Camera recommendations for the Christmas season

Well, the camera market is definitely maturing, so that now across three of the four major segments there are choices that are going to last a while:

h3. High-end Prosumer for affordable luxury :0)

If you love cameras, then the Canon 5D Mark II looks like the body to drool over. For a long time it was just about sucking it up and buying a $1500 pro lense to mate to your crappy $600 dSLR body because the lense made all the difference. Now with the 5D Mark II coming out in November/December the tradeoff has shifted. That because it has high sensitivity up to ISO 1600 so you can get away with slower F/4L lenses that cost half the F/2.8’s the pro’s use and because with 21MP of still resolution, you can get those poster-size prints done. Finally, although expensive, with this camera, you don’t need a high performance camcorder (like the Canon HL-10) anymore. It is an amazing camcorder that takes way better picture.

If you got thousands of dollars of Nikon lenses, then the Nikon D700 looks like the model. Full frame and great quality. Just lacks the movie mode. It too is full frame.

h3. Low-end dSLR as the best tradeoff

I really think that if you are planning to spend $1500 for a Nikon D300 or a Canon EOS-50D and then $200 for a lense, that’s the wrong tradeoff. Far better to be less proud and get the Nikon D60 or Canon 450D at $700 and put the money into a pro-quality lense. You will be amazed. The megapixels don’t matter as much as the lense quality. For the money the Nikon 18-200 is terrific. Canon has come out with a equivalent 18-200 that should be good. Many folks love the Sigma 18-200, but I have to say I don’t love mine. It seems to really overexpose shots with a Canon 350D that I own. Maybe this is a sample variation, but I find that the sunsets it takes are really bad and in lots of sunlight and high contract, it tends to overexpose. Works best in even light. And it isn’t super fast. But it is way, way, way better than the el cheapo kit lense.

h3. Low end Point and Shoot because everyone needs a brain-dead camera

This category is actually pretty dead. Prices have dropped 40% and image quality is the same to crappier. Even as sensors have gone from 7MP to 14MP, the image quality is just bad at anything other than ISO 100. So if I were you, the only feature to really get is the much brighter nicer screens of say the Canon 790IS and image stabilization for some folks.

Otherwise, if you have a working compact camera madein the last three years. Like our original Canon SD500, I wouldn’t bother upgrading. In fact, if you have a Fuji F10, F20 or F30, your image is actually higher quality because it uses the strange Foveon sensors at 6MP which were very, very high sensitivity at ISO400.

h3. What’s left, the Pro Point-and-Shoot

This area is finally getting some attention. Like the Yashica T4 of old, folks are finally entering this niche, but the perfect choice isn’t there. That is a camera that is pocketable but has terrific image quality and available light performance. The main thing you give up on are that they aren’t ultra-compact and they won’t have the zoom plus they are expensive. Current candidates are:

# “Lumix DMC-LX3″: Still uses a tiny 1/2.3” sensor (this is a 12mm diagnoal compared with a sensor 4x bigger in even APS-sized dSLRs and has high noise.
# “Canon G10”: Just shipped, no reviews yet.
# “Sigma DP2”: Just shipped, I have great hopes for this camera since it uses a larger sensor, but the SD1 was truly disappointing even though it used a 14MP Foveon sensor. The DP2 uses a 24mm F2/2.8 lense and hopefully fixes problems like 7 seconds to take a RAW picture.
# “Olympus Micro 4/3 rangefinder”: These are smallish cameras that have big sensor, but not pocketable. they do have interchangeable lenses. It uses an 18×13.5mm sensor. They showed a “prototype”: that looked like a range finder. No data on price or availability. This is probably the long term answer as the Foveon is really a niche sensor with lots of quirks.
# “Ricoh Caplio GX200″: It has a small 1/1.7” sensor. It is 12MP, but the main issue is that it is low noise only through ISO 100.