I’ve had 5 different people ask me for camera recommendations, as well as a couple of other folks asking me about camcorders, in the last week alone. Because it’s just that time of the year when people want to pick up a new camera to capture the holiday cheer.
Well, I’ve got two digital camera recommendations – depending on what you are looking for – and more importantly I’ve broken down exactly why these are the two cameras that you should get. (Jump right to the pocket sized Canon G11 or the SLR sized Canon T1i)
Of course, there are a LOT of cameras on the market, and I even own a few others, but for the vast majority of users I think these are the two best all-around cameras you can get. And I intend to make some video tutorials about how to take some really great photos with these cameras in the near future. So if you get one of these specific recommendations then you’ll be able to follow along when I put out the videos.
This may be the most important part of this post, so listen up. When we evaluate a digital camera it is about far more than just the listing of features included with the camera. Look at it this way: a Ford Focus might have power locks, windows and air conditioning – but it’s never going to be a Mercedes. So if you go into a store and just start reading the feature list to compare them, you’re already losing.
It takes experience to pick a good camera, because no matter what the specs say, you never know what you’re getting until you actually take photos with that camera. I recommend these two below because I have a lot of experience with them. Plain and simple. So I know you can take very nice photos (and video) with either of them. Enough said.
Light is the essence of any image. A camera is NOTHING without it. And there is a huge range of quality when it comes to how much light cameras can capture. There are two primary factors that affect how sensitive your camera is to light:
The quality of the lens. The easiest way to tell how good your lens is, is to check the Aperture range. When you examine the camera it will have a number like 1:3.5-5.6. The lower the numbers, the better the lens. f2.0-2.8 is a very good quality lens. Anything over 2.8 requires a lot more light and becomes not so useful indoors. If you see the image to the right here, you’ll see the marking “1:1.8”. That is a high quality fixed zoom lens with a single aperture.
The size of the sensor. Yes ladies, bigger is better! But we aren’t talking about Megapixels here! I mean the physical size of the actual sensor. The larger the image sensor in the camera, the less noise the image will have and the more sensitive to light it will be. See here for more info.
Yep. Video. It’s important that your camera be able to capture at least short video segments, because if a picture speaks 1,000 words, then what do 1,000 pictures moving in series say! A LOT.
Most of the new pocket cameras now do full motion video, some with claims of up to 720p or even 1080p HD. However, don’t get sucked in by the claims. Remember that the quality of the video is also affected by the light sensitivity. So you’d be much better off having a 640×480 quality video which is really clear, than a 720p video that is crappy.
But wait! Some of you are going to tell me that you don’t know how to manually control the shutter speed and aperture. Well, that’s Ok! Remember two things:
Cameras that come with full manual controls usually have higher overall quality. So even if you keep it in fully automatic mode it’s going to take better pictures than a cheaper “fully auto” camera. Counter-intuitive? Not really. Full manual controls are a sign of a pro. So only better cameras will include them.
Using manual controls is really not that hard! And if you can master them, you are going to be taking MUCH better photos. So, I’m going to do a series of short videos to show you how to do it. But if you don’t get the right camera, you won’t be able to do things like HDR photography, nice portrait photos, etc. So why even bother?
So make sure that whatever camera you by, it allows you to control the Aperture and the Shutter Speed at the very least. And being able to control the focus is also nice.
First, lets start with the more portable of the two. The Canon PowerShot G11. This is my favorite pocket sized camera ever made, and if you could only have one camera, this should be it. You can take it everywhere you go – and you should! So you can capture those interesting things you see in life and share them with the rest of us.
New 10-megapixel High Sensitivity System; DIGIC 4 Image Processor
Bright 2.8-inch Vari-Angle PureColor System LCD plus optical viewfinder
Improved Smart AUTO intelligently selects from 22 predefined shooting situations
RAW + JPEG shooting and recording modes; capture images to SD/SDHC memory cards (not included)
Optical Sensor Resolution: 10 MP
Optical zoom: 5 x
Maximum Aperture Range: F/2.8-4.5
Optical Sensor Size: 1/1.7″
Included Flash Type: Built-in flash
Display Size: 2.8 inches
Light Sensitivity: ISO 100 to ISO 3200
Image types: JPEG, RAW
Width: 4.4 inches
Depth: 1.9 inches
Height: 3 inches
Weight: 12.5 Ounces
John P.’s Take
Notice a few things:
This camera will shoot RAW formatted images in addition to JPEG. While JPEG is good for keeping the file size down, RAW is MUCH, MUCH better for quality, and image editing applications like iPhoto or Picasa will handle the RAW photos with ease. Better image editing software like Photoshop elements will let you manipulate RAW images in ways you can not with JPEG.
This camera has a 1/1.7″ sensor. Look at the chart I posted above and you’ll see that this is much bigger than some of the other crappier small body cameras. It’s among the largest you can get in a compact camera – meaning excellent low light or high speed performance. (Great indoors, or for fast action sports.)
The camera has optical image stabilization. This means the lens has little gyroscopes in it that adjust the position of the lens as you shoot in case your hand is shaking. It will keep your images much sharper than a camera with only digital image stabilization.
It has both a built-in flash AND the ability to accept external Canon flashes. This camera could be used to even take wedding photos with a large external flash!
The 2.8 aperture setting on the lens is very nice for capturing images with a shallow depth of field. This makes portraits and closeups really look nice, and cheaper cameras simply can’t match this depth of field.
Now, at about $450 this isn’t a cheap camera. But here is the thing…
If you are going to take photos, you want them to be good enough that you’ll actually want to come back and look at them later. Or show them to friends. So a cheap $100-200 camera is literally just not going to be able to get 1/2 the shots you can get with the G11. And the half it can get just won’t look as good. So in my opinion you just shouldn’t buy a cheaper camera. Because if you aren’t going to try and shoot things in a somewhat artistic / perfectionistic way, then why bother?
Here is a link to Flickr images taken by a Canon G11. And here is a sample video shot using this camera hand-held. It would be even nicer if it was on a tripod.
And here is a video review that covers all the basic features of the camera:
My final comments on the G11 are that it’s got a metal case for excellent durability, it can help you make beautiful HDR images, and it will last you for years. I think every photographer should have this camera – at least for a backup, even if they have an SLR like the one below.
Now, you say you’ve got a little more budget to work with? And you don’t mind a full sized camera body? Well in that case you need to run, not walk, and get the Canon EOS Rebel T1i.
The T1i is the latest in Canon’s line of Digital Rebel SLR camera bodies. I wrote about my old first generation Rebel years ago, and Canon has made many improvements in the years since, culminating in this very, very impressive piece of hardware.
I’m not going to sit here and go on and on about the quality of the images, because they speak for themselves. Head over and browse the Canon 500D user group and you’ll quickly see why.
However, it is important that I point out the very impressive High Definition video that this camera will take! Here is a sample clip from Daniel Slaughter taken at a concert in very low light and with strobes going off constantly. This is an incredibly difficult environment for a camcorder, but just look at that video!
Self-timer: 10-sec. or 2-sec. delay or 10-sec. delay plus continuous shooting
Flash Exposure Compensation: Â±2 stops in 1/3- or 1/2-stop increments
Continuous Shooting Speed: Max. 3.4 shots/sec. (with One-Shot AF or AI Servo AF)
John P.’s Take
Now lets compare the full sized T1i to the much more portable G11 and see what we get out of the box for roughly twice the price.
The G11s lens is rated at f2.8-4.5, while the T1i’s stock lens comes with f3.5-5.6. Right off the bat we know that the G11 has better glass in it. Which means that all other things being equal, it would take much better low light photos. But things aren’t equal. The T1i’s sensor is much larger! Compare the APS-C sensor in our chart above to the 1:1/7 sensor and you’ll see it’s about 6 times larger! So even though the stock lens is not quite as good, the sensor will more than over compensate for this.
The HD video capability of the T1i simply can not be matched by the G11. Its literally good enough to shoot an independent film on. So you could make the next Blair Witch movie and get rich off it! Well, with one exception… the camera only records mono sound and has no external mic input. But you can fix that! While shooting video with this camera, just use an external pocket stereo recorder. And after you get the both going clap so you have a sound you can sync the audio to when you are editing the video.
The T1i also has a much faster shooting speed. With three and a half frames per second, it will rattle off shots like a machine gun. This will allow you to get shots that the G11 will simply miss. So you need to be really, really good with the G11 as compared to the T1i which will just make you look like a better photographer through sheer force of will.
Faster everything. Power on, cycle time between images, shutter speeds, adjustments, and more. Basically, this is a camera that you can actually use as a professional photographer. You could do weddings, portraits or even sports. Sure, you could do better with a $3,000 camera – but this one will get the job done.
Finally, here’s a complete 14 minute review of the camera. Delicious!
Frankly, in the hands of a pro, this camera can work wonders. And in the hands of an amateur, this camera can help you grow into a pro while lasting you for 3-4 years before you outgrow it.
So, that’s it for today! Possibly the longest post ever on OneMansBlog? I hope you all learned something from it, and if you were looking for a camera I’m also hopeful I talked you into one of these. I’m certain you won’t regret it!
The G11 image at the top of the post is courtesy of Anthony Goto. And the image of the lake is courtesy of Jason.
About John P.
John P. is a former CEO, former TV Show Host, and the Founder and Wizard behind Texas Metal Works. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Feel free to send shoutouts, insults, and praise. Or Money. Money is good.