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What Camera or Drone Should I Buy?

The list below is updated more frequently than the video above.

Starter Cameras: 

 Basic Starter Camera ($280 used): Canon T3

 

Better Starter Camera ($500): Nikon D5300 

 

Better Travel Camera ($500): Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II

 

Landscape Cameras:

Good ($550): Sony a6000

 

Better ($1,400): Nikon D5500 & Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8

 

 Great ($2,000): Nikon D800E & Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC

 Best ($3,150): Pentax K-1 & Pentax 24-70 f/2.8

  

Sports Cameras:

Usable ($850): Canon Rebel T6i

  

Good ($1,850): Canon 7D Mark II

 

Better ($3,000):  Canon 7D Mark II & Tamron 70-200 f/2.8

 

Little Better ($3,300): Nikon D500 & Tamron 70-200 f/2.8


 

  Best ($9,900): Nikon D5 & Sigma 120-300 f/2.8

 

Portrait Cameras:

Beginner ($950): Canon T6i & Canon 50mm f/1.8

 

Better ($3,000): Nikon D610 & Tamron 70-200 f/2.8

 

Best ($5,300): Nikon D810 & Nikon 70-200 f/2.8E

 

Wildlife Camera:

 Starter ($1,100): Canon 7D & Canon 400mm f/5.6

 

Better ($2,650): Canon 7D Mark II & Canon 400mm f/5.6

 

Great ($3,200): Nikon D500 & Nikon 200-500 f/5.6

  

Best ($14,100): Nikon D500 & Nikon 600mm f/4


 

Video Camera:

Beginner ($500): Panasonic FZ300

 

Better ($500): Panasonic G7 & Panasonic 14-42mm

 

Even Better ($1,400): Panasonic GH4 & Panasonic 14-140 f/3.5-5.6

 

Best ($4,300): Panasonic GH5 & Metabones Speed Booster XL & Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 & Sigma 50-100 f/1.8

 

 

Video & Still Camera

Great ($3,000): Fuji X-T2 & Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 

 

Better ($5,100): Sony a7R II & Sony 24-70 f/2.8GM

Pro ($5,200): Sony a99 II & Sony 24-70 f/2.8 

Drone Camera

Beginner ($400): DJI Phantom 3

 

Travel ($1,000): DJI Mavic Pro

 

Better Image Quality ($1,500): DJI Phantom 4 Pro

Best ($3,000 + Camera + Lens): DJI Inspire 2

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Nikon D500 Review & Samples

The Nikon D500 is Nikon’s $2,000 sports and wildlife camera. Watch the video for complete details, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Better than the Canon’s 7D Mark II. It solidly beats Canon’s APS-C flagship camera, and the D500 is now our recommendation for the ultimate wildlife camera. It focuses better and faster, it’s images are sharper because the sensor lacks an AA filter, the tilting touchscreen makes 4K video easy to record, and SnapBridge makes pictures easy to share.
  • Better than Nikon D7200. As expected, it outperforms the less-expensive D7200 in every way.
  • Mostly better than the $6,500 Nikon D5. The D5 gets 16% more shots in focus when tracking action, thanks to its higher frame rate. The D500 wins in every other way: better usability, a full 30 minutes of 4K recording time, focusing points spread to the edge of the frame, a tilting touch screen, and SnapBridge.

In short, it’s the best wildlife and sports camera available, for most photographers. Landscape and portrait photographers might be better served with a full-frame camera, such as the Nikon D750 or Nikon D810.

Sample Images

Click to see each full-sized image.

Continue reading Nikon D500 Review & Samples

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Sony a6300 Review

TL;DR Summary

The $1,000 a6300 ($1,150 with a lens) is a compact camera that can do it all: landscapes, sports, low-light events, and portraits. In the Sony lineup, it’s the best choice for sports, and it’s the cheapest Sony to give you 4k and slow motion video. It’s the best all-around camera we’ve ever used, and it will be our top recommendation for beginning photographers who have the budget.

If you’re a DSLR shooter who is reluctant to bring a big DSLR everywhere, the a6300 can get great images without the burden. It has class-leading focusing, video, and still image quality.

While the a6300 is a jack-of-all-trades, it’s also a master of none. If you specialize in sports, landscapes, wildlife, portraits, or video, you might get more bang-for-your-buck with a different body. I’ll make alternate suggestions throughout this review.

Here’s a quick summary:

  • a6000 UPGRADE: If you’re an existing a6000 owner, you should upgrade only if you’re struggling with focusing or if you want better quality video. The updated 2.35 megapixel viewfinder with 120 fps is twice as sharp and looks much better, and it’s a huge advantage over DSLRs for most types of photography. The high ISO raw image quality of the a6300 was very slightly better than the a6000, but most people won’t see a difference. if you want a noticeably cleaner and sharper images, save up for one of the full-frame a7 models.
  • LANDSCAPES: If you’re a dedicated landscapes shooter, the a6300 is the best APS-C camera you can buy. However, you could also buy a full-frame Sony a7 used for about $800, get half the noise, and fully utilize full-frame lenses.
  • SPORTS: If you want a compact camera and occasionally shoot sports, the a6300 is the best mirrorless camera. If you’re a serious sports shooter, you might be happier with a used original Canon 7D for half the price, because it has a dedicated focus point selector, a bigger buffer, no viewfinder lag, and more telephoto lens options. If budget were no concern, we’d grab a Canon 7D Mark II for sports.
  • LOW-LIGHT EVENTS: The a6300 is a capable events camera. However, Sony doesn’t currently offer any native f/2.8 or f/1.8 APS-C zooms.
  • PORTRAITS: In good light, eye-detect autofocus worked great for casual portraits, even with shallow depth-of-field. However, once you factor in the cost of the lenses and flashes, you could more bang-for-your-buck from a Canon or Nikon DSLR.
  • WILDLIFE: If you’re hoping to shoot wildlife, there simply aren’t any native Sony E-mount big telephoto lenses, and we found adapted lenses didn’t autofocus well enough. You’ll be happier with a DSLR for birding.
  • VIDEO: The 4K video quality and 5x slow-motion blows away everything else we’ve tested except for the $3,000 a7S II. However, the ergonomics of the Panasonic GH4 are much better, and the Panasonic G7 is quite capable, $400 cheaper, and also has better ergonomics.

Image Quality

The a6000 had class-leading image quality, and the a6300 is basically the same. Throughout the ISO range, if you look really closely, you can see just a bit less noise in the a6300’s raw files. Here’s a 1:1 closeup (if you click the image) with the a6000 on the left and the a6300 on the right at ISO 25,600. These images were processed with Sony’s raw processing software but they had the same amount of noise reduction applied. You can disregard the differences in color.

Every time a new generation of a camera is released, photographers hope to see 1-2 stops of image quality improvement. Based on our reviews and data from third parties, raw image quality improves by 1 stop every 8 years or so. Manufacturers often brag about bigger improvements, but they’re generally referring to JPG quality… and if you care at all about image quality, you’re probably shooting raw, anyway.

If you were hoping for a bigger jump in image quality, your best bet is to upgrade to a full-frame camera, like the Sony a7. If you have the budget, the a7R II has remarkable image quality.

For low-light shooting, you’ll see the most improvement by using faster lenses. For example, switching to an f/1.8 lens from an f/5.6 lens. That’ll give you about 3 stops of image quality improvement, and 8 times less noise in low-light environments.

Casual Photography

Casual photography is where the a6300 excels. It locks into focus fast in any conditions, including low light. The tilt screen means you can easily hold it low to the ground or over your head.

The raw files are as clean as any APS-C camera we’ve tested, and the dynamic range allows you to recover details in shadows and highlights, or fix exposure problems in post with very little penalty. The next pictures so the same shot straight out of camera, and after raising the exposure in post-processing. You can see that the raw file contains detail that you might think were completely lost. If you messed up your exposure settings, this can save your shot.

Click any picture to view the full JPG image, (usually) straight out of the camera.

At night and in low light, like when you’re with friends at a restaurant, detail drops but the noise is tolerable, especially for sharing pictures online. These next two pictures were taken handheld at ISO 6400.

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The best camera is the one you have with you, and the a6300 is the best camera to grab when you don’t want something more cumbersome.

Sports

We never recommended the a6000 as a sports camera because we just got better results with DSLRs. The a6300 is the first mirrorless camera we can recommend for people who want to shoot sports; the focus tracking is great, the 8 frames per second is very fast, and the viewfinder blackout and lag are much reduced.

The focusing in the a6300 is MUCH improved, thanks to its phase detect focusing system. While the focus tracking isn’t as fast or accurate as big DSLRs like the 7d Mark II, At 8 frames per second, it’s faster than comparably priced DSLRs.

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For best results, just put the camera in Sports mode…that’s the best way to ensure the fairly complex focusing system is correctly configured.

If you’re serious about shooting sports, you’ll still probably be happier with a Canon or Nikon DSLR. The optical viewfinder of a DSLR completely eliminates lag, and higher-end models have much bigger buffers that let you take more consecutive photos.

 

The high frame rate helps you capture that decisive moment. You can choose between 8 fps with continuous autofocus, or 11 without it. For the water skiing, we needed the autofocus to keep up with subjects moving towards us. For volleyball, or times when the subject was moving only side-to-side, the higher frame rate improved our odds of getting the perfect moment.

Check out this sequences of photos and notice how the last photos are so poorly composed.

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With practice, it’s definitely possible to keep a fast-moving subject in frame. However, the display isn’t quite real-time as you’re shooting, so tracking a fast-moving subject is still more difficult than with an SLR.

As a result, I often lost track of the subject in the viewfinder after a long sequence of shots. With practice, you can learn to lead the subject.

Every reviewer was frustrated with the “Writing to Memory Card” message. You can’t do anything with the camera until the entire buffer is written to the memory card, and when you’re shooting rapidly, it never seems to stop writing. For some reason, Sony put the memory card write indicator on the bottom of the camera, where you can’t easily see it.

The buffer is too small to shoot action in RAW, so you’ll need to use JPG, and even with the fastest memory card available, we missed shots because the buffer was full.

In sports, you often need to manually control the focusing point to stay focused on the key player. Often, you need to manually move the focusing point to the other side of the frame as the direction of the action changes. Manually controlling the focusing point on the a6300 is slower than on comparably priced DSLRs, which have dedicated thumbsticks.

You’ll need to carry multiple batteries to get you through most sporting events, or even a day of casual shooting. We really hope the next generation of Sony cameras adopts a bigger battery.

Portraits

The a6300 is very workable for portraits, but less than ideal in several ways.

Portraits often have very shallow depth-of-field, and that requires very fast and precise focusing on the model’s closest eye. Face & eye detection are GREAT for this when they work, because you don’t have to worry about selecting a focusing point on the eye. It requies an extra button press, which delays your shot by a fraction of a second–a critical amount of time in a fast-moving shoot.

But it doesn’t always work… it totally depends on the lighting condition. In a backlit model shoot, it completely failed to detect the model’s eyes.

Other times, it might be 80% or 90% accurate. If you shoot with a fast pace, it can be really frustrating. At slower paces, it’s good, as is manual focusing with magnification & focus peaking.

We’d like eye-detect to work automatically, without requiring another button press. We’d also like a joystick to select a small, precise focusing point for rapid shooting, like every DSLR at this price point has. A touch screen would help, too.

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The a6300 only syncs with studio lights to 1/160th, which is slower than many cameras. In the studio, this means your subjects might have a bit more motion blur. In sunlight, you’ll need to use an ND filter to shoot wide open if your flash doesn’t support high-speed sync.

Street Photography

The a6300 is the perfect camera for street photography. It’s small, discreet, and can be completely silent. When you’re shooting blind, you can trust the autofocus system to lock on quickly.

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Landscapes

Like other Sony cameras, the image quality is just fantastic. It’s unbeatable at this price point….but you’re also within reach of the full frame a7, which offers much better image quality, especially with full frame lenses. 

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Wi-Fi

We used the WiFi constantly to post pics to Twitter & Instagram. This feature is critical to many modern photogs.

Sony’s WiFi system is one of the better ones. Sharing still takes a minute or two, so we often just grab a snapshot with our phone, which has proper apps and a touchscreen. We’d like Sony to take their smartphone expertise and put full versions of the Instagram and Twitter apps on the camera, and add a touchscreen for tagging and labeling.

Video

Note: Justin’s still editing the a6300 video review, so view samples demonstrating these points will be coming soon.

The a6300 offers 4k video at 30 fps, and 1080p video at 120 fps. Both look gorgeous. S-Log3 provides unbeatable dynamic range for those experienced with color grading who are also shooting in extremely contrasty situations.

While the video quality is unbeatable at this price, the a6300 has some serious weaknesses as a video camera:

  • It desperately needs a flippy touch screen. Many people, especially YouTubers, need to film themselves, and flipping a screen towards them is extremely convenient. You could, theoretically, accomplish something similar by connecting over WiFi from your smartphone, but that process is more time consuming.
  • Continuous focus during video is still pretty useless for subjects that stop moving; it constantly hunts in and out and completely ruins the shot.
  • The a6300 does have a mic jack, but it doesn’t have a headphone jack! Therefore, you need to buy an external device to monitor your own sound. WTH?!
  • You get the best IQ at 4k & 24p… the standard for film. If you jump up to 30p, the smoother standard for video, you’ll see more noise at higher ISOs.

Our friend Max Yuryev (you should subscribe to his channel), tested the a6300 for video overheating with every frame rate, and it never overheated while outdoors in the shade at around 75-80F. Our a6300 did overheat in the hot Miami sun, however, and we weren’t even shooting video, just stills. As long as you keep it out of direct sun, it should be fine.

Continuous autofocusing was often great at tracking moving subjects, but it often hunted or focused on the background, ruining the shot. With still subjects, the hunting made continuous autofocus unusable. The lack of a touch screen means you’ll be manually pulling focus when you want to switch focus between subjects.

Nonetheless, at this price point, it’s your best bet for getting 4k video of your kids sports.

Our friend Jordan over at The Camera Store found the rolling shutter to be a problem, and it might be if you’re shooting action, but it didn’t hurt any of our shots.

If you’re serious about 4k video, you might be happier with the GH4, which has a headphone jack, a touch screen that can flip forward, and access to the wide variety of nicely priced micro four-thirds lenses. We still prefer the much more expensive a7R II because it has a headphone jack, a stabilized sensor, and can switch between full-frame and Super 35 recording modes, giving us an option of crops. However, when I handed the footage to Justin, he thought it was from the a7R II. The a6300 is as good as the $3,200 a7R II.

Summary

The a6300 improves on a great camera. It’s the best mirrorless sports camera ever, and a great, compact, all-around camera.

DSLRs still have some strengths… like the availability of f/2.8 and f/1.8 APS-C zooms, which Sony completely lacks. Yes, you can use the new full-frame f2.8 zooms, but we’ve found you always get sharper results when using lenses designed specifically for your sensor size. You could adapt DSLR lenses, but our tests show that adapted autofocus is much worse than with native lenses.

Our advice: get the a6300 if you shoot action or video, prefer mirrorless, and the Sony lens lineup has everything you might need. If you don’t shoot action or video, the a6000 should be just fine, and it’s half the price.

If you want to see our recommendations for different styles of photography at any price point, check sdp.io/whichcamera.

 

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Sony a7S II Review (with Sample Photos and Video)

The Sony a7S II is Sony’s full-frame, low-light camera. It’s 12 megapixels, which means it doesn’t provide the most detail for still images. It’s true capabilities are seen once you begin shooting video, but we’ll get to that a little later.

When compared to the less expensive, 36-megapixel D810, the Sony images are cleaner in low light when we scale the D810 images down to the same resolution.

Just want the samples? Here they are.

This same shows the images 1:1 (if you click it) at ISO 3200, with the Nikon’s scaled-down image on the left.

As you can see, the difference is subtle, and if we were to raise the noise reduction before scaling the Nikon’s image down, any differences would disappear. For that reason, it’s hard to recommend the a7S II just for stills.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison at ISO 12,800, where the differences are more obvious:

However, that’s fairly easy to overcome with D810 raw files. Because they have so much more detail, we can raise the noise reduction to virtually eliminate noise, while still retaining more detail than the a7S II is capable of capturing. Additionally, the D810 has a vastly better autofocus system than the a7S II’s contrast-based autofocus system, which is better suited to manual focus.

Where the a7S II shines is video. Indeed, the video quality is better than any camera we’ve ever tested, and the full-frame sensor means you get the shallowest depth-of-field from readily available 35mm lenses. It’s remarkable. It can literally see in the dark, especially when paired with a fast prime lens.

Compared to the original a7S, the a7S II has several advantages for video:

  • Internal 4k recording. With the a7S, you can only record 4k if you use an external recorder.
  • 1080/120 FPS. Recording 120 frames per second at full HD gives you the ability to do 4x slow motion at 30 frames per second. If you render your video at 24 frames per second, you can slow down to 5x slow motion.
  • Stabilized sensor. The a7S II can reduce your handshake with any lens, including fast primes, making it excellent for handheld video.
  • Better autofocusing. While the a7S II’s autofocus system is still not the best on the market, or even better than the a7R II, it has improved since the original a7S.

All of the above technical specifications are nice to know, but the true test of a camera is whether or not you want to shoot with it. Tony and I took our copy out on the town to test it’s low-light capabilities and overall usability and, overall, were really pleased with the a7SII performance.

Check out these pictures from our night out:

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Live Show Recap: Architecture Photos

Last night we reviewed your architecture photography and got rowdy!

Tony and Chelsea went to the Canon expo (watch the video on it here) and you can answer our poll question about your fave tech from the expo at sdp.io/poll29.

We start with PhotoNews at 4:21 talking about the Adobe Premiere Pro update that is only exciting for  Samsung NX1 users, the new Mitakon 25mm f/0.95, New Horizons photographing Pluto, and Sony’s uncompressed raw files and lens release. Tony and Chelsea split up over whether or not Pluto is a planet at 6:41. Then there’s the website who shall not be name, who we won’t give any more press because they are garbage. According to a commenter under our video:

@TonyNorthrup – Wallpart is according to an Fstoppers article a phishing site that targets enraged photographers filing DCMA violations: https://fstoppers.com/news/website-will-steal-your-photos-and-then-hack-your-computer-77511

Good to know!

It only takes the first photo review for Chelsea to mention vaginas at minute 10.

Talking tilt-shift lenses at 18:41 and Chelsea posted an example of a home-made tilt shift effect on her Instagram.

After Tony says to “bring those whites back up” Chelsea subtly whispers “haven’t the whites been up enough?” at 29:23 which is brilliant social commentary.

A viewer submitted this image at 30:52 that Chelsea had just photographed last week! See her take here.

If you missed it somehow, check out Virtual Tony!

The crazy fun choose-your-own adventure quiz that T&C made (and Justin filmed, of course!)

This confusing Facebook post is discussed at 33:59, and it’s kind of adorable for a grown man to publicly dump his best friend.

Squarespace portfolio reviews start at 34:53! Check out our portfolio checklist at sdp.io/checklist for tips on how to build a proper portfolio. The theme of the portfolios today seems to be “pare it down!” too many photos, too many redundancies, and put your best photos on your landing page.

Keeping on with the photo reviews after that, until we get to 50:48 and check up on some “Chit Chat”, our favorite segment of people saying dumb stuff to us in the comments. Also the unfortunate birth of #croplikeapedo.

We take some questions at 55:17 and Tony talks a bit about Capture One, there should be a video comparison on the way! We get asked what the lights in the studio are at 56:11, and they are these Genaray LED lights which Tony says are only “ok”. We talk about Polaroids and what film camera you’d get for fun, they suggest the Mamiya 645, but that depends on film availability.

We then enter the quickfire photo review section, which is widely reviled. Well too bad! We don’t have time for you all.

More Ron the Critic talk, Chelsea drank too much, I talk smack on vodka redbulls, and that’s our show!

I’ll see you all in the studio next week! We’ll be doing food photography, defined as a still life specialization of commercial photography aimed at producing attractive photographs of food for a variety of uses including in advertisements, magazines, packaging, menus or cookbooks.

 

Here’s a minute-by-minute list of our favorite shots submitted this week:

10

12:59

13:38

14:16 (wasn’t given a pick, but I love it!)

16

26:55

28:25

29:35

42:56

1:03:49

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Life with a 50 Megapixel Camera

I’ve got 2,149 clicks on our new 50 megapixel Canon 5DS-R. So, what’s life like with a 50 megapixel camera?

50 Megapixels Rules!

  • I always know that I’m getting the sharpest image possible out of my lens and technique. I get more sharpness out of my existing lenses, even when they’re not optically perfect.
  • My primes become zooms, and my zooms become deeper. I get the pixel density of an APS-C camera with all the benefits of full-frame. If my 400mm lens is a 400mm lens is a 640mm lens on my APS-C Canon 7D Mark II (with a 1.6x crop factor), it’s a 400-600mm lens on my 5DS-R, because I can choose to crop in post.
  • I can zoom a 1080p timelapse 550% (see the video at the top of this page).
  • I can increase the noise reduction in Lightroom and trade some of that detail for a cleaner image (and still be sharper than other cameras).
  • Even 11×14″ images are sharper. Technically the 22 megapixel 5D Mark III is 350 DPI at 11×14, but in practice, all lenses & techniques are imperfect, printed images are always cropped, anti-aliasing filters reduce sharpness. The visible DPI of an 11×14 from a 5D Mark III is closer to 250 DPI… and I like to make 20×30″ prints, and larger. At that size, the 5D Mark III is at about 140 visible DPI, while the 5DS-R is above 200 visible DPI.

50 Megapixels Sucks!

  • The CR2 raw files are 55-75 MB each. Converted to DNGs, they’re 45-60 MB each.
  • Flaws in my technique become obvious. The reciprocal rule works OK for a 24 megapixel camera, but at 50 megapixels, I need a faster shutter.
  • Even on a tripod, I benefit from mirror lockup and a heavy tripod. As a result, I’m now more often using (and carrying) a tripod.
  • Lightroom will take 2-3 hours to import and render previews for the raw shots from a typical wedding.
  • Switching between pictures in Lightroom takes 2-5 seconds, even with 1:1 previews rendered.
  • Working with multiple images is exponentionally more painful. I wrote this entire article while waiting for Photoshop to blend about 25 images (median averaging to remove people from a scene), and my PC is the fastest you can get.
  • Basically, all intense processing requires planning. You’ll be saying things like, “I’ll start processing this panorama before I leave for lunch.” and “I’ll be in bed in a minute, I just have to start rendering these 1:1 previews.”

To be clear: 50 megapixel images always look better than the lower resolution images, even when technique isn’t perfect. But it does make your technique flaws more obvious, and no matter your budget, you simply cannot buy a computer that can process the images at a reasonable pace.