For something a bit different, this week I’m going to introduce another expensive hobby of mine, photography. (As if car ownership wasn’t enough.) As my interest is not quite as profound as my other hobbies and my skills far below your average photography hobbyist, I am not a real photographer by any stretch of the imagination. I have, however, quite a bit of practical experience as a photographer over the years. Since I have an obsession with cars, food, and travel, particularly in Japan, learning how to best utilize the dozen cameras or so I’ve owned over the years is essential to capturing the essence.
For the past 8 years, I’ve used a used 10 year-old Nikon D40x DSLR with the 18-135 and 70-300 F3.5-5.6 VR dual kit lenses. They have served dutifully as my primary camera for literally tens of thousands of pictures, but a few months ago a “Error. Press Shutter Release Button” message kept coming up every few dozen shots. The only fix appeared to be removing the battery, shaking the camera, and doing a little voodoo dance. Sometimes it worked immediately, sometimes it didn’t. Seeing the issue somewhat commonly online, some websites suggested various fixes like shimming, cleaning, and regreasing. I will try them another day when I feel I can no longer stand the issue, but for now the camera continues to soldier on to this day. I’ve been wanting a new camera anyway, eyeballing my friend’s Fujifilm X-T2 with envy, so this was the impetus for a new purchase.
Instead of scouring the internet for questionable launchpad advice, I asked two of my most knowledgeable camera-head friends on their recommendations for cameras under $1000 USD. The Fuji owner recommended a Sony A6300 or A6500 and the Nikon shooter recommended me a Fuji. Seriously, why did neither of them recommend the camera brand they used? They must either hate their own cameras or found proverbial (and literal) greener shots from other brands. From there, my search high and low across websites like DPReview and reviews on YouTube led me to narrow down a rabbit hole of dizzying options down to a final list of three: a Nikon D5600 DSLR (around $700 with two kit lenses), a Panasonic G85 mirrorless (G8 in Japan, around $800 with a 12-60mm kit lens), and a Sony A6300 (around $850 with a 16-50mm horrendously-reviewed kit lens), also mirrorless.
In an effort to not wax on too much on the particulars of all cameras, I’ll focus a bit on the features I was personally looking for and what major factors I had to boil down before I made my final decision. In the end, everything is a compromise, as there is not one camera that can do-it-all perfectly and that can be had for under $1000.
DSLR or Mirrorless
Both DSLR and Mirrorless cameras have their own benefits and drawbacks. DSLRs are heavier, bulkier, but last much longer per battery charge and always have an “active” optical viewfinder. Up until recently, I didn’t know how pervasive higher-end mirrorless camera systems are in the digital market. The first few generations I was aware of had issues such as low-resolution viewfinders or screens, limited lens selection, and short battery life. Nowadays, the lighter and slimmer body, longer battery life, and lens selection and adaptability have made it a relevant option. In either case, I have never complained about the weight or size of my Nikon, a bit over a pound (nearly 500g) without a lens.
APS-C or MFT Sensor
Size matters. Of the many comparison photos between various . Granted, there are other contributing factors between brands and lenses, it cannot be denied that, all else equal, the larger the sensor, the greater the light-gathering capability. Another factor is that the smaller sensors have a larger crop factor, which means essentially that the camera captures a smaller “zoomed-in” area in comparison to the larger full-frame sensors or the 35mm equivalent.
While purists might argue that nothing could ever beat manual focusing, I agree only for the shots that you can take your time. With my lack of skill, manual would not do for me. Street, candid, and sports photography need a quick focus camera and lens system. My current Nikon was a bit mediocre at this, especially in lower light conditions, so I wanted something quicker that can track moving objects, especially people, better.
In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)
While most frequently call it IBIS, every company has their own terminology for essentially the same system. SteadyShot, Opitcal Image Stabilization, Vibration Reduction… they are all forms of physical sensor-compensating systems that helps create clearer and less blurry images when taking shots free-hand without the use of support like tripods. With such fine motors, you can have the F-stop aperture a bit wider (and ISO compensation lower), which allows more light to provide a clearer and brighter image. Since many of my shots up until now have been free-hand, I believe having such a system would help my picture quality. (I definitely am looking for an improved tripod and/or monopod in the near future, as well... Nothing beats a stable platform.)
The cost of all this technology should actually be the first thing I mention. While I technically am willing to spend around $1000, I don’t want to spend it if I don’t have to. So a value-added camera is a must; the more features it has, the more I am willing to pay within that realm. On top of the camera, I also need to consider the price of additional lenses, batteries, and other accessories. Canons and Nikons definitely win in this regard, as having the widest OE and third-party support does offer tons of lower-cost options. MFT and Sony cameras come pretty close, though Fujifilm cameras are a distant last place without adapters. Since I’ve been recently playing around with a fixed prime lens 50mm F1.8 right now, the gorgeous pictures that come from it really makes me want a fancier one for my next camera, too.
Other features: 4K Video, Fully-articulating Screen
While I technically don’t record much video, having the ability to do so in my digital camera is one huge reason I am replacing my Nikon D40x which lacks video recording. Having the ability to record much higher resolution 4K video, though taking up more data and making editing slow, is something I really want for the future. While 1080p (30+ FPS) is nice, the difference between 4K and 1080p is pretty impressive. To that end, a fully-articulating screen that can rotate up, down, and completely to face the front would be pretty useful if I ever decide to do a vlog. (That’s pretty unlikely, though, I don’t like to be in front of a camera…)
With all these and numerous other minor factors in mind, I spent nearly two months mulling over three options: a Nikon D5600, Panasonic G85, and Sony A6300. Check back with me next week when I will discuss those options!