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Peter Vogel

Digital cameras still competing with smartphones

Voices Dec. 4, 2018

Although smartphone cameras are generally outstanding, there remains solid demand for standalone digital cameras, says Peter Vogel. His annual survey of digital cameras available in the Vancouver area is online at http://vandigicams.ca. (Andre Furtado/Pexels)

Recently, colleague and BCC reader Angela Filipovic wrote to ask about a camera she might buy for her daughter ahead of a trip to Croatia. That was just the trigger I needed to get going with updates to my cameras website.

So once again here is our annual survey of digital cameras for sale in the Vancouver area, something we’ve been doing in this space since 2002, and, in a slightly simpler form, going all the way back to 1996.

On average, prices this year are about the same as they were last year for models still in production today, primarily due to relative stability in the Canadian dollar. Furthermore, there is far less turnover in camera models compared to years past.

As people return to an interest in photography through their experience with today’s sophisticated smartphones, they are tending to migrate to advanced digital cameras, bypassing the point-and-shoot models that previously dominated the market.

High-end smartphone camera functionality, such as that in the Samsung S8 and S9 line, the recent Apple iPhone models, and in recent models from China such as the Huawei P20, is generally regarded as outstanding. However there remains solid demand for standalone digicams, be they of the point-and-shoot, MILC, or DSLR variety. Of course today’s digicams represent much better value, and functionality, than, say, did a near-$1,000 sub-megapixel Epson camera from 1996.

To serve that demand we once again have our dedicated single-page website, http://vandigicams.ca, ready for you. As this column is written, the site contains information on more than 180 digital cameras, with updates being made each day through to Jan. 6. Links are also provided to the surveys from previous years to enable price comparisons.

The annual digital camera survey at http://vandigicams.ca as of Dec. 3, 2018.

Cameras on the site are primarily those advertised in print flyers delivered across the Lower Mainland and so are most likely to be on sale below manufacturers’ suggested list prices. Additional entries come from retailer web sites and from advertising in Vancouver’s major daily papers.

Prices on the site, rounded to the nearest $5 increment, are the lowest found in the November-December survey period. Quite often the lowest prices tend to occur mid-November. If you decide to buy a unit on the list, you may be able to convince the salesperson to roll the price back to the earlier low point if it has risen in the interim.

Individual cameras in the survey are allocated a single line on the vandigicams.ca site. Each listing is hyperlinked to the corresponding manufacturer’s website for that camera’s full specifications. Along with the camera sensor megapixel rating, there is an optical zoom value, an overview of around half a dozen features, and “street” pricing from up to three local retailers.

Dominating this year’s survey once again is the 24-megapixel sensor class, representing almost 40 per cent of the cameras, followed by the slightly lower resolution 20-megapixel units with around a quarter. These two classes together account for two-thirds of all the cameras in the survey. The once dominant “16” class has dropped to third place. The remaining 20 per cent or so of the survey is fragmented across classes spanning from 12 all the way up to a staggering 100 megapixels.

As in years past, the survey identifies several cameras as best buys, the optimum combination of features and price within a given class. When considering buying a camera, do check out the manufacturer’s website (they are all listed at the bottom of the survey site) to be sure that the model remains current.

Want an inexpensive point-and-shoot digital camera? A Sony W800, with a 2.7” screen and basic 720 HD video recording is just $90. A starter DSLR camera such as Canon’s T6 with a basic kit lens can be picked up for under $400, down $50 from last year. At the other extreme you’ll find models from historic Swedish manufacturer Hasselblad approaching $45,000!

Looking for a rugged camera? The Olympus TG line (shockproof, freezeproof, waterproof, dustproof, and crushproof) remains popular. Olympus offers two TG units and Nikon has its W300 model. Fuji, Panasonic, and Ricoh also offer rugged units. Prices range from $150 up to $580.

As for a solid general purpose camera, how about something like the Nikon P900 with an incredible 83x zoom lens. Priced in the $770 range, this unit takes fine outdoor shots and perfectly acceptable indoor ones as well, something often lacking in lower cost units. Its successor, the P1000, is the first unit to pass a hundred times zoom, offering an amazing 125 times, at, mind you, a price almost double that of its predecessor.

Want a DSLR package with two lenses, say a basic three times zoom and a telephoto? Canon and Nikon have several such packages. Consider for example the Nikon D5300 package with 18-55 and 70-300 mm lenses priced at $700. This is exactly the package my colleague settled on. It even came with a bag and a remote control. And for just $28 she added a 128 GB high performance camera memory card.

If you are just starting out with a DSLR, consider buying an inexpensive 50 mm f1.8 portrait lens.  Such a lens does wonders in low-light situations, even with a modestly priced camera. With this combination, a beginner photographer can start taking decent indoor portrait shots for a price that is not too challenging.

It is worth noting that MILC (mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras) units are fast catching up to DSLRs in popularity. Canon and Nikon, the big two in the camera business, have come late to the MILC party, until now dominated by Fuji, and to a lesser extent by Olympus and Sony.

Do check out this year’s survey list at http://vandigicams.ca. You’ll find cameras at every price point, from around $100 all the way up to that multi-thousand dollar Hasselblad. In between you’ll find cameras equipped with Wi-Fi, GPS, and OLED touch screens, and numerous other features.

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