In the market for a new camera?

Talk to me first, please!

I’m a Nikon shooter, but this isn’t about Nikon vs. the world. This is about a real camera system vs. a cute little pocket camera. Whenever people come to me for camera advice, I tend to push them towards systems with interchangeable lenses because most people interested in getting quality pictures are going to be happier with that choice in the long run. It doesn’t have to be a huge expensive DSLR either! Just don’t buy a cheap point and shoot! Here’s why you shouldn’t.

Your mobile device is probably just as good.

Yeah I said it. iPhoneographers, rejoice! Your phone is probably nearly as good as a cheap point and shoot and there are only two ways in which it likely falls short.

  1. No real flash. Phone flashes tend to be a terrible, oddly colored LED light that doesn’t really do anything for subjects that are a decent distance away.
  2. No optical zoom. “Digital zoom” is a crappy marketing tactic, not an actual feature, and you really shouldn’t use it. It’s the same thing as cropping your picture after taking it.

Plus you can instantly put your pictures on Facebook or whatever other social media after using your phone to take it. A cheap point and shoot wont have this feature though some of the system cameras do.

Image quality, compared to real systems, is low.

You may sometimes see people that say something like, “I shot a picture with my [insert brand] compact and compared it to my friend’s DSLR and couldn’t tell a difference.” This might be a true statement, but it’s highly dependent on the shooting situation. When I first got my Nikon D40, I shot some outdoor shots in bright daylight with it and actually preferred the images out of my old point and shoot and wondered what made the DSLR so special. Now I bet if the same person took a picture indoors in dim lighting with no flash and compared it to their friend’s DSLR they wouldn’t be boasting about the point and shoot anymore! Bigger sensors always give better low light shots without flash. I push people to a real system because they’re going to want to take decent pictures in a variety of situations. When the lights go out, typically, so does your point and shoot.

Keep in mind that I’m strictly talking about cheap point and shoots with this as well. If you’re going to spend $800 and buy a Sony RX-100M III then I’m not going to stop you. That camera is excellent with a very good sensor and can produce images good enough for a professional to use it on assignment. I’m talking about the $100 point and shoot that gives you no advantage over your phone other than the ability to zoom. You can find Nikon 1 cameras for insanely cheap that will blow the picture quality away and you can get the Sony a5000 for just a little bit more than that which has DSLR like image quality. All of these cameras are going to give better low light performance and overall image quality than a cheap compact.

You have far less creative input.

Most point and shoots have a severe lack of manual control as they’re designed to get you the picture quickly and easily without fuss. Unfortunately that makes it a lot harder to make the camera act the way you want it to when you’re trying to make creative images that don’t look exactly like what the camera thinks the scene should. While it is true that the best photographers can get a good shot with any camera, it takes much more effort to do so when you don’t have full control of the camera settings. If you just want pictures now, certainly a point and shoot will do that… but so will most phones. I push people towards a system that will allow them to learn as much as they want to and not be held back by the camera itself.

You’re stuck with what you get.

The only upgrade for a cheap camera is buying the newest version of the cheap camera when it comes out. A system with interchangeable lenses can really be changed infinitely with lenses. If your kit lens doesn’t give you good enough low light performance, you can buy a fast f/1.4 prime and that’s essentially upgrading your light gathering ability. The bonus is that when you spend money to upgrade your lens, as long as the lens remains operational there’s a good chance you’ll get at least 75% of that money back if you sell it down the road. Additionally, if you buy a camera that’s compatible with a certain lens system, it will still support all of the new lenses that come out for that system years from now. If you buy into a major lens manufacturer such as Nikon or Canon, there’s a good chance that 10-20 years from now they will still be using the same mount. Your camera body might be outdated by newer technology, but if one of them releases the perfect lens for you then you’ll be able to mount it to your outdated body and take some awesome pictures with it!

It’s likely built to be disposable.

Even the cheapest entry level DSLR is going to be far more rugged than a cheap, plastic point and shoot. The higher end compacts are built more solidly (my RX-100 has taken a few falls and survived) but don’t expect your cheap one to survive if you happen to drop it. Pro level DSLRs are certainly the king of durability but even the low end ones have gone through hell and lived!


So what should I get instead?

This honestly depends on the person. For people that like smaller cameras, look into a mirrorless system. For those that want larger cameras, a DSLR is a great choice. If someone still wants something that can fit in the pocket and offer some versatility, the Sony RX-100 is the perfect choice. The main thing that is important is that you don’t cheap out on the camera. I would recommend an 8 year old used Nikon D40 to someone before I’d tell them to get a point and shoot, and the D40 wont be much more expensive but will blow away any cheap compact in image quality and potential to create. I can offer a few suggestions below with APS-C sized sensors which will produce excellent results:

  1. Budget $200: Used DSLR. Most DSLRs have good durability and sometimes the user that sold it hardly even used it. Some good used models to look for are the Nikon D40 or D3000. Either of those can usually be snagged for $150-$200 with the kit lens.
  2. Budget $500: Low end DSLR or Mirrorless. The Sony a5000 is a great start for someone that wants a system that is smaller and more modern. If you like the traditional DSLR shape, a Nikon D3200 or Canon T5 (1200D) can be had in this price range.
  3. Budget $800: In the DSLR world, Canon T5i or Nikon D5300. The better built but last generation Nikon D7000 can be found for this price as well. Sony a6000 would be my smaller mirrorless choice. If you want a true pocket camera, the Sony RX-100 III is amazing.  The older RX-100 II is also a good choice if you want to sacrifice a faster lens for a little more reach.

From your start point, every time you get the itch to upgrade, I’d upgrade your lenses before upgrading the body. If you get nothing else out of this blog post, rememeber this:  Better cameras make taking pictures easier, but better glass leads to more creative options which leads to better pictures. Yes, I’ve upgraded my camera body to the point where I don’t need anything better at all than what I have but the things that have lead to the greatest improvements in my photos have been spam watching videos related to lighting on Youtube, acquiring lenses that let me control how much of a scene I want in focus, and just straight up practice. If you want to get started just take my advice and get something that will support your growth instead of limiting you in the future.


Why I Push People Away From Cheap Point and Shoots | 2014 | Photography | Comments (0)

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