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The Right Tool For the Job: Picking the Right Camera

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence."-Ansel Adams

Technology is moving at lightning pace these days. In the computer industry, cell phones, and especially in photography, there are advances everyday that are both dynamic and overwhelming when trying to wrap your head around them. For those of you out there that want to have a good time, shoot “good” photos, and capture moments with friends and on vacation, you have a myriad of choices and as daunting as it may seem, I want to help you out and point out some cool innovations in the industry that can translate in to helpful features and user friendly interfaces on all levels of a budget and skill.

Just with getting a new car, there are so many makes and models from your basic efficiency compact to your luxury model with all the bells and whistles, it can be a dizzying feat for a layman to overcome. There are those cameras that will be great for the perpetual memory maker, cameras that leave room to grow as a photographer, and for those that want to take it to the next level with a camera that will be the envy of all your friends; the kind of camera that makes people wonder what you are compensating for.

I do not mean to offend, but to most of you “photographers” out there, I have to drop the hammer; you’re not a shooter. Sorry, but for about 90% of you guys that take pictures as amateurs, semi-pros, and Facebook album enthusiasts, you couldn’t tell BDE from a hole in the ground. So just admit that you are no photographer and start paying attention, you might learn something.

I am a photojournalist. I have years of experience and an all-too-expensive education to back up my claims. A little window in to how I shoot. I eyeball exposure and have only ever used the “M”, or manual, setting on my camera. I set shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focus, and flash (if needed) manually. I can hit a publishable shot nine times out of ten. The crutch settings of landscape, action, close-up, etc., mean nothing to me in a camera and frankly I don’t even need auto focus. Rule of thirds, over-alls, macro, and lighting ratios are my bread and butter. Then again, I am a professional, so this should come as no shock.

Don’t be intimidated by feature lists. With camera and technology today camera sensor MP sizes are irrelevant mostly. Between 10 and 16, I dare you to really be able to show me marked differences in a simple snapshot. They all shoot video, they all have scene modes, white balance settings, auto settings, and are overall features with basically the same stuff but with different proprietary names for them. Don’t get bogged down in this feature or that except but for a few and you will know them when a skilled sales associate who knows what they are talking about. This is all about finding the camera that fits your need, interests in photography, and budget. Just like in the D-SLR market, this model has this, this model has that, but for the most part it is splitting hairs when direct competitors are lined up head to head.

I think we can all agree we should start small with entry level point-and-shoot cameras. These are the compact class of cameras you see Ashton Kutcher pushing on TV. These cameras are pocket friendly, usually come with a lanyard and so many auto features the camera basically does all the thinking for you; which is kinda bad because cameras are pretty dumb.
The Nikon S70 (street, $179) might be the camera for you, the occasional and minimalist photographer. This is for those of you that want easy use, a turnkey camera that does all the work for you which won’t bog you down with the science and technical stuff. It comes with all the standard features of high megapixels (12), 720p video with sound, VR (vibration reduction), and all the shooting style settings you could ever need. A very thin profile this camera is really user friendly and compact with a sliding cover for the lens that will protect it a bit from dust and scratching while in your purse or pocket. What sets this camera apart a bit is the Nikon lens with 5X zoom (pretty standard now) and the 3.5-inch touch screen. Yeah, I said it, fully sensitive touch screen. This feature comes from the major influx of touch screen phones and using that technology that people are now comfortable with you can slide through photos, enlarge, crop, edit, and even focus with the lightest touch. No more physical buttons, which might be weird for a guy like me, but for those who are comfortable with the interface of the likes of the iPhone, this might be the camera for you.

Let’s say you’re looking for something more rugged than the S70, maybe you want something like the AK-47 of cameras; one that shoot even if there is sand, water, or extreme temperatures. Well, have no fear because there are quite a few rough and tumble little cams out there, like the Olympus Stylus “tough” 8010 (street, $400). Fourteen mp (megapixels), 5X zoom, 720p HD video, intelligent autofocus, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, it’s got all that, but there is so much more for the adventure photographer. Number one is the in-camera panorama mode. This is very cool for you landscape photographers that want a massively wide shot of a vista from atop a mountain you jump climbed or a sunset you want to capture. With this setting you simply pan the camera level along the photo you want and the camera will automatically stitch three frames together to create a huge photo you can print. Outside of this cool feature, which isn’t exclusive because others do have it, is the “tough” moniker. It is freezeproof to 14˚ F, waterproof to 33 ft., shockproof at a drop height of more than six ft., and crushproof up to 220 LBF. This is truly a tough camera that can take the thrills and spills from mountains, to ocean, and even a spilled drink at a bar. I can personally attest to the ability of this camera, I froze it in a block of ice for a product shoot and she worked perfectly.

Wanna step up a bit in control? Want a camera that can do more for the more serious photographer? One way to go is the Olympus Pen E-PL1 (street, $600). This is a compact camera with interchangeable lenses, a micro-four thirds sensor (which means it’s bigger than all other compact sensors), and full manual controls or dummy proof iAuto, which means you just point and click. This is the camera that leaves room for growing in many directions. You can get multiple lenses which include the 14-42, the 9-19 wide angle, or the do-it-all 18-150. built-in flash will prove handy since it comes with an accessory hotshoe, which can take the electronic viewfinder or even an external microphone for better audio for your HD videos. This is a camera you can grow with and can handle you shooting style and skill level.

A second option is the Canon G12 (street, $500). The G-series is for the serious compact shooter or even the semi-pro who wants a second camera to their D-SLR. But it is no second fiddle with all the full control features for shooting exactly what you want. For one, you will notice the optical viewfinder which tells you it is for those that are used to, or want, the feel of looking through the eyepiece to frame a shot. It can be fully manual, and using the Digic 4 processor it can shoot photos fast and process them well. How well? If this means anything to you than you will like it, RAW+JPEG. Yeah, you can shoot totally raw files for processing in a photo suite of some kind without getting photo loss converting to JPEG in camera. It also boasts the hotshoe for accessories like the top-of-the-line 580EXII flash or any other as well as a waterproof housing available for those that wanna get wet. Now, the MP’s are on the lighter side with 10, but this camera offers versatile control if you want it, all the standard control features of the day, and is a great second camera option or the proverbial toe in the water before the tanks that are D-SLR’s.

Oh don’t think this is it, and don’t think that you will be able to keep up with the market as the trade winds of commercialism push camera lifespans to less than six months per model. These guys move very fast and there is no end in sight to the innovation and the styling that the public wants. If you are thinking D-SLR then you are obviously well-versed in photography or have cash to burn. I won’t go over D-SLR’s here because with how feature heavy and complicated that market can be it might be left for another article and another day before this gets too old. E-mail me with questions on cameras, photography, ANYTHING, because I love talking this stuff with anyone. I would love to help you find the camera that is right for you in your price range and level of interest in the photo arts. Get me at and navigate to the contact page to get a hold of me.

As a still photographer, I hate the influx of these consumer level features that are making their way in to higher end cameras. For me, I don’t need video in my D-SLR, it has its place in compacts, but in the tanks there is no need. It is a feature I will never use. Same thing with scene modes or any settings on the mode dial like landscape; manual is the only way to go. I also don’t like the live view feature, I am a viewfinder guy. All I need is a D-SLR with one mode, low noise, and RAW shooting, after that it is all bells and whistles that are useless in my line of work. If you’re shooting Auto, creative auto, iAuto, etc., then you’re not a photographer, but I have to admit that as much as I dislike the trends out there today in cameras I just love that the market is still growing at people are at least mildly interested in taking photos and keeping a most universal language alive; pictures.

About the Author

Wesley Bauman, author of Doggy Paddling in the Deep End, is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He is currently a contributor for the VCReporter and maintains an active blog ( where he writes on political and social satire regularly.

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  1. Nice of you to write for us little people who know nothing about photography because,you know, basically, we are not you.

    I would recommend that your next 'all to expensive course' be one in not being an ahole.

  2. Steve, you are absolutely right, this did come off with a regrettable tone I honestly didn't really intend. Didn't mean to be so harsh, but look at it from my perspective as a person who has spent many years just getting to know photography and everything involved and cameras today are killing the curve between pro and amateur. Yes, the tone is a little harsh, but I get kind of professionally offended by cliche sepia toning for a shot taken with full auto and a person calls themselves a "photographer." Hell, one thing that gets me is when cameras come in different's all more style than substance now. Outside of a few backhanded gripes at least the meat of this is product review. I apologize if you were offended, but it probably means you couldn't tell me the exposure of a room, and it is in the "Sound Off" section so offense to someone will be located here. I'm a cranky guy trying to make it in a dying industry, journalism, I can't help taking a childish shot to alleviate a little stress. Feel free to look over my website and criticize, I love feedback.


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