Top-rated Cameras to Express and Expand Your Photographic Creativity

Photographic creativity is exploding.  There’s never been a better time to be a photographer. With ever-improving cameras and advanced digital processing, the sky’s the limit when it comes to expressing your vision.  Below, 24 top-rated cameras in a complete range of prices and capabilities are reviewed.  Get one.  Use it and expand!

Photography has never encompassed greater possibilities for expression than it does today. Whether you are a photo-journalist covering a war zone, a fashion photographer creating the cover of Vogue, a photo blogger capturing evocative perspectives of urban granularity, or a snap-shooter chronicling your vacation, there has never been more opportunity to exercise creativity or more affordable access to sophisticated technology.

Camera technology has come a long way since the days of the view camera.

Click here to save money on a variety of photo gear at the Adorama overstock department

 

I have loved playing with cameras and photography since I was a kid. My very first film camera had two controls — a shutter button and a dial to advance the film. Since those first simple steps, I’ve learned darkroom techniques, had photos published in newspapers and magazines, sold fine art prints, learned graphics software, and worked as the photo editor for a rather well-known nature photographer. (To see some of my own work, here’s a 2010 calendar.) I still love playing with new equipment.  I’m thrilled to find an opportunity to create a beautiful image.

Each year, the editors of American Photo (AP) give their Editor’s Choice awards to digital cameras in a variety of categories. I’ve used the winners they announced at the end of 2009 as a starting point for the cameras recommended below.  They range from compact models to pro D-SLRs. Click on the images or text links to shop.  Read customer reviews and get yours now.  Happy shooting!

->Update, November, 2011: A number of the cameras reviewed below are no longer available.  However, as of this month, many still are.  Here are the ones you can still buy:

  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350
  • Canon PowerShot SX200
  • Ricoh CX2
  • Ricoh CX3
  • Canon PowerShot A1100IS
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
  • Olympus E-620
  • Nikon D5000
  • Canon EOS Rebel T1i
  • Pentax K-7
  • Nikon D90
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • Sony Alpha 900
  • Nikon D700

Scroll down and click the links associated with the camera images or text links to check current availability and pricing.

(I only recommend the top online vendors here so, while you might see a few of the cameras at other online stores, if I haven’t personally verified the store, it’s not listed).

Many of the models below are now quite attractively priced.  And many still have advanced capabilities and robust performance in their market segments.<-

 

Compact Camera of the Year (Tie)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3 tied in this category for compact camera of the year honors. American Photo’s editors wrote, “This 10.1-megapixel model is, for now, the ultimate Wi-Fi compact.” Get the DSC-G3 and you’ll have the first camera with a built-in Web browser. You can connect it wirelessly to the Web at AT&T hotspots (free until 2012) or to your home hub. The onboard browser lets you navigate to various photo/video sites, including YouTube, Photobucket, Shutterfly, and Dailymotion. You can upload photos and videos and email them to friends and family.

Picture-wise, the camera is quite capable; image-quality is generally very good. It zooms from 35-140mm (equivalent). It has optical image stabilization (very helpful for improving sharpness with a small, light compact camera) and Intelligent Scene Recognition (meaning you can set it to recognize the characteristics of 8 different types of scenes and the camera adjusts its settings accordingly). The Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with 4x zoom allows you to shoot as close as 1/2 inch from subjects. AP called the 3.5-inch touchscreen “exquisitely sharp.” The camera has face detection, smile detection, 9-point auto focus, and a burst mode that allows you to shoot up to 100 photos at .62-second intervals. You can also capture VGA video/audio clips at up to 30 frames per second (fps) for up to 10 minutes. The camera has 4 GB of onboard storage (good for 950 high-res images), which can be augmented with Memory Stick Duo Media. These are just some of the highlights that this camera offers — as with all the models listed on this page. To fully describe all the features and functions would take a book — and you get one with the DSC-G3: a 123-page, beginner-friendly function guide, along with Windows-compatible software (Mac users can use iPhoto). CNET’s editors rated this camera “very good,” though they found the Wi-Fi a bit disappointing with respect to price when compared with its non-wireless brethren, such as the DSC-T700. Photo Today rated it 4 out of 5 stars, and Popular Mechanics said, “When judged against most pocket cameras on the market, the G3 shines. It takes great pictures and makes uploading photos easy.”

An additional compact camera from Sony I’d also suggest you consider when it comes to quality-versus-price, at about $180, is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350.


 

Samsung HZ15W 12 MP Digital Camera The second camera in this category to receive Compact Camera of the Year honors is the Samsung HZ15W— a 12-megapixel compact with a startling 10x focal length. The starting focal length of the Schneider lens is equivalent to 24 mm. This allows for more panoramic shots as well as interesting angles in interior and exterior architectural photography. It also gives a wide-screen effect when shooting the high-def video that this camera is capable of (and the camera will record audio as well). You can play back your captured video by connecting the camera directly to an HDTV through its HDMI interface. It’s got 11 optimized picture-mode settings, smile detection, blink detection, “beauty” mode, as well as the somewhat unusual capability in a camera of this class to manually set both f-stop and shutter speed. It’s got Samsung’s Dual Image Stabilization, a bright 3-inch LCD screen, and a flash. Another feature that this camera offers that most point-and-shoot combo still/video cameras do not is that it is able to zoom when shooting video — you can even pause and resume. The onboard storage is only 21 MB, so be sure to buy at least a 2 gigabyte SD or SDHC high-speed memory card to take advantage of the camera’s capabilities. For the price, digital camera beginners as well as more advanced amatures will appreciate the feature-set and performance of this camera. I have used this camera and my GF owns one and it works very well. For the price, the performance can’t be beat. Click here to get it from Buy.com for a pretty good discount.

 

Additional Compact Cameras that Were Chosen as “Editor’s Choice” by American Photo:

Panasonic Lumix TZ50 Digital Camera The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50 9-megapixel camera has built-in wireless LAN that enables you to connect to the internet via a T-Mobile hotspot or home hub. Upload photos to Picasa.  Outstanding 28 – 280 zoom lens by Leica, optical stabilization, 3-inch LCD screen, HD video, audio recording, and more. This makes a great travel camera.  You can also find it at Buy.com.  If you prefer it without wireless capability, get the DMC-TZ5 version.

 

 

Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR digital cameraHigh-sensitivity and low-sensitivity pixels are distributed evenly across the surface of the 12-megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR’s Super CCD (charge-coupled device) EXR image sensor. The camera captures two different exposures simultaneously, then combines them into a single, 6-megapixel image. The resulting dynamic range and low noise make for some of the best-quality images from a camera in this category. It offers dual image stabilization, face detection, an ISO capability as high as 12800, 5x wide-angle zoom lens (28 – 140 mm), a bright 3-inch screen, movie and sound recording, 5 fps burst shooting, and a mode for shooting underwater (when using a housing). This camera can produce excellent photos, but you need to learn its capabilities to get the most out of it. If you’re going to be doing a lot of shooting in the field, bring along a couple of extra batteries. Get it from Comp-U-Plus for a discount; also see Buy.com.

 

 

Pentax Optio P80

Pentax Optio P80

 

The editor’s of AP designated the Pentax Optio P70 the “Best Buy” camera in this category. A slightly improved version has come out in the meantime, the Pentax Optio P80, which is a little lighter in weight and adds another 100,000 megapixels for a total of 12.1 megapixels. The widest aperture was increased from 2.8 to 2.6. The Optio P80 also has improved face recognition (for group shots, able to detect up to 32 faces in a fraction of a second) and includes a digital filter for interesting effects such as “toy camera.” Neither model has optical image stabilization but instead have Pentax’s Pixel Track Shake Reduction, which uses post-shot processing to reduce blur. Both shoot high-def video. The Optio 80 retains the same cool-looking aluminum body, which is less than an inch thick and comes in black, mint, and pearl. As you would expect for a “Best Buy,” the price is certainly reasonable for either the Optio P70 or the Optio P80 (currently around $130).

 

Canon PowerShot SX200 digital camera The Canon PowerShot SX200 is a versatile camera that offers a few features not normally found in a point-and-shoot camera in this price range. One is “super zoom” — the camera has a lens that begins at a wide 28 mm and zooms up to an impressive 336 mm (12x). The other is that you have full manual control of all settings if you desire. You can also select either aperture priority or shutter priority modes. Of course, the camera also offers a ridiculous amount of pre-set modes to choose from — 23 shooting modes and 11 special scene modes (and a detailed manual so you know how to use them). Or you can simply set it on “Easy” mode and fire and forget. (When you turn the camera on, the flash pops up, which is displayed in the photo at left, but Canon has left space behind the flash for your fingers so you can easily hold the camera.) Reviewers have praised the camera’s sturdy construction and high quality of images, with vibrant, accurate colors, especially outdoors. The camera has 12.1 megapixels, optical image stabilization so you can easily frame shots using its 3-inch LCD, and it will shoot hi-def video at 720p for up to 30 minutes at 30 fps (and includes mono audio recording). It also has a mini-HDMI port out so you can plug it directly into your HDTV and present slide- or video-shows straight from the camera. It comes with Canon’s Software Suite, which enables you to work with and edit your photos in a variety of ways, including PhotoStitch, which enables you to combine several shots into a single panoramic image. You can easily find the camera for less than its $350 suggested retail — including from Buy.com and Comp-U-Plus.  It comes in blue, black, and red.

J&R Computer/Music World

 

Ricoh CX2 digital cameraThe editors of AP selected the Ricoh CX1 as one of their recommended choices among compact cameras. In the meantime, Ricoh has come out with the CX2, which incrementally improves the CX1, so that’s the one we’ll go with here (that’s the CX2 to the left). The Ricoh CX2 is praised for, among other things, its high dynamic range (HDR) mode of shooting, which means the camera will quickly take two successive photos of a scene with major high-lights and low-lights and then combine them into a single shot that more closely resembles how the human eye adjusts to take in details of a high-contrast scene. (Some of the results of HDR technology can be seen on Flickr.) When used correctly (and creatively) it can make for some vivid, impressive images. And you’ll find it easy to look at the results on the CX2’s gorgeous 920,000-dot 3-inch LCD, perhaps the best monitor available on a compact camera. The 9.3-megapixel camera has sensor shift image stabilization and a super-zoom-approaching 10.7x lens (28 – 300 mm) in a very compact and stylish all-metal body (the lens retracts fully into the body). The camera offers a number of other shooting modes and manipulations — Ricoh has emphasized still shooting; this is not the camera to get if you want to shoot great video. It shoots stills quite well, though, including an exceptionally fast 5 fps burst mode, which rivals a number of D-SLRs for velocity. The camera has an electronic level for landscape and architecture shots and selectable aspect ratios, including square,Ricoh CX3 digital cameraso you can pretend you have a twin-lens reflex. It’s also got a “stealth mode,” which turns off all lights and sounds during operation so you can shoot in places such as museums. Okay, and for you inveterate photo-geeks, Ricoh just announced the release of the CX3, which adds — ta da! — hi-def video to this camera’s already potent capabilities (that’s it to the right). You can order the new CX3 from Buy.com. But if you don’t want to pay quite that price, go with the Ricoh CX2, a very competent and enjoyable point-and-shoot compact.

 

Casio Exilim EX-FC100 digital cameraThe operative word for the Casio Exilim EX-FC100 is “fast.” Impressively fast burst rate — 30 fps — and even more impressive video — 1,000 fps. At less than an inch thick, this camera puts high-speed still capture and super-slow-mo video capability in your shirt pocket. One second of 1,000 fps video takes 33 seconds to play back at normal speed. You’ll be able to analyze in excruciating detail all the nuances of your buddy’s skate-board wipeout. The 30 fps still capture will produce high-res 6-megapixel images — and the camera will also save up to 25 frames before the shutter button is fully depressed, meaning you are more likely to capture that crucial moment. You can use the burst mode to sweep the camera across a panorama and then stitch the resulting shots together with software (outside the camera) to form a panoramic scene. It will also shoot hi-def video at 30 fps — much more useful than 1,000 fps. In that respect, the camera can also be set for 210 and 420 fps video capture, which is much more watchable than the fastest setting (you’ll want plenty of light and a tripod). Still images taken with this 9.1-megapixel camera are generally good at the lower ISO settings (and there are sliders for adjusting contrast, sharpness and saturation). It has a 5x optical image stabilized lens (37 – 185 mm equivalent), a 2.7-inch LCD screen, and includes high-speed anti-shake and high-speed night scene functions. It also has a mode where motion will trigger the shutter — cool if you want to capture, say, birds as they land on your feeder. In short, this is an insanely fun, as well as useful, compact camera. In addition to it being selected as an American PhotoEditor’s Choice, CNET rated it “very good,” and the reviewer for CrunchGear stated: “I would go so far as to say that after the personal computer and the smartphone, the EX-FC100 is the most versatile piece of electronics I’ve ever used.” You can get it from J&R Computer/Music World for less than $200, or at Buy.com for a little more — still, an amazing price for performance that used to cost tens of thousands.

 

Two More Compact Cameras Worth Considering

Canon PowerShot A1100IS digital camera is available from Buy.com for a good discountThe following two cameras were not mentioned by the editors of American Photo, but they have been highly-rated by other reviewers and they have qualities you might want to consider. The first is the Canon Powershot A1100IS. It’s a 12.1-megapixel camera with a — get this — optical viewfinder! (I know, how old-fashioned.) Turns out that some photographers like to have the option of framing their shots through a viewfinder rather than waving the camera around in front of them like a dowsing rod. Most compacts, in order to be “compact,” eliminate the optical viewfinder entirely, and this isn’t a bad thing since most of them also have optical image stabilization to assist in eliminating blur from handholding. And you can still use the A1100IS that way, since it’s got Canon’s Optical Image Stabilizer Technology and a 2.5-inch LCD screen. It’s got a 4x zoom lens (35 – 140 mm equivalent), Canon’s DIGIC 4 image processor, a pop-up flash, a sturdy (and stylish) plastic body that comes in 4 colors, and is powered by two AA batteries. It will shoot video at 30 fps. There are no real manual settings on this camera — its mission is point-and-shoot — but its 18 shooting modes, Smart AUTO, white-balancing capability, scene recognition technology, and Intelligent Contrast Correction produce accurate, good-quality images (at lower ISOs) for a camera of this size and price. And you’ve got that true optical viewfinder to aim with. Consumer Reports recommended this camera as a best buy, and CNET’s reviewer stated: “For a low-cost point-and-shoot pocket camera, the Canon PowerShot A1100IS gets the job done. It delivers better photo quality than other cameras at its price point and if you like the convenience of AA batteries and the availability of a viewfinder, it’s a smart choice.”  I recommend using rechargeable AA batteries.

 

Canon S90 digital camera is available from Buy.com Everyone seems to like the Canon S90.  Men’s Journal said of this camera: “The Canon S90 isn’t just 2009’s best point-and-shoot; it’s the best point-and-shoot ever made.” The reviewer for Gizmodo called it “awesome,” and the generally picky editors at CNET rated it “excellent,” summarizing their review by stating that it is “an excellent compact camera for advanced amateurs.” You pay for this quality, since at about $400 it’s got one of the higher price tags among compacts. But for that amount you get a great zoom lens (28 – 105 mm) that will open to f/2.0. Coupled with a 10-megapixel sensor and Canon’s DIGIC 4 image processor, this makes for good performance in low light (you can get away with not using flash). This is a camera that’s just short of D-SLR performance — actually, you can think of it as a compact substitute for a D-SLR that you can carry with you to capture those spur-of-the-moment situations (it’s one of the few compact cameras that will shoot RAW files). The camera boasts a convenient, multi-function control ring around the lens (its manual controls have been referred to as “elegant”), along with a 3-inch LCD, optical image stabilization, and the ability to shoot video. It’s got 25 shooting modes, including 17 special scene modes, as well as manual options. There’s very little this camera can’t do. I should mention that Wired magazine also made it an Editor’s Pick, the reviewer stating simply: “The S90 is the best compact camera I’ve ever used.” See it at Buy.com, where you can find it for well under $400.

 

Entry-level D-SLR of the Year

Digital single-lens reflex cameras in the “entry-level” category offer photographers full control of all aspects of picture framing, focus, and exposure, as well as a line of interchangeable lenses and other accessories. If you want to begin to get serious about your photography, moving beyond point-and-shoot, or transition from film to digital SLR, you can start with one of these versatile, affordable D-SLRs. (I personally made the switch to digital after Kodak discontinued my favorite film, Kodachrome 25.)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 digital cameraIn this category, American Photo’s editors selected thePanasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 as the Camera of the Year. They were favorably impressed by its high-quality electronic viewfinder (EVF), which eliminates the need for a reflex mirror (so is it still a single-lens reflex?), making the camera quieter in operation and also allowing for reduced weight and size. The viewfinder offers 100 percent coverage, too, which in general is something only professional D-SLRs do. They praised its contrast-detection autofocus, which will track moving subjects across the picture frame. The Lumix GH1 is also a top performer when it comes to video — it will shoot 1080p video at 24 fps, or 720p at 60 fps (with Dolby stereo recording), while allowing the photographer to re-focus continuously. You can also control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, among other things, when shooting video, and the amount of video capture is limited only by the size of your memory card. It has a cool, swing-out, swiveling 3-inch LCD (460,000 dots). Its sensor is 12.1 megapixels; there is in-lens image stabilization, a live-view option, and it will shoot stills at 3 fps. It adheres to the Micro Four Thirds Standard, which means you can use it with lenses and accessories designed for standard Four Thirds D-SLRs that have a pentaprism. It’s available with a high-quality Lumix G Vario HD 14 – 140 mm f/4.0 – 5.8 ASPH./Mega O.I.S. kit lens for a discounted price of around $1,200. The Lumix DMC-GH1 is probably the most versatile entry-level D-SLR ever, defining a new breed of “hybrid” camera. The European Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) gave it their “Best Product” Award for 2009 -10 for “Multimedia Camera.” You can get it at Buy.com .  Below is a detailed video review of the Lumix GH1 from What Digital Camera magazine:

 

 

Other “Editor’s Choice” Entry-level D-SLR Cameras Recommended by American Photo

Olympus E-620 digital cameraHere is the “Best Buy” in this category: the Olympus E-620. This 12.3-megapixel camera is the smallest-ever D-SLR to have in-body image stabilization. It has an articulated 2.7-inch LCD, will shoot in burst mode at 4 fps, and offers quick through-the-lens autofocus. For the price, this camera offers a nice blend of pro-level controls as well as convenient automatic settings for snap-shooting. It has a direct-access control panel, Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction, shadow optimization, vignetting compensation, multiple aspect ratios, special-effects “art” filters, face detection, and much more. It can control wireless strobes from its built-in pop-up flash. It even has back-lit buttons, which are pretty cool. About the only thing it will not do is shoot video. In its review, Photography Blog stated that the E-620 is “the most effective combination of features, ease-of-use and price of any Olympus D-SLR camera to date.” As this is written, this camera is discounted to under $600 from Buy.com (body only; it also comes with various lens options), or around $670 from Butterfly Photo with two lenses (14- 42 mm and 40 – 150 mm Zuiko ED lenses). You can also check BestBuy.

 

Nikon D5000 digital cameraThe Nikon D5000shares the same 12.3 megapixel CMOS sensor as the D90, which is Nikon’s upper-mid-grade D-SLR (hard to describe the positioning of these different models sometimes). The D90 retails for about $1,000 and the D5000 for around $730. This sensor is known for its ability to render good images in low light, and it will shoot 720p video at 24 fps. The editors of AP wrote: “Aided by advanced image processing, its chip produces moderate-ISO output indistinguishable from that of Nikon’s full-frame D3, which costs six times as much. And images shot at higher speeds (up to ISO 6400) are less noisy than from Canon’s entry-level and advanced models.” (I know, Canon guys might disagree with that. Yeah, I might disagree, too.) The camera’s LCD screen flips out and swivels so you can use it in live-view mode to shoot high and low angles. The D5000 has the same 11-point autofocus as the D90, making it probably the most advanced in its class. It has in-lens image stabilization and will shoot stills at up to 4 fps. There are way too many features to list here, but one interesting capability is the use of a 4-way controller to adjust the displayed image to eliminate perspective distortion. Outside magazine touted this camera’s ability to shoot in low light, but mentioned that its internal auto-focusing motor won’t power Nikon’s beefiest Nikkor lenses. Of this camera CNET said: “Very good photo quality; fast [shooting]; nice kit lens…” But they didn’t like its “small, dim viewfinder; middling video quality; [and it’s] too easy to accidentally change focus points.” They summarized: “Though it falls short in its design, the Nikon D5000 delivers a nice feature set, speedy performance, and great photo quality for the money.” You can find it  at Buy.com.

 

Sony Alpha 330 D-SLR camera backFor a good entry-level D-SLR that won’t break the bank, consider the Sony Alpha 330. The American Photo guys cited its size, lightness, ease of use (with simple and logical controls), and system affordability — a combination of attractive features that make it ideal for someone wanting D-SLR quality without having to go to school to learn how to use it or spend a fortune on lenses to get good image quality. The 10.2-megapixel Alpha 330 has a 2.7-inch tilting LCD screen, image stabilization built into the camera’s body so it works with any of Sony’s newly-designed interchangeable lenses, a 9-point auto-focus sensor, up to 2.5 fps continuous shooting (no video, however), an in-screen help menu, an HDMI port and the capability to sync with Sony Bravia HDTVs, and dynamic range optimization, among other features. The editors of AP recommended going with the Alpha 330 rather than the 14.2-megapixel Alpha 380 because the lower price would allow you to get an additional lens, such as the 30 mm f/2.8 macro, which is less than $200. You can get the camera with a Sony DT 18-55 mm kit lens and a DT 55-200 mm kit lens for under $600 from J&R (a really good deal) or with a single lens for under $500 from J&R; or with a single kit lens for under $500 from Butterfly Photo. And, as this is written, it’s also on sale for under $500 at Best Buy.

 

Canon EOS Rebel T1i D-SLR camera Canon’s line of Rebel digital D-SLR cameras has been noted for good performance for a reasonable price for a number of years. And the current top of the line — the Canon EOS Rebel T1i — is no exception.  American Photo’s editors liked its high resolution (it uses the same 15.1-megapixel image sensor as the more advanced Canon EOS 50D), its best-in-class low-light shooting performance, and its DIGIC 4 image processing. It will shoot at an ISO as high as 12,800. And you can set 3 levels of high-ISO noise reduction. It will burst-shoot RAW frames at up to 9 fps. Its 9-point auto-focus is the fastest in this class. And it’s got a new 920,000-dot LCD screen (with anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coating), which you can use to view high-def video capture (720p) at 30 fps (a first for the Rebel line). It will also shoot 1080p video at 20 fps. Its video performance was judged to be smoother than that of the Nikon D5000. It’s got in-camera flash, lens-based image stabilization, the capability to shoot using Live View, and will shoot continuously at 3.4 fps. Throw Canon’s line of superlative EOS lenses into the mix and, for less than $800, you can’t go wrong with the Rebel T1i. I currently use a Canon Rebel Xsi (last year’s entry-level D-SLR of the year) as my main camera and am continually impressed by its performance, so I can personally recommend this line of cameras. You can get the Canon EOS Rebel T1i from Buy.com with an 18-55 mm kit lens for under $750. This camera has quite a lot of positive customer reviews at Best Buy. Below is a quick video intro to the Rebel T1i:

 

 

Advanced D-SLR of the Year (Tie)

When people think of Single Lens Reflex cameras in the 35 mm format, the two brands that generally come to mind first are Nikon and Canon. If someone knows a bit more about photography, they might add Leica to that list. It seems that Pentax — a company that has been making high-quality SLR cameras with outstanding optics since the early 1950s — is often the forgotten stepchild among the pantheon of camera companies. But the editors of American Photo chose the Pentax K-7 as the Co-Winner for Advanced D-SLR Camera of the Year, giving it the nod over every other model except the Nikon D90. Cameras in this category have price-points that hover around the $1,000 mark.

Pentax K-7 D-SLR camera The Pentax K-7 was a new model for Pentax in 2009, replacing the formerly top-of-the-line K20D. Like the K20D, it has a 14.6-megapixel resolution, but everything else about the K-7 is new. It has an easy-handling, rugged magnesium alloy body and is comprehensively protected against environmental hazards such as dust and wet, and its resistance to cold has been enhanced (it should operate at temperatures as low as 14 degrees F). Its viewfinder is the biggest in this class and is the only one to offer 100 percent subject coverage. The 3-inch LCD screen has 921,000 dots and offers a handy rotating menu, and of course offers a Live View function. The CMOS sensor is combined with a 4-channel processor that reduces noise in shadows and enables a continuous-shooting speed of 5.2 fps (the burst rate is 40 JPEGs). It combats dust with a low-pass filter for the sensor and supersonic removal of particles. And that sensor will do something pretty nifty: you can manually shift it sideways or vertically to fine-tune your composition or to make corrections to perspective (and it has a level gauge on the upper status panel). The exposure meter has 77 segments, making for quick and accurate exposures even in complex or rapidly-changing conditions. The battery’s capacity has been extended so you can expect around 980 shots (good for those of you in travel situations). The camera has extensive post-exposure processing options, including the capability to automatically combine 3 bracketed exposures into one high-dynamic range JPEG (see the review of the Ricoh CX1 above for more discussion about HDR). It will shoot 720p video at 30 fps, or 1536 x 1024 format, while allowing manual aperture control.Pentax K-7 D-SLR camera - back There is a jack for an external microphone, meaning you can get better audio quality with your videos. The Shake Reduction system works with any K-mount lens, and Pentax has added compensation for rotational sensor movement, improving the sharpness of captured images. This camera has more modes and options for control than you might ever use, including 6 custom image settings and an Advanced Customization Function that allows you to tailor it to your shooting style.

You can get the Pentax K-7 from Butterfly Photo, or Best Buy (body only).  Or check the price at Buy.com for their current discount.

Below is a video from a Colorado filmmaker who used the K-7 to make a film. He describes how he used the camera. (You can see more here.)

 

 

Nikon D90 D-SLR camera - 3 views The Nikon D90 is the other D-SLR camera chosen as Advanced D-SLR of the Year. The editors at AP were impressed with its performance in low light, praising its low-noise images at ISOs of up to 3200 — on par with Nikon’s professional D3 and D700. Much of the technology in the D90 is borrowed from Nikon’s more advanced models, including the 12.3-megapixel CMOS chip, which comes from the Nikon D300. The top ISO is 6400 and that, combined with adjustable image noise reduction, made the D90 the champ for low-light shooting among D-SLR cameras with APS-C-sized sensors (an equivalent negative size of around 25 mm x 17 mm). The camera’s 3-inch, 922,000-dot LCD display is identical to the LCDs on the Nikon D300, D700, D3, and D3X. This camera is also the first Nikon model under $1,000 (body only) that offers Live View (kind of weird, when you think about it — what took them so long?). But they got it right, because the display is large and crisp and it can be activated quickly with a dedicated button. The guys at AP thought the Live View refresh rate of 24 fps was smoother than on some of Nikon’s more expensive models. The Nikon D90’sclaim to fame in this class is its 720p, high-def movie mode — the first D-SLR to have it. It will record sound, but only in mono, and the autofocus doesn’t function when shooting video. So, oddly enough, given its pedigree, you don’t necessarily want to get this camera to primarily shoot video. Take advantage of its still-image performance instead, which relies on an 11-point, 3D-tracking autofocus and can shoot at up to 4.5 fps. Plus you get all those cool Nikon lenses (which include image stabilization). You can currently find it with an 18 – 105 mm Nikkor lens at J&R Computer/Music World for under $1,200.  Butterfly Photo has a bunch of D90 configurations for good prices. And you can also find it at Best Buy.

 

Other “Editor’s Choice” Advanced D-SLR Cameras Recommended by American Photo

Olympus E-30 D-SLR cameraThe camera chosen as the “Best Buy” in this category is the Olympus E-30. In 2008, the Olympus E-3 tied for 2008 Camera of the Year in this category, and the Four-Thirds aspect ratio E-30 offers capabilities similar to the E-3 in a smaller, lighter, more affordable package. It has a sturdy body (glass fiber reinforced plastic), a viewfinder that provides 98% coverage, a fast 11-point biaxial autofocus, the ability to capture 5 fps, and a fully-articulated Live View 2.7-inch LCD screen. The sensor’s resolution is 12.3 megapixels. The editors at AP liked its dedicated mode dial, contrast-detection autofocus that was a third faster than that found in the Canon EOS 50D, an image stabilizer mode that allows disengagement of vertical sensor shift (enabling up-and-down panning), and in-camera Art Filters (including Grainy Film and Pinhole effects, among a number of others). They also praised its high degree of custom configurability (for example, it offers a multi-exposure mode and different aspect ratio options). It has an external white balance sensor, wireless strobe control, and of course is compatible with Olympus’s excellent line of Zuiko Digital lenses. Image stabilization is accomplished in-body. The E-30 does not shoot video. But for stills, it is one of the most versatile D-SLR cameras you can find priced under $900 (body only). CNET’s reviewers called the Olympus E-30 “a great, general-purpose D-SLR.” You can get it at Buy.com and Butterfly Photo (suggestion: pair the body with a Zuiko Digital 14 – 54 mm f/2.8 – 3.5 lens).

 

Canon EOS 50D D-SLR camera The technically-sophisticated Canon EOS 50D rounds out this group of “Editor’s Choice” advanced D-SLRs. Its 15.1-megapixel resolution is the highest among these four recommended cameras and that, combined with bigger microlenses than the 40D that was its predecessor, and improved DIGIC 4 processing, make for outstanding images with reduced noise. The camera can be set to an ISO as high as 12,800 and will shoot continuously at 6.3 fps. AP’s testers judged the fast, diamond-pattern autofocus of the EOS 50D to be the best in its class for both low-light focusing and continuous tracking. They also thought its Live View was superior to its competitors because the mirror stays up when shooting, which allows for much faster and quieter operation (it also has two “silent” modes in Live View). The view on the 3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD screen was termed “dazzling,” making it easy to check details and critical focus when framing a composition (and it will magnify up to 10x). The menu system was described as “elegant,” and they liked its joystick-operated Quick Control interface. Customer reviews of this camera are almost uniformly excellent, with the bottom line being that people are highly impressed by the “stunning,” “great,” “amazing,” “wonderful,” “award-winning” quality of the images it produces. Plus it’s judged to be rather user-friendly for a camera with so many capabilities. The only caveat that some offered was that it is a bit hefty to carry around (it weighs 25.7 ounces). On the other hand, with this camera you get a sturdy magnesium body and improved weather-sealing. Digital Photography Review “highly recommends” the EOS 50D (though to be fair they stated that this is probably about as high a pixel-count as an APS-C sensor should be pushed, due to image noise issues), and CNET rated it “very good,” calling it a “compelling” choice for fans of previous Canon cameras who want to upgrade. And with this camera you have the stellar line of Canon lenses to choose from (and you should opt for their best models in order to take advantage of the 50D’s capabilities). You can find the Canon EOS 50D now for pretty good prices — see it at Butterfly Photo with a 28 – 135 mm lens for under $1,200. You can also get it from Buy.com and Newegg. And to get the most out of your new EOS 50D, why not pick up a guide to using it? (Many of the higher-end cameras reviewed in this post have associated book-length guides.) Find them at Barnes & Noble. Canon EOS 50 D - The Expanded Guide - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

Semi-Pro D-SLR Camera of the Year

So far we’ve had “entry-level” and “advanced” D-SLRs… Now we move on to what American Photo refers to as “Semi-Pro” D-SLRs. Of course, the delineations between these categories are all somewhat arbitrary, but you can think of it as a way of segmenting price points and certain aspects of technology and ruggedness. As a rule, the more expensive the camera, the longer you can expect it to last, the better the level of materials and design it has, and the better the lenses you can use with it. The “Semi-Pro” category includes cameras in roughly the $3,000 price range with full-frame CMOS image sensors. You are now getting into a serious level of photographic performance.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II D-SLR cameraThe “Camera of the Year” in this category is another Canon — the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. It is the first still camera capable of shooting broadcast-quality, high-def video. If you want your still camera to be able to capture full 1080p video at 30 fps, this is the model for you. And you can even make artistic adjustments in that video (such as shallow depth of field) that you can’t do with standard camcorders. This 21.1-megapixel successor to the EOS 5D features a weather-resistant magnesium-alloy body, improved controls, and a crystal-clear, 920,000-dot, 3-inch LCD. The Quick Control interface is controlled via a joystick. AP stated: “The Mark II’s 24×35 millimeter CMOS image sensor achieves the same ultrahigh resolution as Canon’s much bigger EOS-1Ds Mark III flagship, and at 40 percent of that model’s price. In our estimation its image quality rivals the clarity of 6×4.5 cm medium-format film, allowing huge prints and, if necessary, considerable cropping without sacrificing sharpness — assuming your optics and technique are up to the task.” They also praised the EOS 5D Mark II’s ability to capture outstanding, noise-free images under virtually any illumination, with less noise than its predecessor or the EOS-1Ds Mark III (which is Canon’s top-of-the-line, $6,000+, EOS model). Some of the reason for this is the camera’s improved DIGIC 4 image processor. The camera has Live View capability and will autofocus in Live View mode, and the Live View mode activates more quickly and operates more quietly than its full-frame competitors. It will shoot 3.9 fps continuously and up to 310 large/fine quality JPEGs in burst mode. With respect to video shooting, once a subject is locked in by the autofocus, you must refocus manually if the focal plane is changing, so continuous AF in video mode is something that hopefully will be added in future models. But for now, if you want a camera that will produce superlative stills and shoot best-in-class high-def video (with maximum durations at lesser resolutions of close to 30 minutes), this is the one for you (definitely better than, say, Nikon’s D90). In addition to being American Photo‘s “Semi-pro D-SLR of the Year,” it was also chosen as a Gadgets Grand Award Winner for 2009 by Popular Science. You can get it with a 24 – 105 mm lens from Buy.com, J&R, and Best Buy.

Here’s a video from photo-i showcasing the features of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II:

 

 

Other “Editor’s Choice” Semi-Pro D-SLR Cameras Recommended by American Photo

Sony Alpha 900 D-SLR camera - schematic view Let’s begin with the “Best Buy” in this catgory: you’ll get the most bang for your buck from the Sony Alpha 900. This capable camera has a whopping 24.6-megapixel sensor — a higher number than any other 35 mm D-SLR before it. It’s also the first full-frame D-SLR to stabilize images by shifting its sensor rather than elements in the lens. According to AP, this enables you to take handheld shots at up to 4 stops slower using any Alpha-mount lens (Sony or Minolta). The viewfinder covers 100% of the subject, accepts interchangeable screens, and is the biggest, brightest, and clearest in its class. Enhanced image-processing eliminates more noise from all those pixels, producing outstanding images. American Photo’s editors stated: “The level of detail we saw in our A900 images was dazzling, equalling that of the $8,000 Nikon D3X and edging into medium format territory.” The technical capabilities of the A900, combined with an ever-increasing selection of high-quality Sony/Zeiss lenses, ensures that the images you capture with this relatively inexpensive camera will be second to none. And you can capture those superior images at up to 5 fps (also rivaling the D3X), or at a burst depth of up to 12 RAW files or 285 JPEGs. The level of body-weatherization is a little less than that of its rivals in this category. The Alpha 900 also does not shoot video, nor does it offer Live View, making it a more traditional 35-mm-style D-SLR, but what it does, it does very well, and for under $2,700 (body only). Find it at Buy.com (try it with the Sony 28 – 75 mm f/2.8 lens at J&R).

 

Nikon D700 D-SLR cameraIt’s no surprise that the third camera in this category chosen by the editors of American Photo is the Nikon D700. It’s known as a camera with a high level of technological capability in a package that is much less expensive than Nikon’s highest-end models. It’s got the same full-frame, 12.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor as the Nikon D3 in a body that is scaled down in size and weight — yet is also highly rugged. Weather-sealing in the D700 is second to none in this category. The viewfinder offers almost 100% coverage and the view is sharp enough to be able to manually focus nearly any Nikkor lens going back to 1959. Its ISO goes up to 25,600, making available-light shooting possible in almost any conditions of illumination, and the guys at AP thought its ISO of 6400 was perfectly usable (unlike some D-SLRs where unacceptable noise levels intrude at ISOs of 800 and higher). It will shoot at up to 5 fps, has 2 Live View shooting modes (but no video capability), in-lens image stabilization, fast 51-point autofocus, and a scene-recognition function, among many other features. Find it for under $2,400 at J&R (body only), at Butterfly Photo (with a 24 – 120 mm lens for under $3,000) and Best Buy.

Here’s a succinct yet thorough video description of the Nikon D700 from one of the experienced camera guys at J&R Computer/Music World:

 

 

Pro D-SLR Camera of the Year

 

Nikon D3X D-SLR camera Pro D-SLR Camera of the YearThe culmination of this review of top-rated cameras ends with a single model. There are no “honorable mentions” in the category of “Pro D-SLR Camera of the Year,” just one technologically-advanced photographic machine that is rapidly becoming a legend: the Nikon D3X. As the editors of AP state: “Among new digital SLRs, the 24.4-megapixel Nikon D3X is simply in a class by itself… At the moment, [it is] the best D-SLR money can buy.” This camera offers vast configurability for the creative photographer (and its pixel count is actually 24.5; AP had a typo but I quoted it above as written). The D3X has Nikon’s “Picture Control,” which offers 4 pre-set options (standard, neutral, vivid, and monochrome), and 9 customizable settings for personalized color control. Its got 2 Live View shooting modes, with up to 27x magnification in the Tripod Mode for extreme focusing accuracy. Nikon has applied a number of technologies to reduce noise and improve image quality, from the large pixels in its CMOS sensor to EXPEED image processing to selectable bit depths to extended ISOs (the lowest being 50). AP reports that it has the best autofocus and overall responsiveness of any full-frame D-SLR, with 51 focus points and 3D focus tracking that analyzes color information (and works with Nikon’s “scene recognition system”). The D3X will shoot at up to 5 fps and processes its RAW image files faster than any other full-frame D-SLR, allowing for good performance when shooting action (and in DX mode will shoot 10.5-megapixel images at 7 fps). AP appreciated its superior ability to capture shadow detail, allowing brightening that yielded better results than its competitors. As you might expect, the magnesium-alloy body is built to last, with multiple seals to protect against moisture and dust and even electromagnetic interference. The shutter is tested to exceed 300,000 cycles. The camera will yield up to 4,400 images per battery charge. The 921,000-dot, 3-inch LCD screen is superb, and offers 9 playback functions (including voice memo). About the only thing the D3X won’t do is shoot video. But if your livelihood depends on getting the best still images possible in a commercial or field situation, the D3X is the camera for you. And this performance and reliability comes at a price: well north of $7,000 for the body alone. Is it worth it? If you’re a Nikon fan, you won’t be disappointed (and you also get to take advantage of those great Nikon lenses) — and even if you’re not wedded to the brand, simply check the quality of some of the images produced by the D3X (see more here and here) to see what’s possible. On the other hand, consider other levels of technology that you can obtain for certain prices: you can get a Panasonic 65-inch 3D plasma TV for under $4,000; you can get a top-of-the-line Visionman Widow gaming PC with Intel i7 860 quad-core processor, 2 Radeon HD 5870 video cards, 2 1-terabyte hard drives, and a 64-gigabyte solid state drive for under $3,000; and you can get a Kawasaki Ninja 650R motorcycle for about $7,000 (and if you already have one, you can get accessories to carry your D3X here).  The price either indicates the level of technical sophistication of the D3X, or Nikon’s high opinion of it. But in any event, you will have virtually unlimited capacity to be photographically creative with the Nikon D3X. And being creative is what it’s all about, whether you have a point-and-shoot camera or a pro D-SLR. Find the D3X at the excellent electronics retailer J&R Computer/Music World. Also find a guide to using the D3X here… David Busch's Nikon D3X Guide

 

 


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