OK, so 2 Guys Photo isn’t exactly a site for diehard gear heads. But I’m constantly being asked questions regarding which photo-related equipment I recommend. Sometimes that question is as general as: “I want to get a cheap point and shoot camera for my daughter for graduation. What do you recommend?” Other times, aspiring and emerging photographers want to take it up a notch and have very specific system requirements. So, one blog post won’t address every angle or need; instead, I’m going to split this across multiple posts and handle specific categories on a case by case basis.
First, you should know that I’m not a professional equipment tester and I don’t subject hardware, software and accessories to endless hours of inspection and field testing. Instead, I’ve just accumulated a good bit of real world experience using and loving, or sometimes hating, what I’m using to make images. With that in mind, here are my impressions and recommendations, focusing on DSLRs and camera bags. Again, this is going to be a multi-part series.
Digital SLRs. The two big market leaders are Canon and Nikon. Canonites and Nikonians debate endlessly which camera system is best. It’s a religious war and so, I say, let them fight. I made up my mind and it’s Nikon (between the two of them). Reason? I like the ergonomics better (though this is highly personal) and all the little touches (e.g., the two button reset of all camera adjustments, hitting the delete button twice to actually delete a photo), proper in body focus assist light (as opposed to Canon’s blinding strobo onboard flash used to toss light onto dark subjects), and the Nikon front and real dial interface just works better for me than the front dial and big spinning wheel on the back of the Canon. Again, it’s all personal preference. For a time, Canon was the leader in low light performance, but the last several APS-C cameras from Nikon have been outstanding. Canon is ahead of Nikon on video (not that important for me) and have begun to catch up in terms of their speedlight/flash system which has lagged Nikon’s for years. In my experience, Nikon cameras focus faster and with more confidence and, in my view, the overall build quality is simply better. Comparably priced Canons feel as though they have been constructed out of a cheaper grade of plastic, particularly true of their non-pro-grade (or L) lenses. And Canon typically makes you buy the lens hood separately. Seriously, Canon? People will tell you that you’re not buying a camera, you’re buying into a full system. Both the Canon and Nikon systems are exceptional and complete. Both offer upgrade paths if you don’t want to find yourself out of options if you get more serious about your hobby/craft later on. And both companies will be here in the future.
Great cameras to consider? The Nikon D7000 is fantastic, but if you’re on a budget, the Nikon D90 (which Ed shoots) is still available (though I wouldn’t wait too long as inventories are depleting). Nikon is rumored to be announcing the replacement to the D5000 soon. Expect that camera to have a swivel screen (great for video and macro) and similar image quality to the D7000… all at a lower price and a slightly reduced feature set.
So, which Nikon do I shoot? Uhm… I don’t. I’m presently shooting with a Pentax K5. A Pentax?
Pentax is a smaller, though established, camera maker that has been around since the dawn of 35mm photography. Many, maybe most, 40+ something photogs got their start on the venerable Pentax K1000, as did I. Pentax is owned by Hoya, the mammoth company that supplies most of the glass to Canon, Nikon and other lens manufacturers, so they know something about lenses and have the scale to hang around as a business. The K5 is small, slightly smaller than the Nikon D7000, but it’s specifications are closer to the D7000’s big brother, presently the D300s, which is more of a professional grade body. It’s weathersealed and the ergonomics are second to none. And Pentax manufactures some of the nicest “limited edition” prime lenses produced. They’re small, beautifully crafted, and sharp as a tack. The photos I took recently on a photo jaunt with Ed were taken with the Pentax and a few of the limiteds (the FA 31 and DA 15). I love this body’s image quality (said to be the same sensor as in the Nikon D7000), ability to customize settings, unique metering modes (e.g., you dial in the ISO and the camera computes the optimal aperture and shutter speed), quality feel, small size, and nice touches (green button returns you immediately to default metering, EV or ISO modes), capable live view features (with rapidly expanding focusing box to show how your subject is in focus), and intuitive menu system.
Can Pentax’ system truly compete with Canon and Nikon? Not really… but I’m not looking for any lenses that aren’t presently available and I don’t plan on upgrading to a full frame sensor body any time soon, if ever. The image quality? Outstanding. The user experience? Class leading. The K5 is a total winner.
A quick note regarding Pentax’ autofocus system. It’s very capable. I’ve photographed eagles in flight with a Pentax body (the earlier K10) and other moving subjects and it’s been fine. If I was highly interested in sports or a significant portion of my photography included fast action, however, I’d wander back over to Nikon.
What about Sony, Olympus and the other, smaller makers? Sony makes decent cameras, having purchased the Konica Minolta brand and lens mount several years ago. Decent, but not up to the Canon, Nikon or Pentax standards in my experience. Olympus presently offers only one current body, the E5, a pro-grade shooter. Other than their successful micro-four thirds offerings which I’ve written about here, they seem to be departing from the DSLR space. And so, I worry about their long-term staying power. As for the other smaller makers, I’d stay away unless there was a real niche requirement you’re looking to fill and the others don’t offer what you’re looking for.
Bags. This is intensely personal, like shoes and jewelry. Many photographers spend countless hours searching for the perfect bag. Some, like Ed, have “a bag thing“. He can explain it… I can’t.
I’ve used some great gear haulers from the top tier manufacturers such as Lowepro and Tamrac, and from the specialty up and comers such as Kata. But for my money, it’s the quirky Australian company, Crumpler that consistently satisfies my bag cravings. If you visit their website, you’ll understand why I’ve described them as quirky; their inventory includes bags with names such as the X Million Dollar Home (X can be 1, 2, 3….), the Chester Squander, and the Hee-Goer. In my experience, the bags are absolutely top shelf: durable, versatile and even fashionably stylish.
The above bag is the 6 Million Dollar Home, which I use when I want to travel a bit lighter and not carry everything I own. You pay a bit more for a Crumpler, but you’ll be glad years later when you’re still using it and your brother is on to something else.
In my next post, I’ll talk about mirrorless camera systems and point and shoot options. After that, I’ll talk about software.
I’ve included links to B&H on the equipment recommended here. If you decide to buy and then use these links, that will help Ed and I continue to post to this site (and won’t cost you anything extra). Thanks for considering using them.
Posted by Rey
Can you use a Canon for a long time and switch? Well, of course you can, but… I don’t change well. I’m used to Canon. The only really nice DSLR I’ve ever shot with was a Canon 40D, and it was not love at first picture. I hope to try a Nikon sometime and see how that goes. Thanks for your thoughts on the Pentax too.
Maryann – getting used to a system is the most important thing. Moving, transformative art can be taken with a Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus… cardboard box with a pinhole, etc. By the way, I’ve seen your photos and they’re fantastic.
Interesting observations. Most people, through searching or just coincidence, find something they like a just stick with it. I have 2 friends with SLRs, one Nikon, one Canon and a Pentax (me) and none of us even consider changing brands even though we have had the benefit of each other’s equipment. We are all convinced we made the right choice. Funny how that works 🙂
Agree. I think we all have a tendency to make up our minds and then want to rationalize that our decision was THE right one. We also get used to what we get used to and switching can be hard. Unfortunately, many of us get sucked up into the vortex of reading about the latest innovation from a competing brand and concluding that we just have to have that to get better. It’s an endless process, usually fostered in part by the forums and websites that specifically gain from this ‘vortex’. For me, personally, the remedy is seeing the amazing and moving work of photographers, artists… who excel using yesterday’s technology and who best exemplify the saying: It’s not the tool, it’s the craftsman. I’m often inspired in this way by my own brother, Ed, who is the other of the 2Guys here…
Thanks for your comments.