the light off a white ceiling may be all you need. The Nikon SB-400 or a third party product such as the Yongnuo YN-468 II will allow you a great deal of control over your light. Anything other than the pop up flash on the FZ45 will be more complicated. You could choose to use continuous lights instead, which leads us to...
  • Color control. Although both can save files in RAW format, which allows much more control of WB, color saturation, contrast, and exposure in post processing, I would venture to guess that the Nikon .nef format is more universally supported by a larger spectrum of image processing software than the Panasonic .rw2 format.
  • The view. The Nikon D5100 has an optical viewfinder, the Panasonic FZ45 has an electronic viewfinder. For a discussion of the differences, see this question. Most of the advantages of an electronic viewfinder can be realized using the LCD screen on the back of the Nikon. None of the advantages of an optical viewfinder can be realized using the FZ45.
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Thank you so much for your detailed answer! With regards to the lenses, is the 18-55 VR good for shooting products up-close? Do you think investing in a macro lens for the d5100 would be worthwhile? –  HappyDaysEveryDay Apr 28 '13 at 11:48
    
It depends on whether you plan to show individual nails or an entire "hand" at one time. Assuming the limited duty of this one task, you could purchase a 50mm f/1.8 lens that is very affordable and use extension tubes to decrease the minimum focus distance. And be aware that not all lenses marked macro are necessarily any better in terms of maximum magnification than lenses not so marked. –  Michael Clark Apr 28 '13 at 11:57
    
Being a Canon shooter I'm not familiar with the Nikon macro lens selection. It appears there are some more affordable macro options with Nikon than Canon. You might find it better to purchase the D5100 and a single macro lens. I can't speak for the image quality of these Nikon lenses, though. –  Michael Clark Apr 28 '13 at 12:09
    
OK, thanks, what about for video? Is one better than the other in terms of quality? –  HappyDaysEveryDay Apr 28 '13 at 12:16
    
Sorry, I'm not a video guy. There is a sister video site at avp.stackexchange.com –  Michael Clark Apr 28 '13 at 12:18
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I think both cameras are wrong for you:

  • Nails are small, to fill the frame with a nail you need a lens with macro capability, the 18-55 kit lens can't do macro.

  • The most important thing for getting images just right is getting the lighting right, the FZ45 does not have a flash hotshoe and can't use external flashes.

You can get the D5100 (or any other DSLR) with a macro lens instead of the kit lens (or in addition to it, the kit lens can still be useful).

You can get a mirrorless camera with a a standard hotshoe and a macro lens, this will be cheaper than a DSLR but you will not have such an extensive selection of cheap Chinese accessories like you can find for a Canon or Nikon DSLR.

And you can also find a fix lens compact camera with an hotshoe, but high-end compacts tend to cost as much as a mirrorless camera or an entry level DSLR making them a bad deal.

Once you start taking pictures with your new camera you are likely to find that for exactly the image you want to make you'll also need an external flash and some flash modifiers, for video you'll probably need a tripod.

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