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Which camera to choose? (and other questions) - from a complete novice

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Peter C

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Hello all :)
I've been looking online and on this subforum recently about cameras; more specifically, which cameras are best for beginners and which ones will provide good photos and are also cheap. From this (small amount of) research, I've found two cameras which might be suitable for me. They are both second-hand (looking online I simply cannot afford what places such as Amazon and Argos are asking for them) and are the Canon EOS 500D and the Nikon D3400. The price difference between the cameras is around £50 (not including lenses) so whilst price is a factor, it's not a major factor.
This would be my first camera (I've been using my phone for photography/filming for the past few years) and I know next to nothing about the important bits of a camera and how one works. I'm hoping someone can help!

Here are my questions:
  1. Which one is best for taking good railway photos in varying settings (e.g. during the morning/midday/evening/night)? I understand this is almost certainly a tricky question to answer so I suppose I'm asking which camera has the best range in which it can take good photos.
  2. Which one do people on here find easier to use, i.e. which one has the more friendly user-interface etc.?
  3. Which one is best for a beginner? I don't want anything which will do a million things which I'll never use, but then again I don't want something really basic as it would need to be a fairly long-lasting camera. (I don't know the normal lifespan for a camera; I assume the norm is several years judging by some posts I've read on here).
  4. Both cameras can film in 1080p - can anyone who's used either of these cameras say whether the cameras are good at filming? I assume they are but, as I've said above, I know pretty much nowt about these kinds of things. :)

Hope my questions are somewhat answerable; if I've made any major mistakes or anything, please let me know and tell me what I should look for in a camera as I want to learn about the topic and have fun taking photos and videos of trains - as I do now - without spending stupid amounts of money!

Thanks,

-Peter :D

EDIT: Another couple of questions which I forgot to add:
6. What lenses would be good for either camera? Are lenses manufacturer-specific or not? How much should I expect to spend on lenses?
7. How much should I be looking to spend on cameras? The ones I've found online (linked above) are £114 and £164, for the Canon EOS 500D and Nikon D3400 respectively. Are these good prices?
8. Are there any other cameras which would be better than the ones I've found? Please let me know if so!
 
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Bevan Price

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Canon & Nikon are both good cameras. Lenses made by Sigma Tamron are nearly as good, and sometimes a bit cheaper than those made by Canon or Nikon. Lenses made for Canon will not fit onto Nikon cameras (and vice versa).

There are some points to consider when buying older cameras.
1. Lens shutter & aperture mechanisms eventually wear out. Eventually, the wear might become so much that exposure times do not match the specified values.

2. If you wish to connect the camera to a computer, you rely on "driver software" to make the connection. That driver software needs to be updated each time the computer operating system is updated, but the camera manufacturer does not always update software for older camera models. I know that some Canon models from the 500D era may not communicate easily with some versions of Windows 10. You can get round that by taking the memory card out of the camera and use a card reader to transfer the files to the computer, but it is a lot easier if the camera will communicate directly with the computer.

I would be reluctant to buy a 2nd hand camera without an opportunity for a brief test before parting with money.

As for lenses - a lot depends on what you want / need. "Primary" lenes (e.g. 50mm, 125mm, etc.) usually give the best quality images. Zoom lenses usually give slightly less good image quality -- but they do save you having to carry the weight of several separate primary lenses. A zoom lens also means you will not have to open the camera to change lenses, and that reduces the chances of the camera sensor being affected by dust.

If you just want photos for a website, or small prints, then a zoom lens will probably be adequate, but if you want to make large (A3+) size prints, then a prime lens is likely to be the best choice.

Personally, I have a Canon camera, and normally use a Sigma 18-300mm zoom lens; it is adequate for my purposes, although you can get better image quality if you want.

Whilst using cameras, I find it easier to hold largish cameras still, rather than smartphones or small cameras. Given somewhere to lean against, I have even managed to hold my camera steady enough to take well-focussed 1/10th second exposures of stationary trains. (Saves carrying the weight of a tripod.)

Although they can look complicated, you will soon learn to use most cameras. You will find out that you only need a few of the many exposure options offered by many digital cameras. All you need is a bit of practice.
Only buy a camera where you can control the exposure time / shutter speed - that is essential for photographing fast-moving trains. . Some fully automatic cameras may not give you full control of shutter speed, and photos of moving trains might be blurred.
 
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cactustwirly

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Personally I would go for the D3400, but I say that as a Nikon user.
I've got a D3200 and it's really good for a beginner.

In terms of lenses, you get a 18-55mm zoom lense with the camera, I would stick with that before spending loads of money on lenses.
The camera is quite a lot more complicated than a smartphone camera, so I would spend time practising with it. And of course read up and maybe take a photography course?
So that you understand how the settings work.

Once you master DSLRs they're great, the image quality is so much better than smartphone cameras.

If you're buying a used camera, definitely look at the shutter count (the amount of times the shutter has been released)
They normally have a lifespan of about 50-75000 exposures for an entry level camera, so I'd look for one with less than 30000.

Btw the EOS 500D is from 2009, so I'd avoid that.
The D3400 linked looks very well used, so I'd also avoid that, it might be worth looking for a D3200 or D3300 with a lower shutter count (and in better condition)
 
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Peter C

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Canon & Nikon are both good cameras. Lenses made by Sigma Tamron are nearly as good, and sometimes a bit cheaper than those made by Canon or Nikon. Lenses made for Canon will not fit onto Nikon cameras (and vice versa).
Ah OK - thanks very much. I'd not looked into lenses by manufacturers other than Canon or Nikon so I'll look into those.

There are some points to consider when buying older cameras.
1. Lens shutter & aperture mechanisms eventually wear out. Eventually, the wear might become so much that exposure times do not match the specified values.
I'd seen this in other threads. @cactustwirly says a shutter count of more less than 30,000 is good and some of the ones I've seen online aren't even above 3,000: would that be considered really good or a point to be concerned about, e.g. maybe the camera has broken in a way different to the shutter so the previous user hasn't taken many photos?

2. If you wish to connect the camera to a computer, you rely on "driver software" to make the connection. That driver software needs to be updated each time the computer operating system is updated, but the camera manufacturer does not always update software for older camera models. I know that some Canon models from the 500D era may not communicate easily with some versions of Windows 10. You can get round that by taking the memory card out of the camera and use a card reader to transfer the files to the computer, but it is a lot easier if the camera will communicate directly with the computer.
I'd not thought of that. I'd definitely want to transfer pictures to my computer; if I had to remove the SD card and put it in the computer, I'd be alright with that (I actually thought that was the only way of doing it), but if there are easier ways of transferring pictures, I'll definitely use it. This probably makes the Nikon D3400 the better in this respect.

I would be reluctant to buy a 2nd hand camera without an opportunity for a brief test before parting with money.
That thought crossed my mind when looking online, but the only issue is that I don't think there are any shops in my area which provide this kind of service; I believe one did exist until recently, though.

As for lenses - a lot depends on what you want / need. "Primary" lenes (e.g. 50mm, 125mm, etc.) usually give the best quality images. Zoom lenses usually give slightly less good image quality -- but they do save you having to carry the weight of several separate primary lenses. A zoom lens also means you will not have to open the camera to change lenses, and that reduces the chances of the camera sensor being affected by dust.

If you just want photos for a website, or small prints, then a zoom lens will probably be adequate, but if you want to make large (A3+) size prints, then a prime lens is likely to be the best choice.

Personally, I have a Canon camera, and normally use a Sigma 18-300mm zoom lens; it is adequate for my purposes, although you can get better image quality if you want.
I think a zoom lens such as the one you describe would probably be adequate for my purposes. I don't want to have to mess around with lots of different lenses and so to have one which I can zoom in and out with would be excellent.

Whilst using cameras, I find it easier to hold largish cameras still, rather than smartphones or small cameras. Given somewhere to lean against, I have even managed to hold my camera steady enough to take well-focussed 1/10th second exposures of stationary trains. (Saves carrying the weight of a tripod.)

Although they can look complicated, you will soon learn to use most cameras. You will find out that you only need a few of the many exposure options offered by many digital cameras. All you need is a bit of practice.

Only buy a camera where you can control the exposure time / shutter speed - that is essential for photographing fast-moving trains. . Some fully automatic cameras may not give you full control of shutter speed, and photos of moving trains might be blurred.
I've definitely found it easier in the past to hold heavier cameras and such devices still; I've also used several fence posts and all sorts as makeshift tripods :)
I'm willing to learn more about cameras, so it's certainly something I can see myself becoming somewhat good at in the future.
Would the Nikon D3400 (linked in first post), or a similar camera (i.e. D3300) allow for control of the exposure time and shutter speed?

-----

Personally I would go for the D3400, but I say that as a Nikon user.
I've got a D3200 and it's really good for a beginner.
Ah excellent - thanks for the recommendation. I'd read a bit about those cameras being good.

In terms of lenses, you get a 18-55mm zoom lense with the camera, I would stick with that before spending loads of money on lenses.
The camera is quite a lot more complicated than a smartphone camera, so I would spend time practising with it. And of course read up and maybe take a photography course?
So that you understand how the settings work.

Once you master DSLRs they're great, the image quality is so much better than smartphone cameras.
The cameras I've linked to in the first post don't say they come with a lens in the list of included items; I assume this means I'd have to buy another lens? @Bevan Price also says a zoom lens would be good, so I'll look into those. I've had some experience with some cameras ages ago, and I managed to get some alright photos from them, but I'll definitely practice a lot. I've spent quite a bit of time reading about taking good photos and @1369 has produced some really good posts for his website detailing how to take good photos, so I'll make sure I've read those fully.

If you're buying a used camera, definitely look at the shutter count (the amount of times the shutter has been released)
They normally have a lifespan of about 50-75000 exposures for an entry level camera, so I'd look for one with less than 30000.
The cameras I've been looking at have all been fairly low in the shutter count department, so that's good. I'll use your range as a good guide for seeing which cameras are better and which ones aren't. :)

Btw the EOS 500D is from 2009, so I'd avoid that.
The D3400 linked looks very well used, so I'd also avoid that, it might be worth looking for a D3200 or D3300 with a lower shutter count (and in better condition)
Thanks for the warnings; I'll definitely stay away from that Canon camera then. As I said in my first post, I'm really looking for a camera which is good value for money and will provide a good few years' worth of usage. I can't really afford to be regularly replacing cameras and all sorts :D


Thanks to both of you for such helpful responses; I shall now go and see what else I can find online :)

-Peter

(and apologies for such a long post!)
 

Western Sunset

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I've gone away from all the heavy stuff with interchangeable lens and just carry something I can fit in my pocket. Useful when on a bridge in a less salubrious area where you don't want to attract attention. Also handy for taking those quick "snatched" shots, which often turn out better than planned ones. I use a Panasonic DMC-TZ70. Has a Leica lens, a powerful zoom, manual controls and a viewfinder - useful when shooting into the sun. Also good battery life, though I usually take a couple of spares with me. It does what I want.

Really depends what YOU want from your photography.
 

Peter C

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I've gone away from all the heavy stuff with interchangeable lens and just carry something I can fit in my pocket. Useful when on a bridge in a less salubrious area where you don't want to attract attention. Also handy for taking those quick "snatched" shots, which often turn out better than planned ones. I use a Panasonic DMC-TZ70. Has a Leica lens, a powerful zoom, manual controls and a viewfinder - useful when shooting into the sun. Also good battery life, though I usually take a couple of spares with me. It does what I want.

Really depends what YOU want from your photography.
Sounds good - I'll have a look into that camera. I almost always have my phone on me when out and about so I don't need a camera to fit in a pocket for quick shots, but I can see why that would be useful. :)

Thanks,

-Peter
 

Western Sunset

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My phone is so old it just makes calls and texts....

My camera is not the latest model; you might want to see what the current range is.
 

Peter C

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My phone is so old it just makes calls and texts....

My camera is not the latest model; you might want to see what the current range is.
My phone is fairly good at photos and videos, the only problem is that it isn't good as a proper camera.
I'll have a look at the range of cameras like the one you said you use then :)

-Peter
 

cactustwirly

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Just worth noting, a bridge camera won't give as good an image quality as a DSLR, and they aren't that much smaller.
 

Peter C

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Just worth noting, a bridge camera won't give as good an image quality as a DSLR, and they aren't that much smaller.
Ah OK - thanks :) I'm currently thinking a Nikon D3200/D3300 is going to be best; maybe even a D3400 if money allows.

I’ve just bought a Nikon D3500 and I love it
Brilliant - a couple of people have now recommended the Nikon D3x00 range so they're the ones I'll look into most.

-Peter
 

DelW

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I'd not thought of that. I'd definitely want to transfer pictures to my computer; if I had to remove the SD card and put it in the computer, I'd be alright with that (I actually thought that was the only way of doing it), but if there are easier ways of transferring pictures, I'll definitely use it. This probably makes the Nikon D3400 the better in this respect.
You can normally connect the camera to the computer with a USB cable and transfer the photos over that. There can sometimes be a minor snag if the software assumes that you want to charge the camera battery rather than transfer files - if that happens then Windows File Explorer won't be able to read the camera's memory card. Somewhere within a settings menu there will be a place where you can choose from something like this:

- What do you want USB to do?
  • charge device battery
  • transfer files
  • import photos and video
Personally, I'd usually choose the second - the third may put the photos somewhere you didn't intend. Once you've chosen that, File Explorer should show the camera's memory card as an external drive, from which you can copy and paste to the computer's directories wherever you like.
I've gone away from all the heavy stuff with interchangeable lens and just carry something I can fit in my pocket. Useful when on a bridge in a less salubrious area where you don't want to attract attention. Also handy for taking those quick "snatched" shots, which often turn out better than planned ones. I use a Panasonic DMC-TZ70. Has a Leica lens, a powerful zoom, manual controls and a viewfinder - useful when shooting into the sun. Also good battery life, though I usually take a couple of spares with me. It does what I want.
I agree that's a camera with an excellent combination of capability and portability. I bought one a couple of years ago and it's probably the camera I use most often (from a selection well into double figures, albeit some of those quite basic and/or old). Switched off (i.e. with the lens retracted) it's less than 40mm deep so will go into most pockets.
Ah OK - thanks :) I'm currently thinking a Nikon D3200/D3300 is going to be best; maybe even a D3400 if money allows.
Brilliant - a couple of people have now recommended the Nikon D3x00 range so they're the ones I'll look into most.
I've owned the original model (D3000) of the series for several years, and although it's the base model of the Nikon range, it's done everything I've needed. Mine is permanently paired with a Tamron 18-200mm lens, which covers wide angle to medium telephoto. Optical quality is naturally less good than a prime lens (single focal length), but unless you're producing huge enlargements, I doubt anyone would notice the difference. It's bigger in diameter than the Nikon 18-55 which came with the camera, but it's only slightly longer.
The camera also has a built in user guide, which you may find useful when building up experience with the various options it has available, especially if questions crop up about how a setting works when you're out in the field (or on a platform :) ).
 

alxndr

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The differences between the D3400 and D3500 are very slight, if you have any cash left over I'd be more tempted to put that towards a nicer lens/camera bag/spare battery than a slightly newer camera. I have a D5300 (2014) which is older than the D3400 (2016) but I have no plans to replace it yet (and indeed occasionally bring my D3000 (2009) out of retirement but that is lagging behind in technology now).

I've personally never used a cable to transfer images from my camera. My laptop is fitted with a SD reader so it's far more convinent to transfer images that way than find a cable. I wouldn't let that be a deciding factor.

For a first lens I'd suggest getting a zoom lens to give you some flexibility until you know more of what it is you want from a camera. To give you a bit of a starting point, an 18-50mm lens is the one generally sold together with new cameras and cover the range that's generally thought of as being similar to human eyesight (it's not a precise science and there are on what exactly that is but it tends to fall within that). They're not the most exciting but you wouldn't go too wrong with one of those or similar to start off, and they can be found fairly cheaply secondhand due to their popularity. There are a few varieties and I'd go for one of the newer ones as they're not much more.
 

ac6000cw

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8. Are there any other cameras which would be better than the ones I've found? Please let me know if so!
Not necessarily all-round 'better', but if video is as important to you as still photography, then I'd go for a 'mirrorless' interchangeable lens camera (MILC) instead of a DSLR. They have electronic viewfinders so the viewfinder is usable for video (DSLR's have optical viewfinders which can't be used when shooting video - only the LCD screen can be used in that situation).

Or a good all-on-one camera like the already-mentioned Panasonic TZ70, or the TZ100 (same basic idea but with a much larger 1" image sensor to give better quality/better low-light images). Those also have good image stabilisation which is important for hand-held video, and the TZ100 can shoot 4k video.

I'm a fan of the Panasonic Lumix G-series MILC's (I've owned at least half a dozen of them) - they are great stills/video hybrids. At the low-price older used end of things, the DMC-G6 is a good camera (about £160-£170 for the body from a dealer like MPB) which can be paired with a cheap image-stabilised lens like the 14-42mm kit lens
 

Bevan Price

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One thing I would suggest is to always carry a spare battery. It is very irritating if your battery expires just before "something special" is due. Changing batteries usually takes only a few seconds.
And, in the longer term, remember that rechargeable batteries do not last forever. After a few years, battery capacity after each recharge is liable to drop.
 

ac6000cw

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One thing I would suggest is to always carry a spare battery.
Agreed - buying spare batteries (normally decent 3rd party ones, as camera manufacturers batteries are so expensive) is one of the first things I do after buying a new camera.

On occasions, I've got most of the way through three batteries in a busy day of shooting video.
 

65477

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May I suggest an alternative to the DSLR route.

A few years ago I purchased a Nikon D3x00 range camera and yes it did revolutionise my photography. It was great if I travelled but car to a location but was a literal pain for bus/train/plane journeys.

I then purchased a Sony HX60 and have not regretted it. It's been my only camera on rail trips round Europe, long cruises etc.. The only suggestion I would make is invest in a separate external charger and a couple of spare batteries. The Nikon is still used at Airshows and for specific uses but the Sony is with me most of the time and in most cases produces a picture that matches the Nikon in quality. If fact Mrs 65477 tends to use the Sony at Airshows and some of her pictures are better quality than mine!
 

EveningStar

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I've gone away from all the heavy stuff with interchangeable lens and just carry something I can fit in my pocket. Useful when on a bridge in a less salubrious area where you don't want to attract attention. Also handy for taking those quick "snatched" shots, which often turn out better than planned ones. I use a Panasonic DMC-TZ70. Has a Leica lens, a powerful zoom, manual controls and a viewfinder - useful when shooting into the sun. Also good battery life, though I usually take a couple of spares with me. It does what I want.

Really depends what YOU want from your photography.
There is a lot to be said for this. The manufacturers want you to buy into a system. Buy your first camera, then get another lens, then a fancy zoom, dedicated flash, then another lens and a world of bags to lug it around. Lug is the word ... it gets heavy and it becomes a pain, so you miss the shot you want because you could not be bothered lugging your massive kit everywhere. We have all done it as well.

Advice for beginners? Get a good camera, opting for simplicity rather than toys, and a simple prime lens, then learn the craft. Maybe even a small digital card so every shot is precious as in the days of film. Quite frankly, recently returned to that and I am having fun again ... plus the camera is with me more often now.

Another thought. My youngest is a pro fashion photographer. On shoots she has all sorts of gear and swears by the 'blad. Out and about she uses her iPhone, taking photos with the iPhone that makes us mortals weep. Thing is, she sees the photo rather than worry about the equipment she is using.
 

Charlie2555

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I would definitely recommend an SLR style camera. Don't buy into the idea that phone cameras or cheap basic cameras take just as good photos. The difference is very obvious when you actually give more than a quick glance at photos taken. My DSLR (admittedly quite high spec) which was released in 2012 absolutely trounces my top of the range mobile phone from 2020 in every single case.

Another tip: don't worry about megapixels. The sensor size matters far more, and my 'full frame' DSLR (Canon 6D) has a sensor far bigger than any phone. For reference, phones often have a sensor 4.4 x 3.3mm squared, whereas my camera has one 36 x 24mm squared. Differences will be even more noticeable in low light.

Personally, I would not buy a new DSLR. It is often not worth it, and you can get a much higher spec camera which is barely used for the same cost or even cheaper. Also look at investing in good glass (lenses). This is actually more important than the camera body itself, a cheap DSLR with expensive lens will beat a pro body with cheap lens. I have personally invested in a couple of Canon L lenses which produce fantastic results. They cost me more than my second hand camera body.
 
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