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How-to's Camera Reviews

What Camera to Buy?

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

Keywords: nikon, camera, bodies, faq, film

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This is one of the most common questions we see at most photography forums, both by beginners and amateurs - Yet, there is no site that offers a thorough easy-to-follow complete guide to go through the maze. Quite frequently sound advice but imposed, not explained. I am old enough and passionately interested in photography to have used all the formats and have owned -and still own- several cameras and complete systems in each category, so ......

The author in autofocus-tracking mode with an F4s
The author enjoying autofocus-tracking mode with a F4s
and a 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF Nikkor

What follows is an attempt to provide a logical guide within the framework of film based photography. 

Film still dominates the market and in general still provides great solutions as of today for many applications; yet, digital is better for others.

Good, highly acceptable digital alternatives do exist and more are soon to arrive, demolishing previous price barriers and most preconceptions. The latest Coolpix models render surprisingly good images. On the DSRL front, first the D1, then the D1X and the D1H and later the D100 have tempted us from the very beginning; not to mention the D2H, D2Hs, D2X, D200 and the most affordable Nikon D70, D70s and D50. 

If you add to the above that most high-end modern lenses out-resolve any film, there is no point to discuss now whether quality prints from digital sensors can rival those made from film. I've seen astonishing proof, poster sized. On top of it, even those not enjoying top of the line digital cameras do enjoy the instant gratification factor and instant retakes, making digital photography most attractive.

There is no doubt that the digital segment of the market will continue to grow, even after stabilizing from never imagined proportions, as soon as lower prices make them reachable to the masses and to emerging countries populations.

So the debate is over and we now simply face personal dilemmas.

Very soon this FAQ will show the two options: Film and Digital

In the meantime, today you can be the proud owner of the continuing reigning supreme world class 35mm SLR camera: a Nikon. 

The body choices are multiple, but we should try to separate them by type and categories, i.e. by the factors to look for or think about before buying:

By negative size: meaning, the inherent capacity to produce razor sharp enlargements beyond 5X7 inches. Yes, film is getting better all the time but clear barriers still do exist, differences are noticeable to the naked eye.
By convenience:
- Bulk and weight or easiness to carry around at all times
- By degree of automation (the more automated, the easier to operate in general)
- By film availability (you want to be able to find your film anywhere you go and have plenty of choices)
- By WYSIWYG capability ('What You See Is What You Get')
- By availability of a wide selection of lenses
By preferences of use:
Manual (You really want to learn "the secrets", are very creative, demand to be in total control and have very good eyesight or are a refined masochist)
Automated (You want to concentrate on framing and composition)
Solid, rugged construction (It is not that you are going into the wild, or have wild friends or relatives, or you are all thumbs; but you hate cardboard walls and plastic .....)
Light (You avoid weight, are a very careful neat person, have enough to buy insurance and don't dislike -or have an allergy to- polycarbonates)
By budget:
Low end of the prices scale (If you are under tight budget constraints, like our Secretary of the Treasury and the entire Third World)
Medium level (Where most of us are, aren't we?)
High priced (You are a yuppie, spoiled since brat; or have reached the comfort level to say "... so what, it's only money and we take none to the grave")
By status:
If you are a person that responds to status social pressures, it is not up to me to say it is silly; you may find out 40 years from now on your own. In the mean time on your behalf (and mine still to some degree) I will also consider cameras by status.

I will not waste your time with 8mm or 16mm negative size which are not worth considering, nor on view cameras (4X5, 5X7, 8X10 inches negatives) which are clearly superior but have reduced mobility due to their size and therefore do not qualify as at-all-time-carry amateur cameras, no matter how serious.

So let us dive in through the first category: negative size.

(5 Votes )
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Originally written on May 21, 2002

Last updated on January 21, 2021

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Admin, 46140 posts


Larry Jones (Larry443) on May 4, 2014

Outstanding! Thanks so much for the overview and the recommendations. I enjoyed reading about each class or group you presented. I especially liked your closing comment as that's what it's all about for me. Thanks again! Larry

Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on March 5, 2013

Very good points which we may check when we want to buy a new camera. Thanks.

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