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Light, middlin’, heavy; there’s a lot of difference in the weight you can carry ‘round your neck, over your shoulder and on your back. A small camera such as the Rebel T3i, which weighs in at 570 g (1.26 lb), without a lens, will hurt a lot less than Canon’s pro monster, the 1D Mk IV, which weighs in at 1360 g (3.04 lbs) sans lens. There is, of course, a middle path; that of the new 5D Mk III, which weighs only 2 lbs, 15.5 oz. Of course when you add a lens to these cameras, they do manage to put on a lot more weight. So how do you decide which camera is best for you?

Start by asking yourself some simple questions.

What kind of photography am I interested in doing? General picture taking? Chasing the children? Sports? Nature?

Do I want to go pro? Am I going to make a business of this? Do I need the ultimate in reliability, accuracy and quality?

Does weight  matter? How much can I carry?

Does speed matter? How fast does my camera need to be?

Do I want to do low light photography? Wide angle?

My choice for the average picture taker who wants the accuracy and lens expandability of an SLR is one of the Canon Digital Rebel series (the basic Nikon cameras are also great cameras). The one pictured above is the 8MP XT with the 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 IS. You can pick one up from KEH in Atlanta in excellent used condition for about $300. This is the last of the Rebels that uses the CF memory cards, the same as the pro cameras (so when you move up, you won’t need to buy more cards). You can buy a brand new Rebel T3 (12 MP, 720p movie mode) with the 18-55 image stabilized lens for about $500.

Anyone who is serious about photography ought to consider a full frame camera. Wedding and portrait photographers, event photographers, naturalists, and others who need an all round great camera with all of the flexibility of 35mm film and none of the limitations of small sensor cameras should shoot full frame. My nomination for all around best value is the Canon 5D, a 12 MP beauty that is rugged and reliable and gives phenomenal quality. If you pick it up used, you can get three for less than one of the latest models (the 5D Mark III); (again, KEH in Atlanta is a great place to start looking). Or you can buy two 5D’s used and get the 28mm f1.8, 50mm f1.4 and 85 f1.8 lenses brand new for less than the cost of one new 5D Mk III!  For the available light and the candid shooter, this is a great way to go. Plus, those wide aperture lenses let you do some Cool Stuff (Cool Stuff just cries out for Capitalization) that the zoom lenses just won’t do (kinda like your boss who cocks an eyebrow at you and says “Bad idea. Now get back to work.”)

The sports enthusiast needs a fast camera. It is imperative that the camera keep up with the action (it doesn’t have to be full frame, either). There are a number of cameras that can crank out speeds of up to 6 frames per second (fps) and a few that will exceed that. The Pros are hankering after the newly announced Canon 1DX (18MP - 12fps) or the Nikon D4 (16MP - 10fps).

Some fast current models:

  1. -Canon 7D - 8 fps (1.6x crop)

  2. -Canon 1D Mk IV - 10 fps (1.3x crop)

  3. -Canon 1DX- 12 fps (full frame)

  4. -Nikon D7000 - 6 fps (1.5x crop)

  5. -Nikon D300s - 7 fps (1.5x crop)

  6. -Nikon D4 - 10 fps (full frame)

For more information on sports photography, check here.

The muralist needs very high resolution (but most of the rest of us don’t). While a good 8MP camera will enable you to make 6 foot tall banners that look great (I know, ‘cause I’ve done it) if you want super fine detail in huge prints (I personally make prints up to 48 x 120 inches), you want as much pixel power as you can carry. The current resolution champs, in the 35mm SLR field, are the Nikon D800 (36MP)Nikon D3X (24 MP), Canon 5D Mk III (22 MP) and the Canon 1Ds Mk III (21MP). All of these cameras have full frame 35mm sensors.

If you want more resolution than that (and the muralist frequently does) you have to go to a medium format camera with digital back (up to 80MP), or a large format scanning back (up to 138 MP).

So that’s the gist of it; you can find out more by taking some of the Saint Louis Photo Authority classes.

Which SLR is right for you?