Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Not Recommend a DSLR to a Friend (Updated)

Recently, friends of mine went on to Facebook looking for camera buying advice. They had been using a Nikon D40 for quite some time and were looking for an upgrade. They had two requirements: that it be a dSLR and that it would do good video as well. I wish I could say that that ensuing results were unexpected, but they weren't. This is a sampling of the responses that they got:

  • Nikon D800
  • Sony RX100
  • "Just use your iPhone"

Not very helpful, yes? It just got weirder from there with people posting the inevitable Ken Rockwell links, Amazon specials... you name it. Suddenly, everybody was a camera enthusiast, and we're talking Facebook, not DPReview. I think out of 20 posts, only three actually came close offering advice for what the original posters were asking for. Don't be like this when people are asking for your advice....

When I was in professional school, the old timers passed on to use that "You have two ears and one mouth, so you better do twice as much listening as you do talking." Folksy, I know, but unfailingly true. You see, people love to talk about what cameras they like, but for some reason it's much harder to put yourself into somebody else's shoes and image what would be right for them.You see this all the time on camera forums, with different takes on the "it's not right for me therefore it's not a good camera" logic.The RX1 is a peculiar case. I lot of people recommend it and praise it, but nobody in my personal circle as bought one. I think it's wish fulfillment; we all have financial obligations to meet and the RX1 is not a cheap camera, but if we can't have it, then we'll help out somebody who can afford it.

I'll bust one myth right here. Don't assume that because my friends were using a D40 we are talking about uninspired mom and pop snaps. Every week I see something amazing go up from them, proving once again that it's not the camera, it's the photographer.

What did I recommend? A Nikon D5200, if they wanted to keep using their current lenses, the Sony SLT-A77 if they wanted better video at the expense of some image quality, or the Panasonic DMC-GH3 if they wanted really great video. That's what would have fit their needs. I did not recommend the D7000 or D7100, which would be cameras that I would prefer to use, and recommending the D800 because it has clean HDMI video is just plain silly. I wouldn't personally give the Sony or the Panasonic a second thought because I value lens selection as a high priority in a camera system, but I wholeheartedly think that they might be good choices for this particular couple.

In fact, I tend to recommend m4/3 and mirrorless cameras quite frequently, and higher end dSLR's not so much. Anybody who is looking for a DSLR knows what they want, but folks looking for "better pictures" sometimes need some help navigating all of the information that is out there. Big hint: it's not about how good the camera is, but how often the person will want to use it. I don't find the D7000 big, but it's going to be huge for somebody who wouldn't carry around a D3200 because it would be too bulky for their pack. And as for couples, studies show that when the man picks the camera, he will use it almost all of the time, but when the woman picks the camera, they will both use it. You've been warned...

If you are reading this blog, chances are that it's far down the list of camera sites that you are visiting. However, hopefully that makes you, the reader, one of the best qualified people in your own personal circle to offer camera advice to your friends. Too often you run across people on the internet who devour information to validate what they want, but if you've read a half dozen camera reviews, then you should also be versed enough to help others with their own personal choices.

Postscript: My friend's ended up choosing the Canon EOS SL1.  They stayed true to what they set out to find, and considering that they were upgrading from a D40, not a surprising choice.


  1. SOS:

    I hope I am not rude but I coem to an edage and pretty much hopelss. when I was young, I once shoot over 30 films(36 pic roll) in one day. Of course, the payment to get the picture was hudgee. And I stay away from camera ever since.
    We are about to go for a trip for family vocation. my wife wants to retire casio ex-z450 and get a new "real" camera. I was forced to study for what to buy. I really hate to carry a camera bag on top of a hudge camera when I am out of hiking. I am really into the view I can see with naked eye instead of watch it at home.
    but I cant fight with my wife or i will suffe rmore than a bill may hurt. its not issue with the money but a problem with logic and worthyness. I also treasure the time I can stay with family. so good picture and video is essential. but I really dotn know what to do and the date for the trip is very near. if I dotn hear from you soon I will go for the d7000 after read your article of d5200/d7000 comparison. I had considered sx260 but not sure if its good enough for the trip and better than my(my wife's) z450. she keeps saying the picture is not as good as it used to be. should I go for a service? what is the best camera I should get at 2013? my son goes to karate tournament so sports shooting will be involved ocationally.
    In worst case, I will go for community college and take photo lessons.

    1. The D7000 would give you the best quality and would be best for the karate tournaments, but if you want a smaller camera with good still picture and video, try the Sony NEX-6N.

  2. Hi Douglas:

    Thank you for your advise. Do you mean nex 3n or nex 6L.
    I am still not familar with latest sony products. I gave up sony after tred first few generation of cyber shot. we had became a big fan of casio compacts latly. We tend to buy new camera whenever my wife complains. i had few real good cameras back in the old days but I never into it. just for birthday or special events that I have to.. like childrn's concert.

    I dont know camera because I am not into it. But I guess I can draw similar experience from hi end sound systems. I am aware a lens should caused at least or a bit more than thecamera body. It's similar that we had to spend at least equal amount of budge into cd transport, dac, pre amp, amp(quat mono), cables, power clean and stablizer, a good collection of cd, a chair, a room , and interrior material for sound engineering. Actualy it costs a lot more than a camera system. However, a d7000 body may cost a fraction of a single cable but I would think d7000 is more "expensive" than that connctor. I had start reading and learn phto basics. at least I had lift up my foot but not a single step further. I recall the time I had to adjust the camera had with a thin hair in the live view window. back then, camera was quiet simpl.

    1. Probably the 3n if you are just getting back into photography, it's fairly simple. The D7000 + 18-105VR is a very good camera, but it is more expensive as well. I think that if you want to splurg, then it will still be a good choice. You can always start off with the auto modes first, and then as you learn more, you can explore more of the camera's capabilities. That's how I learned.