Advice on what digital camera to buy


I do enough photography that people ask me for advice on cameras. Some time ago I wrote an article about what lenses should I buy for a Canon DSLR which has turned out to be fairly popular. The thrust of that article, by the way, is to convince you that there is only minimal point in buying a DSLR that can changes lenses and getting only one lens for it, even if you plan to get another lens later (after your camera has depreciated plenty without using its real abilities.)

However, many people come with the higher level question of which digital camera to get. There are many cameras, and lots of right answers, but hopefully I give a few in "What Digital Camera Should I Buy?."

Here, the advice has some specifics and some generalities. Both Canon and Nikon are good, but stick with the major brands so you get accessories and an aftermarket on eBay. And the answer, if you are serious about your pictures, may be to buy more than one. We've got three -- plus another 2 we don't use.


Thanks for the tip about the Canon G-series. I've been looking for a point & shoot with a fast lens, and I had figured they just didn't exist.

Unfortunately it appears Canon dropped the nice lens form the G9 and G7, and the G6 is discontinued.

Do you know of any other fast p&s models?

There don't seem to be many below f/2.8. Ricoh has an f/2.4 and there are some powershot models at f/2.6 but that's about it.

This is probably due to them getting better at noise at high ISO, so they can get away with less light, but of course shallow DoF suffers.

First I would like to say, Thanks for that outstanding article. I found it to be most informative.
Second,I didn't see anything on close ups. I'm very new to the field and I would like to buy the best camera for my intended purpose. So far I'm pretty comfortable with the cannon brand. I will be taking pictures of fashion models. I think that based on the articles that I have been reading, it would be best to go with the 50mm lens--to start off with. But I will also be taking photo close-up's of diamond jewelry showing the very details of the pieces and I haven't yet found lens article information that I can be confident with as a buyer. Can you please help me. Thanks

What you refer to is often called "Macro photography." Lenses marked as able to do "macro" will be able to get very close to your subjects. There are also small adapters you can buy that add a spacer so that you can use non-macro lenses for this.

Note that in macro photography, lighting can be more difficult. Cheap shooting boxes are now available because so many people sell on ebay -- get one on ebay itself.

But my lesson continues to be, don't buy just one lens.

Canon's 100mm macro lens is very popular and all you need for your jewelry, and a lot of other interesting tele photography, but it's about $450. There are some cheaper ones. There is an EF-S (for the prosumer DSLRs and rebels only) for about $340. It is 60mm and so would also be a good portrait and short-tele lens.

My friend works for a big company that makes SD cards, and he reports that in their destructive testing labs (taking photos over and over again to judge lifetime of the cards in real operation), the Canon cameras outlast the Nikon ones significantly. This is borne out anecdotally by a friend who shoots horse shows Nikon DSLR breaking down after a few tens of thousands of photos.

I just don't hear stories of camera wear-out. Most people never use the camera to the extent that a test-bed like this would. I would prefer to focus on problems that are likely to come bite me.

I would like to recommend the Pentax K10D. (I don't get
any money for the recommendation.) 10 MP, more bang for
the buck than any other camera, allows one to use essentially
all Pentax lenses ever made WITH shake reduction (since the SR
is in the camera, not in the lens), nice to use for people
familiar with traditional film-based SLR cameras (most stuff
one needs to change---and one can change a lot---can be done
via various wheels withouth having to go to the menu), has a
dust-reduction system, has the traditional 3:2 ratio for the chip
(which is about half the size of 35-mm film, thus traditional
lenses behave as if they had a longer focal length), can shoot
JPEG and RAW simultaneously.

For those thinking about changing to a digital SLR: Why a SLR and
not a point-and-shoot, apart from higher quality and the ability
to change lenses (the main advantages)? A viewfinder gives one
an immediate view, whereas a display is delayed somewhat. Also,
with a viewfinder one has much higher resolution than a display
(nice if one needs to focus manually). Also, if it is bright,
then one can't see much even in a good display.

Why digital rather than film? The resolution argument for film
is no longer valid, for almost everyone. 5 reasons: shoot like a
pro (take lots of pictures and keep those you want---with film you
have to change film or have several cameras), change sensitivity
("ISO") on the fly (even automatically) (with film you have to change
film or have several cameras), no worries with negatives, you have
the originals in high resolution (you can scan film, but convenient
scanning is low resolution and high resolution is a pain) and finally
it is easy to take a quick picture and upload it somewhere (say, for
selling something on Ebay).

There is a wide range of high-quality lenses and other stuff available
for Pentax digital SLRs.

But I still recommend people to stick with the big 2 (as much as I love small brands) because

  • There will be more people to help you with them
  • There will be more aftermarket products available
  • There will be more of a market in used products on eBay

This doesn't mean stick entirely with them, but just to count the above things as worth a lot, and thus accept that you might get less camera for the money on initial purchase. If you get a lot more camera for the money with the Pentax (or other brands) and it meets your special needs, by all means go with any brand with a reputation for quality.

Not sure why one would use a camera to test an SD card (rather than a test deck), but the number of cameras being discarded due to mechanical wear must approach zero: Anecdotal cameras in use on muddy dusty and dangerous race-track environments lasting only a few 10s of thousands of shots excepted :-).

On the "which model is best" front, I am happy with my magnesium framed Nikon P5000. It (and its successor the P5100) are very compact (much smaller than the G9), yet has great hand feel and excellent imaging. Combine that with full manual control and an SLR-style command wheel, plus compatibility with converter lenses and the Nikon flash systems (low light is the enemy of imaging and lack of it the biggest weakness in point and shoot) and you have a great always-there camera. No sign of it wearing out yet :-)

There's a good review with test images here

I have a Canon EOS 600 film camera with 3 lenses:

Canon 35-70mm 1:3.5-4.5
Canon 90-300mm 1:4.5-5.6
Sigma 17-35mm 1:2.8-4

My current Fuji S9500 has just gone wrong and I am thinking of buying a Canon 450D.

I understand that I have to multiply the focal lengths by 1.6 if I fit these lenses to the digital camera.

What I need to know is: will these lenses give good results with the 450D or should I try to sell the EOS600 and the lenses and start again?

With thanks in anticipation,

To be strict, while it is a common shorthand, you are not multiplying the focal length, but cropping the field of view, with a camera like the 450d. Depth of field remains as it is for the real focal length.

I have not owned the top two lenses, but my recollection is they are not top quality. That may be the same Sigma as I own. That's an OK lens for the price but Sigma quality varies a lot -- if yours is good, stick with it.

Are these the EOS EF lenses with autofocus? If not, you will want to look into newer ones, though you can get an adapter.

This is a great article I am going to buy the canon 5d mark 11 but still can't decide on two lenses
1. Canon 100-400mm F4.5 L is USM
2.Sigma 50-500mm F4.-6.5

I need the zoom as I do wild life photography so what do you recommend please

Thank you in advance


Hi Brad,

You said:
"The best: The 5D Mark II

If you want the best, the one I personaly carry, and you have $2600 to spend, then just about every serious Canon photographer I know today today is carrying the 5D Mark II. Really."

While the 5D MK II is a great camera it is not the one carried by most serious/professional photographers. Please check the Canon 1Ds series. The top of the heap is currently the 1Ds MK III.

Good article and I enjoyed your numerous and detailed web postings!



While the 1Ds cameras are indeed top quality, the reality is that a lot of the working press are carrying the 5d Mark II instead because it's comparable and is much lighter and smaller. If you want to make it big and have a portrait grip, you can buy the battery grip. As such, many people judge it to be the best.

I have been looking for a camera and cannot decide on one. My daughter does gymnastics and my son bmx and i would love a camera that will take great action pictures without the blur. I love to take pictures of them and the scenery around us. I would love to get a good camera to start doing some photography. Price range would be no more than $1,300...any suggestions???? THanks

Continuous focus has been a standard feature on all the cameras I have had for at least 10 years, it is quite common in the DSLR market. Of course such cameras are bigger, heavier and more expensive. The also focus much, much faster if you get the right lenses.

Hi Brad,
Thanks for the lens kit info. Maybe you can help me a little more. Back in the day I was a photojournalist for a metro daily. I started out with Nikons and Canons and remained there. My lenses over the years were (depending on brand) 18mm, 20mm, 28mm, 35mm 55 macro, 100mm macro, 105mm, 180mm, 200mm and 800mm (mirror). Never a Zoom. I had Nikon F2s and Canon F1s. But I gave up my career to raise a family and just did a little freelance here and there and wound up strictly using a P&S sure shot 99% of the time. I'm frustrated with the P&S shutter lag and pretty much used a camcorder for everything in the past 10 years. But I'd like to get back in the game. Not super serious given the costs of top of the line equipment but something 'prosumer" (I believe that's the terminology being used). I looked at the NIkon 300D a couple of years ago and recently looked at the D90 (hubby likes the video capability) The only thing missing from the D90 that the 300 has is a PC outlet which I could use but I guess you can get adapters? Anyway. I very much appreciated your explanation of the difference and why there is one between the 35mm SLR film focal length lenses and the digital versions (except for high end) and wondered if you could just translate for me what I'm looking to buy. If I get the Nikon and once had an 18, 24, 50, 55 macro, 105, and 200 what do you think I could reasonably translate that into in todays digital market. BTW I REALLY appreciated your pushing people to by the 50mm 1.4 or 1.8, I loved the 105 and 85. They were pretty much my standard. I promise to use your site to get to B&H when ready to purchase. For something more on me you can go to (I did that for a while too) Thanks for any assistance you can offer.

I am working with some friends to do a Nikon related article but it's not ready. The Nikon full frame (FX) cameras are pretty pricey -- the more affordable ($2400) D700 is 12MP and not considered pro by some. But at the same time DX lenses on FX cameras means carrying a lot of extra weight and spending a lot of extra money.

On many P&S you can get rid of a lot of the so-called shutter lag by half-pressing to focus first, and then shooting. But if you need to focus and shoot at once, yes it's quite annoying.

Don't know if they have PC outlet adapters but I would imagine you could get one for the shoe in a pinch.

I like my Canon PowerShot compact digital but I wish I could set the focal length to 50mm equivalent or so to reduce the distortions I get with family group photos (big heads at the edges, smaller heads in the middle, small feet, you know the kind of thing). I try to zoom to what could be about 50mm but it is hit-and-miss.

Is there a digital camera which allows zoom focal length to be selected?

But it should not be that hard to do by eye. And in reality you are not trying to zoom to a focal length. What you really care about is how far you are from your subject. It isn't the focal length that distorts (except at very wide angles where staying rectilinear distorts) it's the perspective. Get right in somebody's face and their nose is larger compared to other features because it is closer. Get 10' away and this is not very noticed.


  • Get the right distance from your subjects to shoot them nicely
  • Set your zoom to frame as you wish.
  • Avoid anything in the very wide angles (less than 35mm equivalent) or it will distort.

You can "fix" the distortion of wide angle lenses with software, and it will project your image to look non-rectangular but you can then crop from it. However, you may view the non-rectilinear image to be more distorted in other ways because straight lines are no longer straight.

Brad, I "found" you while surfing for lens suggestions to go with the Canon 7d, which I had hoped to purchase very soon. Your article, "What lenses for my digital SLR (Canon)" was very helpful. I decided to go with (all Canon) the 50mm f/1.4 EF (USM) for a prime lens; the 15-85mm f/3.5-6.6 EFS USM IS; and the 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS EF-S. I also intend to purchase appropriate UV filters/hoods for the lenses, as well as a pack bag. The hang-up came when I asked about availability of the 7d. I was surprised--although, in retrospect, shouldn't have been--to hear that the camera is not available and probably won't be for some time due to the tragedy in Japan. Because of your article, I had contacted B&H Photo-Video, Inc., New York, with plans to purchase all item from that source (By the way, I mentioned your name as my link to B&H--told a sales rep. named Brian--, so, I hope you are able to collect the referral $$!). Whenever the 7d becomes available, I plan to purchase the package. Thank you for your help and for the links to many excellent resources.

Jim G
San Angelo, TX

Thanks. Though I doubt B&H will give any referrals on a phone order by name. I know you'll be happy with the 7D and the 50mm lens -- I have yet to shoot with the other two lenses so an only refer to other people's reports on them.

When a camera gets into short supply, you should check the price for "completed auctions" on eBay, not necessarily to buy there, but to see how much people are charging over the usual retail, as a sign of how scarce the camera is getting and how long people think it will be before they become available.

I will say that often you can get really good deals on used cameras there, though.

Add new comment