Do I need a new camera?

It’s been about a year since I last went through this. The result of my last plea for help was a number of recommendations and I ended up buying the excellent Canon Powershot S90. It really is a great point and shoot and I think pretty much exactly what I needed at the time to help me learn a little more about photography. I always figured it would be good test to be able to play with and figure out whether I eventually needed to move onto something more. I guess the main thing that disappoints me a little about the S90 is its slow speed, it can only take about a shot a second in RAW. I often could do with something faster. Also while its low-light performance is better than anything I’ve ever used before it still isn’t as good as I’d like. I could certainly do with a longer optical zoom but that’d have to be combined with something that used faster shutter speeds I guess.

So I’m starting to get a little itch again, fueled by people talking about cameras across twitter all this morning and planning a honeymoon visiting an active volcano in Hawaii. So I’m starting to wonder if its time to look for something more, but I confess I don’t know whether a DSLR is really for me yet. I don’t know enough about lenses to really know what I’d be looking at right now and I’m pretty concerned that I’d just never actually carry a DSLR around enough to make it worthwhile. Micro 4:3 seems like a smaller yet still more powerful option but again I don’t really know what I’m looking at. What actually are the benefits of these over my point and shoot?

So I am asking my good friends of the internet to once again help me out. Should I look for something new or stick with what I have for now? Are there any good books that it might be worth reading to learn more about photography or is a learn-by-doing approach as I’ve been using for now the best way?

5 thoughts on “Do I need a new camera?

  1. Ok I’m 100000% biased, but the Nikon d7000 is brilliant. If you are willing to go the DSLR route, at least. Fwiw, I have my d7000, two lenses, lens cleaner, extra cards/battery in a bag that’s 10″W x 4.5″D x 7.25″H (domke f-5xb). It’s not small enough that you’ll just stash it in your laptop bag, but it’s small enough to carry around on day trips and whatnot without killing your back.

    As for books, basically start here: http://amzn.to/lXu6Py — once you finish that and spend more time just taking a crapton of pictures, you’ll have a much better idea of what other books you might want to pick up. (Mulitple people (rob, kev, johnath, etc) will back me up on this.)

  2. If you want something in between the S90 (or S95, it’s upgrade) and a DSLR there are things like the Nikon P500. I haven’t used it, the stats are pretty impressive, though. And it absolves you from worrying about lenses for the time being.

    If you do want to jump to DSLR, I love my Rebel. The latest introductory is the T2i, I think, which you’d get with the 18-55mm kit lens–which is OK, but I usually suggest people buying a new Canon DSLR also get the 50mm f1.8, because it’s a fantastic prime lens for $100. Lots of folks in the office have entry-to-mid-level DSLRs, I’m sure if you asked the right person nicely you could borrow one for a weekend before committing to it.

    But if you just want to take pictures, not “get into photography,” then the S90, or maybe replacing it with an S95 or something like a P500, is probably more what you want.

  3. Micro 4:3 is indeed a very interesting middle ground between a compact camera and a DSLR, but we should talk about the tradeoffs a bit. In photography, bigger is almost always better.

    Sensor technology is constantly improving, but at the end of the day, the bigger the sensor site, the more photons it can capture. Thus, larger sensors will always be better in low light than smaller sensors with the same resolution.

    I’ll spare you the dive into optics, but shallow depth-of-field and wide-angle lenses are much easier to achieve on larger sensors than small.

    While there are large sensor cameras with fixed lenses, most of the cameras with m4:3 or larger sensors also have interchangeable lenses. This gives you tremendous flexibility in your choice of glass, and also protects that investment. Camera technology is moving a lot faster than lens technology, so you can upgrade the camera without replacing the glass. I’m an extreme example of this, I’m a huge m4:3 fan because I have a large collection of interesting old manual-focus glass, and you can mount almost anything on a m4:3 camera with cheap adapters.

    Borrowlenses have recently picked up the m4:3 line, so you can now rent all sorts of interesting glass. Buy the camera you’re going to use and learn the controls well, but lenses all have pretty much the same UI.

    To your specific issues with the S90, any of the m4:3 or DSLR options will shoot at a few frames a second or more, and buffer several frames. RAW will slow down the ‘recovery’ time, but they’ll shoot fast. Larger sensors will give better low-light performance, and you can get faster lenses for DSLRs than you’ll find on compacts.

    The S90 is a solid camera, and I don’t think you’re going to get much out of upgrading to a S95, LX5, or XZ1. You *might* want to look at the G12, but I really think m4:3 would make the most sense if you’re not going to go for a DSLR.

    In m4:3, I’m hugely biased towards Olympus, but for a reason that may not matter much to you. Olympus puts the image stabilization in the body. This means that all of my old MF glass is stabilized now. Panasonic puts the IS in the lenses, so you only get the benefit with lenses that have it. In the DSLR world, Pentax, Sony, and Olympus (“normal” 4:3) put stabilization in the body, everyone else puts it in the lens.

    I’ve not read the book that dria recommends though I’ve heard good things about it. I’m old-school, though and still recommend the Ansel Adams series: The Camera, The Negative, The Print. This is of course written in the days of film, but you’re still doing the same things. Processing is just easier these days.

  4. I don’t care what kind of camera you get as long as it takes a fantastic picture of me making a metal face in front of the volcano.

  5. If you’re asking whether you should upgrade, then yes, you should upgrade :) Point&shoots are toys – they’re a good fit for some people, but for others they’re just the first stepping stone onto something proper. Yes, some people consistently do amazing things with a point&shoot… in general, those people also have 20+ years experience.

    So here’s another vote for a micro 4/3 – doesn’t compare to a good DSLR, but still miles better than a point&shoot toy. It used to be that a SLR-style fixed lens was a good middle-ground between point&shoot and DSLR – but the new micro 4/3 cameras fill that spot rather nicely now.

    I’ve only started looking at micro 4/3, as a complement for my 5Dmk2 (which is amazing, but too heavy for casual day-to-day), so I’m a bit new to them myself. So far I have 2 at the top of my list:

    Olympus PEN E-PL2. http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympusepl2/
    Upsides: Its available now, probably cheaper, more compact (due to lack of a viewfinder).
    Downsides: No orientation sensor (so you’ll need to manually rotate portrait photos), LCD isn’t articulated, no viewfinder (but you can buy an addon to add one).

    Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3. http://www.dpreview.com/previews/Panasonicdmcg3/
    Upsides: Full 1080p HD video, better exposure compensation.
    Downsides: Optical image stabilization (so if you want image stabilization, you’ll need more expensive lenses), not yet available (apparently it’s out this month).

    Between those two, I’d vote for the G3 – on the assumption that the image quality will be comparable to the E-PL2.

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