What camera do I want?

I envision doing some photography. I don’t know anything about photography. I don’t know what kind of camera I want to buy.

 You're going to say that's not enough informations to give proper advice. That's why I'm asking here rather than on a photo forum. I count on the dopers' penetrative intellect to tell me what question I should ask myself and discover what I really want. :)

Thanks in advance.

Do you have around $1,500 to spend?

If so: you want a mid-range DSLR made by Canon or Nikon, with a kit zoom lens and a 50mm f/1.8. That’ll get you started in just about any direction you like.

What is your budget? That determines everything.

Agree 100% (assuming the budget works).

It depends if you want to get into the technical end of photography, or just the creative end.

DSLRs are great for all the technical control they give you and the broad range of shooting modes available. But you have to be a bit of a geek to enjoy all that control. If you are more interested in looking for interesting scenes and letting the camera do all the heavy thinking, you might be better of with a high-end P&S (point and shoot) camera. Canon and Nikon both make excellent ones.

What do you envision taking photos of?

I like the Canon PowerShot SX160 I bought recently. I was able to take clear photos of people on a boat so far from me that I didn’t even know how many people were in the boat when I looked at it with my naked eye.

If we’re on the 1500 range
Sony Nex-6
Sony E16-50
Sony E55-210
Sony E50/1.8 or 35/1.8

The twin Sigma 19/2.8 and 30/2.8 are 200.

Since this is a hardware question, moved to IMHO from Cafe Society.

Sony and Pentax make some excellent cameras and lenses. Unfortunately, you severely limit your choices for renting and borrowing lenses, and for buying second-hand gear. Not to start a religious war or anything, but there are good reasons to start with one of the big two.

Regarding compact cameras: if that’s where you want to start, try your smartphone. If it’s a recent phone, chances are the camera is pretty good - at least good enough to help you decide if a compact camera is what you want.

I just bought a refurbished Nikon D3200 for about $450, which seems to be about the going rate for used and/or refurbished instances of this camera. Check Amazon; that’s how I found mine. This particular camera seems to be quite abundant in used and refurbished for around this price range. The official retail price for this camera is about $700, though many places sell it new for about $550; but I consider factory refurbished to be almost as good as brand new, and definitely worth it to save $100 to $250 compared to buying new.

I have to say that my experience with cameras this modern is very limited, but this truly seems like a camera that would be very difficult to go wrong with. This is Nikon’s current bottom-of-the-line DSLR, but it seems not to skimp at all on quality or useful features. Looking at the rest of their lineup, I didn’t notice any features that were missing from this model that I would particularly care for until you get into their high-end ($3000 and up) models.

It’s an amazingly friendly camera, for anyone from the rankest beginner to the most seasoned expert. Set the mode dial to the green “Auto” setting, and it couldn’t be simpler to operate—just point and shoot, and 99.9999% of the time, you’ll get a better picture than any lesser camera could ever hope to take. There are other settings to optimize the camera specifically for certain types of pictures; and there are the usual PSAM settings giving you “Programmed auto”, Shutter-priority and Aperture-priority auto, and full Manual. There’s even a “Guide” mode that will specifically walk you through the process of setting up and taking certain kinds of pictures.

This camera has an amazing array of parameters that you can manually control, and does an amazingly good job of making it easy to make the fullest possible use of all these parameters.

As I said, my experience with cameras this modern is very limited (the camera to which I regard my D3200 as the successor is a forty-year-old Nikon F2—Nikon’s top-of-the-line SLR from the early 1970s).

By the way, contrary to what the owners’ manual for the D3200 claims, it is indeed possible to use a non-AI F-mount lends on the D3200. As an experiment, last night, I mounted the 50mm F1.4 stock lens from my F2 on the D3200 and took a few pictures. If you’re going to try this, then forget anything I said above about how beginner-friendly this camera is. The D3200 must be in full-manual mode to work with this lens, there is no light metering, and focusing is very tricky (due to the lack of the sort of focusing helps that a non-autofocus SLR like the F2 would incorporate as standard features). To use a lens this ancient and primitive on the D3200 requires that you know what you’re doing,and it is, in fact, a bit more difficult than using that same lens on the equally-primitive and ancient SLR that was meant to use it.
Based on my experience with it so far, I would highly recommend the Nikon D3200 to anyone who is looking for a camera anywhere near it in price and capabilities. It’s easy enough to use to satisfy any beginner, sophisticated and flexible enough to satisfy any serious and experienced amateur, very high-quality, takes very-high-quality pictures, and for what it offers, it seems an amazingly good deal if you get it, as I did, as a factory refurb from a reputable third-party seller.

As an avid amateur, I think DSLRs are on the verge of being obsolete. The current generation of mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses are very good - SONY NEX, micro four thirds, Fujifilm X series, etc. I’ve sold my Nikon DSLR setup and replaced it with a SONY. (I kept some manual Nikon lenses though, and use it on my NEX-F3 with an adapter. Works really well. The focus assist with the “focus peaking” feature is fantastic. And metering & auto exposure work fine with manual lenses, unlike low-end Nikon DSLRs.)

For a purist hobbyist - the kind who thinks an SLR with a 50mm F/1.8 is the best way to learn photography - the Fujifilm X100s is a good modern equivalent. Well OK, it has a 35mm equivalent lens rather than 50mm, but it’s a very simple and efficient camera with lots of manual control dials.

If you want a compact camera but don’t want to sacrifice image quality, the SONY RX100 is fantastic. (And I hear the RX100 II is even better.)

It think it should be pointed out that 50mm is the focal length for a “standard” lens for a 35mm film camera, or for a DSLR that uses a “full-sized” or “FX-format” sensor. Most DSLRs use a smaller sensor, referred to as APS-sized or “DX format”; so whatever you think the focal length should be for a lens on a 35 mm camera, for a DX-format DSLR, you want to divide that by about 1.55. A “standard”lens for a DX-format DSLR would be about 32mm.

The lens that came standard with my Nikon D3200 is an 18-55 mm zoom (about equivalent to a 28-85 mm zoom on a full-frame 35mm camera or a FX-format DSLR), and I think that the vast majority of amateurs wouldn’t ever really need any lens other than this one.

You are asking the wrong question.
It’s like asking “I want to start driving -what model car do I want?”
For a beginner driver, the specific model of car is irrelevant.You just need a simple car( not a Porsche . or a truck.)

The proper question to ask is “what type of things do I want to take pictures of”?
And then get a simple camera. Avoid talking about technical specs.

Almost any point-and-shoot camera will do: just look for one with a zoom lens, a setting for macro (=close-ups), and easy-to-use buttons to adjust a few settings.
It should cost about $200

As an old time Minolta (the first real auto focus, 1985 was a godsend to me - I love photography, but can’t focus a lens to save my live), it pains me to recommend Nikon. Minolta screwed up big time in the 90’s by taking to big-box market AND being late to develop a digital SLR. When they did, it was the first to have built-in stabilization, but nice-to-have does NOT make up a Have-To-Have.
Sony was making the CCD’s, they needed a mount system.

The upshot of this is:
Minolta’s first gen tried to crack the pro market. It didn’t work, but they made some very nice glass. Which still bring $500 on ebay.
50 1.4 ebay 500-700
50 2.8 Macro (check yourselves, don’t remember)
100 2.8 Macro 300 - 400
85 1.4 ebay 700-800
135 2.8 ebay 200-250

28-135 ebay 400
70-210 F4 ebay 200

Those are the holy grail of the Sony world. There are others on 2nd and 3rd tier.

If you want a nice camera with lots of glass cheap, you can do much worse than a Sony. Check ebay for used Sony DSLR - notice the added interest if one of the above-listed lenses is included.

First, thank you all.

Yes, I can spend that. However, I was precisely wondering whether I should buy a rather costly but versatile reflex or rather a cheap compact to fool around and see later what I really need/want. Also, I’m concerned that a reflex would be combersome so that I wouldn’t carry it around on a regular basis (I don’t even know how larve/heavy those things are nowadays).

Long ago, during prehistoric times (I mean 25 years ago or so), I used to use a reflex. I did enjoy using the controls but on the other hand it was taking me forever to take any picture. I’m not sure I want that now. I’m certain I will want it at some point in the future if I actually keep photographing. Also, I understand that a modern reflex digital camera can perfectly work in automatic mode and that on the other hand even a basic compact camera offers at least some basic controls and a zoom.

Finally, FTR, I already owns a basic reflex film camera I do not intend to use mainly because doing so results in spending a lot of money on film and process to get 1 crappy and 23 very crappy pictures and secondarily because it’s cumbersome.

About anything. The only thing I don’t see the appeal of is macro.

Noted. Opinions?

Thanks. I wasn’t sure Cafe society was the correct forum.

I guess the big two are Canon and Nikon mentioned above?

Regarding using my phone : for many years, I took almost no pictures and when I did it was with a basic cell phone. I just bought a cheap smartphone two weeks ago or so, and tried it during the following week-end. That’s the sum of my recent experience. However, I immediately ran into problems that I couldn’t do anything about : subject too long away and no zoom, sun in front of me, not enough light, phone takes too long to react, etc…

I understand that even a cheap compact now has a zoom, some basic modes, etc… as I wrote above, hence is more versatile. That’s why I’d rather buy a camera.

Thanks. Indeed, what would I get with a 1500 camera that I wouldn't get with a 700 one?

I don’t even know what a “mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses” is. Is it a kind of compact camera on which you can nevertheless mount several different lenses?

Thanks for the info. From what I just read looking around, it seems that the size of the sensor is of the upmost importance. How important would it be to me? Do I want a full-sized sensor, assuming I buy a DSLR?

As I wrote above, that was my first question, in fact. Should I buy the kind of camera you’re describing or directly go to a reflex?

Finally, another question. I noticed that cameras have ISO. With film cameras, ISO was a property of the film. How does it work with a sensor (I’ve no clue)? Can I change the sensitivity of the sensor in the same way I could use a 1000 ISO film rather than a 100 ISO one? (FTR, I remember I typically used ISO 200 films, sometimes ISO 400 and occasionnally ISO 1000, if it matters, and would carry around at least one of each. I can’t even remember why I used one rather than another, however. I guess because I wanted to take pictures with few light or at night. Not sure.)

Regarding that, I just read on some “advice for beginners” site that I should make sure that the camera/lens (not sure which) is stabilized. I don’t even know what it means. Also, given that said advice was posted several years ago, I suspect that they might all be stabilized (whatever that means) nowadays, making the advice not relevant anymore. What’s the deal with that?

I guess I don’t want any glass right now (apart from a basic lens and possibly a zoom). And I don’t know if I will want it in the future. Will I?

OK. I made up my mind. For now, I want a compact camera. (Sorry for people who proposed DSLRs but thanks anyway.) That would be because I want to take it when I go on vacations, and I’d rather travel “light” and walk around without a large reflex and a couple lenses. It would also allow me to carry it on a daily basis.

I absolutely want a zoom. That’s because I always end up needing one. I’d like it to be able to take pictures in dim light (same reason. I always end up with not enough light). I’d like it to have at least some basic controls.

In the price range of compacts (presumably relatively low), I assume price isn’t an issue.

The kind of camera I’m describing is know as “SLR-like”. It’s not a real single-lens reflex, because it uses electronics to mimic the real, and expensive, SLR. (which is now called a Dslr, the D meaning digital.)

You are a beginner…don’t get hung up on your equipment. You wont enjoy learning on complicated expensive equipement. Get a simple-ish camera. It’s all you need for now.

with an old film camera, once you put the ISO100 or 400 film in, that was that. Your next 24 shots all were the same level of light sensitivity. So if you wanted to shoot indoors (with 400), and also outdoors (with 100), you were ,well, screwed.
With modern cameras, you can change the ISO sensitivity for each shot.

Yes, my suggestion would be for a cheaper point-and-shoot camera. You can get very good results with them these days.

While you are practicing with a POS camera, you can learn a lot about how cameras work. You can also discover how long-lasting your enthusiasm is, and which limitations of the POS camera you want to overcome with a DSLR camera.