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Digital Camera Smackdown

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

This is not a beauty question or really a baby/pregnancy question but I have written to you before and you always give the best advice so I think you would be the best person to help! I need a camera. I have looked on-line at review sites and tried to research but the truth is I was 1) never very good at research 2) apparently kind of slow because I don’t really understand a lot of what is written. And that is the root of the problem. I want a good digital camera but have little experience with good digital cameras!

Since my daughter was born I have become obsessed with photography. This shouldn’t be a HUGE surprise to me seeing as how my mother owns a photography business, doing mostly weddings and family portrait type stuff and I even worked for her in High School and right after graduating from college. I am really a beginner hobbyist who has become frustrated with the beginner cameras and I am ready to move to the next step.

I want to be able to take clear, crisp pictures of my one year old, lightening streak daughter even if there is low light. My current 50 dollar digital camera (cough) won’t let me focus unless I have the flash on, but the flash completely washes my daughter out and I can’t capture any of the ambient light with the dumb old flash. I want to be able to pull off action shots since she spends 99.9 percent of her time running, I want to be able to focus on one object and blur the background, you know, basic freshmen art class stuff! I want a nice lens, the ability to get other lenses as I progress and the ability to learn by trial and error and experiment. BUT I don’t want to spend 599 dollars on a camera that isn’t what I wanted or far too sophisticated for me. So I know you are thinking to yourself go ask your mom you nitwit but my mom is firmly planted in the film era. She does have digital cameras that she uses but is far more comfortable using film. Also our aesthetics are a bit different (I like candid photos and she really really likes portraits with the husband standing behind the wife with his hand on her shoulder..or *shudder* the arm shelf ala awkward family photos old school) so she doesn’t really understand the concept of wanting a camera that will capture someone mid jump/spin/tumble.

Any advice would helpful since this is something I have been trying to figure out since July. Actually if you could just point to a camera and say ‚ this one‚  it would really help because at this point I am up to my eyeballs in reviews and descriptions!


PS it is kind of beauty oriented since my daughter is beautiful and I want to take beautiful photos of her!

One day, back when I was pregnant with Noah, a box arrived in the mail. A couple boxes, actually. I was expecting maybe another package of receiving blankets, but instead it was the digital SLR camera — a Canon Rebel XT — that my husband had carefully researched for several months, along with additional lenses and UV filters and a tripod and an external flash. And the invoice, complete with price. Which I proceeded to FLIP OUT OVER.

That said: oh, please, step away from the point-and-shoots and spring for the digital SLR. I mean, a small camera is great to have for the diaper bag, be it a Flip or your iPhone or a pocket-sized Canon or Nikon, but for the kind of photography you are talking about, and the features you mention, an SLR will be the best investment ever. Ours certainly was, despite my temporary attack of the Pregnancy Frugals. I can’t imagine all the moments and gorgeous shots I would have missed while waiting for a flash to recharge, or being unable to shoot in low light, or being able to take high-res photos that allow for better, easier editing afterward and great at-home printing.

Like I mentioned, we use a Canon Digital Rebel. Ours is the olden-day equivalent to today’s EOS Rebel XSi. We have a 35mm lens and a 17-85mm zoom lens with image stabilization, which I cannot recommend enough, particularly for fast-moving subjects or if your hands aren’t the most steady. Jason picked the Canon over the Nikon (the only other option at the time) because of the reputation of Canon’s sensors and color quality. We’re getting ready to upgrade our camera body this year (something in the realm of 12 – 15 megapixels) and will go with Canon again. I love, love, love my camera, even though I do tend to default to the pre-sets more often than I should. I have little patience for fiddling around so I admit I’m not always using the camera to its full potential. But I have even LESS patience for endless tweaks in Photoshop (and am not a fan of baby photos that are super-obviously-heavily messed around with), and am always pretty happy with the basic, straightforward pictures I can take without waiting to adjust everything. When I do take the time to mess with the settings, though, there’s no stopping what you can do.

I have also used Sony’s Alpha SLR — which I was given for free at a weekend event for Sony, full disclosure — and I found it a bit more intuitive in terms of the menus and settings. This made the fiddling-around part easier, even if you only half know what you’re doing. However, the color of the photos it produced was simply not as good as the Canon. Everything came out a little red/magenta tinted. (Easily fixable with Photoshop, though.) When my father-in-law expressed an interest in upgrading to an SLR, we gave him the Sony and he’s been absolutely thrilled with it.

And then there’s the Nikon, which I have never personally used, beyond occasionally messing with other people’s at Blogher. It’s a very good camera, and takes very good pictures. My impression (from literally MINUTES of playing with it) was that it was a bit more complicated than the Canon, but that’s probably not true — more of a case of the buttons being in different places, or something dumb like that. My husband, of course, is Team Canon to a ridiculous degree (once he learned the topic of this column he’s been yakking NON-STOP about the sensor business and why Canons are better than Nikons for an hour now blah blah blah). I’ve gotten him to accept the fact that I’m a Mac to his PC, a Democrat to his Republican…so I’m not going to push the Canon v. Nikon business at all.

While the Sony wasn’t the right camera for me, I did get something else that weekend that I absolutely LOVE, and think you should TOTALLY BUY, no matter what camera you end up buying. Instructional DVDs by Me Ra Koh: Refuse to Say Cheese and Beyond the Green Box. Her aesthetic matches yours completely: forget the cheesy posed portraits and capture those awesome candid moments — those funny faces and poses that say so much more about who your child is than a forced smile in a Christmas sweater. These DVDs will help you take better photos, easier, and actually figure out what all those doofy settings on your camera actually mean, in a way you can ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND. My husband can read the reviews and the camera’s user guide…I can’t. I just…don’t get the technical descriptions, and before meeting and talking with Me Ra I didn’t know the difference between ISO and White Balance and aperture and zzzzzzzzz. She’s a mom and she’s funny and she’s awesome. Anyone who’s shopping for a camera or simply wants to know how to get more from their camera, or just really really wants the best-looking holiday card next year should check out her DVDs.

Photo by ssh

More on Photogrpahy:

How To Take a Beautiful … er, Charming Holiday Family Self-Portrait
How To Take Group Shots Of Your Kids

Published January 18, 2010. Last updated October 9, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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