By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter
As Photokina 2012 approaches and manu-facturers introduce new models, you’ll find excellent bargains for top-quality photo equipment.
Digital photo equipment is becoming mature technology. Current and recently discontinued cameras are more than adequate for almost any nonprofessional requirements. Bargains come and go, though, so you’ll need to be vigilant. Generally, you’ll find the best information about current bargains at http://www.1001noisycameras.com, http://www.amazon.com and http://www.bhphotovideo.com.
Some of my favorite digital SLR cameras have been on the market for about two years and are likely to be discounted in the near future. You’ll likely be quite pleased if you can find one of these models at a good price.
- Pentax’s K-5 dSLR is generally considered to be one of the top, if not the top, APS-C camerason the market. The K-5 is a compact, all-metal camera that’s weather-sealed and capable of excellent image quality at very high ISO settings. Ergonomics are excellent and it’s the most compact professional-grade dSLR on the market. Inside the K-5 is Sony’s justly acclaimed, 16-megapixel APS-C sensor. Although a K-5 body typically sold at or near its $1,500 list price, it’s recently been discounted as low as $915, a real bargain for a prograde camera of this quality. I’ve owned and heavily used a K-5 since early 2011 and can find no fault with it. I expect that Pentax may keep the K-5 available for a few more months. Its replacement will probably use Sony’s 24-megapixel APS-C sensor. Realistically, though, most people will see little benefit from a higher, 24-megapixel sensor unless they’re making prints larger than 20-by-30-inch. Pentax recently introduced a K30d, an $850 weather-sealed camera that includes much the same sensor and image processor as the K-5 but is contained within a body built around a stainless steel internal chassis and a polycarbonate outer shell. The K-30d produces images with the same high quality as the K-5. The K30d is a bargain even when not discounted. You’ll not find any other camera with weather sealing and comparably high image quality at its list price.
- Nikon’s D7000 is another metal-bodied prograde camera using Sony’s 16-megapixel sensor. It’s generally comparable to the K-5 in features, construction and image quality. A D7000 body usually sells for about $1,200. Although I’ve not seen the D7000 discounted quite as much as the K-5 recently, the D7000 will likely be discounted to about $900 or so, body only, in the near future and achieve the status of a good bargain. As with any K-5 successor, I expect that Nikon will use Sony’s new 24-megapixel sensor in the D7000’s successor model. Nikon is already using that 24-megapixel sensor in their new, well-regarded D3200 upper-entry dSLR, so it’s a near certainty that we’ll see semiprofessional models using that sensor.
- Nikon also uses the same Sony 16-megapixel sensor in its current upper entry-level D5100 dSLR camera. Unlike the D7000, though, Nikon’s current D5100 is constructed mostly of plastic and does not include some of the D7000’s prolevel features. Still, if you can find a D5100 kit with both the regular 18- to 55-mm kit lens and the 55- to 300-VR telephoto zoom lens, it’s a good bargain as a serious photography starter kit.
- Canon’s also been active, offering excellent bargains on its intermediate-level T3i, an 18-megapixel camera that uses the same sensor as Canon’s 7D semipro camera. Although that sensor is rather outdated compared to current technology, it’s capable of producing excellent images at low to medium ISO sensitivities. I’ve seen two-lens T3i kits for under $900, including camera body, 18- to 55-mm lens, and 55- to 250-mm telephoto zoom lens. It’s a bargain as an entry-level kit for potentially serious photographers.
- Canon’s T3 kit may be an even better bargain. The kit includes a 12-megapixel T3 with normal and telephoto-zoom lenses. The bargain happens when you use the included $400 American Express gift card to buy a Canon 13-by-19-inch Pixma Pro 9000 II printer. That printer is probably the least-expensive, exhibition-print quality printer on the market.
- Another good bargain in Canon land is its premium compact, the Powershot G12. Although the G12 has recently been overshadowed by its larger and smaller siblings, the Canon G1X and S100, the G12 is still a very competent compact camera that’s capable of very good results at lower ISO sensitivities. It’s one of the very few noninterchangeable-lens cameras that still includes an eye-level optical viewfinder, something appreciated by most photographers who learned their craft before the iPhone era.
- Olympus’ E-PL2 compact-system camera, a 2011 model now being closed out, has image quality that’s better than nearly any Micro-Four Thirds camera except Panasonic’s GH2 and Olympus’ OM-D (E-M5), both much more expensive models. I’m still seeing two-lens E-PL2 kits advertised by reputable dealers at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.adorama.com and at http://www.bhphotovideo.com. These two-lens kits should include Olympus’ 14- to 42-mm M.Zuiko II and 40- to 150-mm M. Zuiko II zoom lenses. Both are better, optically, than most kit lenses. If you can find one of these two-lens kits in the $500 to $600 range, then you’ve found a real bargain that should produce sharp, high-quality images in a small, light package.
I’ve seen some recent test results at Tech Radar comparing the image quality of several top-end, compact-system camera sensors. These are all excellent cameras, so in a sense we’re picking nits.
Image noise, starting with the best:
1. Olympus OM-D (E-MD5)
2. Fujifilm X-Pro1
3. Sony NEX-7
4. Panasonic GX1
5. Olympus E-P3
Dynamic range is the ability of a camera to record detail in a very wide range of shadows and bright highlights in a single image. High dynamic range is very helpful in dealing with any unusual lighting condition. The dynamic range of the OM-D and NEX-7 rivals much larger top-end cameras using APS-C sensors. Again, these are all excellent cameras, particular at lower ISO sensitivities.
Dynamic range, starting with the best:
1. Olympus OM-D (E-M5)
3. Fujifilm X-Pro1
4. Panasonic GX1
5. Olympus E-P3
- Redoubt Reporter summer photo contest: Don’t forget our next competition for reader photo submissions. Our topic this time is “Summer on the Kenai.” Summer is always interesting and fun here in Alaska, with a vast number of photos taken. We encourage you to submit photos of what you observed on your summer days. As always, we prefer photos that are fresh and unique. Frequently photographed subjects, like combat fishing, should be avoided. Our deadline for email submission is Aug. 31, 2012, so you’ll have plenty of time to see the Kenai in a new and interesting way. Submissions should be emailed to email@example.com.
Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.