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Friday, 13 March 2020


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Did Step 3 to myself recently. I spent the last year looking, considering cameras along a certain path and then did a heavy and quick backtrack to something else.

And even that got botched when I picked up a mint model even older than anticipated from FB Marketplace.

The irony is that it turned out to really be a "Step 1" choice, being what I needed and not what I "wanted." I'm happy ... but check back in a few months of course.

My first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XSi ten years or so ago. Nice little camera. No longer competitive for a number of reasons, including noise at ISO 1600 that would be unacceptable at ISO 6400 today, but I got a lot of use out of it.

The main reason I wouldn't recommend a Rebel, or any DSLR, today is that for most purposes a mirrorless camera with a good EVF is better, IMHO. You get full-time DoF preview, and you also get exposure preview, which is impossible with an optical finder. And while I've never actually measured the timing, I would think that the absence of a reflex mirror would make a mirrorless camera faster to shoot after you press the shutter release button.

It has only happened a handful of times to me for photo newbies to ask me for camera buying advice. I always tell them the same thing, 'it doesn't matter.' The thinking is that if they stick with one of the known brands, the camera will work just fine. If they use it a lot, a rare thing, then they will soon figure out if they need something else. I am starting think this about cars too.

Attractive discounts on this Toyota line today:


I would buy a Camry or Accord if I have no interest in cars, and all I want is to get from point to point, reliably. I would buy a Canon Rebel with a kit zoom if I have no interest in cameras or photography, and all I want is to take good looking snapshots, reliably. However, if I love cars or cameras, why would I buy a Camry or a Rebel? Come on, YOLO!

To your point of making recommendations, the problem is, it's a mismatch. You are a camera nut. Why ask a nut to recommend a practical, passable camera? Now, if I am looking for the very best 35mm 'cron, you know you da man.

About 9 or 10 years ago, I emailed you saying something to the effect of all I wanted was a Minolta SRt with a digital sensor. (or the equivalent) You actually recommended a Sony a900. I bought a Sony a850 and have never regretted it. However, the a850 is much more analogous to my Maxxum 7 than my SRt.

I can assure you I understand exactly why I buy the cameras I do.

I really loved my little 450D back in the day (2008). The body alone was too small for my XL hands but when I added a Canon grip, the size was just perfect. Because it was made of lightweight plastic the combined weight of the body, grip and two batteries was only 29 ounces and when combined with a 26 ounce EF 70-200mm f/4L IS it made for a nice critter rig. I eventually added a 1.4X Canon extender for even more reach.

The 450D (XSI) was the fourth generation of the Rebel and Canon finally made some nice improvements (12MP, SD Card, Stabilized Kit Iens, Live View, Spot Metering, My Menu, ISO Button, etc.) that really sold be. While I loved the size, weight, and reach of this rig its 1600 ISO limit eventually pushed me to full frame where I opted for a small body with no grip to keep the size down and the weight the same.

Even though that old 450D was an entry level camera with one control wheel, no video, cheap plastic construction, and no weather-sealing, it was probably my favorite in terms of size and weight. Having a lightweight rig with vertical controls was really nice.

Well in a sense some these reasons may, as you say, be irrational, but "irrational" reasons can be more important than we think, especially for amateurs/enthusiasts like myself. In particular, if a camera looks nice and feels nice, I find I am more likely to want to use it and carry it everywhere, which makes it more likely that I'll take better photos (and also just enjoy the experience more) compared to a camera which, "rationally speaking", may have been a better match.

About a year ago, a friend of mine asked me about an entry level Nikon DSLR that was on sale at a local Navy Exchange. He and his wife were about to go on a trip, and he also has a backyard that is often visited by Florida wildlife. He would post pics from his mobile phone, all pixelated from cropping to zoom. He knew I had a lot of cameras, so he asked me about the Nikon.

I told him it was a good camera, and the price made it a good value. Then I suggested that he consider the Panasonic FZ1000, because I knew he wasn't going to be interested in changing lenses. I went through all the features and compared them with the Nikon, giving the advantage to the Nikon is most areas except convenience.

Well, he bought the FZ1000. I didn't hear much from him about it after that.

He recently told me he realized he hadn't told me that he really liked the camera; and that two of his sailing buddies liked it so much, they each bought one too.

I'm not often asked for camera advice, most folks seem happy with their phone. But I was glad this instance turned out well for everyone.

The Rebel cameras are great within their limitations. I took one to Africa for a less valuable if lost/damaged, autofocus APC camera that would increase the focal length of a long zoom lens. A drawback of cameras in that class (inexpensive DSLR's) is that the shutter lag makes them problematic for sports photography. I found them frustrating for lacrosse and hunter-jumpers compared to a 5D series camera. It is the type of camera I have observed many tourists in Europe using, they must sell a lot of them.

The Paradox of Choice:

The first DSLR that I bought brand new from an actual store was a Canon Rebel XSi (up until then I shot with a Pentax that I got from a friend).
I’ve moved on to mirrorless, but that Canon is still on a drawer and still use it a little from time to time with the lovely 50mm f/1.8II.
I think that combo (or its modern equivalent) is a no-brainer for anyone starting in “serious” photography: the new iteration of that lens is the cheapest way to get big aperture with autofocus, and the EOS mount is old enough so there are lots of old lenses that cost next to nothing.
That will let you play around and try different focal lengths to learn what you like and are comfortable with.

I could make my living with a Rebel and the two-lens kit if I had to.

ctein's Tesla: the gold comemerative Leica of automobiles?

Step 1: Figure out exactly what I want.
Step 2: Determine that it either does not exist or is mind bogglingly expensive.
Step 3: Sometimes make it myself which often is a subset of mind bogglingly expensive.

Occasionally it turns out that someone makes what I want, but then immediately goes out of business. My wife used to say that computer companies should pay me to not buy their products. Amiga, Be, Dauphine, Zeos, General Magic, and so on. A couple went out of business the week I placed an order.

A Lotus Seven should be the cheapest car in the world, yet it is not. I always seem to be looking for either the Lotus Seven or the Mercedes Benz Unimog of cameras.

I actually have to do this every year for a course I teach. The students need a good camera, but it doesn't have to be the newest or fanciest. This is our starting point:

First and foremost, you should have a good camera, but it can be an older camera if it was a good camera when it was new. A brand new camera that isn’t a good camera isn’t necessarily better than an old but good camera.

That sounds a bit cryptic, so I spell it out for them at the above link. Over the years they've also found this used camera buying advice to be helpful:


CLE brilliant

I've had people follow my purchase suggestions on several occasions; Olympus owes me commissions on at least 3 m4/3 systems! (To be fair, when I told my brother to get an E-M1, he said he already had it picked out, but asked for my opinion in the dark to check his conclusions.)

I have a great deal of difficulty understanding the high opinion of the Leica CL.

I actually owned one and used it often for a time in my newspaper job when I needed flash, thinking the rangefinder would offer benefit over the SLR. While the lens was good, the body was a complete, total POS. The worst camera I ever owned for reliability. In over 50 years.

The first problem was the rangefinder kept going out of wack. The main problem was a person did not know that until the film was developed and then discovering the subject of the photo was out of focus. I sent it in to Marty Forscher (then the god of Leica repair) a couple of times and the problem would quickly repeat. I eventually figured out how to make the repair but the longevity of the repair was no better than Forscher's. By the way, the flash used was a Visitor 283.

I never sold the camera. Could not stand the thought of dumping that POS on somebody. Eventually got tired of coming upon it in the bottom drawer of a desk and sent it off to the Boulder, MT, landfill.

[Yes, the CLE was much better. Although it did inherit a few of the CL's quirks. --Mike

P.S. I also have trouble selling anything substandard. Doesn't seem ethical.]

D5600 with Nikkor 18-300G = Toyota Corolla with roof-top tent.

nowadays if someone asks me for a camera and they are a beginner i direct them to the previous generation just-above-entry level dslr from canon or nikon. based on my previous recommendation experience most of the time that's what they end up buying anyway. to the ones who already shoot a lot with their phones i am recommending the fuji x-t100 or x-a5 as they are available for excellent prices and work better with their phones.

Maybe ten years ago I was asked for camera buying advice quite a bit. But in the last few years, as cell phone cameras have become so much better these type of queries have all but stopped.

Now, occasionally, someone will ask what film camera they should buy, but digital? Not for a couple of years.

This is one of my favorite threads about the Canon Rebel...


The money quote is:

"Some where around 15-20 times per weekend, I strap my xti to a helmet, walk it across the tarmac and through the prop wash of a turbine aircraft, haul it to 14,000' above ground level, open the aircraft door, which hopefully does not hit my camera but sometimes does, in anywhere from -15F degrees and up, hurl myself, and camera, towards the earth at around 120 mph, taking over 100 images of my free fall student / subject as the conditions around me go from cold to extremely warm, dry to moist, sun shine to falling thru a cloud, then deploy a parachute, createing a 3g force worth of brakes, then land in to what is hopefully a nice stand up in the grass, but may be a hit drop and roll in the unknown, then return to a open-air, dusty packing area where my xti sits on a table, waiting for the parachute to be repacked so that it may ride my head for another adventure. It does great. One of the major things about a rebel that has always made it suitable for freefall photagraphy is its weight, or lack there of, however it light construction has never been a problem for me, or any of my peers."

I probably have some two-page emails in my archive from when I would try to answer this question conscientiously (and comprehensively). Really, they just wanted to know which Canon or Nikon to buy. In hindsight I should have just asked if they like twisting their zoom lenses to the left or right.

Yes, but which camera is a champagne '98 Corolla?

Mike, as a professional photographer and admitted gear-nerd I enjoy reading about cameras as much as anyone—indeed it’s why I started coming here almost the moment your blog began. But you seem to be a man with at least one eye on the bigger picture, and if ever there were a moment when many of us I’m sure would prefer to hear you discussing our current crisis, not Canon Rebels, cars, or billiards, now is that moment. As of today my family, and every other New Yorker I know, is self-quarantining for two or more weeks in a desperate voluntary attempt to “flatten the curve.” So you’ve got an especially captive audience, with an enlarged craving for content! Please, let us hear your voice.

Are you okay? Any coronavirus instances near you?

I have been incredibly blessed that no one has asked me anything about photography...

Sometimes I get stink eyes when I'm out shooting, though...

I'm happy to know someone laughed! Thanks, Mike.

Just FYI: Warranty Direct Reliability Index ranks the Corolla at No 39.
Meanwhile it drives like a wheelbarrow and is as comfortable as a pushbike. It's amazing what marketing can achieve! (To be fair it was a reliable car in the 1980s—but still uncomfortable and not at all nice to drive).
I don't think the Canon Rebel is that bad :-)

Your answer to Mike Plew's question was brilliant.

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