First of all, I would like to draw your attention to a very important point: it is useless to get too caught up in the head. For the same range, 2 cameras of different brands are often just as good as each other, and will not make any fundamental difference in your photography practice. What I mean is that a 200€ compact from one brand or another will often be about the same. Ditto if you hesitate between 2 entry-level reflexes from Canon or Nikon. I will come back to this, but it seems important to me to clarify it now.
- Below 150-200€: choose a good compact, well rated on the Digital ones. You don’t have to worry about it.
- About 300€ (or even 400€ when selling a kidney): think about turning to the opportunity. You will find reflexes (or even hybrids) 2 to 3 years old, which work very well and will be enough to start with. You will probably be much happier with it than a brand new bridge or compact. Don’t be fooled by things like wi-fi, GPS and so on: it’s frankly not essential.
- Over 400-500€: choose a SLR or hybrid. Even at the beginning of the range, you will really enjoy it.
Hybrid or reflex?
That’s the question you’re asking yourself a lot today. Clearly, many hybrids have achieved a quality equivalent to SLRs. However, a small footprint is always a big advantage (footprint, weight, travel and travel, discretion, etc.). So in which situations should you still choose a reflex? As always, it depends on your needs and your photography practice.
In my opinion, reflex is essential in the following practices:
- Animal photography: you will need a long telephoto lens and a good balance with the body, which hybrids cannot offer.
- Sports photography: for the moment, SLRs still have the advantage in terms of reactivity, which is essential in this discipline. The gap is likely to be reduced to zero in the coming years, but this is still the case in 2014.
- The photo of shows (concerts, etc.): the handling, ergonomics and reactivity of reflexes remain for me essential in this discipline. But high-end hybrids are starting to compete!
- To a lesser extent, the macro: the range of macro lenses is often reduced on hybrids, so make sure you have what you need before you buy.
And that’s all! For everything else (landscape, portrait, everyday life, architecture, street photography, travel, etc.), you will not see any fundamental difference in the rendering between hybrid and reflex. Especially if the sensor size is the same.
So it’s really a matter of personal preference: some will favour a small footprint to be able to take the device everywhere, and others will prefer something bigger for a better grip. Now it’s up to you!
How to choose between the 2 or 3 finalists?
Normally, at this stage, you will have 2 or 3 cameras that tempt you, without being able to choose: you have kept the cameras that correspond to the 3 main criteria mentioned above, you have filtered with your budget, you have chosen between hybrid and SLR. And you still have 2 hybrids or 3 SLRs left at the same price, looking at the top rated cameras on the comparison sites. And you have no idea of the differences between them, despite reading many tests or comparisons.
Well, good news: there are few of them! As I said above, for the same range, there are relatively few differences between competing devices. An Olympus PEN and a Panasonic GF of the same generation are quite close. Ditto for Canon and Nikon SLR cameras of the same range.
My best advice here is to take them in hand in store: look at which one you feel most comfortable with. Handle the device, see if you can easily find the settings, if the menus are intuitive for you, if it “falls into your hands”. It’s a bit like looking for an apartment after all: you have a crush or not. It may seem trivial to you, but it’s really very, very important to have an intuitive grip: it will make it easier for you to take pictures, and the pleasure of taking pictures.
This first-hand experience will also allow you to notice small details that you may have missed in the tests, but that are important to you:
- the presence of a viewfinder
- a swivelling screen
These criteria are really very personal, personally I don’t find the swivel screen important, but you have the right to take this into consideration 😉