Fall is here, and with the autumn season officially beginning on September 22, all you studious folk have returned to the halls of higher education, whether in-person or remotely. For better or for worse, you’ve also decided to be a photo major, so whether you’re a first-year frosh or a third-year grad student pursuing their MFA, let’s take a look at cameras that can aid you in your journey to be as famous as Ansel Adams.
FUJIFILM just released the GFX 50S II, which 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 Type-C charging, and more. It is also dust- and weather-sealed, and freezeproof down to 14°F.
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
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-EL18c battery, this increases to 9 fps. If you like the D850, but prefer a mirrorless workflow, the Nikon Z 7II is a mirrorless version of the D850 with some updated capabilities. The original Nikon Z 7 is also still available.
If you’re looking for power in a more portable form factor, the recently announced Sony Alpha a7R IV significantly raises the bar for full-frame digital photography. The a7R IV adds a 61MP sensor to a system that is already small, lightweight, and very well rounded. It’s slated to excel quickly in most types of shooting situations, and is paired with a native ISO range of 100-32000, 5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE stabilization to reduce camera shake by 5.5 stops, 10 fps continuous shooting for up to 68 frames, a 5.76m-dot OLED EVF with a refresh rate of 120 Hz, a 3.0” tilting touchscreen, and a Fast HybridAF system with 567 phase-detection points. Also of note is Pixel Shift Multi Shooting, which has been updated to capture 16 consecutive exposures for creating highly detailed images. Rounding things out are improved weather sealing, as well as integrated Wi-Fi and NFC, for transfers between devices and remote control using a mobile app.
Also available is the Sony Alpha a7R IVA, which increases the resolution of the rear LCD from 1,440,000 dots to 2,359,296 dots. Beside this improvement, this A7R IV and a7R IVA are equal in specs and performance.
Since the a7R IV and its 61MP files will undoubtedly eat up a lot of drive space and processing power, the Sony Alpha a7R III is still available and remains an excellent choice. It retains most features of the a7R IV and captures raw files at 42MP.
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 new 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 also recently entered the full-frame mirrorless market with two attractive options. Their 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 that will allow 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.
If you don’t need the resolution of the cameras listed above, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is another awesome high-end cameras. 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.
If you’re interested in Canon’s mirrorless offerings, the Canon EOS R is a mirrorless version of the 5D Mark IV, while the EOS R5 significantly raises the stakes with a 45MP full-frame CMOS sensor, 12 fps continuous shooting with a mechanical shutter, 8K30 raw and 4K120 10-bit internal video, 5-axis image stabilization, and more.
There are more options. 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 M10-R is your huckleberry. It is a dedicated stills camera and uses a 40MP full-frame CMOS sensor, the Maestro II image processor, 0.73x optical viewfinder, and a rear 3" 1.04m-dot touchscreen LCD. The M10-P with its 24MP sensor is still available, or make the move to shooting digital black-and-white stills with the M10 Monochrom and its 40MP full-frame B&W CMOS sensor.
The last option here is the Canon EOS 5DS R. It's a few years old, but sports a 50.6MP full-frame CMOS sensor that produces highly detailed images, placing it second behind the a7R IV for highest full-frame pixel count.
Prosumer / Enthusiast
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 weather proofing 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 screen 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. It’s also worth mentioning that the D780 is the successor to the D750, which is still available and finds its mirrorless counterpart in the Z 6.
Fully weather-sealed and designed as a jack-of-all-trades, the Nikon D500 is a 20.9MP DX-format DSLR that shoots at up to 10 fps for 200 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 captures being aided by the 51-point Multi-CAM 20K autofocus system with 99 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. The D500 is an upgrade to the D7500, which is still available.
If you’re a mirrorless fan, Sony’s Alpha a7 III delivers an excellent balance of features for its price point and is geared towards amateurs and enthusiasts. It ports over many features from the a7R III, such as SteadyShot stabilization, 10 fps shooting, a 3.0” LCD touchscreen, Wi-Fi, and NFC, pairing them with a 24MP Full-Frame sensor and a 693-point hybrid AF system, which is taken from the a9. This camera is essentially the a7R III, but with some concessions made for a more affordable price point. Its lower resolution also means it is better suited for low-light work than the a7R III.
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-T4 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 26.1MP APS-C X-Trans BSI CMOS sensor and the X-Processor Pro 4 engine with a Quad CPU for fast speeds when recording 10-bit DCI/UHD 4K video at 60 fps. A native ISO range of 160 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, 20 fps with the electronic shutter, or 30 fps with the electronic shutter and a 1.25x crop, hybrid autofocus with 425 phase-detection points, a weather-sealed body, a 3.69m-dot OLED EVF, and a rear 3.0" 1.62m-dot Vari-Angle touchscreen.
As an alternative to the X-T4, the FUJIFILM X-T3 is still available and holds its own when compared to the X-T4.
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 a 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 an optical viewfinder and 3.0" vari-angle LCD touchscreen, plus Wi-Fi and NFC.
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.
FUJIFILM’s X-T30 is the little brother of the X-T3. They share many of the same features, such as sensor, resolution, touchscreen, and more, but the X-T30 isn’t weather sealed, its LCD screen lacks sideways adjustability, its viewfinder offers less magnification and resolution, its shutter speed maxes out at 1/4000-second, and there is only one UHS-I SD slot. The X-T30 includes a pop-up flash, but lacks connectivity for a battery grip.
The Nikon D5600 is another jack-of-all-trades camera that works with mobile devices for sharing memories using Bluetooth. Perhaps most notable for a camera at this price point is the omission of the optical low-pass filter for increased sharpness and resolution from its 24.2MP DX sensor. Its ISO range stretches from 100 to 25600 and continuous shooting captures images at 5 fps, 1080p video at up to 60 fps. Also featured is a 3.2" 1.037m-dot Vari-Angle touchscreen.
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.
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 store. 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.
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. Point being 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.
We've covered a lot of ground here. If you have any questions or thoughts, share them with us in the Comments section, below.