Recommended Cameras for Photography Majors

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Recommended Cameras for Photography Majors

The new school year is nearly upon us, which means it’s time to start stocking up on necessary gear and school supplies. For film and photo majors, that means finding the camera that’s right for you. To help you get the perfect shot, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite cameras, including options for beginning photographers, prosumers, and professionals.

Medium Format

The FUJIFILM GFX 50S II has helped to make shooting digital medium format more practical. It captures 51.4MP images using its 43.8 x 32.9mm CMOS sensor and delivers images with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is the same as shooting 120mm roll film in the 6 x 4.5cm format. However, the sensor on the GFX 50S II isn’t full-frame medium format, but don’t let that deter you, because the details in the 14-bit raw files are nothing short of stunning. When compared to the original GFX 50S, the GFX 50S II features several upgrades, including the X-Processor 4 engine, a Rapid AF option for enhanced contrast-based focusing, 6.5 stops of image stabilization, improved battery life, USB-C charging, and more. It is sealed against dust and weather, and it’s freezeproof down to 14°F.

FUJIFILM GFX 50S II
FUJIFILM GFX 50S II

If 51.4MP isn’t enough for you, the GFX 100S packs 102MP into the 43.8 x 32.9 BSI CMOS sensor that can capture uncompressed 16-bit raw files that are around 220MB each. It also features DCI and UHD 4K video at 4:2:0 10-bit internally, 4:2:2 10-bit via HDMI, or raw 12-bit if recording externally, plus an F-log gamma setting for more advanced color grading. Thanks to a redesign, the GFX 100S is more compact and lightweight than the GFX 100, making it well suited for handheld shooting on location and in studio environments, although the smaller body size does mean reduced battery life of around 460 shots per charge. Other upgrades include the X-Processor 4 engine and 6 stops of image stabilization. Rounding out the GFX 100S is dust  and weather sealing, plus freeze resistance down to 14°F.

FUJIFILM GFX 100S
FUJIFILM GFX 100S

Pro Level

Delivering speed, image quality, and connectivity, the Nikon Z9 is a professional-grade camera characterized by its newly developed sensor, advanced AF performance, and high-resolution 8K 60p video recording. With its 45.7MP BSMI stacked sensor and an ISO range of 32-102,400, the Z9 can be used for photography and filmmaking. Its mechanical shutter has been replaced with one that is fully electronic and completely silent, allowing the Z9 to reach shutter speeds of up to 1/32,000-second and capture 20 fps in raw, 30 fps in JPEG, and 120 fps when recording 11MP stills. Even more impressive is its ability to buffer more than 1,000 raw images in a burst, meaning a raw sequence can be recorded for up to 50 seconds.

Nikon Z9 Mirrorless Camera
Nikon Z9 Mirrorless Camera

Other integrated features include 493-point phase-detection AF, subject detection with deep learning technology, 12-bit raw video recording in the N-RAW format, ProRes and H.265 10-bit 4:2:2 internal video recording, dual CFexpress Type B card slots, 6 stops of vibration reduction, and a wide range of wired and wireless connectivity, including HDMI, USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, Ethernet, a 10-pin port for remote connectivity, a PC sync for flash sync, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GNSS for in-camera geotagging. The Z9 also has Nikon’s first-ever four-axis tilting LCD to support working from high and low angles, whether in portrait or landscape orientation.

The Nikon D850 is geared toward students who are truly serious about photography. It is at the top of its game for almost anything you want to shoot, including studio, portrait, landscape, action, and night shots. It uses a 45.7MP FX-format sensor to deliver high-resolution imagery and its back-illuminated sensor can acquire greater detail and clarity in low-light conditions. An optical pentaprism offers a wide field of view, or use the 3.2" LCD touchscreen for live-view shooting. The D850 can shoot continuously at 7 fps for up to 51 consecutive compressed raw files in a single burst. When paired with the MB-D18 grip and EN-EL 18c battery, this increases to 9 fps. If you like the D850, but prefer a mirrorless workflow, the Nikon Z 7II is essentially a mirrorless version of the D850 with some updated capabilities.

Nikon D850
Nikon D850

If you’re looking for power in a more portable form factor, the Sony a7R V significantly raises the bar for full-frame digital photography and videography. The a7R V uses the same 61MP sensor as the a7R IV and a7R IVA, but employs a new AI-based autofocus system with advanced subject recognition and 693 phase detection points, 8K 24p and 4K 60p video, and image stabilization that has been upgraded from 5.5 stops to 8 stops, making it incredibly versatile for photo and video applications. While the a7R V retains a native ISO range of 100-32000, other improvements include 10 fps continuous shooting for up to 135 raw images or 1,000 JPEGs, dual CFexpress Type A/SD card slots, a fully articulating LCD with tilt, and a 9.44 million dot EVF. Using the HDMI output, users can record 16-bit raw video for capture as ProRes RAW to an Atomos Ninja V or V+. Rounding things out is extensive weather sealing, which has been enhanced around the battery cover, terminal cover, and chassis joints, with increased dust and moisture resistance to harsh weather conditions.

Sony a7R V Mirrorless Camera
Sony a7R V Mirrorless Camera

The only area in which the a7R V trails the a7R IVA is the resolution of its rear LCD, at 2,095,104 dots vs. 2,359,296 dots. It also retains most of the other features of the a7R IV/IVA, such as Pixel Shift Multi Shooting.

Are you looking for a Sony camera that combines high-res photo and video with rapid-fire shutter bursts? Sony’s flagship Alpha 1 uses a 50.1MP full-frame Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor that is capable of 30 fps continuous shooting at full resolution, plus 8K 30p and 4K 120p 10-bit video recording.

Panasonic has entered the full-frame mirrorless market with two attractive options. Its flagship model is the Lumix DC-S1R, with a 47.3MP MOS sensor that omits a low pass filter and uses on-chip aspherical micro lenses for greater sensitivity, light condensation, and color response. Also notable is 9 fps continuous shooting, a 3.2" 2.1 m-dot triaxial touchscreen, weather sealing, and sensor-shift image stabilization of up to 5.5 stops. The Lumix DC-S1 retains many features of its big sibling, but uses a 24.2MP sensor and is optimized for video. Look for a paid firmware update allows for 4:2:2 10-bit 4K 24p/30p internal recording, 4:2:2 10-bit 4K 60p HDMI output, and full V-Log recording. Or, check out the Lumix DC-S1H, which is further optimized for video applications, including 10-bit 6K, internal 4:2:2 10-bit sampling, anamorphic 4K recording, and more using its updated sensor design with Dual Native ISO settings to prioritize either low noise or low sensitivity.

Panasonic Lumix S1R
Panasonic Lumix S1R

If you don’t need the resolution of the cameras listed above, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is another awesome high-end camera. It performs well in a wide range of situations, from landscapes to sports and wildlife, and more. It offers a 30.4MP Full-Frame sensor, ISO range of 50 to 102400, 7 fps continuous shooting, a bright pentaprism, and a 3.2" LCD touchscreen. The 5D Mark IV also has a 61-point Rectilinear AF system, measures light using a 150,000 pixel RGB+IR metering sensor, and includes built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, and GPS.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

If you’re interested in Canon’s mirrorless offerings, the Canon EOS R5 is basically a mirrorless version of the 5D Mark IV, but raises the stakes significantly with a 45MP full-frame CMOS sensor, 12 fps continuous shooting with a mechanical shutter, 8K 30p raw and 4K 120p 10-bit internal video, 5-Axis image stabilization, and more.

For those who have professional still photo and cinema video needs, the Canon EOS R5 C blends the R5 and C70. When switched to photo mode, the R5 C is a full-featured still photo camera with all the settings of the R5. When switched to video mode, it becomes a full-frame 8K 60p camera that records 12-bit Cinema RAW Light footage internally.

Canon EOS R5 C
Canon EOS R5 C

The last Canon offering is the EOS R3, which combines tech from the mirrorless EOS R system with the robustness and performance of a flagship DSLR. Built with an integrated vertical grip, it is driven by a 24.1MP stacked sensor and records hi-res stills, as well as 4K 60p raw and 4K 120p 10-bit internal video.

One more option. First, if a family member once gifted you a Leica M-Series film camera and you miss having manual control over most aspects of digital photography, then the Leica M11 is your huckleberry. It is a dedicated stills camera and uses a 60MP full-frame CMOS sensor that can also be set to 36MP or 18MP, the Maestro III image processor, 0.73x optical viewfinder, and a rear 2.95" 2.3m-dot touchscreen LCD. Or, make the move to shooting digital black-and-white stills with the M11 Monochrom, which retains the same sensor as the M11, but lacks a color filter array, allowing it to record solely in black-and-white.

Leica M11 Rangefinder
Leica M11 Rangefinder

Prosumer / Enthusiast

Dubbed the ultimate hybrid camera, the Nikon Z8 uses the same sensor, processing, and AF capabilities as the Z9, but in a sleeker, more compact, and lightweight package that better suits gimbal use, event shooting, and other handheld applications.

Nikon Z8
Nikon Z8

The Nikon D780 is aimed at beginner and enthusiast students, yet incorporates pro-level features, such as a 24.5MP FX BSI CMOS sensor, EXPEED 6 image processor, and weatherproofing at an attractive price. The ISO range stretches from 50 to 51200, and images are captured at up to 7 fps using a 51-point phase-detection AF system with 15 cross-type points, so perhaps this camera isn’t best suited for covering a sports event. Light is metered using a 180,000 pixel RGB sensor. Compose your shots using the pentaprism with 100% frame coverage, or take advantage of the 3.2" tilting LCD with 2.35m-Dots. If you need to trigger a shot remotely, that can be done using built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. As with the D850 and the Z 7II, the Nikon Z 6II is more or less a mirrorless D780.

Nikon D780 DSLR
Nikon D780 DSLR

Fully weather sealed and designed as a jack of all trades, the Nikon D7500 is a 20.9MP DX-format DSLR that shoots at up to 8 fps for 100 frames, making it more suitable for sports. Its ISO range of 50 to 1,640,000 means it can shoot in the darkest of environments, with capture aided by the 51-point Multi-CAM 3500FX II autofocus system with 15 cross-type points. It uses an optical viewfinder and a 3.2" tilting touchscreen to shoot from high and low angles, while both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi permit wireless transfers and remote control of the camera from linked mobile devices.

If you’re a mirrorless fan, Sony’s a7 IV delivers an excellent array of features for its price and does double duty with strong stills and video performance. It ports over many features from the a7R IV/IVA, such as SteadyShot stabilization, 10 fps shooting, a 3.0" LCD touchscreen, Wi-Fi, and NFC, pairing them with a 33MP Full-Frame sensor and a 759-point hybrid AF system. This camera is essentially the a7R IV/IVA, but with some concessions made for a more affordable price. Its lower resolution also means it is better suited for low-light work than the a7R IV/IVA.

Sony a7 IV
Sony a7 IV

As an alternative to the a7 IV, the a7 III is still available and holds its own when compared to the a7 IV.

Panasonic’s Lumix S5 IIX is a mirrorless camera designed for pro content creators who need strong stills and sophisticated video options. Compared to its predecessor, the S5 II, the S5 IIX benefits from a new full-frame 24.2MP CMOS sensor and an updated image processing engine with L2 technology that incorporates a Phase Hybrid AF system with 770 focus points. Switching to the video side, it records at 6K for up to 30 minutes or unlimited 4K, while a new Active I.S. system supports walking shots to enhance image stabilization while recording video.

Lumix S5 IIX
Lumix S5 IIX

Dust and weather sealed, the enthusiast-focused Canon EOS 6D Mark II offers an affordable entry into full-frame photography. It delivers a 26.2MP Full-Frame sensor, 6.5 fps shooting, an ISO range of 50 to 102,400, and a 45-point AF system that is aided by Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology. Compose your shots using the optical viewfinder, which offers 98% coverage, or the 3.0" vari-angle touchscreen LCD. Rounding things out are Wi-Fi NFC, Bluetooth, and a GPS for geotagging photos.

The FUJIFILM X-T5 is a mirrorless system that is attractively priced and a good starter camera for students looking to enter the mirrorless world who don’t need all the bells and whistles of a Sony. It has a 40MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS HR BSI sensor for fast speeds when recording 6.2K video in 4:2:2 10-bit color internally, or 12-bit ProRes RAW and Blackmagic RAW via HDMI. A native ISO range of 125 to 12800 allows for the capture of finely detailed imagery with low noise. Other features include continuous shooting of up to 15 fps with the mechanical shutter or 20 fps with the electronic shutter, a top electronic shutter speed of 1/180,000-second, hybrid autofocus with 425 phase-detection points, a weather-sealed body, a 3.69m-dot OLED EVF, and a rear 3.0" 1.84m-dot tilting touchscreen.

FUJIFILM X-T5
FUJIFILM X-T5

Consumer

If you like APS-C and Canon, don’t discount the Canon EOS 90D. Its 32.5MP sensor pairs with a 45-point AF system, Dual Pixel CMOS AF, and revised 220,000-pixel AE metering to capture images at up to 10 fps with an ISO range of 100 to 25600. It also follows suit with both an optical viewfinder and 3.0" vari-angle LCD touchscreen, plus Wi-Fi and NFC. On the video side, it records UHD 4K 30p and Full HD 120p video.

Canon EOS 90D
Canon EOS 90D

If you want to go mirrorless, the EOS R7 also has a 32.5MP APS-C sensor, but can capture 10-bit 4K 60p video and uses the same DIGIC X processor as the R3. Canon also offers several comparable full-frame mirrorless models, such as the EOS R6, EOS R8, and EOS RP.

The Canon Rebel has always been a good starter camera and the EOS Rebel T8i delivers many features found in the 90D. However, it uses a 24.1MP APS-C sensor and its continuous shooting rate drops to 7 fps.

Canon EOS Rebel T8i
Canon EOS Rebel T8i

Beginners

Last, but not least, the mirrorless Sony Alpha a6400 is a high-spec camera at a low-spec price. Made for advanced beginners, it produces images with marked low-light quality using an ISO range of 100 to 102400 and a 24.2MP APS-C sensor. Quickly capture shots at 11 fps using a Fast Hybrid AF system with phase- and contrast-detection methods, and compose your frame using the 2.36m-dot 0.39" OLED EVF with 100% coverage and 120 fps, or the rear 921.6k-dot 3.0" LCD touchscreen, which tilts 180° up and 74° down. The body also houses a configurable user interface for more efficient access to frequently used settings. Remote camera control and image sharing are also supported using Wi-Fi and NFC.

Sony a6400
Sony a6400

Film

While memory cards and digital captures have overtaken film and analog captures, film isn’t dead. If you’re enrolled in a traditional darkroom program, B&H’s selection of new film cameras is limited, so check B&H’s Used Department. Popular 35mm film cameras include the Canon AE-1 or AE-1 Program, Nikon FE or FE2, Nikon FM or FM2, and Pentax K1000. A bonus is that the lenses made for these cameras can be adapted to many modern digital bodies, whether natively or using adapters.

Film Cameras
Film Cameras

Final Thoughts

All in all, remember that a camera is, basically, just a light-tight box. This holds truer for film cameras, but is certainly applicable to digital ones as well. The point is that if you’re still learning about exposure, composition, shutter speed, and depth of field, a more expensive camera body won’t automatically make you a better photographer. A pricier camera may have a higher-resolution sensor, but the resolution of your sensor, or roll of film, is only one part of the equation, with the other two being lens choice and the quality/quantity of light. Advanced camera bodies are often full of confusing menus and controls that you’ll probably never use, so instead, find something that better suits your needs.

If you want to go ahead and splurge for that pro body as a beginner, remember that technology changes often, so maybe save that pro purchase for when you’ve mastered your craft. When you learned to drive, was your first car Bullitt’s 1968 Ford Mustang GT? Didn’t think so.

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