Plugged In: Click that holiday wish list up a notch

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Knowing how to properly use your camera equipment is certainly more important than acquiring new gear. This week, though, you’ll find our camera purchase suggestions for the holiday season, just in time for “Black Friday.”

In the spirit of Christmas, be sure to leave a copy of this week’s Redoubt Reporter lying about the house, open to this article with your preferred new camera highlighted. To ensure your subtly expressed Christmas wish is not overlooked, don’t forget to leave a note addressed to your gift givers reminding them to please forward the highlighted article to Santa well before Christmas. After all, you don’t want to be TOO subtle, but you’ll definitely want to toggle into “nice” mode if you’ve overstayed your welcome on the “naughty” side.

We all need to make our budgets stretch as far as possible, with gifts that are not only good values now, but will be reliable and useful for years to come. That usually means purchasing at least a versatile midtier camera known for both good image quality and rugged construction.

We passed the point of “good enough” a few years ago. As a result, you’ll often find the best buys among midtier to upper-tier cameras that are about to be discontinued. That’s no different than any other newly mature technology.

Recently introduced digital cameras are often only marginally improved, despite the marketing hype. After all, if yesterday’s models were good enough for professional use a year ago, they’re still good enough for professional use now.
The models discussed this week are all considered to be capable of high-quality photography when used properly. Although I’ve personally used many of the cameras listed here, I have not had the opportunity to use every one of them. For that reason, I’ve included models that have received consistently high praise from respected reviewers such as http://www.dpreview.com, http://www.dxomark.com, http://www.imaging-resource.com and http://www.cameralabs.com.

Because needs and tastes differ, our suggestions are intended simply as a starting point for your own pre-purchase research and comparison. I suggest confining any Internet purchases to a well-established, highly reputable vendor, such as http://www.amazon.com, http://www.bhphotovideo.com or http://www.adorama.com.

Be wary of less-prominent vendors that seem to offer prices seemingly significantly better than these nationally reputable vendors. I recently made a relatively small purchase at a Midwestern camera store, and by the next day someone was trying to charge my business credit card at a motel in the next state. Luckily, First National Bank’s credit card fraud unit caught that problem immediately and I was able to cancel the compromised card without any loss. Still, it was a hassle and a caution.

One striking example of a good bargain remains Olympus’ OM-D E-M5. This is the compact, light, yet highly capable camera whose introduction convinced many professional photographers to abandon bulkier models and do all but their most critically demanding work with more portable and affordable mirrorless cameras. The E-M5 was introduced at a price upward of $1,300 for the body and its better-than-average 12 mm- to 50-mm kit zoom lens.

Now, though, with the E-M5 about to be discontinued and replaced by something allegedly “strikingly different,” a new E-M5 body in box with all standard accessories sells for $599, with the complete kit, including the nice 12 mm- to 50-mm zoom lens, selling for $899 at B&H Photo, Amazon and other reputable vendors. That price for a new complete kit is a real bargain, costing only $74 more than the average selling price for the same camera and lens in good but used condition.

Other excellent bargains among closeout mirrorless cameras include Sony’s A5000 and Fujifilm’s X-M1 APS-C models, Sony’s original RX100 1-inch sensor compact, Olympus’ E-PL5 and Panasonic’s GM1 and GX7 Micro Four-Thirds cameras. If you’re interested in a similar but recently introduced current midrange, interchangeable-lens model, then Olympus’ E-PL7 and Sony’s A6000 are priced in the $700 range with a good kit zoom lens. Pushing the $1,000 barrier are two new Panasonic M 4/3 cameras, the highly compact yet capable GM5, a M 4/3 model that includes an eyelevel viewfinder, and Panasonic’s entry into the deluxe compact camera market, the LX100. All but the Sony RX100 and Panasonic LX100 accept interchangeable lenses.

Among traditional dSLR cameras, some of the best buys include Canon’s top consumer model, the T5i fitted with Canon’s 18 mm- to 135-mm travel zoom lens, currently selling for $849 over Thanksgiving. If you’ve been really nice, then perhaps Santa might toss in Canon’s new 10 mm- to 18-mm ultrawide-angle zoom lens. Currently retailing for $299, it’s an excellent price for a versatile ultrawide-angle zoom that’s surprisingly good given its low price. If you don’t quite make top grades in the nice department, then perhaps you can negotiate a bit with Santa and at least get the T5i with its regular 18 mm- to 55-mm kit zoom lens for about $600. That kit lens is still a decent performer when stopped down to f/8.

I’ve been partial to Pentax and Nikon dSLR cameras because both brands typically use Sony imaging sensors that perform better than Canon’s in-house sensors. Pentax, in particular, tends to offer better value because its upper-tier consumer models are weather-resistant, unusually rugged and offer top performance within their price range. Pentax’s K-50 is an excellent example of Pentax’s traditionally good value. The K-50 with a basic, 18 mm- to 55-mm, weather-resistant kit zoom lens costs under $600.

If you choose to get Pentax’s more versatile, weather-sealed, 18 mm- to 135-mm wide-angle-to-telephoto zoom lens, then expect to spend a bit under $800 for camera and lens. This would be a versatile combination for an Alaska outdoorsperson. A third kit also includes Pentax’s usable, though not weather-sealed, 55 mm- to 300-mm HD high-magnification telephoto lens. Substituting Pentax’s K-3 prograde body, considered by many to be the ultimate enthusiast APS-C dSLR camera, would increase overall price by about $200. These Pentax kits at http://www.adorama.com, http://www.bhphotovideo.com and http://www.amazon.com may be the best buy of all for high-quality, current-model gear.

Nikon’s D5300 is a 24-megapixel model that’s not weather-sealed but otherwise includes virtually every other feature. The D5300 is always rated as one of the best APS-C models on the market and uses the same sensor as Nikon’s flagship APS-C camera, the D7100. Expect to spend about $1,000 for a D5300 with Nikon’s well-regarded 18 mm- to 140-mm travel zoom lens. Nikon’s somewhat lower-specification D3300 currently sells for less than $500 with a basic kit lens. At this point, a basic Pentax K-50 or Nikon D3300 kit costs less than an iPhone.

Among current-model compact cameras using fixed lenses and somewhat smaller, 1-inch sensors, Canon’s $700 G7X fits a bright 24 mm- to 100-mm-equivalent zoom lens into a pocketable package, while Panasonic $900 FZ1000 combines a sharp, Leica-branded zoom lens with a wide zoom range and 4K video into a somewhat larger but still compact package that’s a nice all-around travel and “bridge” camera with better-than-average image quality.
Remember to tell Santa that you read it first in the Redoubt Reporter!

Local attorney Joe Kashi received 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under photography, Plugged in

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s