Trends in Camera Models: What’s New and What’s Important to Know

Photokina, one of the largest international photo shows, took place in Germany a few weeks ago. New product after new product showcased the latest technological trends in photography, which since the advent of digital cameras, seems to be evolving at an unbelievably fast rate. In an attempt to keep tabs, I discuss some of these trends below in terms of three camera types: SLRs, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras and professional point-and-shoots.

Before I begin I want to say this: despite all of the advances in camera technology, in most cases the camera you currently own probably gets the job done just fine—if not superbly well. I have always admired those photographers who snap incredible images using the same old camera they’ve been toting around for years. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the camera is not nearly as important as the skills and “eye” of the photographer behind it. On this note, I offer another bit of advice: the more expensive the model, the more it makes sense to buy a used body—that is, to purchase the previous model from the one currently on the market. And for the photographer low on cash, you can often purchase a used entry-level 6 megapixel body for a few hundred dollars and still get a camera that takes great photos. In our Career Training program, some of the best images are taken by photographers with the most basic bodies and kit lenses. Disclaimers aside, a new camera is fun and can make certain techniques and skills more accessible—and I intend to check them out at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City later this month!

Single Lens Reflex Cameras: Most professional photographers use SLRs as their primary camera; it is also the camera that most serious amateurs use. The two main SLR brands are Canon and Nikon. These two companies have the largest selection of lenses, flashes and other accessories. All of the other brands are also good but do not have as much of a selection. Below is a chart of Canon and Nikon’s current models.

Digital SLR Camera Bodies 2010

What to look for when purchasing a new (or used) SLR.
• Pixels. Many newer cameras have 16 megapixels or higher. However, for most amateurs, 6 megapixels works just fine and serves most purposes; more pixels are simply unnecessary. Professionals, on the other hand, often need the added pixels for areas such as stock photography, landscape, or when producing large prints.
• High Def (HD) Video. Increasingly, photographers are using this feature—and far more than they ever imagined they would. Therefore it is something I recommend looking for when buying a new camera. It fact, at RMSP, video is fast becoming one of the more dynamic parts of the curriculum, as it is increasingly what people want.
• Sensor Size. All SLR cameras now have decent-sized sensors, so it is not as important to look for full-size sensors (24x36mm) when you are buying a new model as it was when digital SLRs first hit the market (then, of course, called DSLRs). For nearly all purposes, the smaller sensors are just as good.
• Weatherproofing. Increasingly, SLR bodies are weatherproof. If you buy lenses also capable of handing light rain, snow, sand and dust, you can be out in these conditions without worrying (too much, anyway) about your camera.
Notable New SLR Cameras: Canon 60D and Nikon D7000. I feel that some camera models will be replaced very soon, including the Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 1Ds Mark III, Nikon D700.

Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera. This is a new type of camera that is becoming quite popular. Because there is no mirror, the body is smaller, though in most cases the quality of the images is comparable to that taken of an SLR. However, for those of us accustomed to an optical viewfinder, looking through an electronic viewfinder isn’t nearly as pleasing. Most of these cameras also have HD video, and so far, they all have either half-frame or APS-C size sensors. Additionally, because the sensors are also small, the lenses can be smaller, too. This means an all-around lighter, more portable camera without losing much—if any—quality.
While most brands of cameras are coming out with mirrorless interchangeable bodies, the two major players, Canon and Nikon, have yet to produce anything. I heard a rumor that early next year we will see something from these two companies.
I use a Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera and love the quality and compact size. I still use my Canon system more often, but when I want small, I go with the mirrorless.
Notable New Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras: Panasonic Lumix GH2 and GF1 and the Sony Nex-3 and Nex-5.

Professional Point-and-Shoot Cameras. These little cameras are consistently improving as prices drop and are great for those of us who always carry a camera. Additionally, they are keeping up with the previously mentioned cameras by also offering HD video. They also seem to have gotten away from the “megapixel race,” wherein companies tried to pack as many pixels into these small bodies as possible—10 megapixels is all that is ever needed.
Notable Professional Point-and-Shoot Cameras: Panasonic Lumix LX-5, Canon G12, and Canon S95. These two brands have dominated the professional point-and-shoot market, but with its Cool Pix P7000, Nikon is also becoming a player. All four of these cameras have truly professional features and shoot RAW. Again, their drawback is the small sensor size that seems to limit quality at higher ISO’s. That said, each new generation gets better.

I want to end with a camera I think professionals have been waiting for since the days of film. Fuji looks like they’ve done it with the FinePix X100. They have come up with a true professional fast-fixed lens camera (35mm equivalent – 35mm f/2) that is both compact and loaded with an APS-C sensor. With this combination, I’d be so bold as to say that Fuij has set a new standard in professional point-and-shoot cameras. The FinePix also offers HD video, RAW, as well as an optical and electronic viewfinder (Go Fuji!). I’ll go so far as to compare this camera with the best of the small professional point-and-shoot film cameras. I sure hope the other brands will follow their lead.
What to look for when buying a professional point-and-shoot.
• HD Video
• Wider Zoom Lenses. These lenses are getting wider (equivalent of 28 or 24mm), which is great for travel, architecture, and landscape.
• RAW. More cameras boost this feature, which is important for people spending a fair amount of time editing their images on the computer.
• Less Noise at Higher ISO

Between last month’s Photokina and this month’s PhotoPlus in New York, there is increasingly more great gear with improved technology for photo enthusiasts, advanced amateurs and professionals alike.

I am often asked what equipment I use – here is a list of my current equipment:
My SLR system consists of the following: Canon 1D Mark III (the newest model is 1D Mark IV); Canon 7D with the following lenses: 16-35mm f/2.8L wide zoom; 24-105mm f/4L Normal Zoom; 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L long zoom; 50mm f/1.4 fixed-normal lens; 100mm f/2.8L fixed macro lens; 135mm f/2L fixed telephoto lens.

My Mirrorless Micro 4/3 System includes: Panasonic Lumix GF1; Panasonic Lumix G1 (newest model G2); Panasonic Lumix 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 normal zoom (35mm equivalent 28-90mm); Panasonic Lumix 45-200mm f/4-5.6 (35mm equivalent 90-400mm); Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 (35mm equivalent 40mm), which is an amazingly sharp lens; an adaptor so my old Leica fixed lenses fit either of above bodies (cool!).

Professional Point-and Shoot: Canon S-90 (new model S-95), which is a tiny camera that is small enough to fit in your pocket; this is a great camera to always carry with you as your primary or backup body.

15 thoughts on “Trends in Camera Models: What’s New and What’s Important to Know

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Jimmy White

Thanks for keeping us all up to date Neil! Very much appreciated.

Jeff Langevin

As always, great information. Thanks for helping us keep current with the latest technology.

Canon SX30IS

The Canon SX30 IS has got you prepared for your next extreme photo opportunity. This point-and-shoot digital camera comes with a massive 35x Wide-Angle (24-840mm) Optical Zoom lens–a first for any PowerShot!

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marcy james

What an Awesome article, Neil! Thanks for the wealth of information! This is a great resource.

Susan Wolfe

As always, Neil, I can count on you to give an easy to understand assessment of photo gear. Thanks!

David

Your lack of mention of Olympus and Zuiko in the DSLR market is, IMO, a huge omission. In addition, the new Lumix LX5 is not as you describe. It has a large sensor and is fantastic in high ISO. It also has the widest angle lens at 24mm, making it in a class of it’s own (outside of Leica – but obviously only Nikon and Canon and maybe Fuji really count to you).

Tony

David – I would add Pentax to that list. Their DSLR is much smaller and lighter than the Canon. As was their wont, they let all other manufacturers come out with DSLRs first, learned from their mistakes, then came to market with a terrific line of cameras, but no market share. I have been in both Tokyo and Hong Kong airports; there tax-free camera stores do not sell Pentax, which I find amazing. The lenses are as good as Canon/Nikon at half the price.

mike

@DAVID
Title says “what’s important to know”, Olympus DSLR’s have no place is a article about important things.
Also before you try to correct someone about a sensor size in a camera, be sure you know what you’re talking about, LX5 indeed has a small sensor, look it up, true story.

Sue

I’m in agreement with David, and you also fail to mention Sony and Pentax (paticularly the bit where the new Pentax K5 won the Photokina Star Award, bypassing both the 60D and the D7000). OK, so these brands don’t have as many current lenses as Canon or Nikon… just how many lenses can any one photographer use, might I ask (or afford to have, if it comes to that). All three of these “other” brands have enough good and great lenses to satisfy most photographers. Not professionals, perhaps, but hobbyists and enthusiasts deserve a more balanced viewpoint.

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Bob McGowan

This is Bob McGowan, Programs Specialist at RMSP. Thank you for the reminders about the existence and quality of other brands in the DSLR market. As Neil has stated here, “All of the other brands are also good but do not have as much of a selection” (aka. lenses and accessories). Having worked with Neil for years and hearing him speak to thousands of photography students on this very subject, I can share with you from personal experience that his omission of other brands does not at all represent a particular bias on his part. He very much acknowledges and recognizes all current DSLR camera manufacturing companies produce great models and lenses, and provide very competitive options to the two major brands. It is generally known that lens and accessory variety can be a major consideration in the purchase of a camera system especially if one were going to make substantial investment in their equipment down the road. This is why he discusses this here. We hope that this is a healthy discussion for all and we definitely suggest anybody to research any brand that interests them. Truly, it is RMSP’s opinion that a photographer cannot go wrong with any brand choice they make.

Robert

The last SLR I bought was a Nikon F6 … I don’t see anything here that is convincing enough to replace it.

Cindy Brown

Hi Neil:
Thanks for the update. Glad I don’t have to keep up with all this information myself.
What, no 4×5 or 8×10 in your list of cameras?

Lewin

Hello, i came to this blog while searching for something else, but to my joy i discovered this website. Keep doing what you are performing, its wonderful.

Barbara

Is my body the problem? I have the “bundle” system: Olympus E500 (8MP) with 2 four thirds system lenses. Would I improve photo quality by buying a new camera body, and still using my current lenses? Not happy with this camera! It can’t be me, because I learned from the best back in Atlanta….you.

Kristin Halgedahl

Six years out of SI ’04, I’m looking to get current as I’m shooting exclusively food. Well, we know what that means — ask Neal! Thank you! I’m good to go window shopping!

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